Last year I bought a one-way plane ticket to the Philippines. It was the best decision I ever made.
I’ve been here for 3 months so far, and I plan to spend another 4 months in Southeast Asia.
In fact, I spent Christmas and New Years here away from the warmth of my family, because I love it here so much.
I remember being out on the streets of Manila on New Year’s Eve. People were lighting off fireworks hung from the electric wires. Sometimes they’d literally hold them in their hand, let someone light it, then sit there eating sparks for about 2 seconds before their mini-rocket took off.
Sometimes instead of going up, it would shoot right into the street, right next to us onlookers. All we could do then is turn around and hope we didn’t get our legs blown off.
What a wild place this is.
The kids play in the pot-hole filled streets without any shoes on. They roam about with dirt on their faces, sweating, smiling all the way.
Manila sometimes smells like a bathroom (sometimes). I often see people in REALLY bad shape walking about. The other day a female beggar sat next to me at a restaurant outside. She had no front teeth, wearing a one-piece rag, with dirt all over her face.
I thought she was speaking Tagalog, but the people around me didn’t even understand her. I didn’t know what to do, so I just looked at her without judgement — trying to learn something.
My gut reaction was to give her money, so I handed her 100 pesos ($2), which is more than enough for a meal around here. Heck, it’s enough to buy like 3 pounds of fruit.
I don’t know if it helped. I don’t know what she did with it. But I rationalize it by telling myself it was only $2.
Such is life in the Philippines.
When I Got Back Home, I Started Hating America
I don’t hate my country anymore.. let me clarify that first. But, keep reading..
My FIRST time in the Philippines happened in May last year. This is my second time.
But my first time, I remember being absolutely floored by what I saw.
Dirt roads. Huts. Makeshift homes made of concrete with no siding or legitimate roofing — just some metal sheets to cover it. Kids with dirt on their face in the street staring at me.
Bundles of electrical wires at every intersection resembling rubber-band balls.
“This is how people live?”
I was so naive.
I was talking to someone the other day and she told me that, growing up, her family would be happy to get salt. Not just happy — DELIGHTED.
They had to walk 10 km to get to a fresh spring for water, then carry multiple gallons of water back on their heads.
I can’t even carry multiple gallons of milk from the car to my refrigerator back home.
Laugh — you’re meant to find my spoiled ass funny.
I remember coming back home and talking to my father about what I saw — but somehow or another the conversation slipped into illegal immigration (on my first ride home from the airport after he hadn’t seen me for 3 months) and how Mexicans are “stealing our jobs” here and “ruining” the country.
Then we pulled into the driveway of our $250,000 3-BR house in comfortable Maryland suburbia with 3 other cars parked in the driveway and I looked at him and said..
“But we still have so much more than the other 99% of the world.”
I waited for a comeback, but I never got one. I think my words shocked him as much as they shocked me.
It was true. And he knew it was true. I wasn’t just some dumb millennial anymore. I had seen some sh*t now. I’d seen sh*t he’d never seen before — I hope some day he comes with me. I love him still, by the way — always will.
Americans Are Grossly Out Of Touch With Reality
I love my country. I can love it even though most of us are spoiled and out of touch with the reality of what’s happening in other places around the world.
I don’t need facts or research to back this up — it’s so directly in front of my face that it would be like me needing facts to say that the sky is blue.
Yes, we have problems with the gender pay gap. We got problems with privilege (hello — product of white privilege right here). We have problems with poverty..
But sh*t, we don’t have problems with having to walk 10 km to get water. We don’t have problems with EXTREME poverty.
The same person I was talking about earlier has scars all over her legs and arms from living in the forest until she was 12. She said that as a young kid she heard gunshots wizzing by her house because of the NPA fighters battling with the government.
Where she lived was a war zone at times.
She cries talking about it.
Yes, we got some bad areas of our own country. Places where people are getting murdered and injustices run rampant…
But there’s people here in the Philippines that would literally give an arm and a leg to get into our country.
Even the worst places.
Because the minimum wage per hour in California is more than what most make in a day here.
So fight for the pay gap. Fight to level the playing field on privilege.. but don’t go overboard with the rage/entitlement..
There are people around the world who have a lot less than you and are somehow more happy than you’ll ever be.
It’s almost as if a lot of the things we’re fighting for and our general way of life in America has little impact on happiness..
I’ve Taken A Big Break From America, And It’s Been So Refreshing
America can be very toxic.
I didn’t pay attention to the government shutdown. I didn’t even know it was happening. I just sat here in Manila and ate some fried bananas in the street — speaking broken Tagalog with the locals.
I hear Trump has about a billion things he’s being investigated for.
I hear it’s been the coldest winter in recent memory.
I don’t know, though, because I’m too busy paying attention to what I’m seeing here.
But despite all the outrage and new political developments, things are largely the same as last year. Trump is still President, he still wants to build a wall, we’re still thriving as a country relative to the rest of the world.
My Mom told me she saw on the news that there was some American with $190,000,000 worth of Bitcoin who died suddenly in India from Crohn’s Disease.
Many think he absconded to a beach in Thailand or something. If he did, I can’t blame him at all.
What an empty life it is in America.
All the outrage, entitlement, rat races, and “keeping up with the Joneses” is quite frankly exhausting.
Then I see a dirty child here smiling up at me without any shoes on playing basketball against a makeshift basket nailed to a piece of wood.
Happy as can be.
How can I not like it? Even though my heart aches for these people. How can I drive by the huts and dirt roads — seeing nothing but smiling faces — and not like it here?
A Simple Life Is Coming For Me, I Think
I can hear you now..
“That’s fine, Tom, but why don’t you sell all your stuff and live like the locals if you REALLY feel like that?”
I may. But first I want to make an impact in the digital space here. I want to make movies and lift up other creators here and use my privilege to drive more opportunity for Filipinos.
That’s what I want.
And I’ll do it away from the occasional madness that is America.
Since I’ve been here, my Crohn’s disease has calmed WAY down. My once horrible acne has cleared up on my face and back. I feel healthier than ever and happier than ever.
America does so much right. I love my country even though I spent the last 6 minutes bashing it. I was just focusing on the negatives for a bit, that’s all.
I plan to come back in June/July to reunite with family/friends — and maybe I’ll live there after I turn 30.
But for now I’m fine keeping my distance. I like it here better.