Category Archives: Blog

The Return Flight From Hell

Janet and I had just spent a delightful vacation week in Krabi, Thailand with our friends Pete and Cathy. We had a great vacation but were ready to return home to the Philippines.

Now vacation is a bit of a misnomer because let’s face it – we’re on permanent vacation. Let’s call it a vacation from our vacation.

From Krabi we had a layover in Singapore before our flight to Cebu. I promised Janet a nice dinner because after all, the Singapore Airport had to be like the country itself – rich and modern.

The Krabi Airport was neither rich nor modern. We wanted lunch and there were two restaurants. One had almost nothing to sell and the other one was a Subway, which made me happier than Janet.

The gate area at Krabi Airport makes the average bus terminal look sophisticated. So much noise that it was impossible to determine what the announcements over the intercom were saying. Nonetheless we finally got on the plane and took off. The flight was a bit late, meaning that our 2 1/2 hour layover was down to 2 hours; still plenty of time for a meal and exploring the Singapore Airport, or so I thought.

Like most international transfers, we were forced to first go through a security search; no problem – we’re used to it. The airport, as expected, was beautiful and modern but signage was lacking and we could not figure out where our flight was. I had promised Janet that nice meal, as soon as we found our gate. It took me 10 minutes to find a modern machine which scanned my ticket and told me where the flight would be; Terminal 4. We followed the signs to Terminal 4; it was at least a 10 minute trek. Now we approached the turn leading to the terminal and two employees stopped us.

“You must go through Immigration before you can go to the gate,” one told me.

“Why? We’re not coming into the country – we’re just transferring flights.” He was adamant. “OK, where is immigration?” I asked. Let’s just say it wasn’t close by.

The line at immigration was long and we were still questioning why we have to go through Immigration at all. Janet asked an employee whether we have to go through Immigration and is told that no we don’t. We leave the line and go back toward the gate – another 10 minute trek. As we approach, the two men again stop us. For seven months in the Philippines I have managed not to lose my temper despite a 3rd world infrastructure. But here in beautiful, modern, 1st world Singapore I am losing it. “We were just told we didn’t have to go through Immigration! ”

“Yes, you do,” the guy said and handed us a sheet of instructions on what to do for an Air Asia flight. As we storm off heading back to Immigration, I heard him say, “We value your input.” The last thing he wants to hear is my input.

Back in the line at Immigration. It moved quicker than expected but now I am trying to figure out what time it is in Singapore and how long we have until the flight. I explained to the Immigration Officer that we were told that we had to go through Immigration. He looks at me like I am crazy, shrugs and starts to process me. “How long will you be staying in Singapore?” he asks. I know better than to lose it with an Immigration Officer but I did chuckle.

Back upstairs, passed our two friends and outside to get a bus to Terminal 4. We all crammed onto the bus, but hey it’s modern. Frankly by this point I’d rather be on a Jeepney in Manila. Another 10 minutes.

According to the instructions we were handed we had to go through Air Asia’s document control, despite the fact we already had our boarding passes. At least 10 minutes. Finally the lady says “You don’t have to be here. See it says on your boarding passes, ‘Go directly to the Gate.’ Apparently in Singapore their concept of going directly to the gate is different from mine.

To no surprise there was no way to go directly to the gate. You had to go through machines and scan your boarding pass. After scanning my pass the machine said “Go to Immigration.” Now I’m ready to lose it. I find a guard who looks at our boarding passes and lets us through.

Oh did I mention that at some point in all this mess we were required to go though yet another security check.

At least a 10 minute jog to the actual gate. We had made it but had blown all our time; no dinner for Janet; a muffin would have to suffice and a promise of whatever food was on the plane.

After boarding the plane and getting ready for the flight – suddenly the lights went off. No big deal; it had happened to me before, but Janet was scared. They came back on in a minute. No one seemed concerned that there was no announcement from the cockpit.

A few minutes later the lights went off again. Now we saw ground crew come on and enter the cockpit. Not a reassuring sign.

Again the lights come back on and we try to relax. But yet again the lights go out and this time stay out for about 10 minutes. Janet is worried and I am assuming that soon we will hear an announcement that the plane has a problem and we have to get off. Janet said that she was sure they had another plane for us. I told her that that was highly unlikely.

Surprisingly the flight attendant announced we would soon be departing. I was still waiting for an announcement of what occurred but it didn’t come. Janet went up and asked the flight attendant. He tells her something about the engine not powered and since there was no power the captain could not use the intercom and speak to us. Engine problems is not what you want to hear when you are about to take off.

People are nervous and a 30ish woman leans past her husband and asks me if this is “normal.” Apparently I look like a wise old world traveler, which I sort of am. “No,” I said. “Not normal in my experience.”

The flight attendant passes and I asked for an explanation. He said something like they were rebooting the system. Now as a former Software Engineer this should be reassuring but rebooting the engine did not sound so good to me.

Getting ready to taxi Janet asked me to pray. This did not sound like a bad idea to me. As a Buddhist, I chant – so that’s what I did, under my breath.

From that point onward the flight was uneventful. There were no meals to speak of but I wasn’t very hungry anyway.

For the last few days Janet has hugged me alot and proclaimed it was nice to be alive. Yep, it’s nice to be alive and even nicer not to be in the Singapore Airport!




Rude Foreigners

So we’re sitting in the USSC store in Robinsons Mall waiting to get served. We filled out a little form and got a number. Yes, in the Philippines there are still places that you “take a number.” Turns out our number was to be the last one called before the employees took their lunch hour. USSC must be rare because a lunch hour is almost never an hour in the Philippines.

