Mugged in Manila

No one will tell you to visit Manila because it’s a lovely place. They will warn you about the sex trade, dirt and downright desperation that the streets hold.

And it’s true.

We were shielded from the dirt and grime of Manila by staying at a 5 star property. Luxury thread count sheets, televisions in the bath and an epicurean breakfast buffet are a welcome and needed refuge from the streets.

Mugged in Manila

5 minutes before… Manila Bay

Welcome to Manila, here’s your mugging.

Security at every hotel and bank helped create a sense of safety, but as soon as those buildings disappeared, so did that sense. One block off the Manila Bay waterfront, on a very busy road, we were jumped by a gang of 6 boys. They looked to be 10-13 years old and knew exactly what they were after, Mr. King’s buttoned up back pocket. First one appeared, then the rest. Quickly they were shoving themselves into our personal space, hanging on Mr. King’s arms, one distracted him, others scrappily moving in all directions, completely negating Mr. King’s senses. I attempt to push them off his backside while holding Miss I on my hip, guarding my camera and shielding G against the fence. I’m totally bewildered that this is happening. There was lots of hands flying, bodies shoving, and yelling from people in their cars.

They get what they want. $500. Normally, we never carry that much cash. We are shocked….wanting to escape the streets as quick as the boys ran away.

No one looks innocent. We don’t feel safe.

Hailing a taxi back to our hotel, the mind is catching up with the body or the other way around. Quickly, we reframe and focus on the fact that it’s only money and we’re so happy that there were no weapons, knives or guns involved. We slept that night in the same bed, appreciative of our safety and that this is not a part of our daily lives, like it is for some.

Walking the streets of dirty, dirty Manila

There are girly bars and Gentleman clubs lined up on every street. Sex, girls and boys are available on the street. Women with naked babies hang on Mr. King just 50 meters down the block from 5 star properties. Real estate doesn’t discriminate here.

The shoeless feet of the street people are stained like thick charcoal, as if they just walked miles barefoot in the black ash of a volcano.

Filthy children eating street trash have no problem hanging on us, following us down the street, and encircling us as we walk. They all want “PISO”, Philippine money. We give none, knowing better. Its a creepy feeling knowing that by sheer numbers you can be overpowered quickly, even by young, desperate children that are trained and encouraged to prey.

Ladies sleeping on cardboard still have a smile for us as we walk by. Groups of 2 or more look highly suspicious.

We are walking money. Its a fact. Our white skin, clothes, freshly washed hair and facial expressions don’t deny that our life has more ease than what is experienced on the streets of Manila.

Questions of Why?

The people provide an intriguing conversation with our children. There are lots of “Why” questions that we wonder how to answer to a 5 & 3 year old who have privileges beyond most. Our children have seen and experienced a lot and these people don’t look too different than others we’ve seen throughout our travels: they are skinny, dark complected with big eyes and missing teeth.

I wonder, can my children sense the difference in desperation?

Why don’t their parents buy them food?
Why don’t they have parents?
Who takes care of them?
Why do they eat garbage?
Why don’t they have money?
Why are they so dirty?

What makes us different?

The conversion culminates with the lesson for the day: choosing to be a taker or a creator. Aside from explaining life circumstances, I generalized the explanation. The biggest difference between us and the boys was the way we think. The power of our thoughts has a tremendous impact on how we feel, what we eat, how we behave and who we are. It is the single most important difference.

We can take from others OR we can create what we would like in our lives.

G offers his whole stash of money in Bali to Mr. King…because he can make more. A creator he is.

We talk about the appreciation we have to create our circumstances: a nice, comfortable, safe home, healthy food that nourishes our body, good friends and a good attitude (I consciously stress that point.)


Ironically, a blog reader messaged me a few days earlier asking if we ever had any trouble. We hadn’t and I believed part of that was that we walk with confidence and that the kids provide for a certain shield. Ha! I was wrong. Desperation and survival look for any opportunity.

Was it time for us to experience a Reality Check?


We have just come from a world-wind week. We shot a commercial, Mr. King flew to New York for a live interview while I flew to the Philippines with the kids and he met us there a few days later. What a week of high flying action and meeting incredible people.

We know this level of desperation and low vibration exists in the world…but not in our world. And here we were…face to face with 6 victims of it.

