Readers' Submissions

Travel and Paranoia

  • Written by Felix
  • February 5th, 2010
  • 5 min read


Last month (in December) our contributor Frankie West received a lot of flak for the fearless exposure of his unbalanced self. I am not going to hurry belatedly to his defence, but I should like to put the spotlight on the problem of paranoia in general. It has well been documented that all those dangerous situations Frankie lived through in Angeles existed in his fantasy, but were not real dangers. But I wonder: what caused the outbreaks of his fears? Are they rooted deeply in his personality? Then he must live dangerously in Blighty also. Or was it a case of on the trip acquired Philippine fever? In my experience there exist two different reasons for the development of paranoia. Either personal psychotic or environmental. Let me give you an example. I lived in Germany, when it was divided. Being in West-Germany, I always felt completely at ease and cocksure. As soon as I passed the border to Communist East Berlin a terrible feeling of anxiety gripped me. From every street corner people were watching me suspiciously. If I lost my passport – or it was stolen from me – I might spend years in prison. Nothing untimely ever happened to me, but only when I returned to West Berlin the ground stopped trembling under my feet. This was a case of pure environmental paranoia.

Now I ask: Might not a sensitive visitor in the Philippines receive subconsciously some not so good vibes from the environment which will make him feel alienated, out of range, disconnected, asking himself the famous question of the travel author Bruce Chatwin: "What am I doing here?"

I admit that for many travelers visiting Angeles is like opening the door to paradise. But I cannot agree on the conclusion that Angeles is just a bit more dangerous than Pattaya. In my eyes this equals the assumption that the Congo is only a little more dangerous than Malta. But in fact the PIs belong to quite another league than Thailand. They belong to the most disaster prone countries in the world next to Haiti, subjected to natural catastrophes and human caused sufferings.

Please tell me when did you hear ever that in Thailand thirty Thai journalists (plus 27 attendants) have been ambushed, raped, killed and hewn into pieces by the private army of a provincial boss? Not possible here. In the Philippines this happened on November 23 last year. The culprit just appeared in court and pleaded not guilty. Can you expect that in his country there (still) lives one judge, who would declare him guilty? A man who butchers his opponents by the dozen? Just wait and see. (Details: www.asiasentinel.com, December 2.)

Back to the Land of Smiles. The First Family here is held in high esteem. Rightly. But in the Philippines their President Ferdinand Marcos from 1965 to 1986 murdered a number of his subjects to take possession of their wealth. He also stole 10 billion from the state coffers to spend for his personal hobbies. (For details: Sterling Seagrave: "The Marcos Dynasty" and "Gold Warriors", available from AMAZON.)

The most chilling report on the conditions of the Philippines I have ever read is the 1924 bestseller "Isles of Fear" by Katherine Mayo, based on her New York Times series from the same year. (Available as a free download from www.gutenberg.net.au). Mayo spent eight years growing up in Papua-New Guinea, so she knew all about living in one of the most destitute places in the world. When she came to the Philippines she performed what Professor Korski would call sociological field research, based completely on her own observations, not influenced by translators or locals in the know. She discovered directly the cause of perennial poverty of the Philippines: That the few rich families siphon up all cash from the poor, leaving them in debt at such high interest rates that they never had a chance in their lifetime to become debt free. In principle this has not changed. Mayo also made a prophetic prediction. When the then American Colony would be released into independence, the Catholic north and the Muslim Moro south should be formed as two different state entities to avoid endless conflicts, as is the case now. (Later Mayo wrote a book "Mother India" in which she took on child bride nuptials, which caused the minimum marriage age for girls in India to be raised by four years.)

While the poor tenant in the Philippines now is not forced to eat cassava three times a day (see Korski's "The story of Frank and Michelle"), backwardness has not been overcome. Eighty years after Mayo the Third World Author Pepe Escobar visited the Isles of Fear and discovered a "Disgraceful State", as he titled his analytic series in the Asia Times. He found: One third of the population have to subsist on less than a dollar a day. 38 percent of the families have no solid-structure shelter (which makes typhoons so deadly), 40 percent have no adequate caloric intake. As a Brazilian Pepe knows everything about shanty towns, in his country called Favelas, but he was deeply shocked when he discovered the Smoky Mountain of Manila, a forty year old mountain of garbage, inhabited by 30,000 people, who literally live off it. And this is not the worst site of its kind. It is topped by Barangay 145, Zone 16 in Passay City, noted for having still growing mountains of uncollected garbage. I agree with Korski, that many Asians, "those with money and power and driving their Mercedes don't give a shit about" such misery, but I can identify with the lost ones. As a boy of eleven and twelve in post-war Germany I suffered continuously from severe hunger. The only recourse I had was surfing with a long stick through the daily rising garbage heaps that the American garrison created. I was not aware of a loss of dignity. You cannot afford dignity when you are close to dying. The only thing that counted was finding a few slices of toast bread or a half eaten can of spam, to survive a few hours longer. Luckily my personal position improved permanently, but more than sixty years later I can still feel the unbearable stench of the garbage mountain in my nostrils. So I can share the deep feeling of joy a slum boy has when he discovers something usable in the refuse.

I never had the courage of visiting Smoky Mountain, but just knowing of its existence gives me the heebie-jeebies. Is this a case of environmental paranoia?

Stickman's thoughts:

I rather enjoy visiting poor neighbourhoods and hope that I have the chance to do so when I eventually make it to Manila.