Several people walked in afterwards and were politely informed that there would be no more service until after lunch. Then an elderly (defined as older than me) foreigner walked in, was politely informed of the upcoming lunch break. He got pissed off, yelled, threw out an F-bomb and stormed off. There was no reason for the tantrum. He was treated politely and told he could come back after the break.

This is behavior that Janet and I witness pretty regularly in Dumaguete and most of the time the offender is a foreigner.

Now as it turns out that while Janet and I were the last to be served before the break and therefore the office was empty by the time it was our turn, we were missing a crucial document to finalize our business and were told if we brought it in that day, we would be served right away without needing a number or waiting.

We returned a couple hours later. In the interim we had talked about the rude foreigner. As the USSC Clerk was finalizing Janet’s business I decided to ask a question or two. “Do you often have rude foreigners?” I asked. She smiled at me. “Only one today, Sir.” I laughed. “Well I know who that was. His behavior was ridiculous.”

“If he comes back, I will of course treat him respectfully,” she said. “But he did say the f-word.” She and the other clerk had heard and would not be forgetting. Clearly she considered it part of the job, but it also stung the employees there.

A few week ago we were in the bank. Simultaneously there were two rude foreigners. One cut ahead in line since his concern had to be handled immediately. It wasn’t. He stormed off, returned about five minutes later to vent again at someone else.

In the meantime another elderly (aka, older than me) foreigner was sitting next to me making a request of the banker that would never be granted in any bank in the Western world. When he was politely informed what would be required to meet his request, he grumbled, cursed under his breath about the lousy country and terrible customer service.

We observe behavior like this a couple times a week at least. It saddens me for what I realize is a foolish reason; that it reflects badly on me. It doesn’t of course but I feel like it does.

Now going back to the experience at USSC, while conversing with the Clerk about rude foreigners, she admitted she was worried that I was going to react similarly when she told us we would have to come back to finalize our business. I laughed but felt bad. “Of course I wasn’t mad. Now my wife? That’s another matter.” Janet playfully hit me.

In the car on the way home Janet and I once again talked about this. Now the point isn’t that Filipinos never get mad or never behave rudely – of course they do. But the rude behavior from a minority population (the foreigners) is hard to ignore.

For over two years in the US Janet worked in a supermarket. She had rude customers every day. It was a big part of her indoctrination into life in America. She quickly learned to give it back as much as take it. My wife is sweet as can be, but has a quick tongue when mistreated.

So why we asked ourselves did this all bother us so much; we both were used to it in the US. And that I suppose was the answer. In the US witnessing or being confronted by rude  people is a daily event and we realized that here in the Philippines while it does happen, it’s uncommon enough to be more noticeable.

One more story, not that I am trying to prove anything. Early that evening we went into the grocery store. The cashier is ringing up our items. The Filipina behind us in the line asked “where’s the divider” – the bars you put to keep your items separate from someone else’s. In my modest experience, most stores in the Philippines do not have these dividers. The clerk looked at her with that deer in the headlights look. “There are no dividers,” I said. The lady huffed.

I handed the clerk my debit card – my debit card from our Philippines bank account. Now debit cards here are not quite as reliable as in the US. Sometimes it goes through, sometimes it doesn’t and sometimes the clerk has to put it through as a credit instead of a debit, and sometimes you’re just best off having cash.

The woman behind me spoke up in perfect English. “You have to select credit for a foreign debit card,” she announced. I turned to her and politely said, “It’s not a foreign debit card.” The clerk continued to struggle with my card. The woman behind me announced again, because clearly the clerk was too stupid to have understood, ” You have to select credit for a foreign debit card.” I turned back to face her again but less politely and repeated, “It’s not a foreign debit card.”

The clerk continued to struggle with my card and mumble apologies. And once again the woman stated her view, “You have to select credit for a foreign debit card.” I finally got it. The woman may have once been a Filipina but she was clearly now an American. I glared at her and snarled, “It’s – not – a – foreign – debit – card!” Janet calmed me down. “Just pay cash,” which I did.

So you see, it’s not just foreigners who are rude in the Philippines. It’s Fil-Ams too 🙂

PS: Based on further thought and a few of the comments I have received I wanted to add something. Now this may be splitting hairs, but here goes. I think there is a difference between inconvenient/ annoying behavior and rude behavior. You’re driving down the road. A little old lady is slowly crossing the street and you have to stop and wait. It’s annoying. You drum your fingers along the steering wheel. But she’s not doing it to personally harm or offend you. OTOH, if you stick your head out the window and yell, “Hey old lady, get the “f-word” out of the damn street,” – well that’s rude behavior.


Making Friends in the Philippines

Now that I’ve live in Dumaguete for about 6 months, I can’t help but look at my life and realize I don’t know too many people here. Some of it is logistics; we spent the first few months getting settled, finding a rental house, filling the house with stuff, buying a car, etc.

But the truth be told, I am just not that social a person. When married in the past, somehow most of my single friends faded and I developed married friends, aka friends of the wife 🙂 Divorce happens, and the friends stayed with her 🙂

When I was divorced I was too busy raising kids and futilely trying to date. So the last thing I worried about was guys to hang out with.

When I married Janet, I was more concerned that she meet people she could befriend and we ended up as part of a large community of Fil-Am couples. While I thought I was doing it just for Janet, one day I woke up to discover that I actually had a bunch of new friends, several of whom I actually liked!

Here in the Philippines, while making friends hasn’t been a top priority, it has been on my mind. Drinking buddies aren’t hard to find here and I actually have a nice group of guys I meet with once a month to share  a beer or two (OK, more for some) and swap stories and problems. There are several popular hangouts for expats in Dumaguete, and you can go to those places at nearly any time of the day or night and find guys drinking and talking in a variety of languages. But I never was a bar guy and don’t intend to become one in my dotage. Now I am sure many of these guys are good people, but if you’re slamming San Miguels at 10:00 AM you might not be my type and at 10:00 PM I’m probably in bed, so I’m not your type.