We hope that the money is used for good: to feed and help their families. The probability is that it won’t be. This incident will only encourage them to continue to do this. It has paid off for them. More than likely, they have a KingPin who runs the show and uses them as street slaves or their own families look on from the sidelines as their children “work”.

What do we do now?

Well, I don’t want to hang out in Manila anymore, even the nicer areas are encircled with destitution.

The first few days I felt comfortable here on my own. The kids and I went to Ocean World, walked around Rizal Park and went to the mall. Our biggest threat during that time was too many people asking to take pictures of us or trying to touch Miss I…even I’m getting annoyed at being polite about it. Most are very kind, but some grab my kids, insisting, but I hold on tight and grab them back. Personal space does not exist.

This incident only cements my thoughts that large cities encourage overstimulation and promote a false sense of lack, societal entitlement and exacerbate the differences between people. Perhaps we were not meant to live in environments were we have to fight all the time to get ahead: traffic, lines, shopping. Where’s the balancing of nature in such an artificial environment? Where’s the connection?

What’s funny about this?

It was a gang of 10 year olds!

That’s funny and not at the same time. Mr. King thought the first time he would be mugged would be by a man with a gun to his back, not a bunch of young kids being somewhat playful. While we were pushing them away, we weren’t doing it with all our might because our mind kept saying “these are little kids”.

We are thankful that only cash was taken and the rest of our documents and cards were somewhere else. They could have easily ripped open the backpack and had a field day…but my ninja backpack protecting skills held them at bay.

So we got mugged in Manila by 10 year olds.

Welcome to Manila.

We are outta here!

On a plane to Cebu, I walk down the aisle thankful for the safety of being in a plane….its better than the streets of Manila since the only people I have to fight off my body are my own children.

29 Responses to “Mugged in Manila”

  1. Mary December 21, 2013 at 3:37 am #

    We were not mugged in Cambodia but the sense of desperation sounds the same. I took it as a great opportunity to have really dep conversations with the kids and to sit down and talk to these very same people that at first appearance seemed quite scary. We had a policy of carrying some money in 1 pocket and handing that out throughout the day. We know it didn’t do much but we felt better knowing it might help a little and also it took the pressure off of fighting beggars away. It was probably our favorite country and even though we left after 2 months feeling really overwhelmingly sad we look back on it as the most meaningful time in Asia.

    Sorry this happened to you but as with everything else there is good in even the bad experiences. Figuring out what you like and don’t like, discussing these types of things with the kids, and getting a reality check to what is possible are all really imoprtant.

  2. Jennifer Pearce December 21, 2013 at 6:21 am #

    So glad you are all okay! What an overwhelming experience for everyone. Very sad that some people live that way and seemingly know no better way to do things. I can’t help but feel sad here in Bali, too, whenever I see women begging with children on the streets. Such a sad existence. I’m glad there are programs here trying to help those people through education and helping them to see and choose other options.

  3. Lorena December 21, 2013 at 10:25 am #

    Great blog post. I’m sorry you and your kids had to live such an incident but glad that was just money.
    I like the way you explained your kids. It’s what we teach our kids too!

  4. Emily December 21, 2013 at 12:36 pm #

    Glad you all are ok! The only time we’ve felt unsafe was at a private cove near San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua… and that was only because we were using an iPhone near a group of drinking young men. Luckily, we only lost a sense of personal security and gained a good lesson. I hope you feel safe in your new surroundings.

  5. Sharon @ Wheres Sharon December 21, 2013 at 4:07 pm #

    Wow what a horrible experience. I am feeling really anxious after reading that! I worry the kids make us an easy target but thankfully, so far so good.

    We were actually in Manila at Easter time this year. Thankfully, although we didn’t like it, we did not have the experiences that you did. The streets were basically empty of people. No obvious severe destitution, but then there was barely anything open that created its own problems. I did get very sick of the attention though, especially the attention my then 2 year old red head got. It was out of control. We couldn’t stop moving when we were in Intramurios (the one place there was people) or we would literally get surrounded by a massive crowd. Other kids would pinch her and it just wasn’t nice, even though I knew they didn’t mean it in a bad way. Thankfully, her red hair kept them away from our baby.

