The alternative title for this would be 'Tinder Tourist', but I'm not one for calling a spade a spade.
To set the scene, I'd been invited to a friend's wedding in the Philippines. I’d met him travelling, and only knew one other person who was going, but they would be with their girlfriend. So, not wanting to be a third wheel, I decided that, other than the four days I would be occupied with the wedding, I would spend my time solo travelling. Now, travelling alone is fine, it can be great, liberating, rewarding, but the difficulty, I find, particularly in a country where the hostel and backpacker culture is less prevalent, and when not in one place long enough to really meet people, is how to spend your evenings. You want to go out, experience the bars and restaurants and nightlife. You could do this alone, but if there’s an alternative, then why not explore it. Why not get someone who really knows the place to take you out. So, with six weeks until I’d be flying out, I set my Tinder location to the Philippines. I would start in Manila.
Research & Development
Six weeks was arguably too far in advance, but I wanted to get a feel for what was out there; window shopping, if you like. And, as one might imagine, there were a lot of Ladyboys and Transgender people. Often they would allude to this in their bio, but I found myself second guessing on many swipes, and more than occasionally being ‘fooled’. (There are many reasons why Transgenderism appears more commonplace in the Philippines, and in South East Asia in general, but this is beyond the scope of this report.)
Nevertheless, I soon became familiar with the lingo, from the simple ‘LB’ (Ladyboy), to the initially cryptic ‘50% Filipina / 50% Filipino’, to my personal favourite ‘NBW’… Natural Born Woman; I liked the unambiguity. (For a full Glossary of Terms, please see the appendix 1.) After some time I became comfortable with the fact that most either specified, had male names, made reference to a need for ‘open mindedness’ in their bio, or just simply didn’t need to point it out. But there were still a few grey ones, as well as some that said, but I just couldn’t believe…
Reading the bio was imperative in the Philippines.
Now, I had Tindered ahead before. Just a few weeks prior I had been using my recently acquired Tinder plus capabilities in anger for my trip to California. However, there I found that as soon as you told them you weren’t actually there, and that you would only be on ‘vacay’, they lost interest. I soon found this not to be the case in the Philippines: “Oh nice. Here’s my number. Let me know when you’re here” was a not uncommon response. Within the space of a few days I probably had over a hundred matches, of which a good 30% would initiate conversation, and I had converted about a dozen to WhatsApp. I couldn’t keep pace with all the conversations, so I channelled my attention and efforts to a few that showed the most promise. Of these promising targets, one said she’d come with me to one of the mountains I wanted to visit, and another had offered to pick me up from the airport – “I’ll be your very own Uber driver, Mr. John” – and had started to plan each evening’s entertainment.
I probably exchanged messages with these two on a daily basis, as well as peppering some of the others with semi frequent messages to keep them warm, all the while acquiring new matches. For the regular dater in their hometown, it is important to have more on the go than you ever intend on dating, as many fall away. This is even more important when Tindering in foreign lands, where you are out of your comfort zone. But I started to realise that, not only could I use Tinder for dating and evening entertainment out there, I could use it across the whole spectrum of my trip. They would offer me advice on things to do, and places to stay, and would be keen to be my ‘tour guide’, as it were.
Some of it seemed too good to be true, particularly being chauffeured from the Airport to my apartment, of which Mary Anne had wanted to know the exact location… I started to get a little worried, the opening scenes of Taken playing over in my mind. I contemplated abandoning the whole idea, the thought of my parents finding out I’d been kidnapped or murdered by a Tinder date wasn't quite how I wanted them to remember me. So I googled ‘Tinder crime in the Philippines’. Somewhat reassuringly, not much came up. Actually, one of the top search results was a forum post entitled ‘Philippines: Tinder, fastest way to one girl a day’. This included tips like:
Make sure your apartment is in an area with not too much
Who indeed, Beta Orbiter? 🙂 Oh, and his advice on spotting Ladyboys?
Most are easily spotted. Just ask if you’re not sure.
What, you mean like this one, Beta Orbiter?
'… most either specified, had male names, made reference to a need for ‘open mindedness’ in their bio, or just simply didn’t need to point it out'. Helpfully Ron covered all those bases…
Thanks, very insightful
Nevertheless, I was still slightly apprehensive, particularly as my Uber driver, Mary Anne, was a personal trainer, and we’d already established that she could quite easily overpower me.
