The Value of a Hole
In the thirteen years I’ve lived in the Philippines many (mostly retired male pensioners) expats have come and gone. People leave for various reasons. Some go for medical reasons, others because they have children who need a better education than this country can provide. Quite a few depart permanently and are laid to rest in our local cemetery.
But many leave for a most unfortunate reason: they never bothered to learn the value of a hole. Yes, I’m serious. One of the first things I learned when I arrived here so many years ago is that Filipinos know the exact monetary value of everything imaginable. How much will it cost to paint that wall? They know. How much for an under-the-table driver’s license? They know. How much for a three-hour boat trip to a secluded beach with a picnic lunch? They know. And they seem to know this en masse.
If I ask ten separate Filipino men how much it will cost to dig a hole that is two feet deep, three feet wide and four feet long, each one will stand quietly for a moment, scratch his chin and then produce the identical price as the other nine. How they do this is a mystery to me. But there is a definite value to digging a hole.
If we expats want to live successfully here, we must also learn the value of everything. Why? Because the favorite response of Filipinos when asked to name a price is “How much do you want to pay?” This isn’t just a random question. This is a test. If our answer is too far off, proving that we don’t know the value of a hole, we will be dubbed a foreign fool — and that label guarantees that we’ll be ripped off by every Filipino we meet forever after.
I have seen western men arrive and flaunt their money shamelessly. They were chewed up and spat out in no time flat. Others arrived with a large chunk of cash from selling their house or business back home. They left with barely enough pesos to buy a cup of coffee at Manila airport’s departure lounge.
And me? So far I’ve managed to live here quite happily, remaining inconspicuous, showing respect for the local rules — and most importantly, having learned the value of a hole.