Pok-pok ka ba Kabayan?

Please pardon my words (although I am not really sorry).


Unlike a lot of people who’ve come to Dubai… with very high expectations… seeing the city as the answer to their dreams (reminds me of Dick Whittington dreaming of London and its streets paved with gold)… I had no such preconceived notions. I didn’t even want to come here in the first place, but I did come, since my dad suggested it would help me in preparing for the future… financially of course. I knew nothing of Dubai. I only heard of Abu Dhabi coz that’s where my aunts were… one of them has been in the UAE (Abu Dhabi) for about 27 years… and one after the other, members of our clan followed suit. But I was never curious enough to look it up or get to know anything about this country.

When I first arrived, I was scared of the mostly bearded men I saw in the airport, the strange noises, voices I could hear but could not comprehend. I was disoriented and frightened.  I kept remembering how my dad used to talk about the way of life in Saudi Arabia where it was so strict that he could not even bring pictures which showed some of us wearing sleeveless tops from the Philippines, even if they were just family pictures. So I was thinking, it can’t be so different here since the place is inhabited and owned by Arabs.


I stayed with my aunts in Abu Dhabi for a couple of months while waiting to get a job. And what shocked me out of my soon-to-be-proven-false ideas was the fact that although any kind of immorality is taboo (the same for most societies… although the definition of immorality is relative in different cultures) and, if proven true, heavily penalized, women could and men could, if they wanted to… they could do as they wished as long as they remained “discreet.” It’s like saying “to see is to believe”… you’ll be fine as long as you don’t get caught or put yourself in a compromising position that may lead to your exposure. I was even more shocked to know that there are actually prostitutes here and that women (& men) can and do get sexually harassed on a daily basis.

Case in point, I can’t recall how many times I have been harassed by taxi drivers while I was in Abu Dhabi. So there I was, a ‘normal’ friendly person… they make small talk… how are you? are you a kabayan? Segué No.1: I have never gotten used to saying this kabayan thing, don’t know why, but I have never completely gotten it into my system, coz honestly, I treat fellow Filipinos here the same way I do back home, with politeness, that is all… neither do I use the term “my friend” (friend is a much maligned word here) in addressing strangers who are non-Filipinos… anyway, I understood later that if you are a “kabayan,” it means you are a Filipino… Filibini they say… so, when thus  addressed, I say, yes I am. They usually only know about Manila or Cebu… don’t know why… maybe it’s because there’s a lot of them here? Simple observation would lead one to believe that Manileños and Cebuanos outnumber other Filipino ethnic groups, but I don’t have statistical info to confirm this. If they ask, I usually say I live in a place near Manila, that’s all.

So small talk is fine. Or so I thought. When I told my aunt, she said don’t talk to them at all… talking is considered a kind of propositioning. And yeah, I did get to know better. And it wasn’t just the taxi drivers. One time I was so late for my Arabic class that I ended up hitching a ride. I was waiting for a cab as usual, but there were hardly any, they didn’t stop coz they’d have a passenger already. And it was that time of day, around 2pm, when most people would be taking their afternoon break from work, including the cab drivers. Anyway, one car stopped and when this guy opened his window, I saw that he was a respectable looking Arab guy who seemed to be in his 40s. He offered me a ride. So I got in and there it was again, the small talk. Anyway, it was time for me to get off so I politely thanked him and said goodbye. Then he asked for my number. He must have thought, there I was, jobless & alone and maybe needed help… still, I said I have been told not to give my number to strangers. But I did hitch a ride he said. If I didn’t trust him, why did I get in his car in the first place. He was right. Not yet licensed 🙂 in giving fake numbers (but what they do sometimes is give a “miss call” to your face just to make sure… clever huh?!?), so I gave him my number. After that, he kept calling me. I didn’t answer. He got tired eventually.

One taxi driver just kept talking to me even when I stopped being polite. He was an old Pakistani chap… maybe in his late 40s or early 50s. Anyway, since I heard about women being harassed, even raped… I began to arm myself with a cutter. No fight without a struggle. I was just there staring ahead when he started to talk about the prostitutes there. He said Filibini expensive, but very very good. Filibini No. 1. Filibini very clean, smell good. Chinese ok 20 dirhams, then he turned around and said, come with me to my home 30 minutes only. I kept my cool. I shook my head and said, sir, I am late for my Arabic language class. My teacher is waiting for me. I don’t need to call my aunt and the police do I? Then he smiled and said, no problem. No problem.