Also I’m married, so creating couples friends is as important or more important that making individual friends. Janet and I have gone out with other couples on occasion; sometimes there’s a connection -sometimes not. The juries still out.

Then there was my stated intention before I moved here that I wanted to have Filipino friends; maybe even more Filipino than expat friends, I thought. It still hasn’t happened but then I am barely social with people who speak my own language. Oh, people in my neighborhood are friendly and say hello when I am out and about walking, but I haven’t yet converted that into anything more. Perhaps I should start hanging out at the local Sari Sari and share a beer. I say this seriously; I know several guys who do this. Ultimately it’s clear that this sort of effort is on me. Despite their friendly nature, Filipinos are shy around foreigners and so if I really want friends I will have to make the effort.

And then there’s the family. Janet has a large one and we see them often. I do consider them friends but there’s a language barrier, a cultural barrier – and yes, an economic barrier.

Now, none of this is coming from a place of loneliness or sadness. I have tons to do and never get bored. And let’s not forget I have a very cute wife 🙂 Next week we’re meeting some U.S. friends and that should be fun and we have a ton of other American friends who know there is a guest room if and when they come to the Philippines. But still it would be nice to expand the friendship base to a few more people here.

BTW, I don’t have my normal photo that’s relevant to this blog piece displayed at the top, because when I searched Google for “Philippines expats” it mostly showed images of people I know 🙂


Philippines 3rd Happiest Country in the World

So Janet and I are in the bank January 3rd conducting some business, which meant a little waiting. There are two foreigners in the bank getting more and more upset. One is pushing though the line demanding that his issue be taken care of. The other’s an old codger (that is an even older codger than me) sitting next to me. He’s mumbling under his breath what a rotten place this is. But I can hear his request and it’s never gonna happen and wouldn’t happen in the US either.

At the same time I’m reading the paper and come across this article:

Once again the Philippines is ranked among the highest countries in the world for general happiness. Of course there is nothing objective about the poll; nothing quantifiable. They simple ask people all over the world the question, “In general, do you personally feel very happy, happy, neither happy nor unhappy, unhappy or very unhappy about your life?”

Fiji once again was the happiest country. I too would be pretty damn happy in Fiji – who wouldn’t. At number two was Colombia. I’m sure there’s a joke here about happiness and cocaine intake; but I’m not gonna go there. And of course the Philippines was 3rd. Last year we were tied for 2nd with China, which this year dropped off the top ten completely. Not a good year for the Chinese economy, I suppose.

If you look at the list of the top ten there was only one 1st world country listed: The Netherlands. There’s a drug joke there too, but again – I’m not gonna go there.

The other countries in the top ten were 3rd world havens like Mexico (happy about Trump’s Wall, perhaps), Vietnam; Kazakhstan (Borat sure was happy), Papua New Guinea, Indonesia (love to go there); India (in no rush to go there), Argentina (proving that a collapsing economy has little to do with happiness). There’s a pattern here: poor places or places with a lot of dope seem pretty damn happy.

Of course poverty is not the only criteria for happiness. I mean, Iran was dead last and it’s poor as shit. Last year Iraq was the least happy. Now it’s 2nd from the bottom. Apparently cataclysmic wars are not good for general happiness; who knew.

Overall Latin America was the happiest continent. The US and Russia were literally tied with a score of +50; just one more proof of collusion between Trump and Putin 🙂

So what can we conclude? Is it merely the old adage that money cannot buy happiness? I’m sure that’s part of it but it has to be more.

I just spent the holidays in Janet’s hometown of Alcoy, Cebu. The level of poverty there (as in many places in the Philippines) is beyond the experience or comprehension of the average American. And yet the people there rang in Christmas and New Years with joy and laughter. Janet’s siblings traveled from other cities to be there with the family. Again I have no real conclusions. In the US the holidays are blamed for misery, depression and an increase in suicides. In the Philippines; well there’s an increase in people who shoot off various body parts with fireworks; but other than that everyone seems pretty damn happy.

I may not understand their happiness but I’m doing my best to share in it. My wish for the New Year is that everyone do the same!





Our 1st Car Accident in the Philippines

Notice I said 1st. We’ll come back to that!

Just before Xmas, Janet and I took our car to the car wash behind Robinsons Mall. I get the car washed far more often than I ever did in the US. For one thing, driving through the dust and dirt makes a freshly washed car dirty in no time.

For another thing, the car washes in the Philippines are cheap. For that reason I have developed the habit of cleaning the car inside and out. I never shelled out for the complete in and out service in the US. If I wanted the inside done I’d do it myself with the vacuum. No way I was paying US prices for what was usually poor service.

But for 190 pesos I get the inside and out done by hand; no machines here. It usually takes at least an hour, so Janet and I drop the car off and go into the mall for shopping and /or lunch, which is what we did on the day in question.

As we were wandering the mall I heard the dreaded intercom sound that you hear regularly in Robinsons, “Will the owner of car X, license Y please come to…” This invariably means your car’s been wrecked; please get it the hell out of here.

But this time to my horror I heard, “Will the owner of the Blue Ecosport, licence number xxxx…” That’s all I had to hear. “Is that our car?” I yelled to Janet. We hurried outside, with Janet encouraging me that it probably wasn’t our car. From 100 yards away I could see our car surrounded by Security Guards. This is not a sight you want to see in the Philippines. As I approached the lead guard said, “It’s not that bad, Sir,” and then proceeded to show me the damage to the back of the car. “It is that bad,” I corrected him.

The “supervisor” of the car wash was there and immediately told me, “We will fix it, Sir – don’t worry!” At the time I didn’t get the whole story – just that the car wash attendant backed into something. The day we dropped off the car, being right before the holiday, was very busy and crowded and I remember asking the attendant if he wanted me to move the car or would he do it. My mistake.

