Reflections on my first 7 months

picWell somehow I completely missed my 6 month anniversary over here in the Philippines.  I had planned on a 6 month look back.  So last week in Boracay I realized it was the 14th of September – which is the 7 month anniversary date… sort of – time differences etc, and it was really 2200 on the 13th when I got to Manila but all I did was sleep in the airport until the 14th, so we call it the 14th no matter what my visa says… Quit arguing with me and let me start my mindless rambling. 

I just want to kind of check in and see what I expected, how things are going, what I may or may not have learned.  I don’t know where this is going to go. 

I have traveled quite a bit, in my short time in the Navy, and after.  I have traveled with family, with friends, and alone.  So I was not worried about coming over here alone really.  Once I started planning the move I wanted to come over and see if it was someplace I could really live.  I have been here before but just in the Navy.  So short, drunk visits don’t really count.  All countries look about the same to a drunk sailor!   I planned a trip to Cebu for Christmas 2011.  I did not do too much touristy stuff, or party too much while here.  I tried to really get to know the city and see if I could live there.  I was in Cebu for almost 2 weeks and decided I could live there happily.  My other main choice was Chiang Mai, Thailand – although I have never been to Thailand.  It made the top 2 choices from reading online and talking to people who live there.  How did people plan these retirements without the internet?  I liked Cebu enough that I decided not to go to Thailand and just concentrate on the PI’s.

A lot of people I know don’t enjoy traveling. I think some people just like to stay in their “comfort zone”.  I have always loved traveling so maybe I don’t have a comfort zone.  Or maybe I am comfortable with me.  And it doesn’t matter where I am, I can be comfortable.  I love seeing other cultures and see how people live.  I don’t have a lot of desire to see the touristy areas – except in Orlando, FL. (but I love the roller coasters!).  I just have an insatiable wander lust.  People that don’t have it don’t understand it.  And people that do have don’t understand the folks without it. Such is life.  There should be enough around here to keep me happily exploring for a while.  So maybe no more big moves?  We shall see.  

I met a girl online and we never even tried to be boyfriend/girlfriend.  We just became friends.  We became Facebook friends and then later we both gave our real Facebook accounts.  (that is almost serious for internet life ha ha).  I did not want my real Facebook account cluttered with crazy Filipino women!  I mean seriously I would have someone write a note asking to be friends saying they saw my page and they love me!  No thanks!  So when I decided to move over here I asked if she knew anyone that would be a good match for me.  Now, meeting girls over here is pretty easy.  I am by no means rich, but by Philippine standards I am doing OK.  And all foreigners are seen as rich.  But I did not want to be an ATM.  I wanted a nice girl, not a leech.  She introduced me to Melane and we started talking on Facebook.  We chatted for about 7 months before I got over here.  During this time I decided to go met Melane on her island instead of going to Cebu.  If we did not hit it off in person I could always go to Cebu.  So no loss.  Well we met and got along quite well so here I stayed. 

I did a lot of research before coming and had most things planned out rather well.  I mean I did not know where I was going to live but that is not an important issue.  I bought a Magic Jack so I have a Texas phone number and can make “local” calls back to friends and family for no cost, as long as I have an internet connection.  It was $60 for a 5 year plan.  Cheap phone!  I found a mail forwarding service that will scan my mail and email me a pdf of either the envelopes or the contents, as I choose.  Then they will shred or forward my mail.  They also deposit checks into my bank if needed. Traveling Mailbox has been a really good service.  And I switched to USAA credit union for my banking.  I gave all my credit cards my fake Texas address a la Traveling Mailbox, my Texas Magic Jack phone number, and now no one really knows where I live.  I like it.

OK everything is set and I finally sell my damn house – how is it over here?  Thanks for asking.  The province of Antique is beautiful but the 5 hour bus ride to Iloilo every 2 months for visa extensions would drive me into a shooting spree.  So we moved to Iloilo.  About 16 km from the city, near her uncle and cousins.  So she is still near family and I am closer to a city.  It has worked out well here.  We live in a bamboo, 1 bedroom house.  I pay p3,000  a month rent, approximately $70 USD.  Pretty cool.  She says she wants to move after our 1 year contract is up.  I am not sure if she wants to move closer to the city or if she just thinks I want to move.  How does one ever really know?  But after my birthday we may be looking for something a little more “western” quality.  Hopefully still cheap though! 

Here is a video of moving into our house:

The biggest problem I’ve seen reading online expat blogs & forums is so many people either just bitch and moan about how horrible it is or they blow rainbow colored smoke up your butt.  No place is as good as some the guys say this place is, and if you are as miserable as some seem to be… go somewhere else!  I came here with an open mind, and planned on just going with the flow.  Which is what I am like anyway.  So far the flow has been pretty good.  I am much more relaxed, my weight has not changed but my blood pressure has dropped.  I did lose 2 inches off my waist at first but the rainy season has me inside so much it has come back. 

