I visited the Philippines the first time in Boracay five years ago and fell in love with the place. This was pre-closure time when parties were taking place along the white beaches and tourists were getting drunk everyday, every night. But it wasn’t the partying that attracted me; it was the vibe, hospitality and kindness I received everywhere that got me captivated.
Fast forward to a year later, I returned with Beckah whom I met at Krabi. We went back to one of the beaches I had visited before, and was welcomed by the Filipino family operating the beach chairs business we had frequented. The kids loved us, and when the beach closed that evening, the family invited us to their homes.
I remember Beckah and I walking with the family along dark alleyways we’d never have entered if we were by ourselves. They were dark paths, and roads were not the best constructed. I also recall how I was reminded that this is the real side of the Philippines – a stark contrast to well-to-do foreigners like myself having the luxury to travel and just be free.
Our hosts sat us down in a dimly-lit hut, and started cooking some simple dishes for us. Some of them started setting up disco lights and speakers outside the house and we moved over there to drink and chat afterwards.
It’s been four years since then and I can never forget the warmth and friendliness of the family.
Over the years, one of the hosts would occasionally ask if we could spare some help to their family, but I’ve always put my foot down and said no. I didn’t feel comfortable about the arrangement and I just didn’t think this was a sustainable way for them to get by life in the long run.
Yesterday, I received a message from the host asking for help as there is a lockdown in Boracay and she and her children were sick. It dawned on me that the pandemic had indeed hit communities hard, especially those in the hospitality sector.
So, for the first time, I agreed to help.
I asked my Filippino friend in Singapore the best way to transfer money and she said to do so via DBS. So I went into the app, trying to look for Western Union amongst the list of banks. And obviously, it wasn’t an option because WU is not even a bank, but a remittance/financial services company – and I only knew that when I went back to my host.
She informed that she does not have a bank account.
I was shocked. And the thought of having no bank account is just unthinkable. In Singapore, I remember our government helping to set up bank accounts with a $1 deposit the moment we enter elementary school.
At work, I have read about the huge unbanked populations in Southeast Asia and I never thought this was happening with people that I know. These are the little things we don’t realise growing and living in Singapore – and to witness it firsthand was a knock on my head.
Things we take for granted like a bank account makes so much of a difference – especially when our livelihoods are at stake. I am writing this as a reflection that I am truly blessed and fortunate to be where I am today. Whilst many places in the world and especially in Asia are struggling with the pandemic and life and death, I am fully vaccinated, dreaming of travelling and have had no impact for my work.
I would like to remind myself to have my compassion, humanity and patience for people around me. Thank you, for the reminder, May.