(Don't worry, I'm not just gonna be nyah-nyahing about my pleasure cruise. There's some serious near the end.)
That's right, suckas! I'm on vacation and I spent five--count 'em, 5!--hours at a day spa yesterday night. Yee haw!
Megan, Reanne and I went to Sanctuario, day spa of day spas ... or maybe it's just ordinary here, I don't know, I have no basis for comparison. It opens at four in the afternoon and closes at three in the morning. We got a 3-hour "Beauty Pack", with mani/pedi, facial, scalp treatment, and mmmmassage. Did I say it took 5 hours?
I didn't bring my camera, but I wouldn't have been able to take pictures anyway. You get there, they make you strip and put everything in a locker, and then put you in a one-size-fits-all-except-claire sarong and top number. You shower (in the sarong-and-top number) and then go hang on the "wet floor", which as far as I can tell, is what they call the sauna/steam room/whirlpool/cold plunge facilities. Awesome. It all takes place around a stone-paved open air courtyard with two round whirlpools and a cold plunge with a row of high spouts producing strong cooling streams you can run your head under to really cool off.
I didn't get a really good look at the massage room because my head was under a towel and up in a higher number of heaven for the duration, but the massage was pretty vigorous and spectacular. Near the end, my blood sugar plummeted and I asked for juice. Got a mango shake that was pretty spectacular, too.
It was in the "beauty" part of the "Beauty Pack" that I started getting uncomfortable. See, they took the towel off my head, and I got to watch the proceedings (as long as I could stay awake, that is. I passed out several times.) The area for mani/pedi, facial, and scalp treatment was one largish room split up into tiny cubicles by wooden dividers. The cubicles were too small for me, but what really made them a problem was that each of us needed to be swarmed by two or three attendants at a time, and there just wasn't room for that. The mani/pedi took about two hours alone, so they tried to do both at once.
This brought me back to something we had been noticing earlier--namely the profusion of service attendants at every stop: restaurants, bars, every place had waaaaay too many people working there. And the funny thing was that, although, say, Aristocrat, would have around three servers per table, the service was no faster or better than if they had the American ratio of servers to served.
Labor is cheap here, but not, for all that, necessarily better. The restaurant servers--and the security men they have stationed at every air conditioned door--don't seem to be trained in anything other than being there for the look of it. At Aristocrat, it was the same few people taking all the orders and serving the food. The extraneous bused the tables and stood around.
At Sanctuario, lack of training wasn't an issue. Everything was reasonably well done, and some of it extremely so. But strange to say, there was such a profusion of workers that it actually felt like there weren't enough. Since everyone had to be swarmed by three attendants at once, there weren't enough attendants among the six serving us to handle the three of us. Hence, the five-hour spa treatment ... and a lot of waiting.
But most of all, as I sat there being poked and unguented and washed and preened, I felt more and more like I was in a sweatshop. After all, in photographs of sweatshops photographers tend to focus on the workers and their misery, but what we all ignore in this is the strange contrast between the miserable, cramped, sweating workers, and the products that emerge, shining and beautiful, from their third-world hands. Mostly, we don't get to see the products as objects with agency, but last night, I was the product of that sweatshop.
I'm not complaining. I didn't, actually, emerge from Sanctuario with even the slightest guilt wash. The attendants talked and laughed throughout, and looked healthy and well-rested and not overworked. I know how high their tips are because I paid them--and this is truly one of those disconnect moments when you give a three-dollar tip and wonder if you're giving too much, and realize that you probably are, and then realize that you don't have to care and everybody wins. Everybody really did win last night, and I'm glad: glad that I have the privilege to offer myself such things and glad that the people who served me benefited without (seeming to be) exploited.
But a clear thought emerged from this regarding the qualitative difference between service in the Philippines and service in the United States.
The Philippines, you see, is still a culture of servant and served. Not server as it is in the States. The difference is that in the servant culture, the servant does everything for you--you do nothing menial for yourself--and you have greater responsibilities towards them (you must house them, for example.) In the server economy we have in the States, everyone is served at one point or another, and most people are, at one point or another, servers. The lines aren't as hard, and the servers customarily refuse to offer certain kinds of service--or certain qualities of service.
Things I noticed:
- The masseuses massage every part of you, except for the actual genitals, without blinking an eye.
- The servants at our host's apartment are there to get you whatever you want from the kitchen, and are uncomfortable if you take your dirty glasses and plates into the kitchen for them. You aren't supposed to lift a finger.
- The concept of the pedicab becomes clear while you're riding it: someone else uses the strength of their body to move your body through space.
No working class American of the service economy would put up with doing for you what you can easily do for yourself: rub your own butt, take your plate to the kitchen, walk down the street.
An American server is an independent contractor, paid by both employer (restaurant, for example) and customer (in tipping norms), and wouldn't put up with his/her living situation being determined by the employer, either.
But, lest I begin to sound too American boosterish, I have to acknowledge that the distance between rich and poor in the States is approaching that of the Philippines. The overall standard of living is higher, but the desperation becomes similar.