One of the big concerns for an expat, anywhere, is language.  They say that almost everyone over here speaks English.  In Subic, and Cebu that seemed to be true.  Out here… not so much…  Most of them can speak a little English, they speak better English than I speak Tagalog.  But other than being able to talk to a sales clerk or bank teller you are out of luck.  Just not enough tourists out this way for English to be spoken much. Yes, they take English in school but how much of your high school Spanish or French do most of you remember? (Je m’appelle Tim, y’all)  So as far as language goes Thailand would have worked just as well.   I really need to get off my lazy ass and learn Tagalog.  But after 7 months it still sounds like gibberish to me.  I simply do not have an ear for languages.  I can get on and off a jeepney, order lunch, and well, that is about it.  I can say sa lugar, bayad, palihog, me love you long time.  Not much progress there for 7 months. Hey, how did that last one get in there?

I lived through my first rainy season.  It is not quite over but is winding down.  I have enjoyed to cooler weather but I am getting soggy.  Everything is growing mold – not me – but my clothes, hats, shoes, and my poor tools are all rusty… it is just wet all the time right now.  So when it stops raining and heats back up I will try not to complain about the heat too much ha ha.  But I sleep with just a fan and I am comfortable.  The house is a constant 85 degrees and generally 80% humidity!  But with a fan it is ok, surprisingly.  Some of the guys I have talked to say you get used to the humidity and don’t even sweat much… later.  I don’t see that happening anytime soon.  But we can hope.

A lot of the expats complain the family treating them like an ATM.  So far her family has not been too bad.  It is easy to say no because contrary to popular belief I really am not a “rich kano”.  So they can ask for money but I don’t have any extra.  There were a couple small request at first, which I said no to most.   I did give out a couple thousand pesos and nothing after that – and got none of it back.  Or maybe they ask Melane for money and she doesn’t tell me?  Good enough for me.   I bought a portable wifi device for p3,000 ($70) and it did not work well here.  Then we “loaned” it to her brother 175 km away.  So I am sure that is gone, but that is nothing compared to the horror stories I have heard and read from others.  And I have made a few small loans to the family here in Iloilo but all of that is paid back (one loan out at a time – never multiple loans).  So I think my friend made a good choice when introducing us.  Remind me to thank her later.  Lynn if you are reading this – Thanks!

Melane is pretty close (5 houses away)  to part of her family, and a 5 hour bus ride from the others. But I am 8,000 miles from my family.  I was a single dad for 16 years and kind of feel like I abandoned my kids by running away.  But they are 22 & 25, so it is kind of time for me to take of me.  I miss them a lot.  Sometimes a lot more than I thought I would.  We do talk on the phone some, and Facebook a lot.  And my son and I play Guild Wars 2 together sometimes (online game).  We need to do that more often – but the 13 hour time difference makes it difficult.  But my headaches and seizures were getting out of control.  I cannot believe how many times the police stopped me and let me drive off.  They should have taken my license years ago – but I drove for a living!  Since coming over here my headaches have really decreased, and I’ve had only 2 bad seizures in 7 months. I was having multiples every month!  So, sorry kids.  I do miss you and will visit as I can but the flights are insanely expensive, so not much.  My daughter is getting married next year and I am going to be there for that.  Not sure if we can get a tourist visa for my girlfriend or not.  I really hope so.  I want her to meet the family and I would love to show her around my town.  Especially the Texas State Fair!  And if we are still together next year it might be time to make an honest woman out of her? …

And a video of us hanging out in the neighborhood:

 

Food has been a pretty easy adjustment for me.  We have a group of expats that meet twice a month at a local restaurant, and they have helped me out with some grocery store suggestions.  And when Melane talked to some of the other girls there she said they were amazed at how easy I am to feed.  I don’t like seafood so as long as I don’t get fish I really don’t care.  I get hot Milo almost every morning (it is a hot chocolate).  Rice is generally 3 meals a day.  Then pork, hot dogs, chicken, whatever.  I’m pretty easy.  And I have found some good suppliers for sausages, lettuce, cold cuts, cheese. some of the things you can’t get just anywhere.  Still have not found particularly good bread (except in Boracay!).  A typical breakfast is a hot dog (no bun) with rice, or an egg with rice.  Sometimes I have sausages or hash browns – frozen Carnation brand just like in the US.  One thing that surprised me is that they don’t eat vegetables over here.  They throw in a couple strips of cabbage into a dish and call that a veggie.  I did not eat a lot of veggies in the US – but compared to now I guess I did.  But we eat tons of fruit.  We try to have mangoes and bananas at the house all the time.  And will buy various things that catch our eye at the market.  I do miss tortillas.  I found some but OMG the price!  Over $2 for a 10 pack.  I don’t miss them that much.  And if I wasn’t so lazy I could easily make tortillas or chapatis, but that would involve buying flour.  So I guess I don’t miss them that much.