I took it all in stride; what was I going to do at that point, particularly since they immediately took responsibility and said they would fix it. “Do you have a body shop guy?” I asked. “Yes, Sir.” We were given the manager’s and owner’s names and phone numbers.

I found out later that Janet was threatening them in Visayan. No one wanted the police brought in but Janet made it clear that if they didn’t do the right thing, that’s exactly what would happen. The Security Guard wrote up the incident and I signed. I joked with everyone and shook hands. What else could I do other than see how well or poorly they fixed it.

Since it was right before Xmas and we were driving to Alcoy for the holiday on the Roll on – Roll off ferry, I agreed to drop off the car after we returned.

Now things weren’t too well organized once the repair process began. Took a day to coordinate with the man whose name and number we were given as to where and when to take the car. We dropped it off a few days before New Years and were told it would take about 3 days to fix. On the 3rd day Janet began texting the guy. Responses were glacial. “Maybe today, Ma’am.” Then, “maybe this evening, Ma’am.” It began to rain and Janet was advised. “We can’t put on the top coat because of the rain, Ma’am. Maybe tomorrow morning.” But that morning we were leaving for New Years. So Janet texted the guy, “We will pick it up Tuesday and expect it to be ready and perfect.” The simple response came back, “OK.” No Ma’am this time!

Monday night in Southern Cebu it rained like it would never ever stop. The ferries were cancelled but by the afternoon they were running again and we dashed back home. Janet texted the guy and got no answer. But the next morning he texted that the car was back at the car wash since they wanted to wash it before we picked it up. We were already out and about so we returned to the scene of the crime. It hadn’t been washed yet so we examined the repair closely.

Janet and I had discussed in advance what we would do if the repair was not perfect. What level of imperfection we would accept and what type of shoddy work would mean a call to the police. But all that was unnecessary. I’m no expert but the car looked great and I couldn’t tell it had been in an accident.

Interestingly Janet asked who had had the accident and fingers were pointed at the culprit. I was amazed that he still had a job. We had actually gotten the whole story before; the car had been backed into another car, which was more severely damaged than ours. That car was apparently un-drivable and the owner had yelled and screamed that he needed his car.

Janet yelled at them that if we let them wash it they better not put a mark on the car or the police would be called immediately. Under the category “these guys have cajones” the lead guy asked what about a tip, since we were not paying for the car wash. Janet yelled, “What about our inconvenience for losing our car?” I got to smile and take it all in.

So just as we had done two weeks before we went into the mall, shopped a bit and had lunch. The intercom was silent this time and we picked up the car, which looked great. Idiot that I am I did give a tip. We hopped into our car and headed home, happy to have it back.

Now considering the driving environment here in Dumaguete what are the chances we will never had another  accident; probably zero. But at least we know you can get good body work done. Just hope it doesn’t rain and ruin the top coat.



Our Philippines Retirement Routine

Now that we are genuinely settled into life here in Valencia, Negros Oriental, I thought I would report about our routine. We spent the first couple of months scurrying around and getting what we needed and wanted but the last couple of months we’ve settled in.

A friend recently commented that he was envious of our life. There’s reason for envy and yet every life has routine and ours might be considered sort of boring.

From a retirement standpoint, it’s a joy not to commute. Over the years, that commute had grown to be the worst part of my working life. Now Janet and I have breakfast together. Nothing fancy; I’m a cereal or eggs person, but it’s nice not to be wolfing it down in my cubicle.

I usually take a morning walk. Whatever direction I take, I pass about 10 cows, having their breakfast, assorted goats, chickens, roosters, dogs, etc. Dumaguete’s a city but it’s a provincial city. The view on my walk is fantastic and I love the sense of a non-urban life. OK, I do have to remember that pooper scoopers for cows don’t exist and if they did there would be no laws requiring them here. So I step carefully.

I have an office/shop set up in our home’s third bedroom. On one side’s a workbench I’ve cobbled together. Despite being made only of plywood and 2x4s it’s pretty strong and should allow me to make, finish and work on guitars. On the other side’s the small table where my computer and peripherals sit. In between are my tools and guitar.

I’m getting everything together to start building guitars again and perhaps after the first of the year I’ll be ready. In the meantime I’ve been playing more guitar than I have in years and am enjoying it a lot.  For Xmas Janet bought me a digital interface. The quality of recording is a little bit better than the last time I recorded my guitar playing – on a cassette deck! Also got a nice mic, so expect to be spammed with recordings in the near future.

Just as I did when I worked (lol) I spend plenty of my time checking email, surfing the web, and looking at YouTube videos. Interestingly, now that I am here, I watch less and less of my fellow expat’s videos, though I still watch Bud Brown and Ned regularly. One thing I don’t keep track of is the political insanity and general divisiveness back in the US. I wrote a blog post recently that I have yet to publish because it took the uncomfortable position that so many people “back home” are nuts and my stress level is less not being involved with so much of the nuttiness. Of course people are nuts here too, but they still manage to smile and say “good morning,” so it’s hard to get too stressed about it.

We seem to go to the grocery store or public market more often than we did in the US, probably because I was dictatorial in insisting that we did our grocery shopping once a week back there. I could only deal with Fred Meyer’s so often. Here there’s a couple supermarket’s, the Valencia public market, and a mall within easy driving distance. It’s certainly harder to find specialty items here but if you keep your eyes open you will see them (or a reasonable substitute).

And yes we do drive a lot. While I still like the trikes it’s just too convenient to hop in the car; so in that sense we are still good Americans.

