Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
As usual, he was waiting for the passenger on the street of Manila sitting in his tricycle, a unique type of cheaper transport. His name is Sharif, who hails from Mindanao province. Out of my curiosity, I rode on his tricycle and saw ‘Allahu’ sticker in Arabic in front of the passenger seat. As I asked, are you a Muslim, a smiling Sharif said, “Yes I am!” Then he asked my religious identity and I just smiled to conceal as I hate identifying me of any particular religious beliefs. But Sharif repeated the question and I said, to me humanity is more important than religion. Possibly my answer did not impress him but still, he was smiling, which possibly is a part of Filipino culture.
Filipinos, in general, are courteous towards foreigners and they don’t intend scamming or cheating anyone from abroad. Most importantly, there are almost zero risks for a foreigner of falling victim of any robbery or snatching even though s/he would encash foreign currency from any of the money exchange shops and put it in the wallet openly.
Before I rode into Sharif’s tricycle, a number of street vendors approached me with fake Rolex watch, counterfeit old coins, Viagra and some other stuff, which I gently declined with a smile. Good thing is, they don’t keep on pursuing selling these goods. Just they approach once and would not repeat when declined. Similar street vendors are found in most of the Asian cities. Exactly 18 years back, when I visited China for the first time and boarded in a hotel near Tiananmen Square, I saw dozens of similar street vendors selling various items. But with the passage of time, China has changed and during my subsequent visits, I was delighted seeing Chinese society quickly abandoning many of its traditional cultures including riding on bicycles. Now, no one will see a bicycle in the streets of Beijing or most of the major cities. Economic prosperity has replaced the bicycles with BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Ford, Buick, Ferrari, and lots of Chinese-brand posh vehicles. China’s economic progress possibly is faster than its bullet trains and especially under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, China is emerging as a superpower in the world.
About the Philippines and President Rodrigo Duterte, we read in the international media about the ongoing battle against drugs and extra-judicial killing of hundreds of people. Out of my curiosity, when I asked the Mindanao man – how he was feeling about President Duterte’s actions against drugs and radical Islamic militancy, he instantly said “those are mere propaganda. The President is dedicatedly working for the people of the country and playing a vital role in liberating Davao from the curse of drugs and militancy”.
When I asked, in that case, why the international media are branding President Duterte as a man killing people extrajudicially, he said, “It’s propaganda sponsored by narcotics rackets”.
To cross-check Sharif’s statement, I asked the same question to a number of people from Davao and Mindanao and all of them echoed what the tricycle rider had said.
Back in Mindanao, Sharif has his wife and children while he has been living in Manila for the past 18 years. His profession brings him on an average 12-15 thousand pesos, wherefrom he pays 3 thousand as monthly rent to the tricycle owner. From the remaining amount, he sends some money to his family and rests he needs for buying food and paying for the tiny space he uses in a parking space of a building for resting at night. Sharif calls it his “room”, which does not have any toilet and he has to go to any nearby cheap hotel – pay them 20 pesos for taking bath. Yes, Sharif is homeless like many of those tricycle riders and street vendors in Manila. They certainly have extreme frustration, but never show this to anyone as they possibly hate begging any favor from anyone – including the foreigners.
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is the editor of Blitz. Follow him on Twitter at Salah_Shoaib