So, the day I flew out, I sent my friend – who just so happened to be in Manila with work for a couple of weeks – a screen shot of her Facebook profile, and the address of the Airbnb I was saying at, with the instruction of sounding the alarm if she hadn't heard from me by Sunday morning.
On my layover in Istanbul I messaged Mary-Anne, just to make sure she would still be there, and to remind her of the ‘Mr. John’ sign she had promised to be holding. I also messaged a few of the other back-ups, just in case this one was to fall through.
When I finally landed in Manila I messaged her again. She was already at the airport, waiting in her car. She told me to let her know once I was through customs etc., and then she would come and meet me in her car at the pick-up point. So I did. As I exited the building the heat immediately hit me. I certainly no longer needed the customary first date blazer. I had no idea where I was going… People were shouting at me, I was sweating profusely… I was looking for a stranger who was going to drive me to my apartment… I can safely say this was the weirdest start to a ‘date’ I’d ever had…
And then I hear a “Mr. John, Mr. John”, and I turn, and there she is, and she hugs me. But there’s no sign.
We made it through the relentless traffic to my apartment block, where we parked the car, went up to my condo, had a quick change, and then it was straight out. It was 9pm after all, and it was a Saturday, so I was keen to get in amongst it.
We drove to a bar to get some drinks and some food, where I was introduced to the 6.9% Red Horse beer. It was pretty punchy, so I moved onto the more palatable 5% of San Mig Light. She then drove us to a complex with a club, called ‘Valkyrie’, where they had the progressive door policy of charging guys, but not girls, unless the ratio of their group was more than 2:1 in favour of females. The club was like something you’d find in Cancun – big and modern and open, with booths that you could pay for, otherwise you loitered at the bar. We loitered at the bar – it was too early to be hitting the dance floor. I got my free mixer which came with the entry ticket that Mary Anne didn’t need to buy. Then I decided I needed wine. Mary Anne was happy to share a bottle with me. Not renowned for its wine, I decided to play it safe with a bottle of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon from Marlborough. “It’s a good bottle this, I drink it back home.”
Anyway, we were chatting at the bar, and I became aware that my conversation was pretty dry. Up until this point I had almost forgotten that we were actually on a date, and that I should probably be making an effort. At least I think this was some form of date, but the whole situation was so strange that I didn’t really know what was going on. She seemed keen to hit the dance floor. I wasn’t. I don’t think I’ve ever danced on a first date. But this wasn't a normal first date. So, after we finished whatever it was in this ‘Cloudy Bay’ bottle, I was prepared to transition to the dance floor, moving my shoulders and feet just enough to pass for dancing. And then we started necking.
Although less than me, she’d certainly drunk too much to be driving us home; this, however, was something I would have to become accustomed to during my trip, my personal risk appetite would have to increase if I were to achieve the desired returns. She pulled up at my apartment. “You’re not staying?” I queried.
“I can’t tonight” she insisted. I tried some mild persuasion techniques – "go on…" and "why not…", which surprisingly didn’t work – but it was a first date of some form I guess. “I’ll stay tomorrow” she assured me. Well, it had been a fun first night, and this wasn’t the
Before sleeping, I messaged my friend to tell her to refrain from sounding the alarm just yet.
Like the wedding that was to come, this date went on for the best part of four days. The only time we didn’t spend together was during the next day, when she had to work, and I had to tend a jet lag and ‘Cloudy Bay’ flavoured hangover, and another brief hour or so when she had another client to train.
