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Fair game for the hunter-gatherers…

by Ronnie Hoyle 

IT IS an unfortunate fact of life all over the Far East that hassle is the name of the game…and we cannot ignore the truth that the pests are at work at every point in the Philippines as far as visitors are concerned: everyone wants your money, and that means you are fair game for all hunter-gatherers from the age of one to 100 on every island.

            Don’t get it wrong, it is not only the fact that you are a ‘foreigner’ with white skin: it is simply the fact that if you are not known to the hustler - whether white, brown, black, yellow, purple or green and blue striped - you are just a target that must be manipulated into the right place so you will give up your hard-earned loot to the ‘charity’ concerned…and it is not always easy for hustlers to achieve their ambition!

            Believe it or not, the hunters work hard to bring down their prey, but there is one thing that is in our favour: they hardly ever hide in bushes or long grass like the real thing…and very few of them point guns at you with a view to a kill! With a little bit of luck and preparation, they can usually be avoided.

            What you cannot avoid is the ‘first touch:’ it happens the moment the door opens from the airport or pier to the urban jungle outside…hunters will be waiting. The best thing to do? Walk straight through without looking or speaking to anyone and, if possible, wear your shades and wave a white stick in a great semicircle in front of you…it even clears hard-headed taxi drivers out of the way and makes them look for another victim while you escape, but this can sometimes be a problem if you actually want a taxi.

            This problem can be avoided by walking directly to a taxi as if it is waiting just for you and standing by the passenger door: a driver will notice and someone will then come racing back…this may not get you an immediate fair fare deal, but you only have one person to deal with before you get a ride.

            Unfortunately, some taxi drivers are not the taxi owner so they are not only scamming you: by not using the meter the trip is not recorded, so they do not have to share the fare with the vehicle owner who takes the majority of the money earned each day – sometimes more than 80 per cent.

            You could, of course, have avoided this first scam altogether if you had made prior arrangements with your resort or hotel to be met by their own vehicle on arrival. This may, actually, not be cheaper than the metered fare but it is hassle-free and gets you through most security checkpoints.

            Since your driver knows where you live or stay – or soon will – do not be tempted to answer any prying personal questions, especially about salary or your employment, or you might be setting yourself up for later harassment or ambush: instead, ask questions yourself and get him to answer.

            Another favourite ambush-point for hunters is street corners, particularly those with traffic lights where the game is supposed to stop for a breather before making a mad dash across the non-stop herd going the other way.

Here you must remember your lessons from the wild: staying in the center of the herd is the safest place to make any crossing. If not possible, move 10 meters up or down the stream and take your chances: here you can spot a lone predator far easier, whether he/she is in disguise with a uniform (they are out to ambush jay-walkers) or not.

            Vendors selling items at street corners and road junctions are sometimes offering goods at twice the price they are in conventional shops or market places, or they may have fallen off the back of the proverbial lorry! Quality is also sometimes questionable and the goods are non-returnable, so watch out.

            Much-loved watering holes and eating places are also preferred hang-outs, whether on entry or exit. Entry is far easier because the door forms a barrier, but exit leads straight to the jungle: again, take lessons from the wild and be polite - let someone else walk through the door first and distract the would-be assassin. In really tight situations, with maybe half-a-dozen young predators waiting, scattering a prepared handful of Centavos – and one or two spicy and shiny Pesos - springs the trap long enough to make a safe getaway.

            This may be essential tactics at popular and unguarded hotel entrances, or even outside some banks with ATM machines which are frequented by tourists. Producing similar bait outside some of the more popular shops and stores which may attract the wrong window-shoppers usually has the same effect as a handful of rice thrown at chickens…drop ‘em and you can skip away squawking with happiness as the mad scramble goes on behind you!