    • S King December 22, 2013 at 2:24 am #

      Isn’t that funny. I thought the kids were more of a shield.
      The attention to the kids is something we battle with all the time, for sure. Miss I gets the “I don’t want nobody to look at me!” attitude and I can’t blame her.

  6. Michael M. December 21, 2013 at 9:51 pm #

    Hey, it’s really great to hear from you again. Sorry to hear you got mugged, we didn’t have any fun in the Philippines either. We started our trip 2 years ago by landing in Cebu, it really freaked us out. The guard in Starbucks with a gun and extra bullets in his belt was just too much. We left 5 days later flying out on Christmas day. I know the islands are supposed to be incredible but we just couldn’t make Cebu work and fled for Chiang Mai.

    It’s good to know you’re still on the road. I’d been wondering if one of you had been eaten by a Komodo dragon. I’m a bit of a lurker but loved what you wrote about Ubud as it was exactly my experience of hating it initially and then spending 7 months there.

    • S King December 22, 2013 at 12:53 am #

      Actually, we are really loving the Philippines! This wasn’t our favorite memory, but we’ve moved on quickly. And Cebu is 1000x better than Manila. We are still in the Philippines and loved swimming with whale sharks and are enjoying the beaches.

      However, if this is the first place you landed and aren’t used to the presence of mega+security…it would be intimidating. It is anyway, right?

      • Michael M. December 23, 2013 at 10:35 am #

        We have often wondered if some kind of emotional whiplash was the route cause of having such a reaction. We had just dismantled our home of many years. I have no doubt that it’s a very rich environment and I too was looking forward to the beaches and swimming with whale sharks. Maybe we’ll give it another go now we’re a little more resilient.

  7. QoB December 23, 2013 at 6:02 am #

    I’m so sorry you were mugged – glad that you, the kids, and the important documents are all okay.

    One sentence did leap out at me, though, and it seemed really callous when perhaps you didn’t mean it that way: ” The biggest difference between us and the boys was the way we think.” Surely it’s that they are trying to survive desperate poverty and you aren’t?

    • S King December 23, 2013 at 3:54 pm #

      Thanks for commenting. I was trying to make a point to me 5 & 3 year old and as you read earlier in the post, I generalized. Although Yes, I believe that even in desperate poverty not everyone resorts to these manners. The difference in how we approach life, no matter our situation is critical. There are millionaires that Take and Steal as well. Are they “surviving”? No. They have a belief that the way to get ahead is to take.

      I stand by my comment that the way you think and your attitude make the biggest difference in your life. Some people rise up out of poverty, others don’t. What’s the difference there?

      • Lee December 25, 2014 at 3:05 pm #

        I was quite flawed by the blatant 1st world explanation you gave your children for the poverty they witnessed. Essentially it equates to ” Thoughts become things!”. Yes. That’s exactly why those kids are so poor. They just haven’t created their way out of a country where the government is so corrupt it screws its people over at every chance it gets. It doesn’t matter what the poor people do in Manilla, they simply lost the lottery of being born in the right place. You should tell your kids the truth. They’re privileged beyond belief because of the random lottery of existence and not because they’re special. Also being mugged by unarmed 10 year olds is pathetic. Tell your husband to grow a pair for christs sake.

      • Lee December 25, 2014 at 3:34 pm #

        I’d like to elucidate my last comment on this a little further. The Philippines is like it is for many varied, compacted and long standing reasons. The people that are a product of that environment stand little to no chance of overcoming it, regardless of how much they try to “create” their way out of it. Very few will succeed. They are fucked for reasons behind themselves and that is a horrible place to be. Those of us not born in places like this should acknowledge that fact out of respect. In richer societies you can “create” a path for yourself as you say. I did, I suppose if you want to look at it that way. But its a lie to equate that to the situations that you speak of.

  8. Made from Ubud December 27, 2013 at 4:49 pm #

    Hi Keith,Sabina and your kids. Always be careful wherever you are,DIFFERENT COUNTRIES ARE ALSO DIFFERENT SITUATIONS AND HUMAN CHARACTERS.
    All the best for you and your family.