My Mexican classmate wasn’t spared either. Married to a Lebanese-American guy, they had moved to Abu Dhabi since his work required it. That time, she still did not have a car and had to take cabs like I did. She told me of how one driver stared at her from his rearview mirror and tried to make small talk. She found herself pulling down her skirt to cover her knees and uncomfortably waiting to get to our school.

In Dubai, an old cab driver actually jacked off while I was inside the cab… God, what shit one has to go through… I was ready to cut that thing off… then I had to rethink my plan of action, I was still on visit visa and about to exit to Qeshm so I just had to make sure he took me to my other aunt’s place since she had my ticket. Thank God I did. But ugh, that was an awful, awful thing. And if my dad or any of my relatives are reading this, I am sorry I never told you. It’s a memory so humiliating and scary that I consciously tried to forget about it.


They say (who are “they”? I don’t really know) that the Filipina (usually) in Dubai needs five boyfriends: one to feed her, one to clothe her, one to give her telephone credit, one to give her money and one to have sex with. Ridiculous isn’t it? Isn’t it? Or is it?

I am ashamed to say that when my non-Filipino friends talk about this idiopathic stereotype of the Pinay, I couldn’t think of an argument strong enough to stolidly defend my “kabayans.” All I can say most of the time is that they don’t normally do that back home… must be money problems… it’s kinda like what Emile Durkheim says of anomie – when moral guidance / norms set by society seem absent or  the feeling of normlessness sets in… which is not difficult to imagine when men and women are uprooted (voluntarily or by force of circumstances) from their habitat, from their society, with all of its cultural norms and values… and are allowed to ‘run amok’ in another country where they are basically anonymous. Known unknowns, or is it unknown knowns? Yeah, there’s always the passport, visa and labor card for practical purposes… but that’s as far as it goes. You have all these ‘identity cards’ to prove who you are… but here, in a foreign country, people are free to reinvent who they are. And that is precisely what is happening. Married people become single overnight. A 40-year-old woman is now a decade younger. A bum back home is a kind and responsible prospective boyfriend. A woman who knows rudimentary English is relied on so much by her Arab boss who believes she is the best English speaker he has ever known.

The possibilities are endless.


The Pinay… tired, worn out and disillusioned that she would ever be able to save anything (because really, this place takes more than what it gives to most)… bravely scopes the dating scene hoping she’ll find the right guy. But is there a right guy? Or is it because she’s just the wrong girl? Frustration after frustration… she suddenly realizes, if they can… why can’t I? if a man can’t be serious, why should I be? Then she starts dating several guys at one time… a different guy for a different day of the week. Her frustration tolerance reaches new heights and her heart no longer gets torn into pieces every time a guy stops calling. She’s cool about dating now… she has learned to play the field.

Doesn’t justify how this would affect her morality. Doesn’t justify her not caring if people see her and the rest of her “kabayans” as some sort of bimbos… women with loose morals… and the men, oh the men… Filipino guys are usually seen as a pathetic lot. Mostly gays (who are at least productive) and straight guys who are losers.  Segué No. 2: The reason why other expats here think that Filipino men are losers is that most Filipino expats here are women, and this, combined with the reasoning that a man should provide, leads them to conclude that since the Filipino men cannot ‘bring home the bacon’ so to speak, their women have to go out of the country just to earn money, however which way.

Doesn’t justify her realizing that some guys do trade money for sex.  Doesn’t justify her thinking that money problems back home seem neverending.  Doesn’t justify the fact that she doesn’t always have sex with the guy. Doesn’t justify the fact that her day job pays her only two thousand dirhams or so.

Now she eats at these posh places, sometimes a guy would take her to a not-so-trendy place, but hey, she gets a free meal and the next guy might be better off. She just has to be more strict with her standards. It could be Neos the next time around… or Madinat Jumeirah or Club Cavalli

But hey, there are some women who do earn a decent living but still do this. Any extra cash is welcome. Someone I know has been so frustrated with men that she dates several at a time, not for the money or freebies… but to shield herself from further disappointment. She loses either way ofcourse. But that is her way of coping. And she is not alone.