Since Xmas is here we spend plenty of time listening to caroling kids. It’s a month long event here and every evening and sometimes during the day they show up outside the gate. Janet made ice candy (like ice pops) out of mango and the kids love those, as well as the few pesos they get. Each small group seemingly has the same routine of songs. It’s like somewhere at the North Pole there’s a Philippines section where every kid is taken (Polar Express?) to learn their set to sing.

As far as eating and drinking, we do plenty of the former and I do some of the latter. We certainly deny ourselves nothing and have had no problem finding enough good food and good restaurants to eat at. There are plenty of good restaurants in Dumaguete and while we haven’t been to them all, we’ve certainly been good customers at some of our faves. I’ve found enough Western food when I really wanted something; there’s a couple of good Italian places, one good Japanese place, a couple nice sandwich shops, a few decent burger places, and a couple of bakeries that are OK. Janet and I have always enjoyed restaurants and here you can really go out as often as we’d like without breaking the budget. We almost never spend more than $10 for dinner for the two of us, including my San Miguel, and often spend much less. BTW, for those interested, with the rare exception of an expensive meal, we’re strictly 20 peso tippers; you do the math. Speaking of San Miguel, I’m now a one beer at dinner kind of guy, which for me is more drinking that I did in the past.

I’ve lost a little weight but with no scale I don’t know how much. 5 pounds maybe? Could it be more? Not sure. It’s certainly nothing record-breaking since as I say I am not denying myself anything.

Now, as far as the budget, and no I’m not going to get into the debate about how much it costs to live in the Philippines. Nor am I dumb enough to publicly state what my income or budget is. What I will say is that we have had no problems so far sticking to our budget.  If anything we spend a little less than I anticipated when I made a tentative budget before we arrived. For example, while electricity rates are high in the Philippines my actual bill is about 2/3 of what I paid in the US. Why? Start with no dryer or dishwasher. And of course, no electric car. My water bill in the US was consistently hitting $100/month. Here? Last month’s bill was 23 pesos! That’s less than $.50. And garbage – it’s picked up free in Valencia. Janet and I pay about 600 pesos/month for our cell phone service; in the US we paid over $150/month and for that money had to deal with Centurylink, who six months later I am still fighting with over the final bill. But of course customer service is so much better in the US lol!

Our budget also includes my plan that at least monthly we would go somewhere. Now it doesn’t have to be anywhere fancy. We’ll go to a small hotel for a weekend or travel to an island we haven’t been to or an island we have been to and want to revisit. Or we’ll just take a couple days and go to Janet’s hometown. But the budget includes going somewhere out of Duma once a month. We will be doing just that in a couple days; going to Alcoy for Xmas. And the last week of the month and year we’re scheduled to go snorkeling at Apo Island, a short boat ride from Negros Oriental. In February we have something a bit more ambitious planned – so stay tuned.

OK, I hear you all saying; so while Dave does all these things, what’s Janet doing? She loves gardening and our small lot is getting filled with pots of plants and vegetables and flowers. She’s also done plenty of baking and has even sold some of her famous leech flan. Plus she gets to catch up with her family, which could be considered a full time job. I expect a small business might also be in her future. Once again, stay tuned.

So that’s the basics on our daily life. So far, it’s pretty much as I hoped it would be. Hope you all are having a Happy Holiday Season; we certainly are!




Becoming a Filipino Citizen – Again!

Now, dear readers, if you’ve been following this blog you know that some months back Janet was able to become an American Citizen! That process is expensive, complex and time consuming, but we considered it to be worth it, particularly because of the value of the blue passport we Americans take for granted.

However, one of the stipulations of becoming a US citizen is that you must give up all other citizenships. Therefore Janet was now an American citizen with all the rights and privileges that I have, but she was no longer a Philippines citizen.

But here’s where it gets interesting. Unlike the US, the Philippines does not require you to give up other citizenships. Therefore you can re-acquire your Philippines citizenship, without giving up your US citizenship, thus becoming a dual-citizen. And that was our plan.

Unlike in the US, the Philippines laws, regulations and bureaucracy are a bit less transparent, so it took Janet a while to try to determine what she had to do in order to re-acquire her citizenship. We stopped in the Immigration Office here in Dumaguete, and as expected were told that they could not handle such a request; it had to be done at the main office in Manila.

Calls to the main office in Manila went unanswered but finally Janet did get a response to her emails. So the following is what we learned.

The paperwork is fairly easy and you can download it here:

What we were interested in was the Petition for Reacquisition of Philippines Citizenship Under R.A. 9225. The form itself is fairly short and simple. However, you cannot just fill it out and send it in. You must go to the main office in Manila.

So, after Janet had put her documentation together; standard stuff including marriage license, US passport and proof of citizenship, birth certificate, etc. we booked a flight and hotel and we were on our way. The Immigration office opens at 8:00 AM and we decided to arrive around 6:00. There were only a couple of people ahead of us but by 8:00 the line was at least 100 people. I’d therefore recommend arriving early. You cannot get an appointment no matter how rich or white you are. It is strictly first come, first serve.

The two couples ahead of us were both foreigners with Filipina wives. One guy, an American and nice enough, had lived in the Philippines many years and therefore thought he ought to impart his wisdom to me, the newbie. I smiled and nodded my head a lot, though as I say, he was certainly nice enough. The 1st guy in line was German and right out of central casting; think Sergeant Schultz, only a lot less funny.

Once the doors opened (and they actually opened a few minutes early) we were hustled to a line that was essentially a triage area. Some people were there to get or renew visas and there were people there looking to do what Janet was doing. A lady, definitely the bureaucratic type (again think Sergeant Schultz, only less funny) checked Janet’s documentation, gave her a couple forms to fill out, told her to put it all in a folder and come back when she was ready.

