I grew up in Manila in a time where trust is hard to get by. We were indoctrinated never to trust a stranger. But this perhaps is true in many parts of the world.
It was inculcated in our young minds that when a stranger talk to us in the streets, to make sure that we hold our bags more tightly, or check if we still have our wallets. When we are in a public or crowded places, we were told to be sure that we have our valuables close to us and never ever leave them.
When I was commuting to school, I always carry my backpack on my chest (should it be called a chestpack?), since the pickpocket can easily access my bag without me knowing if it is on my back.
We have even been instructed on the so many modus operandi of the mandurukot and snatchers. They usually have accomplices that would distract your attention, while somebody else go for your valuables. But sometimes they just seize your valuables right in front of your face.
Though on a good note, I have heard from my friends and relatives that Manila is much safer now, under the administration of President Duterte. I hope this continues.
I have personally witnessed snatching a few times in the past. I may have been a victim also, as I lost my money once while I was riding in the jeepney. Though I may have just dropped it, as I was a little burara when I was younger.
Once in college, while we were crossing the overpass in España Blvd in front of UST, a snatcher grabbed my classmate’s necklace. He was about to run after the snatcher, but I held him back, knowing that these people were armed and always have accomplices. It was better for him to just lose his necklace than his life.
In another instance when I was in high school, I was in Harrison Plaza when I was approached by somebody asking for the time. Then he stared at my watch suspiciously. It was a Citizen automatic watch, that was given to me by my father on my birthday. I suddenly sensed a bad feeling – like a “spider sense,” that I quickly ran away from him and entered a store where there was a security guard standing by.
One time we were in a food court of a mall, when a distraught lady ask around if anybody saw her bag. I was sure it was stolen perhaps when she was not paying attention.
In recent times cellphones have been the favorite object of snatchers. I even heard of horror stories that people got hurt because they won’t give their cellphones to a holdupper.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my homeland. But these things I don’t miss. For foreigners who are planning to visit Manila, I am not scaring you away, for it really is worth a visit. Just take proper precautions.
Then, I moved to Iowa.
Somehow all the years of my upbringing looking suspiciously to any stranger that comes near me, have to change. I don’t have to be hyper-vigilant all the time. I learned to trust people again.
Few days ago, I had a day off and my wife and I had a breakfast in a restaurant in Des Moines. The place was fairly busy with lots of people coming and going.
A family came and pick a table near us. When they went to the counter to get their order, they left their belongings unattended on the table. Cellphone, car keys, wallet and all!
You may call it naive, but people here are still so trusting. I hope it never change.
It may take me a while to fully let my guard down and leave my cellphone and valuables unattended. Or perhaps I never will.