By Hou Li Wei, Clarence
Venue: Shanghai, China.
A young couple were strolling on the street of the prosperous corner of this third world country, their half-blooded child ran and jumped ahead of them, curious in everything. The wife looked at her husband with loving eyes and the latter glanced back with same amount of affection, then he searched for his child to make sure the little boy is in the safe range. They were quite a sight in the city as the man has green eyes and the woman, though having black eyes, does not look like Chinese and is of breathtaking beauty.
The woman was Rose, our client for the past 20 days and the man was her Austrian husband.
Rose bought her farm in 2001 with all their savings in the past 20 twenty years while her husband worked as chef in a Five Star Hotel all over Asia and she was earning from a decent job as well. The couple had been travelling in their prime of life and finally wanted to settle down in the wife’s home-country. They chose this farm because it is what they could afford and they have been sweating on this land in the past 14 years.
It takes 20 years for mango trees to be seriously productive and they yield fruits only once every two years. Rose and her husband have been investing huge amount of wealth into the farm yet the 600 mango trees are still too young. But Rose still manages everything with ease and calm. “My goal is not to make money, I am already a rich person” Rose smiled at us showing her neat white teeth, “Organic farming is our dream and we want it to last long.”
Although Rose is not from this island and does not speak local dialect (she came from a town near Manila and speaks Tagalog), she quickly established local connections and every important person we interviewed in the province have heard about her. The day before I wrote this post, she just won another 1.6m-piso grant for her organic organisation. Since her husband speaks German and limited English only, plus the fact that a foreigner is always a sensitive identity in this country, Rose is effectively the sole operator of this farm. Her husband, however, drives cars and trucks around while being her most important company in life. But I have enough reasons to believe that, even her husband being a native Pilipino, Rose would still be the one in charge.
Women in Charge
Though before coming here, Philippines seems to me a country where men show only modest existence, it still surprises me how modest that presence is. Almost all the rich families in the Barangay we stayed in are kept well off by remittance from Hong Kong, Singapore, Middle East, Canada and other places, by the female members of their family working in foreign land. Statistics tell us that Philippines is the fourth largest recipient of remittance, which represents 13.5% of the country’s GDP(Remo et Michelle V, 2012), and among all the money sent back, most are from Pilipino women. In addition, Rose’s story, complemented by the the presence of a female-dominated government on this island, confirmed that such imbalance of power in favour of women exist domestically as well.
But more earnings do not mean happier life. Rose told us stories about the troubled men who live lazily and aimlessly, living on the money from their wives, mothers or daughters abroad. Rose is also worried about the increasing number of alcoholics, heavy smokers and drug abusers in this island as narcotics are insanely cheap and one pack of Malboro is one sixth the price compared to Hong Kong. The dropout rate is high as there is still lack of government intervention to force students back to school, which brings depravation to a younger age.
However, there are many hard-working and honest men I have met here and luckily they are the majority (or the Pilipino pride forces them to behave better in front of foreigners?). To me, they are the quiet fathers who get up at 4am everyday to work in the farm, who build tools even cars in the unbearable heat, drive his family around, protect the kids and the country. They don’t speak English well nor are their clothes new, but their wives and daughters are often properly dressed and speak fluent English (indication of receiving better education).It is a fact however, that manual and repetitive work are borne by men while brain work and light tasks are left for women. Men have fewer and fewer chances to catch up if they are not rich.
So now there is another puzzle to me: Is it because the men are too incapable that women take charge or is it the other way around, the men sacrifice much so women are lifted out by the men standing in the muddy water?
Men at work in the mango tree and in the field