Five minutes later we came back and waited, and waited and waited. Finally we were hustled into an office with an Immigration Officer, whose specialty was the re-acquisition of citizenship. She more thoroughly scrutinized Janet’s documents. Of particular interest is a document that Janet and I typed up. Essentially they require an affidavit stating that you have nothing bad hanging over your head under any of your past or current names. The document must be notarized, so Janet and I found a notary the day before,  a couple hours after we arrived in Manila. The notary literally had a desk situated in a restaurant and a couple hundred pesos later we were set. The Immigration Officer looked at our letter closely; later I understood why. Most applicants don’t have the letter and are sent around the corner from Immigration where a large area processes writing and notarizing documents. So, don’t worry; if you don’t have the letter, somebody will write it for you and have it notarized. We still had to go around the corner since they required the form itself to be notarized, for 100 pesos.

BTW, speaking of money, online we read that the fee for the re-acqusition was about 3100 pesos. When we arrived at Immigration it turned out that the fee was closer to 2500; I have no idea what the discrepancy was, maybe the notarization fees.

We returned back to the room to show the finalized documents to the officer. Sitting there was an elderly woman and her daughter and in typical Philippines fashion not only did Janet and the older women strike up a conversation but the Immigration Officer joined in. We found out that the lady’s husband had died, she had become an American citizen through marriage, all the husband’s money was being grabbed by his children from a previous marriage, that the woman was now broke and re-acquiring her Philippines citizenship to avail of some benefits she can get, if she’s a Philippines citizen. The woman’s daughter was stunned that Janet would re-acquire her Philippines citizenship, thus giving up the golden goose (aka the American passport). They all explained to her that Janet did not have to give up her American citizenship; that she would be a dual citizen. They all laughed and had a great time. Try doing that with an Immigration Officer in the US.

There were of course more lines, more approvals and finally Janet was in the payment line. After that she was directed to an office where another 5 women where waiting for exactly what Janet was awaiting; their dual citizenship. All were women and all much older.

Finally all 6 together were in front of an Immigration Officer (a 30ish man). I was looking on – the only husband – I suspect the only husband still alive. It’s not the 1st world so the officer one by one confirmed each person’s name and age. A couple were in their 80s (including the woman whose story we heard). One woman said she was 62. “You look at lot younger,” the Officer said. Janet confirmed her name and age of 29; she was half the age or less of any other woman there. It was obvious that the other women had deceased husbands and were looking to re-acquire their citizenship for whatever benefits Philippines citizenship gives.

They all raised their right hands and took an oath and were told that in 2-3 months (it is the Philippines, after all) they would receive confirmation that their petition was approved and we’d have to come back to Manila to get it.

But for all intents and purposes, our plan, which started five years ago with a K-1 Visa, went through two separate green card applications, an application to become an American citizen and now the application to re-acquire Philippines citizenship, was done. Don’t ask me what the total expense was, since I don’t want to think about it, but really in the end it’s all been worth it. Janet is a citizen of the world and has all the options possible. I’m very proud of her!

How I Paid 5 Pesos to Pee in a Cup – Getting my PI Driver’s License

Today I obtained my Philippines driver’s license. It was all in all a pretty smooth experience but as all things Philippines it had its moments of humor.

Philippines law says that when you arrive here you can drive with your foreign drivers license but have to get a Philippines drivers license within 90 days of being a resident. My 90 days would be up at the end of October.

I walked into the LTO (Land Transportation Office) behind Robinsons Mall in Dumaguete. There was a woman at a desk just inside the doorway. I explained that I wanted to convert my foreign driver’s license into a Philippines license.  “Have you been here 90 days?,” she asked. “No, it’s been under 90 days,” I answered. “Well you can’t get your license until after 90 days,” she replied. “Hmm. I thought you had to get it within 90 days,” I countered. She hesitated, nodded her head in agreement and handed me the application. She quickly went over what I would need: medical certificate and drug screen which I could get next door; proof of residency (I have the Balikbayan stamp on my current visa); copies of my passport, visa stamp and foreign drivers license (I had them all). Then she mentioned that once I had done the medical and drug screen I would have to go to the main LTO office, since this office does not handle this type of license.

I went next door and once again found a woman inside the doorway. She handed me forms to fill out, took my Oregon drivers license, and started to hand me a cup to pee in. Uh oh. It had all happened so quickly that I realized I wasn’t ready to do my, uh, business. “Just let me know when you’re ready and I will give you the cup,” she said. I texted my status to Janet who wisely suggested I drink lots of water. There was a water dispenser near the woman but I saw no cups. “Where are the cups?” I politely asked. She pointed to the cashier’s window. “You can get one there. They’re 5 pesos.”

I did a double take, looked at her with disbelief and then sat down. No way was I paying 5p (about 10 cents) for a cup. But after a few minutes I realized that without water I’d be waiting an hour so I went up to the cashier window and asked for a cup. “5 pesos please.” I handed her the coin and took my cup. Who says Filipinos don’t have a head for business. They provide free water and charge you for the cup!

Since I now had 5 pesos extracted from me I was damn sure I was going to use that cup as much as possible. I went back to the water dispenser three times to fill the cup with water and practically forced myself to drink it. After the 3rd cup I was ready. I got my sample cup from the front desk lady who told me that I could not close the door to the CR (bathroom for those who do not live in the Philippines). This meant that the 20 or so people waiting could see me doing my business. And, not to be indelicate, but since I needed one hand to hold the cup and the other hand to hold my you know, there was no third hand to hold up my shorts which were a bit baggy and didn’t want to hold themselves up. Somehow I did manage to juggle everything and turned in my sample.

Within a few minutes I was called to have a photo taken and sign my name electronically. Another couple of minutes and I was called in for my medical screening. To my surprise this consisted of a simple eye test. I was handed a form which said my eyesight passed, as did my hearing. Apparently just hearing the lady tell me to read the chart constituted passing the hearing test.

