The Filipino Tambay – Life On Standby

On any street corner in the Philippines you will find a group of Pinoys (Filipino men, females are Filipina or Pinay) keeping the economy afloat. They are ‘tambay’ (pronounced tam-bye), also known as being ‘on stand by’. Ready for anything, just in case they are needed. It is an honourable profession and one that is vital to the economy and society of the Philippines.

They are standing by, ready to be called upon at a moment’s notice to any of a multitude of tasks. You might need someone to guide you into or out of a parking space. Relax, there will be a tambay at hand ready to make vague hand signals and then tap on the boot of your car once you are safely in, or out, of that tricky parking situation. A few coins, preferably P5 or P10 coins will ensure a broad smile and the continuation of life as we know it.

It’s Not About You Or Me

The fact that you could probably park your car far more easily and stress free without worrying about hitting the bloke standing there waving his hands around, or if he’d just get out of your way so you could see what’s coming… well that’s irrelevant. It’s not about you. Or me. It’s about him. What if you went to the mall on your motorbike and had to park in the sun? A tambay will not only keep a very safe eye on your bike (even if it appears closed 98% of the time while he pretends to sleep in the shade), he will also provide you with a piece of cardboard to cover the seat and ensure it is not too hot to sit on when you return. That kind of concern and service requires a professional, not just anyone can perform these vital public services.

He needs to make a living and being an honest person, he refuses to take the easy path and turn to crime. Fear of imprisonment is not a factor, it is his pride and integrity. Hence he will wait there all day, every day, swapping chismis (gossip) with his barkarda (group of friends) until called upon to render service. He is on standby, which is far better than being unemployed. There is no unemployment benefit in the Philippines unless you contributed to SSS while employed. If a tambay had ever been employed in another role, it would have been a casual one at best, usually paid by the day or ‘pacquiao’, by the job.

Families To Feed

The tambay has at least one family to feed, perhaps more. He does not let his lack of income infringe upon his right as a Filipino male to father children, in or out of wedlock. When asked, many will boast how they have fathered several children, perhaps to two or three mothers and that they love each and every one of them deeply. They might not provide much for any of them but then they have their cigarettes and Tanduay rum to buy and customers are very stingy these days and besides, the children have mothers. Why can’t they get a job and pay some of the bills?

Of course not all tambays are selfish wastrels. There are many who simply have insufficient education or other opportunities and they really are doing the best they can to scratch a living for their families, other than commit crimes. Next time one helps you park your car, don’t get angry, just hand over the equivalent of 20c or 30c and give them a smile. And be glad you weren’t born one of them.

Perry Gamsby, D.Lit, MA(Writing), Dip.Bus, Dip. Mktg is a writer and lecturer who lives with his Cebuana wife and five Aus-Fil daughters in Western Sydney. The author of a series of best-selling ‘self-help’ books for expats and those married to Filipinas, he is also a Master of Filipino Martial Arts and a former World Stickfighting Champion who has lived, worked and vacationed in the Philippines since 1988. Perry and his family return to the Philippines on a yearly basis. You can read more of his writing on Philippines topics at


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One comment on “The Filipino Tambay – Life On Standby
  1. YULIYANTI says:

    They might not provide much for any of them but then they have their cigarettes and Tanduay rum to buy and customers are very stingy these days and besides,

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