Categories
Living in the Philippines

Street Rats

In the Disney movie Aladdin, the idea of being a “street rat” was glorified as an honorable way of making a living, with a code of ethics and a comfortable life.  In reality, things don’t work out quite that way.  I’ve seen poor people on the street here in the Philippines and they don’t look like they’re having quite as good a time as Aladdin was.  They’re dirty, they’re hungry and they live in a way that’s dangerous because at any moment of the night someone could take their lives.  It’s not that adventurous when you think about it.  It’s a torment that must be a horrible way to live.  Even at my worst, I’ve always had a roof over my head and a little something to eat every day.  So, I have pity for these people when I see them in the street.

In the Philippines, and perhaps everywhere, that pity has to be tempered by wariness about the real nature of the person holding the cup or the annoying children that flock around me like little vultures.  Here in the Philippines there are organized begging rackets where beggars are put out on corners like a pimp would set out prostitutes in other parts of the world.  The individuals doing the begging are made to look more forlorn than they may actually be, and some of them may have homes that they go home to in the evening.  Most people probably learned about this activity by watching the movie Slumdog Millionaire.  The same practices you see in that film are employed in the Philippines.  So, you can’t be too free with your money when you see these types of people coming up to you in the road, or holding a cup out to you in front of a store.

The ones that really annoy me are the groups of kids that try to surround you and start asking for money.  They even go so far as to start grabbing at your clothing.  My guess is that this is to distract you while their friends start fishing in your pockets for whatever they can grab and run with.  When I first visited the Philippines in 2008 I had a lot of patience for this sort of behavior, to the point that it annoyed my wife.  She always shooed them away as fast as possible.  I didn’t really care.  My attitude about it has changed now though.  I suppose that when you visit a place, those minor inconveniences seem quaint and entertaining, but when you actually move to that place and you know it’s something you’ll have to deal with on a repeating basis, the patience you had before wears thin quickly.  Now, when these kids surround me and start asking for money I give them a very gruff, ‘”No!” and keep walking.  If they persist, or start grabbing at my clothing, I push them away physically and tell them to “Fuck off”.  That message normally gets through to them and they break off their pursuit, often accompanied by a string of expletives in Tagalog, the local language.  I suppose that they think that just by being white, I must have tons of cash and I’m just holding out on them.

If you think that’s a little rough, given that these are kids, keep in mind that it’s typically organized.  They do it every day.  They beg as a job, rather than out of necessity, and I’d rather come across as a jackass than have my belongings stolen from my pockets while trying to play nice.  Life in the Philippines isn’t just hard because the money is worth less, it’s hard because you have to be hard to survive when you’re out of the house.  No one has bottomless pockets and every peso counts.

Categories
Living in Singapore Thoughts

Talking Politics With A Cab Driver

You ever get in a cab with a driver that is really eager to chat?  What choice do you have?  You’re sort of a captive audience.  Sometimes I try to deter them by giving short answers, but this guy seemed really excited about sharing his point of view.  The conversation started out with a brief ‘how are you’, ‘where you from’, ‘what do you do’ introduction.  That was followed by the typical ‘Singapore is so safe and clean’ and ‘the weather is so nice’ dialogue.  Then he started laying out his ideas, dreams and visions for Singapore.

Nothing he said was really new to me.  I’d seen it all before on various Singapore politics websites, like Temasek Review for instance, or on some Straits Times articles.  Still, it was interesting to hear a guy going apeshit about politics to me, when the policies in question don’t really affect me all that much.  Maybe he just wanted an opinion from someone who wasn’t all that biased.

His main complaints were about foreigners in Singapore.  He stated that they were causing too many problems for locals and that it wasn’t fair that foreigners often received better treatment than native born Singaporeans.  He mentioned the problem with first generation PRs not doing National Service.  He mentioned how Singaporean youth have to compete with foreigners for jobs, and how he feels that the foreigners coming into the country are no longer supporting the country, but rather are taking it over.

As he reached the climax of his venting he nearly clipped a curb.  I’m glad I had my seatbelt on!  The topic was serious but I was really entertained by this old man’s passion for his country.  The last thing he mentioned is that he felt that all the foreigners coming into the country and staying were changing the culture and he wasn’t sure it was for the best.  He said that foreigners are raised in a different environment and it’s not the same as how Singaporeans are raised, and that they’ll pass that on to their kids, which may cause problems.

Then he asked me what I thought about it.  Hmm… how to respond?

Instead of discussing such a sensitive issue with him, I instead tried to relate it to something that I do have a good grasp of and that’s the illegal immigration issue in the US.  So, I mentioned to him how there’s a similar problem in the US, with illegal immigrants entering the country, putting their kids in schools without paying taxes, getting health care, etc, etc.

Just about then we arrived at my destination and I was spared from having to dance around the subject any more.

