Sitting at the table next to me are a 'typical' couple: older, greying, overweight Western man with his beautiful Filipina girlfriend, barely 18 years old. He can't stop touching her, has an arm around her, pride oozing from every pore. He keeps trying to catch my eye and those of the other Westerners in here. His body-language is clear: "Look what I possess! Look at me! I may be old and fat but this beauty wants to be with me!"
They are cooing lovingly at one another, she speaks very little English. He is taking her photo, many times, directing her, posing her for his holiday snaps, "no, no!" he says "just look over there... like, so... yes, that is good!"
Can he really have no idea she is a prostitute?
Can you imagine the same scenario in Europe? Middle-aged man picks up a hooker from the red-light district and takes her down to his 'local' to show her off! He would get laughed out of the pub!
They finish breakfast and he gets the bill. It is very cheap but he only has a big note - p500 [about 5 quid - a huge amount here]. The waitress takes it without expression. She is an archetypal Filipina waitress: slow, patient, speaking no more than absolutely necessary. She walks away very, very slowly, letting her flip-flops drag on the paving stones behind her - shoosh... shoosh... shoosh... shoosh... shoosh...
She consults the Cafe's matriarch and returns... shoosh... shoosh... shoosh... shoosh... shoosh...
"I cannot change" she says abruptly. She is not being rude.
"You cannot change it?!" he seems surprised [I wasn't]. She shakes her head,
"No change" she says.
He picks up his wallet from the table and starts leafing through a wad of p500 and p1000 notes, looking for something smaller, "no no" he murmurs "I do not think I have... You have some change?" he asks his girlfriend.
He looks up sharply, "you have no change?"
Before he has finished speaking she is already shaking her head.
"No change" she says firmly.
"No change?" he asks with an indulgent smile, "nothing at all? Not even a few peso?"
Then he laughs, but it is a laugh of realisation and sounds a little desperate.
"But you must have" he speaks quietly, embarrassed by the presence of the waitress. "What about the present I gave..." his voice trails off. His girlfriend is shaking her head. Hands folded neatly in her lap, eyes demurely downcast, but the shaking head is resolute.
"No change" she says quietly.
He turns back to the waitress, who has watched their exchange without expression.
"So you must get change!" His tone is brisk, his smile artificial. There is an increasingly fragile air about him - I can almost hear his dreams shattering.
"No change" the waitress repeats.
"Then you must go somewhere and get some change! And quickly please!"
The waitress looks at him calmly. He is making extra work for her and she doesn't like it. There is no readable emotion on her face. The two young Filipinas are so still, so quiet, so inscrutably Asia.
She turns and walks away... shoosh... shoosh... shoosh... shoosh... shoosh... shoosh... disappearing into the trees behind the cafe.
There is an uneasy silence. The man laughs again, fake and nervous.
"So you have nothing!" he says "Even after I..." his words hang in the air unsaid. The girl has not moved - small feet together, hands folded in her lap, eyes downcast. Then finally she looks up and meets his gaze with cool eyes.
"I don't pay" she says quietly.
Silence. It is very hot, there is no breeze. Minutes pass, the man shuffles in his seat and wipes his head with a too-small napkin.
Shoosh... shoosh... shoosh... shoosh... shoosh... shoosh...
Wordlessly the waitress hands him his change and she waits.
"There is no tip!" he says, too quickly. She shrugs and... shoosh... shoosh... shoosh... shoosh... she is gone.
The couple stand and leave. His girlfriend walks two paces behind him and smiles at me as she passes.
It’s the trip of a lifetime
3 weeks ago