Confessions of a Taxi Driver

Most of the time, I get into a taxi cab, tell them where I am going, and the driver immediately attempts to gouge me on the price by not running the meter and trying to charge me 2 - 2.5x the fare it costs to get there up front. It's become an art to say "Run the meter, or I'll get out". I hate being rude and all, but my patience for people attempting to take advantage of me because I'm a foreigner is quickly running out. I typically choose not to tip a driver that attempts to pull that stunt. Maybe I'm a bad person, but if the first thing you attempt to do is to cheat someone, then that says something about your character. I used to reconcile that behavior that people needed the money, and would do whatever they needed to do. Maybe that's the case, but on the same token - I've met equally needy people that act with honesty and integrity across the board.

That's not my note for today, however. Today's experience was again a little more humbling.

While on my way home from Green Hills today (where I picked up a sweet iPad knock sleeve for stupid cheap), I happened to have a cab driver who struck up a conversation with me. He asked me where I was from, and how long I had been here. I've learned since I've been here that this conversation opening is often code for "tell me about your family". Being a rather private guy with complete strangers (and even with people that I know), my impulse is to deflect. The win-win in this scenario is to start inquiring into the other person. Classic How to Win Friends and Influence People action. Get them talking about themselves. And no topic is better suited for this than family.

The line of questioning begins with asking about children. Spouses are less of a conversation topic here (so I've observed), but kids/nephews/nieces/cousins are all the rage. Immediately, his face lights up, and he starts telling me about his wunderkind son who is studying for his masters in Oklahoma. Oklahoma, of all places. Nothing against Oklahoma, but this is not the typical destination for a Filipino going to the US. Typically, CA, WA, VA, or NYC. However, not Oklahoma City, OK.

Nonetheless, he began to tell me about his son, how he was looking for work because his masters program was coming to an end, and his student visa would would expire after school was over. His son has been in the US since 2003, came back to visit in 2005 and quickly decided that he would stay in the US for as long as he could because of the corruption that existed in the Philippines and the difficulty to get a good job. It also did not make financial sense - go to the US, take a bunch of US loans for school, and then go back to the Philippines to compete for a poor paying entry level accounting job.

That's where the conversation took a turn south. The cab driver then begins to tell me that he's only working part time as a Taxi driver, because he's had to sell his company because of government corruption. Some government worker swooped in and cited him for some obscure law that required him to liquidate all his assets. All because the guy refused to pay a bribe to the cop. Snap of the fingers, and this guy's livelihood is gone. All of this sounded a little far fetched, but I went with it. The taxi driver then begins to tell me about his inability to get a job (he is also an accounting major from one of the top schools in the Philippines) because of his age. He is 49, and all of the jobs are for 25-35 year olds. He begins to joke that something happens when you turn 36, because suddenly you become stupid and are unable to work, and should be taken outside and shot. This, the taxi driver explains, is the reason there is so many people on the street starving. Age discrimination.

I didn't know whether to believe the guy or not, but the story was just too much for me. I had no idea how to reconcile the issue, so I ended up doing some research. Sure enough, Google search for "Age Discrimination, Philippines" turns up some large number of pages. One of which is this amazing link:

http://culbreath.wordpress.com/2009/03/13/too-old-to-be-hired-in-the-philippines/

This blog simply lays out data points - jobs advertised for individuals of a certain age. (I've removed the links as they all go nowhere now because they are (>18 months old).

I'm just trying to understand this. I know we have laws in the US that prohibit any age discrimination. Furthermore, I can't imagine being 35 and being done with work. I am aspiring to be rather wealthy by that age (I've got another decade to go), but I cant' just quit by that point. By all measures, I have another 55-65 years to live... cutting it short at 35 just doesn't make sense.

What about age expectancy? It's not 45 or 50. It's somewhere in the mid 70s. A person also isn't eligible for Senior Citizen discounts in the Philippines until 60 years old. That means that if you haven't found a job where you entrench yourselves, then your mobility options become severely limited for 25 years until the state begins to protect you. 25 years! I can't even begin to imagine how much this influences the work ethic here and the decisions that are made. Unless you are part of the elite class (which less than 1% is part of), then it's a race from age 18 (legal working age) to 35 to see how far you can make it upwards, then you have to lay low for another 25 years. No wonder turnover is so massive in all sectors. But once you're in, you're in. Plenty of laws exist in order to protect the employee once you've become regularized (6 month probation period), but getting in becomes the challenge.