Singapore provides a lot of opportunity to foreigners looking for work, but the policy also causes a lot of displeasure among locals.  I’ll leave it at that, but feel free to leave your opinion in the comment section, as long as it’s tactful and doesn’t contain racial slurs.

Categories
Thoughts Travel

Indonesian Maid Beaten To Death By Malaysian Employers

via Yahoo! News:

Hani was rescued from her employers’ home a week ago. She was found by another Indonesian cleaner hired to replace her who noticed a foul smell coming from a locked bathroom.

Police said that when she was found she was tied up around her arms and legs, and was bruised all over her body. Among her injuries were a serious wound to the right leg that exposed the bone.

Local papers reported Hani had been abused by her employers almost daily during the two months she worked at their home.

One of Asia’s largest importers of labour, Malaysia depends heavily on domestic workers, mainly from Indonesia, but has been criticised for not passing legislation to govern their rights and conditions.

In May, the government announced plans for new laws to protect domestic workers from sexual harassment, non-payment of wages and poor working conditions.

Indonesian maids typically work seven days a week for as little as 400 ringgit (113 dollars) a month.

I hadn’t had much exposure to the practice of having hired help in the home until moving to Singapore. It’s apparently a very common practice in Asia, which surprised me.  In the United States it would be nearly impossible for the average person to afford hired help, but in Asia even middle-income families can generally afford a maid.  The reason for that is that the wages paid to these domestic helpers is very small in comparison to ‘normal’ wages made in the country where they work.

From what I’ve seen in the admittedly short time I’ve been in Asia, people rely on their domestic helpers to care for their homes and even their children in some cases.  They work long hours, often 7 days per week depending on the employer.  So, why is it that there’s no legislation to protect them?  Why is it that they’re paid a wage that’s so small local children would reject it from a part-time job?

These women leave their homes in search of a better life and are often used as the butt of a joke, or abused, sometimes sexually.  Then there is the rare occasion where a domestic helper is beaten to death, or commits suicide.  It’s disgusting.

Sometimes it’s not possible for these women to pick up and leave and go back home.  How could they if they’re paid so little they can’t afford the ticket?  Or if their wages are being withheld?  Or if they’re locked in the house and not allowed out?

Categories
Living in Singapore

The Abuse of Non-Resident Workers in Singapore

If you’ve been keeping up with my blog recently you’ll have read that Singapore can be a pretty rough place for a foreigner.  There’s plenty of racism and discrimination from locals.  Unfortunately, this type of discrimination is also common in the work place.

In Singapore business, appearance is everything.  Companies want to present the best image they can, regardless of the internal cost and that’s usually going to be at someone’s expense, because they want a certain level of service to be rendered but at the same time they don’t want to put forward the capital or manpower required to adequately meet their goals.  Someone winds up suffering, and those someones are typically foreign workers.

You see, being in Singapore on a work permit is a rather unique situation.  People usually apply for jobs in Singapore through recruitment agencies in their home countries.  If they’re approved they receive a card that designates them as being about to legally enter Singapore without needing their passport stamped and remain for the duration of their work contract.  Now, people that do this sort of thing are either looking to improve their lives, or they have financial obligations at home, like a family to support.  Either way, they have to maintain their job.  If a person loses their job they’re only given so many days to find a new one before they have to leave Singapore, and sometimes that time-frame is only 2 weeks.  You see what I’m saying?  There’s a lot of pressure to make sure you stay in your employer’s good graces, because you’re almost guaranteed to have to leave the country if you leave your job.  Moving from one country to another can be a big deal.  It can be even more stressful when your income is cut off and you have obligations to meet.

In other words, there’s really no wriggle-room.  You work, or you get put out and you have to leave the country.

Being the pricks they are, people like to take advantage of that here.  They create unrealistic expectations in their KPIs.  They ask employees to stay longer hours, often unpaid, to do more work, even if that employee has exceeded the target set for the day.  This is done so that the company can get around hiring more people to manage the workload more effectively, but is an abuse to the worker.  In the case of maids, I’m sure there are far worse abuses that happen despite the strict rules regulating maids in Singapore.

Regardless, there’s no much of a recourse for these foreign workers.  If they decline the request to work the longer hours too many times, they’ll simply be let go and they’ll have to pack up the life they’ve made in Singapore and return to their country, often with not much to show for their efforts and no immediate prospects for work.  If they file a complaint with the company?  Same result.  File a complaint with MoM?  Well, something might happen in the future but the company would find a reason to fire that person.    Change their job?  Well, it’s not always that easy.  Most foreigners come to Singapore on a contract, so they can’t change jobs.  If they can, it could be hard to find one, and if they do, and there’s even the slightest delay in the paperwork, they could have to pack up and leave the country and then come back once the new contract is approved.

You see what I’m getting at here?  The labor laws in Singapore regarding foreigners are either not strict enough or they’re not being properly enforced to protect the interests of the foreign workers that are being hired.  These people are employees, not slightly paid slave labor.

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