The following evening she came to my apartment, and we went to a bar where there was live music, and I began to realise that every Filipino could sing, and this was not the first singer I would fall in love with. And, as promised, that night she did stay at mine, but not before my friend came to join us, and met the incredibly friendly and warm-hearted 5"3' potential kidnapper…
The following day we went to the old walled city of Intramuros, which I was keen to go to. She negotiated the Tricycle ride around, and ordered for us at the ‘traditional restaurant’, where I think she was as equally concerned for her health as I was mine. (This restaurant was cheap, but I would pay for most things, not all, with Mary Anne. I thought this was a fair deal, and what I expected for the rest of my trip.) Then we got an Uber back to my apartment, then she had to go and train a couple of clients, before driving back to pick me up and take us to the ‘Venice Mall’ for dinner, which I’d be keen to go to after seeing it feature in so many girls’ Tinder profiles out here, their version of an Eiffel Tower or Machu Picchu picture, or, indeed, posing on the actual Grand Canal. We only had one glass of wine with dinner before heading back to my condo. This was exactly the sort of date I swore never to do – in the space of three days / dates we had turned into a boring, long-term couple, who call going out for dinner ‘date night’, in an attempt to maintain some small level of excitement in their mundane relationship; next thing we'd be getting a dog. (Not one for sober romantic interactions, I did try and buy alcohol in the shop in my apartment block when we got back, but licensing laws prohibited its sale after 10pm. This was a trip where many of my rules would have to be flexed a little.)
We had to be up early the next day anyway. Mary Anne was driving us to Lake Taal – a lake inside a volcano on another lake inside another volcano… what's not to like… About a two and a half hour drive from Manila, it was somewhere I had wanted to go, but have no idea how I would have got to without my personal Uber Tour Guide. Again, she arranged and negotiated everything when we got there; the guy tried cornering me when Mary Anne was in the bathroom, telling me we needed to get a horse as we wouldn’t be able to walk it (we would)… I told him to speak to Mary Anne, she was in charge. (We didn't get the horses.)
Then, after our day there, we drove back to mine, had a shower, had a bit of a nap, then went out for dinner, followed by drinks at a secret cocktail bar in the city – “a ‘speakeasy’ is what we call them in London”, I told her, the sort of place I would take a date in London, I didn't tell her – followed by spending our last night together. I would be flying to Boracay for the wedding the following day; Mary Anne had clients in the morning, and was extremely sorry she couldn’t drive me to the airport…
So I left Manila with many more girls from Tinder wanting to meet up. But you can’t do it all; I think I’d played this one right.
Two Weddings and a(n almost) Funeral
Next up was the small island of Boracay, where the wedding (or weddings) were to take place. Whilst back in London, I had also been swiping here, to see what I could acquire. It was a small island, and, as such, there hadn't been many people to swipe, and most were tourists just passing through, so would be gone by the time I got there, and I wasn’t interested in tourists anyway. But I did get a couple of good matches. One who lived on Boracay, and another one that lived on a larger island called Cebu, but who might be back in Boracay at some point. I had swiftly transferred them both to WhatsApp. So when I arrived on the island I messaged both again. The former was still in situ, but the latter was back in Cebu, but said I should go and visit her there.
However, due to the commitments of the various wedding events, the fact I would have the option of company most evenings, and the lack of Tinder penetration on this island, I thought this may be more of an arena for the organics. However, I also tried Bumble and Happn so as to at least exhaust every option. And, over the next day or so, I had obtained three more Tinder matches and a high quality Happn crush, to add to my existing resident Tinder match. There weren't many stones on the beautiful white sandy beaches of this island, but I had certainly left none of them unturned.
On my first day there we had the welcome dinner for all the wedding guests. I arrived promptly, but my one friend had not, so I awkwardly stood around, assessing which group of people was best to approach. I chose a slightly older couple, and within twenty minutes we had covered Brexit, and the global political upheaval, before I launched into a tirade about aviation safety, which continued at intervals throughout the evening, to the point where we had to stop talking about it owing to the multitude of dodgy airline carriers some people had to fly in the coming days… I did, however, repeatedly point out that it was still very safe, and that it was far more dangerous to ride a motorcycle round the island…
The free bar was ending, so we got in a round of Red Horses, which seemed to draw the night to a close for most people. I was tempted to head to some bars alone, but I felt a bit ridiculous in my all white outfit (not my choice, that was the dress code) so I just went home.
The following day we had the Hindu wedding ceremony, after which everyone was more up for going out. So we headed into town (an area of the beach with lots of bars). We started in Pat’s Bar, where we consumed buckets of Red Horse, and then, apparently, moved onto Epic bar, of which I can remember very little, other than seeing my original Boracay Tinder match, attempting to talk to her, being unceremoniously blanked, watching her leave, sending her an angry message, seeing her come back in, ignoring her whilst I stood at a table on my own, all my newly acquired friends having already left, then, somewhat remarkably given the lubricated condition I must have been in, started chatting to a Filipina who was on holiday alone, so I got her number.
