Memoirs of a Philippine Mongerer
Chapter 1: The begining
At the risk of becoming introspective and boring everybody to death with stories of excessive indulgence, I thought the life and times of a Philippine expat would make an interesting column for AE members to read. I envision that this article will be somewhat of a work in progress divided into chapters. By definition it will largely be about my own experiences but wherever possible I will try to extrapolate the lessons learned and give my personal feelings and reactions to the situations as they occurred. It is my hope that this article will work on three separate levels. Firstly it will provide an easy reading narrative, detailing some of my experiences over the last eighteen years of living and working here. Secondly, it will provide an enlightening insight into the world of managing bars and day to day survival in the Philippines. Thirdly it will be simple light hearted entertainment for all to enjoy.
As a wise man once said the best place to start any story is at the beginning and the beginning for me was at my best friends flat in Australia, September 15, 1990. We were sitting around his dining room table quaffing down copious amounts of Jack Daniels and coke whilst playing black jack, when suddenly from out of nowhere my mate Tim piped up “ guess what guys, just came back from a great trip to the PI”. I asked him “from where” and he replied “the Philippines mate, you wouldn’t believe it”.
I looked at him somewhat aghast and said, “why would you want to go there? I mean what is there to do in the Philippines?” Tim had thrown out his line and like a big fish I had taken the bait. To answer my question Tim simply smiled, looked around to make sure his live in girlfriend was nowhere in ear shot and replied “mate they have little brown girls there who dance on the pole, speak English and love to fuck.” At this point you could have knocked me down with a feather. In the past I had heard of General MaCarthurs "I shall return" and I had heard about Filipina mail order brides but that was about as far as my knowledge of the Philippines went.
At this stage in my life I had been to Thailand several times before so I wasn’t totally green and I felt compelled to ask,“so you mean it has a bar scene like Thailand” and he replied “exactly, except the Philippine girls speak English and they fall in love with you”. After hearing this, my curiosity was now tweaked and I made a mental note to myself to secretly learn more about this mysterious country Philippines and its girlie bar scene.
Time slowly trundled on and in May of 1991 I found myself retrenched from my job as the advertising manager for a major Japanese computer company along with a healthy redundancy check and thoughts of the Philippines revolving in my head.
I now had plenty of time on my hands plus the necessary funds so it was fairly obvious that this was the perfect time to travel. Thanks to the Lonely Planet’s ‘guide book to the Philippines’ I now had a basic idea of where this country was and what it was like so I decided a two week stopover in the PI would fit the bill and from there over to Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and then over to England to try and find some gainful employment.
On July 1, 1991 I said goodbye to Australia at the grand old age of 31 and headed towards what would become my new home, the Philippines. I was sitting on the plane just minding my own business when all of a sudden the guy in the seat across the isle from me said “gooday mate, your first trip to the Philippines?” I answered “yeah is it that obvious” and he said “yes mate but don’t worry about it, it’s me and me mates first trip as well.” "But you guys look like you do this shit all the time" I said to which he replied “nope this is our first trip”. “Me mate Terry over here his brother has shares in a bar in Manila so we thought we would get over there and check it out”. I asked my new found friend "what bar is that" and he said “it’s called superstar mate, see you there about 9pm.”
Later that night I hailed a cab from my hotel and asked the driver do you know Superstar Bar he replied “sure Joe, Superstar I know” and 200 peso later for what must have been approximately a 2 mile journey I was at the doorstep of the biggest club in Ermita.
For those of you who were here back then or at least visiting you will remember Superstar as being a big bar with a raised circular stage in the front and various stages of elevated seating slightly resembling an ancient roman amphitheater. The night I walked in through the stainless steel doors my senses were literally assaulted by a barrage of sound, a plethora of gorgeous girls and drunken revelers as far as the eye could see. I stood in the doorway for about twenty seconds when all of a sudden I made eye contact with a long legged brown skinned beauty who winked at me and I remember thinking ‘thank you Tim, I have died and gone to heaven’.
I made my way through the crowd of partiers to the upper section of Superstar only to find my buddies from the plane engaging in copious rounds of shooters with the manager, a Corsican gent named Claude. Now I am not one to say no to a drink and next think I knew the shooters were coming by the tray full. In those days it was common practice for the group of guys to raise their glasses in the air shout in unison at the top of their voices and then drink the shot in one gulp. We did this about eight times within the space of one hour when suddenly Claude ambles over to me and says “hey buddy it’s your round”. I tried to explain to him that buying a round is not a problem I just didn’t realize that it was expected of me. With that he calls a waitress over and says "just tell her what drinks you want to order and let’s get this party rolling".
Lesson number one; when involved in rounds of shooters with a bar manager make sure you reciprocate by buying a round back. If you don’t want to play the game simply do not drink the first shooter when it is offered to you and this way you are never obligated to buy back.
Well as you can imagine the night went downhill from there on but I did manage to eventually pick up a girl (or did she pick me up) get back to my hotel and get the deed done. Her performance was not exactly mind blowing but then again I am sure mine wasn’t either.
