(This is another #throwback post. We went to Macau last July 2014.)
As soon as my mom and I finished the immigration check in the ferry boat terminal, we headed out to look for taxis to go to the must-visit destinations on our list. We were in Macau, the world’s new gambling capital, where Portuguese colonial history fuse with Chinese traditions, and where casinos and hotels are the main drivers of the economy.
“Sir, baka gusto niyo po ng day tour? Mura lang po,” said a familiar tone. (Sir, would you like a day tour? It won’t cost you a buck.)
We turned around to see a young Filipino with a backpack. He wanted to tour us around Macau for HKD 150 per person. For safety purposes, I’ll call him Andrew in this blog.
We never get tour guides whenever we travel since I always do my research before visiting a new travel destination. But for this time, we were willing to make an exemption. Andrew looked pleasant and, guessing that he was an overseas Filipino worker (OFW), we knew he probably needed the extra income.
A ‘typical’ OFW life
We boarded a bus to our first destination – the Wynn Hotel and Casino. Andrew gave us many tips that saved us a lot of HKDs for that day. For one, we didn’t have to get cabs to get to the must-see sights in Macau. The hotels and casinos offer coaches that go around the city and all the tourist spots are covered!
As we went along our private tour, Andrew told us about his life. We were right with our guess, of course. Andrew was an OFW, a dishwasher in one of the hotels in Macau. His story was typical of migrant Filipino workers and we thought it was quite inspiring.
The 27-year-old works from 6am to 2pm five times a week. After work and on weekends, he would go to either the Macau Ferry terminal or the Macau International Airport to look for Filipino tourists that he could take on a tour.
“Eh ako lang po kasi maaasahan ng pamilya ko. Yung mga kapatid ko po ako rin nagpapa-aral,” said Andrew, his Ilocano accent revealing. (I’m the only breadwinner in my family. I send my siblings to school.)
Andrew sends all his income to his family. His father, a former OFW in the Middle East, started a business a few years back. Unfortunately, it got bankrupt and Andrew had to step up to his father’s role.
He has been working in Macau for the past 2 years, and has also been sending his siblings to school. Andrew himself had to give up his studies for his families. “It’s my responsibility as the eldest child, I guess,” he added.
Andrew had an easier time adjusting in Macau, given that his aunt – who got him the job – has been living there for the past decade.
We arrive at another casino and Andrew gladly takes our photos.
Life in Macau
Andrew is one of the 17,763 non-resident Filipino workers – as of 2013 – living in the special administrative region. OFWs comprise the second largest group of foreign workers in the territory, next to Mainland Chinese and followed by Vietnamese, HongKongers, and Indonesians.
Compared to other countries with many OFWs, Andrew said Macau is a modern oasis for Filipinos. The conditions, he said, were better and money comes easy.
“When you’re working in casinos and hotels, you can earn more from tips than your regular salary. If you don’t have that privilege, you can always do sidelines, like what I’m doing,” Andrew said.
Our tour guide also said the Filipino community in Macau is tight knit compared to other countries he has worked in. Being a small territory, it’s easier to know everyone.
“Walang masyadong inggitan at siraan dito kumpara sa iba. Kapag linggo, magkakasama kami magsimba. Kapag may birthday, nagsasalu-salu,” he said.
(Filipinos here don’t backbite each other. They aren’t as envious to another’s success compared to those in other countries. During Sundays, we go to church together. When there’s a birthday, we dine together.)
As we enter Restaurante Platao, Andrew’s recommended lunch stop, we noticed that all the servers were Filipinos. They greet our tour guide, thanking him for bringing another customer.
Life in Macau has been good for Andrew. He has a good job and he earns enough to support his family and save for his dreams.
Looking forward, he said he wanted to work in Australia while pursuing culinary arts. He wants to be a chef and own a restaurant in the Philippines. All of that, however, has to wait while his siblings aren’t finish with their schooling.
“My priority right now is for my siblings to finish school. I have teenage brothers and sisters so it’s quite a long way to go,” he said.
As we head to The Venetian Macau, our last stop for the tour, Andrew gave us a tip on how to gamble. “The most important thing is to know when to stop. It’s not worth losing so much,” he said while admitting that he has never tried gambling in the world’s gambling capital.
We handed him our payment and an extra tip for his services. It was just another day for Andrew and he said he’ll be heading to the ferry terminal again the next day to look for customers he can tour.
When Andrew left us, I wondered if he realized that he was also gambling in Macau. Like many OFWs, he has given up his own dreams to support his family in the Philippines. There’s no certainty if he’ll be able to keep his job for as long as his siblings are in school and no assurance that he’ll get his dream job in Australia. But he still perseveres, not for himself but for his loved ones.
So when you’re in Macau and you need a tour guide, look around the airport lobby (or the ferry terminal if you’re coming from Hong Kong.) You might see Andrew or other OFWs looking for extra income. Get their service and ask their story. You might be helping more people than you can imagine.
Going to Macau and you want to get Andrew as a tour guide? Comment your e-mail below so I can connect you.