  9. Escapist February 17, 2014 at 4:51 am #

    It was a gang of 10 year-olds, you say. But it was a gang!
    You know, chicken often turn to canibalism, if they’re not fed.
    The youth can be extremely aggressive in some areas of the World.
    Traveling with your own small children is a tremendous risk.
    I am sorry for your bad experience.

  10. George March 7, 2014 at 2:37 am #

    Very interesting. A good friend and I spent 3 weeks in the phillippines last year and she is Nairobi born and raised so used to living in a city with high crime rates and she freaked out in Manila!

    I have to say though the comment about the difference is in the thoughts comes across a little harsh . Although I agree in many ways that poverty is as much a pyscological thing as it is physical lack, I think an important thing following on from that train of thought is poverty is not just an outlook on life or a physical lack, poverty is a cumlmination of so much.

    I think it’s dangerous to other people in poverty, I get angry if I haven’t eaten for a day, imagine for years?

    What would you do to feed your family? Can you say that you would fair much better if you had been perpetually hungry since birth? Had no access to the resource you have had that have shaped your life thoughts and opinions, What horrors must life have thrown you if by ten you could play child whilst stealing from another family? Poverty is a mindset of survive.

    I think it’s easy when you have never been in poverty to think in terms of mindset and outlook but turely there are people who have never had the luxury to much more than survive.

    I don’t mean this in a judgemental way it’s just my thoughts based off of what I read! It’s also my career working with issues of poverty and this is just years of thinking and toying with the same ideas myself!

    • S King September 12, 2014 at 10:25 pm #

      Hi George,

      I did mention that I generalized the conversation for the ears of my 5 & 3 year old. We talked about many things, but this is the biggest take away that I wanted them to get from this situation and I think that it’s a valid one.

      • David December 15, 2014 at 8:59 am #

        Did you mention that by staying in those 5 Star Hotels you are helping to fund the plutocrats and developers that are in part responsible for the extreme conditions in Manila?

  11. missadventures March 10, 2014 at 2:49 am #

    Hello there. Sorry to hear about your bad experience in Manila. I do hope Cebu treated you better, though. I am from Cebu by the way and my small family are hoping to go on our own adventures, too, just like your family. Saw your blog from

  12. Andrew July 19, 2014 at 10:01 pm #

    This is the most elitist, 1st world snobbery I have ever read.

  13. True September 12, 2014 at 8:54 pm #

    Oh boy, you really are an odious woman. This blog and this post especially reeks of privledged racisim.
    Poor you, having to even leave your 5 star hotel and be insulted by having to see DARK COMPLECTIONS AND DIRT AND POVERTY!
    God you are exacly the kind of elitist priveledged twats that ruined our time in Bali. Its full of idotslike you, all stroking each others inflated egos, while the poor Balinese work thier fingers to the bone cleaning out your shitty toilets for 60 fucking dollars a month, so you can feel like you CONTRIBUTE.
    Elitist slave driving parasites.
    You deserved what you got in Manila and more. What kind of travelers would carry 500 cash? Only fucking tourists are that stupid.
    Btw, we loved Manila…
    A true city with true people.
    Thats probably why you didnt fit in.
    I pity you

    • S King September 12, 2014 at 10:38 pm #


      Privileged, I am.Those of us who travel are.
      Insulted, I’m not. None of what you mentioned is true (ironically, that is how you signed your name).
      Twat? Well, that is up for grabs I suppose.

      I acknowledge your intricate use of adjectives that you feel describe me perfectly.

      We weren’t insulted by experiencing the filth and crime…it just was what it was. It was an experience and we rather enjoyed the variety, until we got jumped.

      I don’t travel to fit in…I’ve got european, white skin and travel with blonde, blue eyed children…we’ll never look like Filipinos walking the streets.

      For you to mention that I somehow ‘deserved’ to be jumped while walking along a busy road in Manila with my children says a lot more about your condemning attitude than mine.

      I’m glad you loved Manila. Most Filipinos don’t even say that and avoid the city if they can.

    • Erin September 17, 2014 at 7:51 am #

      The fact that you can’t even use your real name already makes you seem like a coward and basically just an internet troll.
      To judge someone so harshly you have never met is not only childish, but inappropriate. This family gives to society and makes several families lives in Bali much better then your measly $3 you try and spend on lunch every day in Bali. Yeah geez, thanks.
      I have to agree with the Kings we were not a fan of Manila either, but Boracay – wow!

