When Michael Xu arrived in Manila 22 years ago to pursue his “Philippine dream”, he was just another Chinese teenager fresh out of high school with little idea of what lay ahead. Making his way from the airport to his flat for the first time, Xu was surprised to see slum after slum. The youngster was left with the impression that the Philippines was even more backward and poverty stricken than the China he recalled from the 1980s.
Xu, then 17 years old, had made the journey from his native Fujian province to help his family set up a small business. The coming years would give him a front-row seat on the local Chinese immigrant experience, as workers and entrepreneurs from the Middle Kingdom streamed into the Philippines in search of opportunity. Some opened shops and restaurants. Others became the labour that powered those businesses.