Buying a Car in the Philippines

We just bought a car and we’re pretty excited. But I thought I would tell the story of the process and my experience with it. There’s a great possibility of my doing a video on this as well but in the meantime I still think better by writing.

Our decision to buy new rather than used is possibly a story for another day. I had a budget I set and decided that budget would allow me to either buy a cheaper new car or a bit larger 3-4 year old used car. But after moving to Dumaguete I became less inclined to get some SUV or larger “people mover,” like the Toyota Innova. I wanted something nimble and peppy to get around some of the traffic and didn’t want someone else’s used problem. After a few weeks watching the traffic here a warranty and something without miles on it sounded like a good idea.

So on a Monday morning Janet and I went to three dealerships and test drove 4 cars. Like in many American cities, in Dumaguete the major dealerships are on one road. It’s the national highway in Sibulan, a port town about 15 minutes north of Dumaguete. We went to the local Suzuki, Ford and Toyota dealerships.

Now, I know some of you would love it if I said that I had another in a series of terrible customer service experiences or that all the salesman tried to rip off the poor rich kano. But nothing could be further from the truth. In each dealership we had no problem finding a salesman to help us. Each salesman was respectful, professional, knew their product, and treated us like viable customers. Maybe it was the luck of the draw, but i did have the same positive experience in three different dealerships.

Our first stop was Suzuki, where we drove the Ciaz. It’s a subcompact sedan and a very nice one. I could have easily seen us purchasing this car. Nice looking, conservative, lots of rear leg room, good mileage, and plenty of zip, at an excellent price. The salesman patiently had me drive all the way around the tip of Sibulan and beyond.

Now one thing to know if you ever want to purchase new in the Philippines is that the discounts are small. There is none of this thousands off MSRP like you routinely see in the US. All 4 cars we tested ranged from 30,000 – 40,000 pesos off the listed price; well under $1000. There is no genuine negotiation here. I actually found this kind of refreshing. Having bought maybe 10 new cars in my life I viewed myself as a pretty decent negotiator, but every time I bought a car I wondered whether I had gotten beaten out of some cash somehow. In the modern world you can look online for the average sales price, but back in the day it was hard and frustrating work. There’s none of that in the Philippines. Nor in my experience is there anyone trying to sell you unneeded extras, like Jerry in Fargo forcing you to take the TrueCoat!

The Ford Dumaguete dealership is right next door to Suzuki. I wanted to see the Ecosport, a mini SUV that’s becoming popular here. It’s sold in Europe in some different configurations and will come to the US next year. More on the Ecosport later.

We next went to Toyota and drove the Avanza. The car is popular in the Philippines in a category called “a people mover,” meaning you can in theory fit 7 people; as long as they are 7 small Filipinos. Frankly neither Janet or I liked the car. It didn’t have the quality feeling that I associate with Toyota. And as I drove it I thought the test car was backfiring and told the saleswoman so. At first she thought the rear hatch was rattling but finally admitted that the car was backfiring.

We then drove the Vios, Toyota’s category leader (sub compact sedans) in the Philippines. Now this was a Toyota and it was obvious why they sell so many. It felt solid and Toyota-like. Enough power and decently appointed. Not as much rear leg room as the Ciaz but not bad.

The Ford salesman was smart. While in all the other cars, I mostly drove the national highway, the Ford guy had me drive an off road full of holes, gravel, and some unpaved parts; in short a typical Philippines road. One of the strong points of the Ecosport is high clearance and 16″ wheels. It handled the lousy road a lot better than I suspect most of the sub-compacts would have. That and the fact that our last car in the US, was a Ford Cmax which also rode a bit high off the ground, a feature that Janet and I like. As Janet said, “we will be able to see over the trikes!”

Now unlike in the US, the dealerships here in Dumaguete had little or no inventory. The cars I was interested in had to be ordered. Most cars that come into port are already sold but some are unassigned. Janet picked out a few colors of the Ecosport she liked. Blue wasn’t one of them. Two days later I got a text from the salesman; a blue Ecosport automatic had arrived in the port of Bacolod. Did I want it? Oh, did I mentioned that in none of the dealerships I went to was there any of the typical high pressure salesmanship that is routinely experienced in the US: “If I give you a test ride, are you planning to buy the car today?”

