Atienza: The Chinese xenophobia syndrome


A FRIEND who vacationed at a five-star hotel in Boracay narrated how appalled she was to find a Chinese tourist washing her feet on the vanity sink of the ladies’ rest room, leaving the bowl dirty and clogged up with sand.

“Don’t they know there are foot baths for that?” she asked.

“Oh, that’s nothing,” another friend chimed in. “I heard a story about a Chinese tourist who cleaned up her child by the beach and later buried the baby’s dirty diaper in the sand!”

Inside coffee shops, at dinner parties, and through media, social or otherwise, one picks up emotional discussions, varied opinions and endless analysis on the influx of Chinese money, laborers and tourists into our homeland.

The discussions and rumors range from sovereignty issues to economic takeover fears, the destructive behaviors of tourists and general mistrust of Chinese labor working in various industries.

There is also the “online gambling vis-a-vis shabu” conundrum. They say President Duterte is asking for China’s help in apprehending shabu exporters from their ports of origin in China, but as a quid pro quo China is asking Duterte to curb Chinese online gambling operations here in the Philippines.

Then last week, the Cebu police apprehended a number of female sex workers from China. There was a general outcry. Is this where our bustling economy is headed? Gambling, drugs, prostitution and crime?

This fear-inducing China phenomenon is currently gripping Filipino consciousness and creating conversation in our communities. It doesn’t help either that the Liberal Party is unabashedly exploiting these issues in order to gain popularity and raise its political stock.

As a result, we are caught in a situation that is almost akin to a “Chinese xenophobia”--fomenting fear and/or irrational dislike of people from China.

It’s time for a reality check.

Naturally, the tourists from Mainland China that come to Cebu are from a lower income bracket that can afford our cheaper tour prices. We are Cebu, a developing city somewhere in Southeast Asia. Not London, Paris, or New York City where those crazy, rich and “more educated” Asians spend their millions to shop and vacation in luxury yachts on the Mediterranean.

Rules of etiquette differ from country to country. And if we expect to prime our economy through tourism, we better prepare for the inevitable clash of cultures.

Sandy Chinese feet hanging on vanity sinks? Just imagine how foreigners react to dirty feet and homegrown Filipinos squatting on top of pristine white toilet bowls to do their thing.

Okay, burying dirty diapers in the pristine white sands of Boracay might be a bit too much. But think of the thousands of Filipinos who urinate at will anywhere in town. As we put it, “sa lahat ng kanto na lang” (in every street corner). A comedian once joked that he was very impressed by the numerous welcome signs he saw posted on walls on his way to the hotel from the airport. He agreed Filipinos were indeed an extremely hospitable people. What signs??? He thought “Bawal umihi dito” meant “Welcome home”!

Instead of getting xenophobic about the Chinese, looking for positive solutions to misunderstandings is probably the better option. I know of a hotel group who hired a Chinese interpreter and every time there’s a big group from China, the interpreter gives a short welcome speech together with an explanation on Philippine culture and customs.

Is it possible for the hospitality industry to coordinate with the Chinese consulate in Cebu and ask them to come up with signs already written in Chinese that can be posted in key areas around the hotel?

In much the same way, can our local and national leaders come up with an ordinance or law that requires all owners of public places (like restaurants) to come up with English or Filipino language translations to the menus and signs they have on billboards and public areas?

A simple hand held out in friendship and understanding will go a long way in making Cebu truly world-class tourist destination.


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