Expat Diary June 24, 2018
I have spent the last three days wandering around Puerto Princesa getting to know it a bit better. This is the most impoverished area I have ever stayed in, but it’s been rewarding. People are not as friendly here as I am used to, and I am starting to suspect (based admittedly on not much other than seeing some shifty characters) that’s because the few white gentlemen of my age bracket that have come here have perhaps been up to some very bad things. Luckily for me I speak a bit of Tagalog and though people are a bit wary, in general that’s broken the ice and in a few cases allowed me to make friends with some potentially bad guys.
Tonight though I headed to the nicest part of town – the gorgeous Baywalk that runs along Puerto Princesa Bay, which has a quaint little boardwalk kind of atmosphere that was filled with young people and families on a balmy Sunday night. I had a delicious meal of sisig – wow – and even sat in to listen to a Catholic sermon delivered by a young man on the coastline (I managed to understand about a third of it). I also took a walk northward up the coast away from the Baywalk area to a shanty fishing village, passing one of the most squalid tentpole settlements (houses suspended over a foul swampy area of trapped seawater) I have ever seen in my life, and at this point I’ve seen a few. Once I got to the comparatively nice but still very poor shanty area, I struck up a conversation with a gentleman named Roberto who was outside a salo-salo store run by his family. Before I knew it we were surrounded by young kids aged around 6-12, some of whom helpfully translated when my Tagalog broke down.
Having that conversation was a bit of a breakthrough for me because even though I’ve been in poor areas before, I’ve never been in a situation like I am here in Puerto Princesa where I stick out like such a sore thumb. I mean, I always do, but not like this. There are a few Caucasians here and there, but not many – tourists usually bust on out of here and head north. I had been feeling a little warier and more careful than I normally like to be. It’s hard to know how I am viewed, what people think…but as always, once you make the effort to break down the language barrier the main thing you find in their minds is curiosity. People want to connect, want to tell you about their lives, want to know about yours. These kinds of conversations in general just never happen.
It’s been good for me to think about risks and develop strategies to be more cautious in this kind of environment. But one that’s done, there’s no reason not to make the effort to bridge the gap. I’m looking forward to going back to that shanty village and learning more.
And silhouetting it all, one of the most gorgeous cloud-reflected sunsets over the water I’ve ever been privileged to photograph. Enjoy.