Once, a friend of mine invited me and a few of our classmates to their house to work on a project. When I arrived at the address, I was so confused that I had to double-check the house numbers on the street. It turned out, I was in the right place. This was one of the rare times a house could be aptly described as a mansion. It was at least five times bigger than average houses in Manila, Philippines, where we both grew up, and was located in one of those exclusive gated villages. I had known this person since I was a kid, but didn’t realize that they were extremely well-off and had a collection of Louis Vuitton bags.
“Damn,” I thought. “This person is rich.”
Of course, rich people exist in plain sight. Sometimes, they’re easy to spot based on their clothing—a Dior tote and Hermès sandals or maybe AirPods and a pair of Yeezys. But other times, they take us by surprise with their low-key nature, or maybe, the sudden epiphany of the degree of their wealth.
Below are eight stories, similar to my own experience, of the moments people found out just how wealthy their friends actually were.
“A friend of mine asked me if I could design a climbing wall for their home. I told him I would meet him somewhere in Makati, but he had his driver pick me up in Navotas to bring me to their Makati office. When I got to the place, I was surprised to find myself in the same office that I was interviewed at when I was a fresh graduate applying for an internship. Everyone was saying ‘good day’ to my friend and I thought he was just a manager or something. Apparently, he’s the owner.” – RJ Cruz, 29, Navotas
“In high school, there was a guy talking to our homeroom teacher saying his family just bought solar panels for their roof. He said it was ‘very affordable.’ It was 100,000 Philippine pesos per panel. I guess that’s not expensive for him. Their idea of what’s affordable and what’s cheap is very different from a normal person’s.” – Jose Saranglao, 22, Parañaque
“I was an intern for a big conglomerate, and our team was heading back to the office from a team-building activity. We were in a car and one of the guys really needed to go to the bathroom, but the traffic was really bad. So one of my teammates goes, ‘Do you want to go to the bathroom in our building?’ It was literally a commercial building his family owned. It turns out, he was from a very wealthy family, and he opened up about how he’s never bought clothes in the Philippines.” – Anonymous
“During my freshman days, I had a friend who invited me to eat lunch with him during our free time. I told him we could just take a jeepney (a cramped mini-bus with cheap fares) to the SM mall in Davao. He insisted on taking a taxi since he didn’t know how to commute. We went to eat pizza and he told me to choose from the menu as it was his treat.” – Michael Morales, 22, Koronadal
“I know a lot of people who turned out to be heirs of big Philippine conglomerates, but they are usually humble and simple, and you would never know. My most interesting story is when we visited a family friend who lived in a dodgy area in Manila, a small house in a high-crime neighborhood. I was 12 years old. He saw me looking at his dingy walls and old furniture. I felt sorry for him, and he must have noticed the look on my face because he smiled and said, ‘I’ll give you a complete tour.’ He led me to a secret room filled with guns, ammunition, and a vault, which he opened—it was full of gold and wads of cash.” – Anonymous
“I found out my friend was richer than I thought when I went to her birthday party in her mansion. I’m not sure how large it was, but I live on a 300-square-meter lot, and her lot was around 100 times bigger. I was impressed when I found out. Like, I didn't really care and still loved her the same, but damn that was cool.” – Blanca Garcia, 23, Manila
“I was assigned fieldwork at a site in the Visayas and the whole trip was sponsored by a company. They transported us via private plane and conducted a walkthrough across the island. During lunch, they brought us to a big villa and prepared a buffet. I was browsing one of the company’s magazines, which had the name of the company president. I noticed that she had the same last name as someone I knew. It turns out, the president was my friend’s mom, and their family owned the island, too.” – George Silvederio, 29, Koronadal
“In my second year of college, I was quite steady with this girl. When I visited her house, their fleet of cars were, for some reason, on full display: a bulky Fortuner, a Montero Sport, an even more jacked Expedition, an immaculately white Camry, and a red Z3 Beemer parked with the top down. Inside the house were framed photos of their five-week Euro trip.” – Anonymous
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
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