It really all went smoothly from there. 550 pesos later (for the medical exam and drug test) I had my documents and could return to LTO, assuming I could find the main office.

At the main office there was once again a woman at a desk just inside the doorway. I explained what I wanted, she repeated what I needed, I pulled it all out and handed it to her and she sent me to the appropriate window. My name was announced many times: to get my picture taken, my thumbprint taken, pay the fees (852 pesos), check in at another window.

Finally I was called one last time to receive  my temporary license. The temp license was little more than a receipt for what I’d paid. “Come back in February or March for your official license.,” I was told. Only 5 months; pretty quick for the Philippines, but who’s counting.

The truth is the process was fast, reasonably efficient and no worse than going to the DMV in Oregon. Of course there they don’t charge you 10 cents for a cup.



Dave’s Useful (or Possibly Useless) Philippines Tips

Surprisingly, many people ask me for tips about traveling and moving to the Philippines. I say surprisingly because I am not sure I know anything, except what seems to work for Janet and me. Nonetheless here are some useful or useless tips in no real order of importance. Take them with a grain of salt but, no matter what you think, in most cases I am definitely right 🙂

Can you find it?: Most things are here if you are motivated to look hard enough. For example, I’m not a picky eater and I like most Filipino food but there are a few items that are important to me. A bagel, and it doesn’t even have to be a great bagel, was one of them. I did my online research, found a recommendation, and went to Rolling Pin in downtown Dumaguete, which has not only passable bagels, but decent pastries and breads. Of course I’m still looking for a great New York pizza, but then I’m a masochist.

Another thing that’s important to me is acupuncture. I’ve been going to the same acupuncturist for 6 years. What were the chances I could find someone here? I did some research, contacted a couple of providers and made an appointment. I was able to find her office (in her home) thanks to Google Maps and had a good session, similar to what I experienced in the US. One more important thing I wanted to have is now off my list.

I guess my only point is that most things can be found here if it’s really important to you. BTW, the acupuncture was 500p ($10), so finding the difficult to find doesn’t even have to be expensive.

A corollary to the above is: If you find it at a good price, grab it. I have already had multiple experiences where I saw something, went back to the store a week later and the item in question was gone. So live for today, guys!

Smart/Globe or Sun: One of the most important decisions you will make when arriving in the Philippines is which of the major phone carriers to use. I have no real advise other than to wish you good luck. There is no obvious winner. They all offer similar pre-paid and post-paid packages. Coverage depends on your city, neighborhood and house. Janet likes Sun because all her family uses Sun so she can get unlimited calling and texting between all the Pillazos. I just switched to Smart because Sun’s reception within our house sucks. The jury is still out but I am not sure that Smart is any less suckier.

The good news is that most plans are cheap and there’s a fair amount of flexibility. Right now I get 30 day pre-paid plans, since I don’t want to make a longer commitment until I decide who has better reception. Many people in the Philippines have phones that take 2 Sim cards; I now know the reason why.

Driving: Driving is wildly different here in the Philippines; there’s no denying it. But the sooner you get out of the anger over the fact that “they” cannot drive or “they” don’t follow the rules of the road, the better off you will be. “They” aren’t going to change their driving habits, so stop wasting energy thinking “they” should. In fact, “you” will be the one who will have to change your driving habits. BTW, it appears that most foreigners do change their driving habits. I base that statement on the fact that 90% of the foreigners I see driving motorcycles do not wear helmits; they’ve gone native.

Horn Honking: A corollary to the above is the use of the horn. Back in the US I probably honked my horn no more than once a week. Back there the horn is usually used in anger or frustration. It can be a substitute for flipping someone the bird. In the Philippines it’s used almost as a standard courtesy, as in “I am passing you no matter what, so I am letting you know.” I now use my horn many times a day, not only for that reason but because there are numerous blind curves which I enter honking away. Now whether anyone pays attention is another story.

Google Maps: I made reference to this above but use Google Maps. You can actually download the information to your phone if you don’t have data service on your phone plan. Google Maps has most everything in Dumaguete listed; businesses, neighborhoods, streets, etc. It has taken us to weird places a couple times but generally gets me where I want to go. Apple’s Map App is not nearly as comprehensive, at least in Dumaguete.

Banking: Contrary to some reports, you can arrive here and get a bank account quickly. Janet and I did. It may be hit or miss depending on the bank or bank officer you talk to but here’s what you will need: proof of identity (passport); proof of residency (13A, ACR Card, or Balikbayan stamped passport, which is what I used); proof of where you live (lease agreement for example). Add to these items an air of “I am rich and will be passing a lot of dollars through your bank” and you might just get an account.

Bank Fees: Fees vary – don’t expect consistency. I write a monthly check against my US bank account to cover my monthly expenses. Sometimes the teller collects a 200p fee for depositing the foreign check and sometimes not. There’s no rhyme or reason, so just best to go with it.

Phil Health: Yes, the cost recently went up significantly for most foreigners. Nonetheless, I signed up for Phil Health and they struggled getting me into the system without an ACR card number. But they were very helpful and figured out how to skirt around the computer and get me my Phil Health card. I have coverage through the end of the year and next year will decide whether to continue it. Now, I’m not getting into the foreigner anger of “it’s the long nose tax.” Last time I checked I still have free will as to whether to sign up or not. So, I used that free will to punt until next year.

House Renting: Like driving this too can be a unique adventure in the Philippines. I have not rented a house in many years but I know it’s a frustrating challenge in the US. It is here too but for different reasons. For example, you may find a great house but it only has a terrible dirt road leading up to it. You may also have difficulty communicating what you are really looking for. Janet and I were adamant that 3 bedrooms was a requirement and were amazed at the agents and owners who tried to get us into a 2 bedroom place.

