What the heck is a “bote boy”? Well only those who haven’t lived in the Philippines will be asking that question. From the very north of the country up around Batanes and Loag to way down in the southland where this online magazine is based the tradition of the “bote boy” is common. “Bote” (bot-ay) is a Spanish word for bottle and every day of the week you’ll hear their call as they go up and down the street crying out “Bote” or sometimes “Bakal,” the Tagalog word for iron or metal in general.
Trash has value, the country is poor and I really marvel at how much less actual trash my wife and I throw away here compared to our life of excess in the US. Every old newspaper, tin can, glass bottle, plastic bottle, scrap of wire, rusty nail; or “busted” household gadget is “wanted” here in the Philippines. Usually we just give stuff to these guys, although they are actually small businessmen and are prepared to pay something for what they collect, especially in large quantities. I gave one guy about 20 pounds of newspaper one day, handed it to him and walked away. I looked back and he had his battered change purse in this hand, looking at me in disbelief because I wasn’t going to collect the few centavos this little treasure trove was worth to him.
So why did I chose to write this today? Well, I’ve kind of been shell shocked a bit by just how bad things are going back in the US. (no politics allowed here, it’s the doing of both parties) the idea of dumping billions of dollars into the open sewer of a bank that has been ruined by crooks doesn’t seem to be helping the people who work and earn a living to support their families and by extension the whole country. I don’t see much improvement any time soon.
It’s not looking all that good here in the Philippines either. Some of the major “flagship” employers such as Hewlett Packard and Intel have closed operations or are closing … in Intel’s case, for good. Intel is consolidating operations from at least six other Asian countries to Vietnam. The much vaunted Call Center and Business Processing industry here is doing ok, but it grew by being cheaper than India and is in grave danger of losing business to even more cheaper counties like Vietnam or China. OFW jobs have slipped already and will slip farther I’m sure. So things are bleak all over.
But take heart, no matter if you’re one of my “western” readers (isn’t Australia south of here?) or by valued Filipino constituents. We got through worse than this and we will get through whatever 2009 throws our way and come out the other side all the better for it. Trust me. I know. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.
When I was about 12 years old. in about 1957, our family, mom, dad and a younger brother and sister lived on a mini-farm property in what was then rural new Jersey. My dad had a job as a maintenance man (mainly plumbing modification work) at a large chemical company. His salary was OK but we had very little money left over every month. Then one day, “bang”, dad came home with a termination notice and his final pay envelope. No more work. All the company’s operations were being sent overseas for cheaper labor (and because their processes were environmentally disastrous and very dangerous … why do things safely and “environmentally friendly when you can get some Japanese to take the risk and poison “their” environment rather than yours). Except for the names of countries with cheap labor, this story doesn’t sound so far much different than stories of 2008, does it?
So what did we do? Well one of dad’s visions in the past had been to build himself a welding machine. He had acquired a gigantic DC electric motor, half the size of a car which occupied the shack that we called our “garage”. That motor had more than a thousand pounds of cast iron (worth then a penny a pound) and at least 500 pounds of copper wire and bus bars. (in the neighborhood of 50 cents a pound at the time, a veritable fortune). We took it apart, segregated all the different metals and hauled it (in a battered old Ford station wagon) to a scrap yard, bit by bit.
In less than a week we had cleared more money than dad would have taken home that month had he still had his chemical job.
Out behind our circa 1790 farm house there were a couple abandoned cars in the woods. With dad’s help I learned how to turn them on their side with a steel cable and a fence stretcher and take the engines and transmissions out and strip them into their components. Steel (barely worth the hauling), cast iron, a little copper here and there and cast aluminum … forget the price now but well worth the work to get it out and haul, even in those days.
From the scrap dealer we located a guy who wanted the rest of the car, bodies and frames and were happy to let him haul them away for free … might as well clean up our junky property, right?
After that we started on neighbors and then folks in other town … any junk car, truck or tractor (mmm lots of cast iron in them) was fair game. Instead of hauling to the junk yard whole, we’d drag them home, strip and segregate, sell off all the valuable stiff and then let the guy who wanted them have the nearly worthless residue.
This went on for about six months until dad finally got picked up for a better job. We made significantly more than dad’s salary would have been in that time, cleaned up a lot of unsightly messes and I learned a ton of things about mechanics, metallurgy, business, safety, bruised knuckles and finger nail dirt … and most valuable to me, hours and hours working side by side with my dad … a luxury I never had before or since.
To my American friends … I hope it doesn’t come to the point of stripping old cars for you, but remember, the US was built from nothing by people just like you, and if things get tough, you don’t have to sit and cower in the corner, you too can do what it takes.
And the Philippine connection? Wow. I’ve told this story to a number of my relatives and to folks like a maid who worked for us, trying to inspire her to get an education and make more of her life than her parents had. The dropped jaws, huge eyes and head shaking has been an education to me. There is no lack of opportunity in the Philippines, but there is almost a concrete wall at times that brands people and teaches them from infancy that you ‘are what you are”. A maid will always be a maid. A scruffy bote boy with a sack of bottle will always be a bote boy.
It’s a very “foreign” outlook to a foreigner. There’s a lot more to culture shock than embryo duck eggs, believe me.