Our salesman did encourage me to talk to my wife, since he knew that wives are often the color deciders. The next day Janet decided she could live with the blue. I texted the salesman and said I wanted to test drive the car again and if I liked it would order the blue.

Two days later we drove the Ecosport again. I liked it better than the first time and we confirmed that the blue one was still available. We put down a 10,000 peso deposit (about $200) as is typical in the Philippines and asked our guy when it would arrive. “About a week, Sir,” I was told. I knew from what other guys had said that a week was unlikely. I got updates from my guy every couple of days: “It’s out of the port, Sir;” “They’re inspecting it now, Sir.” But the end of the following week I asked for a status update. “Sometime between next Monday and Wednesday.” To my surprise I got a text Tuesday saying it would arrive Wednesday night and I could get it Thursday.

Let me talk for a moment about price. Are cars in the Philippines less or more expensive than in the US? Both or neither. It’s just not an apples to apples comparison. While most of the major players are in the Philippines many of the models are different from the US. And even if the model is the same it doesn’t mean it is set up the same way. The Ecosport for example is sold in Europe and will be in the US next year. Those countries get a 1.0 liter turbo charged engine or a 2.0 liter engine. My Ecosport is 1.5 liters. I mean, do I need a 2.0 liter engine for 80 mph highway speeds in the Philippines. Let’s get real. Also many appointments which are nearly standard in the US aren’t here. Want cruise control? My Ecosport doesn’t have it. In fact, in Dumaguete the concept of cruise control seems ludicrous. So the Ecosport is a bit less cash here but then you’re losing some features.

One of the other things to talk about is insurance. When you finance a car in the Philippines, the price includes insurance. I am not sure whether the dealership or manufacturer makes the insurance deal but, unless you decided to use a 3rd party insurance company, the dealership handles the insurance. In my case the car cost about 25,000 pesos for the year to insure; that’s about $500. Not bad!

Thursday morning I arrived at the dealership, filled out the remaining paperwork, plopped some cash down, and waited in the waiting room. The salesman said he would deliver the car to me at 1:00 “after lunch.” Since I was at least 30 minutes away from our apartment by trike and there was nowhere to go I spent hours watching TV in the customer waiting room. I got to watch them detail my car and get it ready, which was kind of cool; of course my notion of what’s cool is apparently sort of boring.

As car salesmen do the world over my guy took me through all the features of the car. At the end I thanked him and shook his hand. He sincerely thanked me for being patient. I didn’t feel that I’d needed patience but he explained how often customers reacted badly to any delays. I found the delay minor and besides I am a retiree with plenty of time – yeah right! But he is a good guy and I appreciated his feelings.

All I knew at that moment was that I had wildly conflicting feelings. I was excited to take the car out but was terrified I’d hit some crazed motorcycle rider or a trike would crash into me. I also wasn’t completely confident I knew the way to get back to our apartment. To make matters worse Janet and her sister and cousin were waiting for me at our new rental house and I was even less confident I could find that than our apartment.

Now, while I had a really positive experience there were some glitches. All dealerships include three things for free; mats, seat covers, and tinting. Everyone tints in the Philippines for good reason and Janet and I spent several exciting hours discussing what shade tinting we wanted. This is how thrilling we are in retirement. Anyway, the mats were in the car, the seat covers are back ordered 3 weeks, and the tinting shop can’t get me in until next week. But I am confident in my guy and it will all happen.

Also, in the Philippines the registration and licensing procedure is a bit bizarre. You get a temporary plate of course. I watched the detail guy use a stencil to draw my plate number. I kid you not. Also, while in the US we are used to it taking maybe a month to get our official plates, in the Philippines it takes – well, forever. I knew this and told my guy, “So I hear it takes at least a year to get my plates.” He smiled knowing they’d throw a party if I got the plates in a year.