The girl from Tinder apologised the next day, saying she was with another ‘friend’, which I took to mean another gentleman friend.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The next day everyone was very hungover, and there was no appetite to go out, so, with no wedding events to attend, I saw this as my opportunity to get my Tindering done on this island. I was now messaging five girls – three from Tinder, one from Happn, and the organic from the night before – in order to keep my options open. I didn’t need to. Everyone was keen to meet. But everyone seemed to be going to the new club called Galaxy. This could be interesting. I focussed on two – the original Tinder match (the one who blanked me, but had promised not to again) and the girl from Happn, April. The former was going to be with friends, whereas it transpired April would be alone, initially at least. So I went with her. We arranged to meet outside the club at a specific time, as neither of our phones would work away from our Wi-Fi.
I walked down my street and soon enough a local had offered me a lift on the back of his motorbike. I jumped on.
I got to the club a few minutes late, and waited outside for a good ten minutes, all the Filipinos looking at me, not many foreigners around here. Eventually she showed up. We went in. It was big and loud, not what I’d usually opt for on a normal first date. But this wasn’t a normal first date. And, to add to it, my original Tinder match – who I had also been planning to meet, until abandoning at the last minute in favour of April – had just arrived with some friends. And of course one of them knew April, and came over and chatted to her, whilst my Tinder match loitered behind, clearly explaining the situation to the other girl. I messaged her a bit later saying “Now we’re even”.
The service was incredibly slow here, and it was too loud to properly talk, so we left after one drink, this time two of us jumping on the back of a motorbike to take us to the next bar…
So we arrived at Exit Bar, where my date had more friends, but none of my other Tinders this time. We got one drink there before it closed, then, against my best advice, everyone wanted to go to Galaxy. So we all jumped in a tuc tuc – my April, April with the massive breasts, the quiet Swiss that looked like Leonardo DiCaprio, his Filipina girl, Pete from Peterborough (I had to convince myself this wouldn’t be me in twenty years’ time), and me (who wasn't going to be Pete from Peterborough in twenty years' time) – and headed back to Galaxy.
We got a booth, and, for ease, I decided to get us a litre bottle of Absolut Vodka, due to the tardy service.
The group was fun. The girls started dancing, and Pete from Peterborough kept winking at me, saying how lucky I was…
It passed 6am and finally it was time to leave. April and I once more jumped on the back of a motorbike, and we went back to my apartment. When we got in she wanted a beer,
Then luckily the conversation, of which I played very little part in other than making a few obligatory nods and “hmmms” and “yeah yeah yeahs”, drew to a close… And the night hadn’t cost me anything… other than a couple of drinks and a litre of whatever was in that Absolut bottle…
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The following day I got up, put my suit on, and headed to the final wedding event – the Christian Church service – making sure April left the apartment with me.
I arrived at the church, a little bit sweaty, a little bit hungover, but alive. However, about half-way through the ceremony, which was dragging a little too much for my liking, I started sweating a lot more, and felt a little faint. The last thing I remember thinking was I should probably go out and get some fresh air…
The next thing I know I’m laid on a bench outside, half a dozen people surrounding me, shirt open, water being chucked on me. My hands start cramping, then my arms, legs, body, face… Everything was rigid, fixed in the ridiculous position dogs make when they want their belly rubbing… I even start losing the ability to talk. I hear someone say my oxygen levels have dropped to 70%. I didn’t know what that meant, but it didn’t sound good. I had no idea what was going on, all I remember thinking was,
We were god knows how many miles from a hospital though, but luckily there was a clinic across the road, so they put me on a stretcher and rushed me over there, where they gave me oxygen, and I started to regain movement in my body.
Apparently I had passed out, was unconscious and not breathing for a while, and they were struggling to find a pulse. But I survived. The rest of the wedding was a bit of a right-off for me, as was the following day. I needed to get off this island.
So, a couple of days later, feeling fit enough to leave, other than the chronic diarrhoea that would now plague me for the rest of my time in the Philippines, I moved on.