We get stared at a lot.  I am a fat American, in an area with few tourists, so that could be part of it.  I am 49, she is 25, that could also be part of it.  But we have not heard any rude comments so a little staring is ok.  So far almost everyone is friendly (except right now Melane is cooking dried fish and trying to kill me with the smell!) I do get some pretty rude stares from some young men on the jeepney.  There are a couple little kids in the neighborhood that are super friendly.  “HI TIM!!!!”, they scream daily. But that is about all the English they know so we just smile and wave to each other.

I have not traveled quite as much as I was hoping but I am still getting used to just being here.  and as I get settled I am getting comfortable and lazy ha ha.  But we have done a few day trips that were nice.  We traveled to Bacolod, Boracay, and Palawan for longer stays (3 or 4 nights).  I guess 3 vacations in 7 months is not so bad? How much did I expect to travel?  Ok.  I am doing fine.  I am just a bit stir crazy because of the rainy season.  I bought a bicycle and it is so rainy I barely get out to ride.  Not sure where to go next.  I want to go back to Cebu, and Subic.  I want to see Angeles City, and Manila.  Baguio, Davao.  I don’t know, I want to go all over.  Then there is Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Chiang Mai…. anyway.  So far so good.  Lots of good trips yet to come.

Poverty is rampant in the Philippines.  For years I have told friends that the American poor have no idea what poor really is.  If you travel much at all you know what I mean. Much of the world has no government housing, food stamps, etc.  When there is no money you go to bed hungry. I am in a country where a refrigerator is still kind of a luxury item. Many of our neighbors have no running water.  And we live in a regular neighborhood.  The squatter areas are unbelievable.  Luckily we have very little of that in our area.  So I understand why they see foreigners as rich.  I cannot retire for another 5 years and am living on a small veterans disability.  It is enough – just barely – to make it month to month.  But I do have hot running water, a fridge, a washing machine for clothes, and 2 fans.  So for a local I am living pretty well.  Most of you would be shocked at how I live.  I do still have 2 computers, tons of DVD’s, satellite TV, internet (supposedly “broadband” ha ha).  But we have no windows, no screens for the window openings, half the roof is nipa (thatch), the other half tin.  Well I was looking for a simpler life, and I found it.  And I am happy.  that has got to count for something, right?

My only real complaint is the noise.  For being so friendly and hospitable, as most Filipinos are, they are unbelievably rude about noise!  Japan is very crowded and has developed a code of conduct where you do not make enough noise to disturb your neighbors.  Someone posted a video on YouTube about a train in Japan that was stuck during some flooding and a foreigner pulled out his guitar and played some music.  The Japanese comments were quite an eye opener.  First they blasted him for taking 3 seats while others had to stand.  Then they vilified him for making noise around others – especially on a stuck train where no one could leave.  http://en.rocketnews24.com/2012/10/05/inspiring-or-inconsiderate-foreigner-plays-guitar-for-frustrated-train-passengers-while-stranded-in-typhoon  Here in the Philippines they are very crowded and went completely the other way with it.  Everyone can, and does, play any music they want, as loud as they want, any hour of the day or night.  And everyone puts up with it because “that is just the way it is”.  And the worse you sing karaoke the louder you must play it seems to be the norm.  I am not sure where I can move to get away from the noise but it may drive me to a gated community (but you have no control over someone across the wall, so will it work?).  It is the only real problem I have here but it is going to drive absolutely fucking crazy!  But it is one of the things I can do nothing about so I need to just find a way to deal with it.  So far I just put on headphones and turn it up loud enough to drowned out whatever crap they are screeching into the microphone. 

So let’s see… my house is simpler than I anticipated. My girlfriend is much better than I expected.  The food is pretty good.  Most people have been very friendly.  My mail is crazy slow but welcome to the Philippines! (Honestly I get mail from the US faster than from Manila?)  I ended up bringing too much junk with me.  But it is better to have extra stuff to get rid of than realize you left something you can’t get here. My seizures have really decreased.  I am adjusting to life here pretty easily.   The biggest problem so far is trying to explain to Melane when I say it is hot I am not really complaining… just Americans like to bitch about the obvious.  It is just something I do ha ha.   If we could outlaw loud music and karaoke I would be fine!  And did I mention that I am quite happy and content? 

If you guys want I can write a one year look in February?  Let me know. (you need to follow my blog and comment so I know you are reading)

 

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