Why natives hate tourists (Koreans in the Philippines)

You are in a middle of a boring day in your boring place doing a boring task. Say you are walking your way to Gargarita store to buy your weekly supply of pancit canton, sanitary napkin, powdered iced tea, and some tasteless biscuits when a sight of Koreans wearing colorful t-shirt and taking pictures of the Miagao Church catches your attention. At first you do not think of it as something extraordinary. Koreans are ubiquitous in any big city in the Philippines; they are either studying English, Christian missionaries, or immigrants who think they will have a better life in the country, or everything that were that were mentioned.

Koreans in the Philippines

At first, during the time when they were not as numerous as they are now, you would think they are cute. Anomalies that are not really nuisance, just different. For you they are a welcome sight. They are oases of white/fair skins in a sea of brown, too familiar Malay faces. But things start to change when you see one, two, or several of them every time you ride a jeepney going to school asking you to pass their fare in their funny accent when they say “sa lugar”, when you overhear their all-too-familiar laughter and shouts in your favorite disco house, or when you see in the news that a group of Koreans are reported to have run amok in a bar.

Things start to change when these supposedly tourists become so numerous that you think they are encroaching the space you believe is your space and the space of the other members of your community. Things change when one of your friends who is a tutor to Koreans has been gotten pregnant by one of her students you were barely able to distinguish when he was introduced to you together with his other Korean friends. For you, they all look the same: Fair-skinned, tall, clad in colorful clothing who always have with them their cool and latest gadgets.

You see them as tourist. You do not think of them as a student like you who have to go through difficulties such as delayed allowance, shabby clothing that have remained in your closet (that is if you have one) since you started college, or has no time to party not because you have literally no time but because the price of a bottle of beer is equal to two meals in a day in the university cafeteria. You see them as tourist who find fascinating and exciting the things you think are ordinary and boring. You think it is scandalous to pay for the airfare from Seoul to Iloilo just to see the facade of Miagao Church or Jaro Cathedral. You see English as a given and not something to be invested in with so much of one’s wealth.

You start to hate them when you see that the things, places, and objects you take for granted are interesting, important, and cool to them. You hate them because they have the freedom to leave their country and seek adventure in your poor country whereas you will never be given a chance to escape from the boredom of your place. You hate them because they too-easily own things that you think are dear and will need a month’s saving just for you to acquire.

Then you begin to see them as nuisance, even a threat to your self-esteem and your self-worth. You start to ask why it is so easy for them and so difficult for you. And you know that the answer boils down to the simple reason that you are poor enough to have the thing they have and to experience your boring place with so much interest.

Total population of Koreans in the Philippines: 92,608 (as of 2007)

Regions with significant populations: Metro Manila, Cebu City, Davao City, Bacolod, Iloilo City

Largely consisting of expatriates from South Korea, they form the largest community of overseas Koreans in Southeast Asia. Aside from long-term residents, at least 370,000 South Korean visitors came to the Philippines in 2004 for business, education, and/or leisure purposes. That number grew to 570,000 in 2006, meaning that South Korean tourists formed a larger group than American tourists for the first time. The recent influx of Koreans has been so great that 65% of the 155,744 foreigners who visited Boracay, the Philippines’s most popular tourist attraction, were South Koreans. Many South Koreans living in the Philippines are attracted to the low cost of English-language education and housing, both significantly cheaper than those offered in their native South Korea. The warmer climate is yet another motivating factor for the recent surge in migration.

Korean expatriates provide a significant stimulus to the local economy; they are estimated to spend between US$800 and $1000 per month, making an aggregate contribution of over $1 billion per year in consumer spending. South Korean tourists often enroll in short-term courses in English language schools to cope with South Korea’s growing demand for English proficiency. Their numbers include a large proportion of young people; according to Son Jung-Son of the Philippine-Korean Cultural Center in Seoul, over 1,500 Koreans under 20 years old arrive in the Philippines every month to study English.