Local Holiday Experience
One of the Tinder matches I had reignited conversation with in Istanbul airport was Kathleen. We had originally matched whilst I was swiping in Manila, but she was now in her home city of Iloilo for the holiday period. She had been encouraging me to go there so she could give me a “local holiday experience”. She seemed like a nice, wholesome girl, and this was exactly what I needed after the events of the last few days. She was also training to be a doctor, which might come in handy.
So I got the boat back over to Panay, and then got a bus south to Iloilo, where Kathleen had offered to pick me up from the bus terminal. And, sure enough, she did, with her male cousin, Shaun, who weirdly didn’t seem to find the situation weird… I’d (almost) stopped worrying about being kidnapped now, although I did keep checking my phone to make sure Shaun was driving me in the direction of my hotel.
Once at the hotel I said I’d like to get changed before we went out for dinner. Kathleen asked if I wanted her to come up to the room with me. “Sure, if you want to” I blurted out.
We had some great seafood for dinner, which Kathleen paid for; over the course of the next two days she would more than pay her share of the bills and, after we went for drinks with her friends, and then her cousin dropped me back off at my hotel, and then Kathleen at home, I wondered what she was getting out of this. I was again left wondering whether this was a date of some form or not.
She told me to be up early the following day, as we were going to the nearby island of Guimaras.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Her cousin dropped her off at my hotel in the morning, and we got a taxi to the port and a boat over to the island. Kathleen sorted it all out, along with negotiating the price of the tricycle that would take us to a very isolated beach on the other side of the island. I had no idea what was going on, I just went with it.
The tricycle ride was ok at first, but then the roads started to deteriorate more and more, until you couldn’t even call them roads anymore; they barely even deserved a track status, and I'm sure you wouldn't see them on Google Maps. It was like driving through Fraser Island, except, instead of a powerful 4WD with all the suspension to absorb the bumps, and the seat belts to keep you in your seat, we were in something similar to a kids cozy coupe car, attached to a thirty year old Honda motorbike, rattling across dirt tracks, head smacking against the metal roof just two inches above, all the while concentrating on not relaxing too much, concerned for the delicate balance between my insides and the outside world.
Eventually we could go no further on this vehicle, and had to disembark and walk the final stretch. Twenty minutes later and we had made it. But it was certainly worth it. It was a little corner of paradise, with only a few other people around. Apparently foreigners rarely ever came here. I don’t know how they’d even find it.
There were four huts on this beach, owned by a woman who lived nearby, who would rent them out for the day or night at a tiny fee. Kathleen went to get us a beer. She came back saying they didn’t sell food, and people usually brought their own, but the woman who owned the huts had offered to make us lunch. We spent the rest of the day in this idyllic spot – lying in the sun, drinking beer, taking hundreds of selfies with her GoPro – before heading back in the evening to find our mate to drive us back. This time he had to ditch the cozy coupe and we had to jump on the back of his motorbike – I was getting used to this by now.
But, once we were back onto something more resembling a road, my feeling of fear turned to one of elation. We were riding through an island unspoilt by tourism, my arms around a beautiful Filipina (safer and more acceptable), the sun was going down, the wind was blowing through my hair (along with quite a few fumes, but we’ll ignore that), and the incessant sense of needing to shit myself had subsided… I felt free, happy, my mind was clear of anything else apart from living this moment… This was it, this was what it's all about. I mean, you can't have these moments every day. Nay, not every week, nor month. But when you have them, have them. When you're lucky enough to take survival for granted, then live, live as much as you can… And then he got a flat… We pulled over, I got off, awkwardly, struggling to suppress the cramp that had been attempting to crush my euphoria. And then he bunged us in a passing tricycle, and the rattling began again.
We got back to the mainland and went straight out for dinner, which Kathleen again insisted on paying for. Then we went back to my hotel to shower before going out again. But, after showering, we both lay on the bed for a bit, and got sucked into watching M. Night Shyamalan’s classic 'Signs' on the television. It seemed like she was quite happy to stay in.
The next morning she had to go to work, and I was off, with a bounce in my step, to Cebu, for my last night on the Philippines.