And of course, there are the true victims who are forced into it.

Kabayan my foot. Some women get pushed into prostitution by their fellow “kabayans.”

They are promised jobs here, usually in sales, they sell their property and even get into debt back home paying for the placement and endless processing fees… and when they get here, their passport is taken away… and are taken directly to a hotel where a client is waiting to be ‘serviced.’ This form of human exploitation is one of the worst of evils.  And mind you, most of these women had white collar jobs back home and almost always are degree holders.

Tsk, tsk, tsk…


Of course there are a few Filipinas here who may be considered successful, in their careers or in their search for love, or both.

A career that gives a woman a great amount of financial freedom is a major accomplishment. Finding a guy who is a keeper is an even more major achievement. Having both is like… wow, the best of both worlds. These are the women who have a choice. They are the ones who, alone, can make or unmake their source of fulfillment.

And I have very little to say about them since they are a minority.

I am happy for them. That is all.


Up until now, I am seen as easy. Every Pinay is seen as easy.

No woman is spared, whatever the nationality, from the leers, the stares… of the men who stop to look at us from head to foot, pausing somewhere in the middle… and slyly smiling. It doesn’t matter if you’re almost naked or wearing a shirt and jeans. We’re all the same to them. Just women. Just Filipinas.

Kumusta ka? Kumain ka na? Kabayan! It’s the other foreigners who say this to the Filipina.. thinking it might impress her or get her attention. It’s stupid and presumptuous, but sometimes it works.

A car would suddenly stop in front of you and the driver would say, can I be your friend? I will give everything you need. In the supermarkets… the same thing happens.

In fact, you can get propositioned anywhere.

It’s a crappy, crappy feeling to be seen as some kind of object… and I cringe at the thought that this guy knows I am a “kabayan” and that is why he is brazenly propositioning me…

I have been taught to value who I am and be proud of my lineage, my origins, my country.

I am not your kabayan. I am a Filipina.

And I know that I am better than you.

© Lovely Claire Dangalan, 2010


39 thoughts on “Pok-pok ka ba Kabayan?

  1. Hey there,

    I just came across this article randomly browsing through the net, and i must say its really impressive how you were able the cap the exact essence of the life seen by an intellect’s point of view. I am not a Filipino but have lot of friends who are Filipinos,and have experienced every word you mentioned above. I know what you mean when you said the good ones do exist since most of my friends are executives and talk similar lingo about the other not so accomplished fellowmates.
    I hope that every girl from Philippines travelling to this part of the world should read your article and know their stand. Great stuff!

    P.S. There is a point of argument in your thesis will try to emphasize on it later in the day 🙂 Basically its the reasoning behind this kind of mentality.


    • thank you for the comment… whether or not you agree with my observations is not the whole point of what i have written. my purpose is to simply let anyone who cares to know that we also think for ourselves, that we are not a nameless mass, that we are individuals with flaws and virtues, each with his/her own sensibilities… citizens of a much maligned country, simply because the Philippines is so small & does not possess the political and economic clout that the status quo have in great abundance.

      • I have no intention of proving you wrong but can you please explain why a nation of 4.7 million and with more than 100 nationalities thriving in it seem to have almost the same opinion about Filipinos?

      • Maybe you should re-read my blog entry… before your question can ever be answered, a lot of information has to be available… and I am not the type who would carelessly respond to such a loaded observation.

