There’s no escaping the Chinese presence and influence in our lives.
I like Chinese food. I wear clothes and shoes mostly made in China. I go to bars and gigs with friends, including musicians, some of whom trace their lineage to mainland China.
One of the soundtracks of my youth is the song “China Grove” by the Doobie Brothers, and the fourth line of the lyrics of an all-time favorite tune, Steely Dan’s “Aja,” goes: “Chinese music under banyan trees.” Incidentally, I listen to music on a Huawei phone.
But it’s not just me. Many other Filipinos have a similar lifestyle and it’s probably cool with them.
Yet, in recent years, some Filipinos have started to resent the Chinese—not just due to the West Philippine Sea conflict, but also because of the alarming descent of hundreds of thousands of mostly Chinese youth who work in Pogos (Philippine Offshore Gambling Operations) all over Metro Manila and nearby provinces.
The upside of this phenomenon is felt by developers of commercial buildings where the Pogos operate, as well as owners of condominiums and residences where the Chinese workers live. The word is that the Chinese don’t mind paying high rental rates.
Also benefiting from it are owners of vans that pick up the Chinese from their living quarters and drop them off at the Pogo offices. These are the white vans we see lined up at the Pogo locations.
Taxi and Grab drivers, too, admit the Chinese are generous passengers, some of whom pay amounts much bigger than the actual fare.
The malls and retail shops also make money, especially since many of the Pogo workers buy clothes in bundles.
This large migrant Chinese population has even led to the mushrooming of dozens of new Chinese restaurants—with signs in Chinese characters—in the vicinity of the Pogo offices.
But while business is good for these sectors, there are people who’ve had bad encounters with what Clinton Palanca once wrote about in Lifestyle as “the new Chinese” in our midst.
While these cases are anecdotal and no comprehensive study has been done on the growing number of Chinese workers in the cities and provinces, these condo dwellers, who prefer to remain anonymous, echo the sentiments, if not experiences, of many.
A female senior executive who lives in a condo in Makati’s Central Business District (CBD) recounts her experience. “I would say more than 50 percent of tenants on our floor are Chinese,” she says. (Each floor on the condo has 16 units.) “There are signs in Chinese about proper decorum posted on the elevator, but in two recent general assembly meetings among condo residents, there were complaints about the Chinese tenants’ boorish behavior and the smell of cigarettes in the hallway.”
She adds: “They always go in clusters, talk aloud and squeeze themselves into the elevator even when it’s full. They come in at all hours and announce their presence with their loud talk.”
She also sees litter of food packets with Chinese characters. “In fact, the first few tenants would leave their garbage in plastic bags outside their door, like they’re expecting someone to pick it up. Ano ito, hotel?”
She’s not sure how many Chinese live in one unit, but she surmises: “I’d say at least four, probably six or more. It’s also possible that the unit is being shared by workers who work in two or more shifts. In the few times that they left their door open, I could see through my peephole an empty room with a rice cooker on the floor, and mattresses stacked against a wall. There’s no furniture, except for a clothes rack near the window to dry their clothes.”
She adds, “I’m very frank about my displeasure. Like, when they jump the queue, I demonstrate by hand and a scowl that there’s a line and point them to the end.”
She adds that the condo rent has gone up astronomically. “We own our unit. But across us was a nice Indonesian family we had become friendly with. They had to move out two weeks ago because their P30,000 monthly rent for a two-bedroom unfurnished unit was hiked to P45,000!”
Our informal survey of condo dwellers reveals that rental rates in some cases have risen by 50 percent.
A male call center manager lives in a middle-class village in Laguna near Southwoods Mall, where he says there is a Pogo that occupies all the floors above the mall itself.
The Pogo Chinese workers rent houses in the village. “Neighbors told me that the house in front of mine has 18 Chinese tenants. A white van brings them home from work around midnight in three batches,” he says.
“Other neighbors reported on our village Facebook page another incident, a fight among the Chinese workers, with one brandishing a knife. This happened after midnight. The neighbors posted a video of the actual fight, including photos of broken beer bottles on the street the next day.”
A female public relations practitioner who also lives in a condo in Makati’s CBD recounts how things have changed: “I was the first tenant on a high floor. I had a balcony. I was alone up here for a few months.”
Those days are gone.
She notes now, “The Chinese tenants occupy whole floors. I think there are only three non-Chinese on my floor, myself included. The Chinese tenants change fast, sometimes without prior notice to the unit owner or the building administration. This causes security problems.”
She cites an incident, “Socks, a blanket, and the cover of a plastic trash container have fallen on my veranda.”
When she reported the incident to a security guard, there were loud knocks on her door. “Turned out the Chinese tenant wanted to get his blanket, which fell on my place,” she says.
She recalls having found a pink calling card slipped under her unit’s door. “I thought they were selling cosmetics. Security had it translated. It was an offer for women companions. I have been a condo dweller for decades. I have not experienced anything like this.”