An Island Too Far
My ‘man on the ground’ – well hopefully it wasn't a man – in Cebu was the Tinder match from Boracay that had told me to come to here. Again, I had maintained requisite levels of communication to keep the option alive. She was arguably the hottest of them all, so I was quite excited. She had recommended a hotel on nearby Mactan island, which was where the airport was. It had its own private beach. My flight was scheduled to land at 1pm, so I was going to spend the afternoon on the private beach and ‘LA’ was going to join me there, then we would go out in the city in the evening. However, my flight was delayed, and I didn’t arrive at my hotel until about 5pm.
Once I got there I messaged LA, asking what we should do, then jumped in the shower. She still hadn’t replied by the time I got out of the shower. After forty minutes of no response I started to get worried. I desperately messaged again. She responded… “Sorry babe, I’m working tonight.”
I was angry, confused, panicked. I had no contingency plan. I had become over confident and not lined up any backups. This was a rookie error, the sort of mistake I urge people not to make themselves. I entered crisis mode. Back to the swiping board. I had other matches in Cebu, but they were hidden amongst all my other matches. (Annoyingly, Tinder didn’t have an option to sort by location like Bumble did. I’d been meaning to write to Tinder to suggest they include this functionality, but hadn’t got round to it. When I returned home I did write to them. The email is in the appendix 2.)
So I had to start over. I hit the boost button (which increases the amount of people you’re shown to, and thus increasing your chances of matches) and started swiping. I quickly accumulated some matches and messaged every one straight away. I would start with a simple “Hey, how are you?” before moving onto explain how “I’ve only just got here and wondering what to do tonight”, and then I would wonder if they “wanted to join me?”. I got a couple hooked in, but one of them had just been out for dinner and was going home, as needed to be up early in the morning. But she did recommend somewhere to go, which was the same place another girl was suggesting. I kept plugging away at this other girl. But it was a risk. There was only one photo where you could really see her face. So I thought about going alone, but
Even by Filipino standards she was tiny. She later told me she was 150cm, which is 4”11’. I didn’t tell her that she was one inch off being classified a midget in the UK. She was lively and sharp – she soon starting mocking my blanket response of "yeah yeah yeah" to everything. She was nice but annoying. I didn’t fancy her, and I didn’t think she was ever going to come back to my hotel, it being about a forty minute taxi ride from the city.
On the lonely taxi journey back to my hotel I couldn’t help thinking I should have just spent one more night with Kathleen, or flown back to Manila to see Mary Anne again. But I got greedy. This had been one island too far.
Despite the final disappointment, I think the experiment of this holiday, as a whole, was a success. You can’t know for sure, but I think I made three good decisions and one bad one over the course of the trip, and I got to see things, and have experiences, that I would unlikely have had were it not for the aid of Tinder. It required effort, including a fair deal of groundwork beforehand, and a good amount of maintenance work once out there, but it was worth it. I learnt lessons, of course. None more so than with LA in Cebu. Also, as I previously experienced in the States, it's usually better to spend two nights, as opposed to one, in a place. It gives more time for contingency planning, as well as building up rapport with a person, or even allowing time for two dates with the same person.
I was recently on holiday in the Philippines, and used your app to great effect, both before and during my stay.
I am a largely satisfied Tinder Plus subscriber, and the ‘Passport to any Location’ function was very useful in accumulating matches and laying the groundwork before I got out there: Mary Anne picked me up from the airport in Manila; Kathleen gave me a ‘local holiday experience’ in Iloilo.
However, LA let me down in Cebu. And, unfortunately, I didn’t have any back-ups in this location. I accept that this was my own fault, and I should have been more diligent, but I feel there is something you can do to ensure this never has to happen to anyone again.
I did have other matches in Cebu, but it would have been very difficult to find them amongst all my other matches, as this would have involved going into each profile and seeing how far away they were. If, though, you were able to sort by location, as you can in the rival Bumble app, then I would have immediately been able to see them.
However, I think you could go even further, and include some sort of Map function, like below:
Your matches would be grouped into main areas, with the number on the Tinder icon representing how many matches you have in this location. (Note: numbers here are purely illustrative, I had far more matches than this.) Then you could click on a city, for example Manila, and all your matches here would appear. You could have this covering the whole world map, and it would provide a very useful tool for people travelling around, or revisiting a place.
I hope you find this idea interesting, and something that you may consider including in future versions of the app.
The Date Report Guy