I had been travelling for two days straight until we finally arrived at Manila. We had circled the airport for over an hour before the pilot landed the plane. So at 3:30 I had gone through customs and it was safe to say that I was cream crackered.
However my journey wasn’t over yet; I still had to take a night bus to Baguio before I could finally relax. I saw a Burger King at the airport and thought it would be a cracking idea to refuel with processed meat before trying to find the bus station.
After taking several bites of my burger a guy asked if he could sit next to me. He said he was half Kenyan and half English and introduced himself as ‘Aswe’ (I think). Whilst talking to him for a minute I realised that he spoke very eloquently and was a very engaging fellow. So much so that I kept looking at my bags every 5-10 seconds in case someone was going to swipe my bags while he had my attention. I then wondered if he thought I was being rude and/or racist by looking at my bags all the time while he spoke to me, so I put my bags between my legs so I could concentrate on what he was saying.
He told me that he had spent most of his life in Asia, or more specifically, Hong Kong, and was over here looking to see if he could buy some property. I told him that I was a writer and showed him my book. He was amazed that someone so young had written a book.
We ended up talking for over two hours. Like I said he was very engaging and intelligent. He mentioned that if I was to go to Hong Kong to send him an email, I agreed because I felt we instantly got on really well. Then the conversation slowly drifted towards why in fact he was at the airport and not seeing the country in it’s beauty:
“I went out with some Filipino guys up north and we were having some drinks together, one of them must have put something in my drink and the next thing I know they had stolen everything; my wallet, my passport, my cards, everything…” He said solemnly, “Now I’m waiting at the airport to get my cards sent to me, they should be here by tomorrow.”
I apologised saying that he was unlucky, and it could have happened to anyone anywhere, and that he just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Then I offered to give him one of my books to read, since he showed genuine interest in it. I said that it’s not much, but hopefully it will kill a few hours and take you on a journey. He thanked me profusely.
Unfortunately it didn’t end there. He told me his predicament was a catch 22 and he needed some money. I knew where he was going with this so I deliberately didn’t say anything to show how uncomfortable it was to ask someone for money you had just met. Then he asked me for an amount of money ‘that was just less than 10 English pounds’ which made me instantly stop listening to him. I told him that I felt uncomfortable giving out money but he wouldn’t drop it, saying to me “Let me ask you a question; if you saw a starving child in the street would you just stand there and watch them die?”
This really irked me, because he was clearly trying to make me feel guilty now (and it was working) I told him about the story in India when dirty children, sometimes with hardly any clothes on would beg for money and you would instantly give them a few coins, only to watch them run to their mum and dad’s shop and give the coins to them, and said unfortunately you just don’t know, and that’s what has hardened me over the years.
He then started to get visibly annoyed and said “Do you really think I would come all the way from Hong Kong just to ask you for money?” Which was when I realised that I didn’t KNOW that this guy was from Hong Kong; just because he said it didn’t make it true. I then excused myself and said I had to go. I left the book with him just in case he was telling the truth.
I don’t know if this guy was a hustler or not. At times he was ‘Kaiser Soze’ing me by pointing at random people in the shop saying they lent him money or gave him a newspaper to read. But of course it could have been true. In a bizarre way I’d like to think he wasn’t a hustler and a genuine guy in need who I didn’t help because I was worried it was a scam. As I got on the bus to Baguio I began to think more and more that he was a hustler purely due to his reaction when I wouldn’t give him any money. I’ve been scammed before, and I’m sure I’ll be scammed again on this trip, but I’ve noticed when intelligent scammers don’t get what they want, they tend to be loud and aggressive.
I actually lost his email address that he gave me so I can’t email him to tell if he was legit, but I’ll always wonder whether I didn’t help out someone in need or whether I played it smart and didn’t part with my money.