The next day I moved to the APP, Manila, Mayfair Hotel which had been recommended by my friend Tim and another long term Philippine visitor Graham. The Mayfair was not exactly plush but the air-cons worked albeit loudly, the bed sheets were cleaned regularly, the beds were comfortable and big enough to fit one foreigner and two Filipinas, the food was always decent, it was priced correctly and every afternoon the management would offer guided tours of their favorite bars.
When I first checked into the Mayfair I decided well there’s no point coming all this way just to sit in my room so I decided to grab something to eat and maybe a quiet little drink in the hotel restaurant. The hotel restaurant was in fact a far cry from what in a normal country would be called a restaurant. Basically it was composed of a small open air courtyard with four plastic tables, some plastic seats and a small bar area which specialized in SMB, Red Horse, Tanduay Rum and Ginebra Gin all for a massive 30 peso. Behind the bar was a smallish kitchen featuring a nippa hut roof, sheets of plastic to protect one from the elements when it rained and the distinctive aroma of vinegar laden chicken adobo.
I wandered downstairs through the reception area where the receptionist was busy self administering a manicure whilst jabbering away in Taglog on the phone and into the hotels courtyard / restaurant. I asked for a menu then ordered a coffee to drink and chicken adobo to eat.
As I was sitting there enjoying my second cup of coffee I happened to catch snippets of the conversation going on at the table next to me. Now I am not one to eavesdrop but this conversation was just too good to be true. Here were two Australian guys discussing the merits of having sex with a young woman versus having sex with a slightly older, more experienced woman. I tried to tune off but the subject matter had me hooked and it was very obvious these two veterans had been around and were speaking from personal experience. I turned around and said “sorry to interrupt guys but I just couldn’t help overhearing your conversation and I was wondering if I could join in. My name is Martin, it’s my first trip and I reckon I can learn a lot from guys like you”. They both stopped talking looked at me, then the taller one of the two said “sure thing mate pull up a chair and let’s hear your point of view”.
Pretty soon we were all comfortably sitting around the plastic tables throwing back a few cold smb’s and thoroughly enjoying the easy going banter that is so common amongst expats in the Philippines.
Prior to arriving I had asked Tim and Graham for some contacts in Manila and they had given me the names of Ken Carbry and David Goldshaft. After about half an hour of a serious discussion on the subject of sex I asked the guys “by the way guys I don’t even know your names” to which they replied Ken and David. At this point I broke out in a big laugh and said “that would be right I was told to ask for you two by my mates in Aus”. We discussed mutual acquaintances and common friends for a while then David looked at his watch and said “geez it’s almost 2, time for a bar hop son”.
I had no way of knowing it at the time but throughout my first few years in the Philippines, David Goldshaft and Ken Carbry were to be major influences in my life. David was a 50 year old accountant bought up in Australia but had been residing in Manila for the last ten years. He was a tall skinny man whose trade mark was his horn rimmed bi-focal glasses through which he would scrutinize any and every girl that came into his field of vision. When it came to girls David always reminded me of a horse breeder at a yearling sale. Ken was a small, diminutive, 60 year old Aussie who was in many ways totally the opposite too David. When it came to the women Ken was a quiet achiever and he could most often be found in the steam rooms, saunas and massage parlors sampling an afternoon delight from one or more willing Filipinas.Both these guys were fountains of knowledge and like a sponge I absorbed their wisdom so readily given.
No sooner had David uttered the words bar hopping and I was ready to go. My eagerness must have been clearly apparent to both of them because David looked at me through his thick bi-focal glasses and said “hey Ken look at the youngster he’s like a bull in a china shop, just can’t wait to get stuck into it”. Ken then smiled at me saying “hey boy you’re eager, slow down a bit the pussy isn’t going anywhere. I asked him "where are we going" and he replied “don’t worry about that son you’re in good hands now”.
We walked out of the hotel turned left and headed up Mabini street towards the bar area of M.H.Del Pilar. To this day I can remember clear as a bell the oppressive humidity, the pot holed pavements with seedy looking Filipinos and hawkers eyeing me from dingy street corners. I remember the numerous electricity lines all dangling down in a gigantic bunch from termite ridden poles. I remember the yellow Toyota cabs with their little non effective fans placed on the dash board. I remember how the cabs would follow you up the street with the driver hailing you through his window “I give you good price joe” “where you go joe” “hey Americano me number one driver you want girl”. Most of all I remember the poor sleeping on filthy sheets of cardboard with a mass of grimy kids all holding out their hands saying “hey Joe you give me money”. Imediately my heart went out to them and I found my wallet rapidly becoming considerably lighter. To this day these images are as fresh in my mind as if it was yesterday.
Within 5 minutes of walking and having my senses bombarded I was at a loss about what to think and the ashen look on my face must have said it all because David turned to me and said “yeah I know what you’re feeling mate I was exactly the same on my first trip”. Whilst this was not really a consolation it did make me feel a little bit better if only because I realized we all go through this ‘culture shock’ when we first arrive in the Philippines.
Once we hit M.H.Del Pilar street I looked over at Dave and as the door girls tried to entice us into the individual bars with promises of free blow jobs and cryptic lines like “I give you best honey ko”, “it’s nice with ice” and “come inside sir, to many sexy ladies”, I saw a wry smile on Dave’s face then he turned to me and said “now that’s what I’m talking about and that’s why I call this place home”.