One tip would be to post what you’re looking for on all the local buy and sell websites/Facebook sites. But this was also an adventure. Despite posting our requirements of 3 bedrooms, I consistently got contacted by foreigners who owned a 2 or even 1 bedroom houses, asking would I be interested? But in the end we found a nice house in an area we liked. Unlike in the US, rent here is negotiable and we ended up at a price we were comfortable with.

Flights to the Philippines: Here’s a mistake we made. International flights from the U.S. allow 2 bags per person of up to 50 pounds per bag. That’s plenty when you are moving. What we didn’t consider was that domestic airlines don’t allow 2 bags at 50 pound each. The flight from Cebu to Dumaguete, for instance, only allowed 1 bag at 10 kilos. In the end we took a bus.

Don’t Expect Homogeny: I know – it’s too early for a big word. But what I mean is that people want to know definitively what the Philippines is like. As a country of over 100 million, living on 7107 islands, it’s varied – it’s not that homogenous. And because there are not strong central structures and institutions it might be more varied than your Western country. Dumaguete is not like Manila for example in almost all ways, including language. We now live in Valencia, a small town outside Dumaguete. But even Valencia is not homogenous. We’re in E. Balabag, a neighborhood at the beginning of Valencia, not too far elevated. Then you go further up the hill to the city center, and still further up to those rarified neighborhoods with rich foreigners and great overlooking views. Those neighborhoods are not the same; the prices, who lives there, the amenities and even the weather are not the same.

Flexibility: Let me ask you a question – are you flexible? No, I’m not conducting a sex survey – get your head out of the gutter.

IMO you should be flexible in life no matter where you live but you sure as hell can’t travel to or live in the 3rd world without flexibility and humor. This may be the best tip I can give you.







Six Months Retired Report

Actually I’ve been retired 5+ months, but 6 sounds better and when you’re retired who the hell keeps track of time. Nonetheless  it seemed like a good time to report about the boredom of retirement.

Let me think about what Janet and I have done since the 1st of May. We prepped our house in Portland for sale and listed it. We personally handled about half the open houses, giving us both confidence that we too could be realtors – if we were out of our minds. We cleaned obsessively (well, that was mostly Janet). We schemed how we could sell a house that we were assured would fly off the market (it didn’t). We worried – a lot. Who says retirement means no stress.

Finally we sold the old homestead and after a pleasant stay with some friends, a week later we were on a 20 hour plane ride to Cebu, followed by a 5 hour bus ride to our new home in Dumaguete.

We arrived at the Hermogina Apartments; our apartment was as advertised and reasonably pleasant. We immediately discovered the joys of Robinson’s Mall, since we had virtually nothing for the apartment. There’s been barely a day the last two months we haven’t been back to Robinson’s at least once.

While we intended to rest and take some time before starting a search for a house rental, we didn’t. 64 years of no rest mode meant we were anxious to find a rental house and a car. We scored both within a few weeks of arriving in Dumaguete. But an unfurnished rental house meant we had pretty much nothing other than an empty house. Appliance and furniture shopping followed and we scored some nice things at decent prices.

Just as importantly we shopped for an Internet provider. The Philippines is notorious for poor and slow Internet and most expats complain (sometimes bordering on whining) about it. I expected the same. The Internet at the Hermogina Apartments was slow but adequate. Since neither Janet nor I are gamers or downloaders of porn (lol) our speed needs are modest. We found a new service in our neighborhood and so far my connection is much faster than what I had in Portland. I try to be very careful about speaking about this too much here, since I do not wish to get kicked out of the expat community. So when anyone talks about their lousy Internet I just nod in agreement (while giggling to myself). This said, I know things do change quickly in the Philippines.

After 6 weeks or so our 9 balikbayan boxes arrived from the US. For a few pesos we were able to convince LBC to deliver them to the new house rather than the apartment; try doing that with UPS or Fed-EX! So now we had a houseful of crap and spent the next few weeks in frustration, trying to figure out how to organize it all. Oh, did I mention that unfurnished in the Philippines often means no cabinets and closets. Plastic boxes are plentiful and in every imaginable size and shape here.

So now that we have been in the house about a month it’s actually taking shape. The 3rd bedroom which will be my shop and tiny office, seems to be the trickiest but I’m getting there. Another six months and I might actually be able to start building guitars here.

In the midst of all this we are still planning to build or purchase a house and are doing research on what, where and how much. And Janet has some business issues in her hometown of Alcoy which has taken her back there a few times.

I have also spent the last two months re-learning how to drive. Driving in the Philippines is not the same as in Portland. The closest example I can think of is when I spent a year in NYC, but it’s even crazier than that.  I have no words to describe it really; it has to be experienced. But so far I haven’t killed anyone and it may be the masochist in me – but I am kind of enjoying it.

In case anyone reading this thinks I am just listing complaints – I am not. I am having a blast! So I will add the times I have been at the beach and went into the warm ocean, the nice pools we have discovered, the varied restaurants and sights we have taken in. There hasn’t been much time for socializing, but we’ve met a few people and look forward to more of that. In fact, we have company coming over this afternoon for the first time since we moved into the house.

In short, I haven’t been bored for a second. Boredom isn’t in my nature in general but for those who worry that retirement in the Philippines might be boring – it’s been anything but.

We’ve also got a second bedroom set up as a guest room. Our first guests will be here in a couple weeks and I expect once the word gets out we might have a small stream of guests come by.

Oh, and one more thing. I’ve spent part of the morning chasing a Huntsman spider here in my shop/office. Apparently this thing does not want to die and despite their size they hide very well. So as the cliche goes it’s more fun in the Philippines!