If you’ve ever been to the newly sprung up, modern cities of the Middle East, it is no secret that Filipinos make up a huge part of today’s culture there. It seems that every hotel in Abu Dhabi, Doha or Dubai are staffed with Filipinos, working diligently and bringing their natural hospitality abroad. It is a win-win for everyone—the hotels get naturally hard-working, hospitable workers who speak English at a native level, while the staff have opportunities to earn salaries that they wouldn’t back home. Filipinos working in other industries flock to the Middle East as well—oil and gas being a major one.
Given the influx of Filipinos in that part of the world, it is not surprising that some aspects of the modern-day Middle Eastern culture would make their way to the Philippines as well—airplanes fly in both directions, after all. But on a recent visit to Manila, I was saddened by one particular element that seemed to be springing up—the idea of smoke-and-mirrors culture.
While the Middle East has a long and storied history as a trading post, today much of it has been reinvented into a playground for the rich. Oil money flows freely, and developers race to build the tallest, shiniest, sleekest, fanciest office and residential spaces they can dream up. In trying to attract buyers and wow the rich, there is little consideration given to historical context or the surrounding environment. And while there is some history there—there is not much else. Dubai was built on a sand dune, just the way Las Vegas was 60 years earlier in the Western United States.
The Philippines, however, is not the Middle East. It is full of a rich cultural heritage that is preserved today, a spiritual and energetic people who carry their flag proudly. Physically, it is a lush, green, fertile land that some of the world’s most exotic and unique species call home. There is no need to create something artifical, tall, shiny, sleep and fancy here—because the natural beauty is strong to begin with.
And yet, one of the developments I saw being sold was called “The Venice Residences”—something seemingly straight out of Dubai. Little homes built on the banks of a fake waterway, complete with verandas and gondoliers. And in my estimation, something so tackily forced in hopes of raising the real estate price tag.
I sincerely hope the Philippines—with all of its spirit and pride and natural beauty—will not fall into the trap of trying to copy the artificial culture of Dubai or Las Vegas, which don’t have the natural gifts to work with that should be appreciated here.