Manila Vanilla

What it's like to be a U.S. Fulbright scholar, basketball player, journalist, and the whitest man in Metro Manila.

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Location: Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines

New Yorker by birth, shipped across the globe to the world of malls, shanty-towns, patronage, corruption, basketball and a curious burnt-toast smell that wafts around at dusk

Friday, January 20, 2006

Mistaken Identities

Men on a mission -- but for what?

Whenever you pass a middle-aged white man in Manila, you're faced with that all-too-common conundrum: Was he a missionary or a sex tourist?

Based on looks alone, it's almost impossible to tell the difference. Despite the sizable moral gulf separating the two, die-hard Christian missionaries and sweaty-palmed specialists in the missionary position look surprisingly similar.

Like ADHD or Tourette's Syndrome, a set of characteristics can be used to identify Jesus freaks and just-plain freaks. They're usually between the ages of 40 and 60, slightly overweight, graying and/or balding, bespectacled, sweating profusely and poorly dressed. Any of the following adjectives may apply to them: unkempt, nebbish, furtive, phlegmatic, pallid, slovenly and bedraggled. Some, but not all of them have grotesque, albeit minor, disabilities like one leg shorter than the other, a lazy eye, or a missing big toe on the right foot.

Does this look like the kind of man who would visit a country for cheap sex?

Most of the middle-aged western males I've come across here are just missionaries or professors. It's an ideal country for Christian relief missions since nearly everyone is Christian and over half of the population lives in poverty and needs whatever help the missionaries can bring.

But the Philippines' sex trade and bootie bonanza reputation make the idea of sex tourism extremely salient, and it's easy to assume every Caucasian you see is on the prowl. Plus, since the sight of a couple cute 19-year-old Filipinas sitting in a wheelchair-bound gastric bypass candidate's lap isn't exactly rare, you can't help but wonder.

It all makes me wonder what people think of me. I'm much younger than the prototypical coochie hound, but does everyone have the same mindset that any white guy in the Philippines is here for the cheap sexy massages? The sexy masseurs certainly seem to think so.

Can you really blame this guy for seeking out greener pastures in Southeast Asia?

I'm usually asked, in this order: "are you a marine? are you a basketball player? are you a missionary?" Well, I play basketball, and I'm kind of a student who's studying Philippine basketball -- strange as that may sound -- so that assumption is close enough to keep me happy.


Anonymous Norm W. said...

Some chick from Virginia I met in a bar sent me your blogsite. I happen to be the son of a missionary minister, and my father
saved many souls in the Philippines. Or so we thought. He kept returning once a year, and then my mother got suspicious when he started sending these big brown boxes back every month. Bargongs, something like that they were called. He'd fill them with all kinds of crap, clothes, toys. Then my Mom opened a letter, and found a photo not unlike the one you have posted on your blog. Guy with babe. Missionary, my ass. They get a taste of that brown stuff and it's frigging sayonara, or whatever goodbye is in Taddlelog.
I haven't spoken to my father since we found out. He left us anyway, and lives outside of Manila with his "saved" ones. Right on, Fulbright. Tell it like it is.

11:55 AM  
Anonymous Larry from the Bronx said...

Hey, Norm, still speaking to your Mom? I mean, why do you think your old man was doing the pineapple twist with the brown babes? Get real, man.
I got a question for Mr. Vanilla: the 2 guys in the last 2 photos, they got the same poomtang
grin on their faces w/ their arms wrapped around the coozgals, and they look like brothers. Are they? (The bottom one looks a little older, no?)

2:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

12:15 AM  

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