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Third World Blues

posted by in Dot Dot Dot

I love the Philippines. I love our people. I love the diversity of our beautiful islands. I love being with my friends and family here. But right now, I’m having severe withdrawals from being in a first world country. Yes, there are both pros and cons to living here. I have lived both here and abroad, and though I have lived here more than anywhere else in my life, it is when I travel out of the country when I see these discrepancies even clearer than if I have never left.

When I arrived in San Francisco in May, they had already implemented a new computerized system for customs where you swipe your passport at a kiosk to give your information and you electronically answer the usual customs questions. After this process is over, it prints you a copy which you submit to a customs officer after going through immigration. When you get to baggage claim, it takes minutes for your baggage to appear on the carousel. Enzo was amazed how everything at the airport was automated, even down to the bathrooms.

Upon landing in Manila in June, we must have arrived at the same time as another airline, because the corridor we were walking through to get to immigration became very crowded and we got stuck among the passengers of that aircraft on our way to immigration. After waiting in that line, it took us almost an hour to get our luggage. We were definitely back in a third world country.

Seemingly simple things like renewing government documents such as licenses and passports is easier abroad. I renewed my California driver’s license in San Diego without an appointment. I had to line up with the others who were also renewing their licenses, applying for a new license, registering their boats and vehicles and the like. It took me a total of 4 hours to wait, but it was orderly, I had a number and when they called me I paid (no late fees needed), had my photo taken and took the written test and was given a temporary license before my new driver’s license came in the mail a week later.

Shortly after my birthday in April, I renewed my Philippine driver’s license. I had to go from window to window to submit my application, to pay, to have my photo taken and finally after 3 sweaty hours, got to leave the LTO with an official receipt in my hand marked with a phone number to call back a month later to see if the laminated card could be ready for pick up. I left on my trip for the US and when I returned a month later, called that number to see what they would say. Surprisingly, they said, “We have cards – you can come and get yours now!” That was on a Thursday. On the following Monday, I went to pick up my card only to find out they were “out of stock.” First of all, why didn’t they just print the card already instead of people having to come and wait for theirs to get printed? So for now, three months later, I still just have an official receipt. This is an official ID, guys!

Whether we are in San Francisco, Paris or London or as near as Hong Kong, Singapore or Bangkok, public transportation works. I could feel safe riding these even with Enzo in tow. When I fly into Hong Kong, I just take the Airport Express into the city, much like every other savvy tourist. And Manila? I haven’t once tried to ride the MRT. I work near Magallanes Station in Makati City and there are always snake lines of passengers who patiently wait for their turn to catch a ride. Now, rainy season is upon us, and conditions are even more for our fellowmen who will wait for hours before they get home due to traffic and overcrowded public transportation.

For me, the worst of it all is the pollution. Yes, there is surely pollution in every city in the world but here you can smell it while walking in the streets and you can see it as a haze above the city while driving on the overpasses and you can definitely feel the congestion in your nose.

There are many things that I love about our country, but the bureaucratic government systems, lack of a clean and efficient public transportation and outdated infrastructure, are surely not any of them. These are just my musings, but I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. For now, we will all just grin and bear it. Who knows when these things are going to change? Hopefully, in this lifetime.

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"For mine is a generation that circles the globe and searches for something we haven't tried before. So never refuse an invitation, never resist the unfamiliar, never fail to be polite and never outstay your welcome.” - Alex Garland


We are two friends who were former magazine editors. Having moved onto other things, we both realized that the creative flow the publishing world used to offer us was missing from our lives. Armed with a common love of travel to the exotic and familiar, a penchant for the bohemian, an obsession with food and a lust for writing, we decided to collaborate our unique and fashionable journeys through life together in one passion project.

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