Your Privilege is Showing

21 Jan 2020

When I left the Philippines five years ago, I had a high-paying job at the heart of the country’s financial district. I was living a very comfortable life: I can afford an annual membership to a yoga studio, I bought an off-the-plan apartment with views of Manila Bay, I get to treat my parents to a holiday once in a while, I get to travel with my friends – we were even able to go abroad a couple of times!

When I left the Philippines, I was getting paid an annual salary of PHP1.7M. That may sound a lot, but in Australian Dollars that is only 48k – slightly above the minimum wage set by the Fair Work Commission, and way less than what a junior developer would earn.

But the thing is, that IS a lot of money. Chances are a lot of people outside tech might work all their life and never get to that salary range at all. I am indeed extremely luckier and more privileged than other people in my home country.

With all that money, it was still a challenge to do one thing I would have loved to do more of when I was younger – to travel. I’ve always read books and seen shows where teenagers go to exotic places, or heartbroken lovers go to the airport and buy tickets to “anywhere”, or people doing the whole Eat Pray Love thing.

You see, I had the unfortunate case of being born in the Philippines to parents who were also born in the Philippines. Outside of traveling outside Southeast Asia, having a Philippine passport is like traveling in super hard mode:

And that’s just going to ONE country. At some point in the past I swore that I am going on a Europe tour on my 40th birthday. That would mean applying for a Schengen visa; which means I need a full itinerary planned out; which means I have to prepay ALL hotels and transportation to all the countries I want to visit; which does not guarantee me being granted a visa at all. It takes a lot of physical and emotional energy getting all these requirements together, not to mention the monetary investment when applying for a visa (for Schengen, non-refundable fee of ~PHP4,000 – equivalent to a month’s rent). I checked the requirements again when I got my Australian passport, and guess what, I can apply online and then I basically just show up? Whut.

Look, the requirements I showed in that tweet is NOT unique to the UK. Almost all countries have the same requirements for Filipinos. Even when I got my work permit in Australia, I have to provide almost the same exact requirements if I want to go to New Zealand (and now that I am an Australian citizen I can just show up there? Like… It’s still me??).

Don’t even get me started on how I get treated when I land in the country I’m visiting. Some questions I have been asked by immigration:

I’ve traveled twice so far on my Australian passport and I have to say I have received the warmest welcome I have experienced ever. :woman_shrugging:

Anyway, what I am trying to say is that the past couple of days suck because of something I keep on seeing on Twitter. People have been posting all the countries they have been to, and all the others on their bucket list.

I guess sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of how things we take for granted are just faraway dreams for some. When I started traveling internationally, I couldn’t have imagined the amount of suffering and humiliation that I had to go through just to get visas. I have lost count of how many times I have been looked down upon because of the country I was born in, or the passport I am holding. I know that there are SO MANY people out there who have the same aspirations and the same bucket lists as those we see in the meme but have resigned themselves to the fact that it will just be that – a bucket list.

I recognise that as it is, I am much much luckier and more privileged than most. I was given the chance to set myself up for success, I have a supportive family behind me, and I have been given so many opportunities to pull myself up. I am not discounting the fact that those people have worked hard to be where they are, and I am sure they deserve all the fun and enjoyment that they are having.

All I hope for is that we all do not forget how extremely valuable freedom of movement is, and how liberating it must be to have the means to enjoy that freedom.