        First you should consider the motive of each Filipino who has come here to the UAE… or wherever you think the “stereotypical image” is present. Then you’ll be able to come up with categories… statistically, you will be able to rank the categories based on the number of people who belong to a particular segment, like, say: Filipinos who left the country 1) to earn more money / 2) to pay off debts / 3) to escape a problem / 4) because a relative or friend persuaded them to come / 5) to try something new / 6) to be somebody in another place…. well, am not saying these are the only reasons, or the reasons may be less. That remains to be seen. A study has to be done. Then a sociologist or anthropologist would probably like to study how the Philippine diaspora here has adjusted (or become maladjusted) or integrated into the expat community here. You should understand that Asians are marginalized here in the UAE where Caucasians are viewed are superior in more ways than one. The Filipinos, though a few have come to hold managerial posts, are among these Asians. How come Indians do not suffer the same fate, i.e. being viewed as “pok-pok” material (in general)? Perhaps you should look into the social structure and social dynamics that characterize these people. How come Chinese women have a worse picture (or I have been led to believe so)? The Russians have their own colorful portrait. Other nationalities have their own stereotypes as well… why do you think so? Going out of the box (inappropriately so, hahaha)… can you also explain to me how approximately 16,000,000 to 18,000,000 soldiers were led to fight for Hitler’s regime – does the huge number mean that they were right in their thinking (they were mostly not allowed to think of course – just followed orders, told you, this is an inappropriate example but i brought it up anyway)? What I am saying is, yes, stereotypes exist… where are you from by the way? When people have a preconceived notion of you… do you just accept it? You try to explain right? But instead of explaining it, because I know I do not know everything about every “kabayan” here, I posed questions, challenges… sarcastically I guess, but that’s just me.

  2. Ok first of all i am loving this.

    Secondly its better you not know my nationality cos then it would be easy for you to stereotype me too and draw a easy conclusion to this discussion.We Asians(that’s a clue i suppose) love to do that i suppose. We love to categories people and arrange them mentally in some hypothetical order that we believe that the world runs on. We dont need no surveyors or anthropologists to determine that for us. Hence filipinos as per ur observation pok pok, indians smelly,Pakis horny, chinese and russians exclusive pokpoks and all the white category good for nothing overpaid employees and locals simply lucky to be born here. Thats the defntn of Dubai.
    You know i never denied your facts and observations but was confused whether what is that you are trying to prove, show, justify or explain there.I mean whatever you said every single filipino living here in the middle east knows. Making a blog out of it and giving a clear description you have like made it worse for your countrymen its like rubbing it in their face, its like tellin them ok see you go thru shit ans still live with it in this country. Yeah i know its just a blog entry its your daily blabber which you express but you know the worse thing is it shows up in google when you search for the word pok pok cos thats what i was doing try to search the meaning of the word. So its sad you know to realise the meaning of that word and easily relate it to certain people or nationality or whatever instantly… as they say increase of knowledge is increase of sorrow..

    Hence it would be nice if you could also blog an entry on how to respond in such situations what answers to give when some addresses you with that kinda question, how you should get off and take another cab if the driver misbehaves or just call the police.
    Your words have the power to change the world take advantage of that heal the world make it a better place otherwise your blog and your words will just be another piece of blabber wasted away for nothing..


    • Hi! Am loving this as much (if not more) as you are. You are not a Filipino you said, and I believe you. That is why your reaction to my blog is the way it is. None — I say, not one Filipino who read my blog entry thinks the way you think. You have this opinion of my entry being some sort of acceptance and in-your-face statement that yes, indeed, we are “pok-poks”. Maybe you should brush up on the figures of speech… and there is such a thing as style in creative writing. I say I am a creative writer with authority for I do that as part of my bread and butter, no matter how cheap my bread & butter may be compared to the likes of, say… no, I won’t mention any writer for it would seem vain and presumptuous of me to even compare myself to famous writers. But this much I can say, I write and I love to write. You should get to know us Filipinos then… we have this self-effacing sense of humor, and I love that, and I combine it with my unbridled sarcasm… not to demoralize or to degrade, but to hit the center with a single blow. Get to the point. Stare at the truth in the face and do something. Act. Don’t just stand there and act defensive, denying that you are a “pok-pok”… let them see it. But sometimes I feel, to hell with it all. Stereotypes exist in narrow-minded people’s minds… blinded by ethnocentrism… so I say sometimes, I couldn’t care less what they think. I am who am. That is the conclusion in my blog. Please re-read it like I said. If it does not hit you at the core the way it did my Filipino readers, then indeed, you do not read and understand it like a Filipino, and I can understand that. You are not one of us. You are outside the aquarium looking in. You are welcome to live among us, not in the Filipino expat community, but back home in the Philippines. What you see of us wherever you are, is a product of us not being in our true “habitat” it is us adjusting, trying to integrate (for some, trying to survive) to an alien environment. You will only get to know who we are if you live among us in our land. The way I can never profess to know American culture 100% even if I watch all films, read all books and immerse myself in their art… mingle with them, unless I live among them in America. And to do a proper ethnography usually takes years. If you want to do that to prove me wrong, you are welcome to our world.

