As the last week of our trip rolls in, it brings with it a mood of contemplation and reflection. I catch myself asking the following questions: “Has this been a life altering experience?”, “Have I changed?”. It is easy for me to say that I have become a new person, having rejected materialism, discovered the fundamental meaning of happiness and that if I stayed for one more week I would have probably achieved nirvana. But that would be a blatant lie.
Have I changed? Sure but not in a “I now see the world in a new light” way but more in a “I never though of it in that sense” way. I though people in Hong Kong are hard working and people here are not. However, I realized that conditions here are different. For example, cost of living is cheaper, people have simpler tastes when it comes to food and clothing and entertainment is indoors (and free). I thought that businesses did not care about profit. What I realized is that they value leisure more than they do money.
This seems ironical since the Filipinos that I have met in Hong Kong work hard. They work hard in order to send back money to their families so that the children can go to school, so that the family has three good meals a day. Economic opportunities are scarcely available here. If you are ambitious you have to leave the country to graft a future for yourself and your family. Having spent time here, you soon realize that the biggest houses, the fanciest car was all funded based on foreign income.
You wish that the government plays an active role in job creation. You wish Duterte tackles unemployment with the same aggressiveness as he does with drug cartels. Politicians and people in power here seem to have their priorities wrong. The barangay captains seem to be more focused on hosting outlandish festivals and parties for the residents rather than making any improvement to the infrastructure. The roads have potholes, there a regular and frequent power cuts and regular water shortages.
Despite lack of government help, people that live in Jagna are still optimistic. Beneath the sleepy town, there is a thriving entrepreneurial spirit. People believe that starting a business is a good way to earn a living. Existing businesses have ambitious plans. The eatery that I am working with wants to open a high end restaurant (despite my many protests) and a fish stall owner wants to vertically integrate her business by buying a boat. How do they plan to do this? They have no idea. The don’t have enough savings and don’t have collateral for a bank loan. Instead they borrow from loan sharks at astronomical interest rates. Their ambition is not backed by sound business knowledge. When one of teams conducted a lecture on accounting, I was surprised by how they enthusiastically followed the lecture and even more surprised the next week when they actually implemented what was taught. Perhaps that is a way forward to help drive development. Empower young businesses with education.
It is easy to write a research report backed by credible sources with great ideas to improve the economic situation of the Philippines. However, it is all that they will be. Just ideas. Corruption will continue to run deep, local politicians will continue to be indifferent, businesses will continue to resist change. However, people and businesses here don’t seem to care. There is not outrage that the government is inactive to their needs, they don’t care that local officials are indifferent about their well being. People just go about their lives oblivious to the bigger picture. They just enjoy every day being unburdened by the future.
What will I take back with me from this trip is the ‘joie de vivre’ of the people. I’m pretty sure I’ll seem like a fish out of water in Hong Kong but when I return to the Philippines next time, I’ll be welcomed back as a local.