Wei You, one of our club members whom has several business assignments in Philippines and makes frequent trips to the country recently. He has previously shared with us about his gastronomic experience in Philippines. This time he is going to share another exhilarating experience in Manila.
I waited at the backstreet of the customer’s office building, as the front of the building was a main road where cars were not allowed to stop for pickup. The backstreet was not so well-lit. As it was in the evening, the sky was dark; I could not see the hotel car, a black Nissan car. I waited and waited and still the car did not arrive. I saw many cars come, pick up their passengers and speed up, while a few other vehicles, came and parked at the roadside seemingly waiting for someone. In the dark surroundings, I could not read the number plate of the car any further than the car waiting in front of me. Not to forget the glaring headlights from the waiting vehicles, one would even have the problem making out what the car model was. I waited patiently for the next 30 minutes. Finally I saw a car waiting at a distance away move up and Har! It is the hotel car, with the right number plate.
I beckoned the car to stop and quickly jumped into the car. The driver was not very friendly this time. He is a man of about my age and he asked me with a smiling face but with a tinge of anger in his tone – “Sir, why are you standing there? I have been waiting here for 10 minutes” As that was my first time in Manila, hearing about all the kidnapping stories and robberies warning, and feeling frustrated I continued to keep my patience and explained that it was very dark and I could not see his car plate. I was thinking, “ Why he could not drive up to the waiting area and check if his customer was there waiting for him, rather than expecting his customer to check every car that arrived and waiting along the long street. I apologised in order not to antagonize the driver further but deep inside I felt such a weakling. I wondered if I should have stood firm and told him off. He explained that he could not wait for long otherwise he would be fined and his salary would be gone. Feeling slightly sorry for the driver, I decided that I was probably right by not throwing up my flare with the rights of a customer – The customer is always right.
He next asked where I was from. I said, “ Singapore” and the next question that came made me speechless for several seconds. “Sir, how much are you earning?” “Errr …hmmm…” I mumbled, wondering what to say next. But the driver could not wait for my reply and started guessing, 50,000, 60,000, 70,000 …not sure what to reply, wondering what he was up to … feeling nervous …and also starting to do my mental sums in converting pesos to Singapore dollars using the rate of 1 Singapore dollar to 32 pesos. In the midst of all these confusion, the mentally chaotic me, mysteriously uttered “ehmm”. The driver immediately responded with astonishment – 90,000 pesos a year?!!! “Since when he said 90,000”, I asked myself …but well it is too late then to correct myself, as that would make me lose credibility. For your information, 90,000 pesos is roughly about 2800 Singapore dollars. He stared at me through the rear mirror in seemingly great disbelief.
Oops! I must have made the wrong claims. I did not know that he was referring to an annual salary. He probably could not believe a Singaporean who was chauffeured around in hotel taxi (though he probably not know it was paid by the company) only earns 2800 Singapore dollars a YEAR. So in order to keep my driver happy and my journey safe, I decided to make it sound more believable by saying “per month”.
“What??? Per month! Sir I only earn 200 pesos a day and that is only 6000 pesos if I drive everyday for a month!” You are earning so much!!!” I have three kids and a wife to support and I am only making so little!!!”
Oh No! I regretted making the clarification. I should have stuck to the claim of 2800 Singapore dollars a year. “Oh no… I hope he does not plan to kidnap me.”
He then started asking if I was married, who was I staying with and how old I was. Finding out that I was the same age as him, he got even more vocal about his frustrations of life. “There is no future as a driver.” He complained and started to give more and more complaints about his life as a driver and life in Philippines. The intensity of disgruntlement and dissatisfaction about his life started to reinforce the image of a robber ***** kidnapper, driving his victim into a deserted place, rob him and then ask his family member for a sky-high amount of ransom began to form in my mind.
“Bbbbbbaaaaaaa ..…” A car horned loudly and I could almost feel the driver’s anger.
It seemed that my driver has cut into the lane of the other driver. There was more horning, left and right, and soon I realised it was everywhere. There was a traffic jam and that made me regret further for taking his taxi. I should not have asked for a taxi at that rush hour in the first place. The cars could hardly move. That means that I have to stay longer in the taxi and answer more questions L
“Sir, this is a bad traffic jam. But I am not going to let you be late. I felt bad and pressured when I could not send my customer back on time.” Before I could respond, he started swerving in and out to fill whatever gaps he could find on the road. Miraculously, he managed to make several metres of progress amidst the heavy traffic. He continued to make manoeuvres and at one point he actually cut into the lane of opposite direction. Yeekeess… I saw a car heading towards us …oh no! Instead of slowing down, my driver quickly stepped up his accelerator and charged towards the head-on vehicle. I thought we were going to collide this time! Dying in a car accident in a foreign country on the first visit was not exactly the best form of death. Just when I thought everything was over, my driver swerved back to our lane and cut into the path of a vehicle that was slowing down to fill up the space. Phew! What a narrow escape!
My driver then turned and smiled at me gleefully and said “Sir, don’t worry I will be your Schumacher.” In case if you do not know who Schumacher is or rather Michael Schumacher to be exact. He was widely touted as the most successful Formula 1 Racing Driver – an F1 world champion for 7 times! I tried hard to give a smile. The image of a kidnapper started to turn into a suicidal driver. Immediately my hands reached for the safety belts. But I soon realised that not every car has safety belts in the back seats.
Just when I was wondering how to secure myself in the car, the car started to slow down and then came to a complete stop. I looked around, that was not my hotel! It did not look familiar. “Sir”, the driver turned and looked at me. At that point, I thought the suicidal driver has decided to point a knife at me. “Sir this is your hotel!” “My hotel, I …”
I wanted to stand firm that time and insisted that that was not my hotel, “Sir, this is the backdoor of your hotel. The main road is too jammed. I have to come by the back.” “My hotel?!” I was too happy to hear that. I thanked him and at the same time took out 200 pesos and gave it to him. That was about 6 dollars. He was stunned and said “Sir, this is not necessary. You do not have to give tips” I insisted and shoved the money to him. He thanked me profusely and a look of gratitude filled his face.
To be honest, I gave the tips not because I was thankful that he sent me back in one piece but the thought that he has my name and room number that the hotel had given him earlier on, he could easily locate me. I hope that by sharing some of my wealth, he would not bear a grudge against me which otherwise could result in me to be on his hit list.