Kind strangers

Mon, 04/09/2007 - 00:00

reprinted from South China Morning Post April 1 2004

by Alan Robles

Picture this: a young American, newly arrived in Manila, is stranded on the streets with no money. To anyone who believes all the hair-raising stories about this country, his future could be summed up in two words: "dead meat".

Yet as Brent Bartel, 28, discovered, a visitor's fate here is not determined by news reports, but by the kindness of people. And the kindness he was shown has made him rethink the popular image of the Philippines as a hostile place.

When he arrived last month to see his fiancée in the southern Philippines, it was only his second trip to the country. He recalls how, the first time he came here two years ago, his friends in Portland, Oregon, were aghast. They told the truck driver that he was going to a dangerous place - and little wonder. News stories and travel advisories harped on about bombings, lawlessness and criminality.


Strangely, Mr Bartel's first trip was uneventful. It was the second which put him to the test. When he arrived, he found that because of some glitch, the cash machines at the airport would not accept his card. He spent most of the few dollars he had taking a cab to a motel, where he stayed prior to catching an early flight to the provinces.

The next day, after spending the rest of his cash on a taxi to the airport, he found he had been driven to the wrong building - the correct one was several kilometres away. He had no money, he was at the wrong terminal and his plane was leaving in an hour. Desperately, he tried running there with all his luggage, but would never have made it if a cab driver had not pulled up beside him and asked if he needed a ride.

When the American explained his predicament, the driver became upset that Mr Bartel might be getting a bad impression of the Philippines. And so he told him to hop in.

But his problems were not over yet. At the airport, the gate agent told him he needed 100 pesos departure tax, and 500 pesos for excess baggage. When Mr Bartel told him that he had no money, and explained how he had been unable to withdraw any cash, the agent paid the amount out of his own pocket.

In the end, because of two strangers who stepped in when he needed the help, Mr Bartel succeeded in meeting his fiancée. They will marry this summer.

He says that he got the names and telephone numbers of the people who helped him, but only after being insistent. Reflecting on his experience in what is supposed to be a dangerous country, he said: "It's hard to imagine this kind of hospitality could be repeated anywhere else in the modern era. Maybe my story could change a few more minds as to what a great travelling destination the Philippines is."



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