  14. Vandal December 12, 2014 at 4:30 pm #

    Wow, ok the guy “True” too harsh, but S, King? Are you for real? I admit the Phils is not Amsterdam but the way you describe it is as if it was Las Vegas or something. Which I find even more sleezy. You must be used to living in bubbles in your home. I live in SF Bay and I must tell you I saw very little difference between Manila and 1970s LA. Your travels are very white washed and I never thought I was privaliedged until I read your post. You are upper class rich folks. You are the ones in the US the protesters think I am. But I work for the man. You are the man. Get over it. Y’all don’t know how to travel without getting mugged then you should not. I have travelled the world and am more concerned in Oakland than I am in Manila. But then again I am a friendly nice guy. Yes there are lots of trouble there and if you are not careful it will be as bad as being mugged by Turks in A-dam, or Musilims around the Eifal tower, but True was correct. You act like that stuff is not everywhere and if that is true then you are elitest as he states; but the defaming with cuss words is not neccessary as of yet.

    Just a little pull you head and your husband’s head out of your 5 star butts and stay in a 3 star sometime and talk to your waiter other than please and thank you. Do you even no how to say thank you other than English? Salamat! You want kids to go away “Walang”. You want to say you’re welcome. Walang anumong. Ask them about their families. If the conversation is going well maybe you will be invited to go somewhere with them. To their home. They are an extremely humble yet proud people. I know contradiction. The humble part is they are embarrassed about how poor they are. That you would not wish to visit their homes or share a meal with the “dark skinned” people with dirt on their feet. Gosh they were so polite they even let me keep my shoes on. I actually did that for their safety. I had a little atheletes foot I brought from the states.

    Any way I am sure your family is great and all. And has plenty of first world problems. The third world has many of their own and you were just unlucky. I walked around like I owned the place and kept a good street sense, but I grew up on the streets long before finance so I know how to act around poor folks. Learn some phrase inlcuding the cuss words and do not be afraid to use them.
    Hope you will visit the PI again and if you are lucky maybe I’ll show you and fam around. If I am there. Still commuting back and forth from the states for now.

  15. Arjay December 25, 2014 at 11:34 pm #

    Thank you telling the truth about the Philippines. The Philippine government should be the one to be blame for all this filthy things. Do not be lured by the ads “wow Philippines” bullshit. Go somewhere else except Manila.

  16. Atlas December 26, 2014 at 10:19 am #

    Thanks for the post!
    Much like a great superhero story that documents the rise of a great supervillian, your blog post is documentation of how self entitled 1st world shits are created! One bullshit vapid explanation after another it would seem. Complex social structures with corrupt histories? Buh! Nothing to do with it. Its because they’re lazy!

    • S King March 21, 2015 at 3:06 am #

      Again, I spoke to my children about privilege, but the biggest take away is what I mentioned in the post.

  17. Jee Ann December 27, 2014 at 5:36 am #

    Wow, that was a bad and terrifying thing to experience. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon. I’m from the Philippines yet even I wouldn’t suggest visiting Manila. Despite being the country’s capital, it isn’t the best place to experience what the Philippines has to offer. Provinces and sleepy towns (or sleepy cities) elsewhere are better and relatively safer.

  18. Michael Burden May 8, 2015 at 7:10 am #

    I was surprised and shocked to read of your experience in Manila. Being married to a Filipina I have been to Manila several times, because we have a house in Quezon City and stay there. To me, Manila always feel very safe, compared to other places I have been to, for two reasons. Although the Mayor of Quezon City may complain about “unlicensed trading in the street”, this is one of the reasons why the streets feel safe. Everyone seems to be going about their business and at least trying to earn an honest living and you do not see people just loitering about eyeing up or hassling passers by, as you do in some places. There are also not as many beggars as in some places I have been to, and at least the beggars are only kids, frail elderly people and visibly disabled people, and not fit and able bodied youths and young men as again they are in some places. So Manila has always seemed to me. By contrast when I went to Amsterdam once (but never again !)I was constantly accosted by “sturdy beggars” and drug dealers, not to mention being mugged twice in one evening ! Michael Burden, Notttingham, UK.

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