  3. Hey there!

    Yes you are right as also the saying goes when in rome…or vice versa too.. I am and was able to comment on your blog after spending a extensive 2 years with the filipino i.e. your community, eating, drinking and having one of the best time of my life with them. I spent so much time with them that today to a lot extent people think i am a filipino too and naturally talk to me in tagalog which i respond to too since i have learned the language and pretty much proud of myself 🙂 So your assumption about me not knowing what i am saying can be canned for the moment so to say.. And from my 1st word i clearly mentioned I NEVER WANTED TO PROVE YOU WRONG. I just wanted to know why and *now i know* that you have made it clear that its your writing its your style and i totally understand. I may not be a literature expert as you seem to be but i have my share of reading done too and i know when people write for the sake of writing and when people write for LOVE of writing….

    Anyways point taken loud and clear. You are extremely seasoned writer for your community and i am really happy to come across a filipina with a caliber as yours. Hands down to you lady. Happy blogging.

    P.S. Would really love to meet you as i have a lot to discuss and talk about so many topics it would be really fun to get your point of view on those things. Do let me know if you interested no hard feelings if you are not…vonsaponatime@gmail

    • Hey, I have no problems with corresponding with you or even meeting you if the opportunity presents itself. You see, many great ideas, through history, have usually been spawned in the midst of arguments, opposition or even just simple discussions… am not saying we’re onto something great here coz this thing is nothing new, but yes, exchanging thoughts and ideas is an excellent way of learning. Am quite easy to reach: faeriequeenebuknoy@yahoo.com / magmalagu48@gmail.com

      Till then. All the best.

    • my frrind you want beaytiful ladY? “go back to india and find a lady that you can pay for to get married,. fucking indian and paki’s and bangladeshi tradition,. what a life ..”

  4. “Filipino guys are usually seen as a pathetic lot. Mostly gays (who are at least productive) and straight guys who are losers.”…

    Ouch… Nabasa na ba to ng BF mo or asawa mo?

    • Hi, it’s Jerome right? Well, sorry… no one’s offended here except those who cannot or will not accept the truth… and am no chauvinistic sow (thanks Anne Roiphe :)) My dad is here in the UAE… but he has found nothing objectionable in what I said. I stated a fact, not an opinion based on my personal experience… more of a reflection really, by seeing beyond the surface, accepting even the ugliest of truths. Reality does not and will not have to be what is nice, acceptable or pleasing. The truth hurts doesn’t it? If you are a model guy, then excellent! Good job. If you find the observations stated in my post unacceptable, that is fine. Maybe you can do your own research. Thank you for commenting by the way. All the best. 😀

  5. Hi , there. Just want to let you know that, you’ve hit the spot right! I have gone through as well with some change of conversations in your blog’s comment. And one of your blog’s critique did really best to hide his/her nationality.One part to include in your blog is that, some of Filipinas who became successful on their career – technically enough earnings to finance their luxury and/or pleasure are legend in show off or a solid social climbers who thinks their on top and cannot be reach which sometimes hard for them to remember how to look back from where they belong. With that, it makes them step on someone’s head sometimes. – Just a comment only by far. I do not wish to offend anyone might sees this. By the way, would it be possible to know what do you do for living? As per me, I’m dealing with computers in all technical aspects.

    • Hello! I work as a proofreader and do freelance writing/editing work as well. Sorry for my tardy reply. I haven’t had time to check on my blog. Capital sin, I know. 🙂 Thanks for dropping by. All the best.

  6. A good article, a good way to clarify to everyone that not all are same. Even though some filipinos do those things but still there are some who will not gonna do it but still it is very hard to prove for most think negative thoughts about our “kabayan”

    • Hello panggah! Thanks for reading my post. Well, about the difficulty of ridding other people of negative preconceptions about us Filipinos… stereotypes are called “stereotypes” because no matter how unfair they are, they tend to stick. Too bad, right? But such things shouldn’t stop us from doing the right thing, wherever we are and whenever we can, as Filipinos and as human beings. Take care. All the best. :)))

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