But the bottom line is we have a car. We didn’t need to take a trike today, which means I didn’t break a trike today πŸ™‚

This is all old hat for Janet; it’s the second new car she’s seen me drive home. But I’m quite confident the kids had never driven in a new car. I mentioned after I’d successfully found the new house and picked them all up that they should enjoy “the new car smell” and they looked at me like I was crazy (buang). They’re right of course!

This Kano Broke a Trike

First thing to tell you is that the trikes in Janet’s hometown of Alcoy, Cebu are very small. They make the trikes in Dumaguete look like SUVs. The main passenger bench can fit two smallish Filipinos or 1 Kano plus his bag. Janet was sitting across from me on the mini seat, which on the Alcoy trikes barely accommodates a child.

We were on our way to the local fiesta; actually it was the band performances and competition part of the fiesta activities. Because of this the National Hwy. was blocked off and the trike driver, along with everyone else, was forced to take a dirt and stone road detour. He must have been annoyed because he was driving along the dirt road at the same speed he would have been driving along the highway. He hit every rock and bump and Janet and I were bouncing pretty good. But we were close to our destination and it is after all a trike – so I wasn’t complaining. Finally the driver hit one hard bump. I levitated a couple inches and landed on the bench pretty hard. Now these benches are sort of upholstered; there’s a little padding but not much. As we stuck the landing the bench seat sagged and I knew something had broken; I figured a spring. I told Janet that my seat was broken. She translated to the driver who tried to feel what was wrong with the bench, while still flying down the dirt road. Finally he pulled over just at the place we were going to get off. He pulled up the bench. All that was holding the thing in place was one rusted pipe welded at either end. The left weld had given up the ghost and the pipe has separated from its connecting piece. I was amazed that only one pipe held the trike seat in place. There was a conversation between the driver and Janet in Visayan. I just pulled out some change and gave the driver the normal fare.

Later Janet told me that the driver looked at us saying “My trike is broken. What am I going to do?” While he didn’t state it directly, Janet was under the impression that he was implying that the great big kano was responsible and we should share in the cost of the repair.

Now for those of you who don’t know me personally one of the advantages I have in the Philippines is that I am somewhat vertically challenged. I used to be 5’6″ tall. I say used to be because at my last physical exam, I stretched myself as tall as I could and managed to get measured at 5’5 1/2″. Apparently we do shrink with age. And while I am not as svelte as I was in my youth I am not one of those huge guys who break chairs and benches just by sitting on them. As I say one of my advantages in the Philippines is that I am small enough to be only a little bit taller than the average Filipino and thus can fit in most things here. This includes the faux leather chairs in our apartment, which wouldn’t handle many American butts (loboot in Visayan). My size also means I can fit into a trike without causing damage – that is up until now.

Since in the Philippines all information is passed though an extensive grapevine, I am worried that all the Alcoy drivers will soon know that I am the huge kano who broke the trike seat. I might have to take out insurance!

Dollars vs. Pesos

The first thing you have to know is that I am pretty darn good at math. No, I am not talking about Boolean Trigonometry or Differential Calculus or some such crap. I mean basic addition and subtraction. I can even manage multiplication and division if I really have to. I grew up long before calculators replaced that nasty rote memorization we had in school. My point of all this is that I can pretty quickly convert dollars to pesos and visa versa. It’s even made easier at this point in time since currently a dollar is worth close to 50 pesos.

When Janet and I traveled to the Philippines in the past, I just brought with me my human calculator skills and could tell her “Hey that taxi ride only cost $3.” We eat out fairly often and rarely pay more than 500 pesos for the two of us for dinner (including my ceremonial one San Miguel). The 500 pesos sounds like at lot but its $10 equivalent sounds dirt cheap.

A couple years ago while visiting the Philippines I got into a conversation with the Filipina girlfriend of a friend. She said that I had to “stop thinking dollars and start thinking pesos.” I agreed with her in principal but it was hard to turn off the human calculator. Janet and I on our travels occasionally argued about what we had spent, particularly when it involved services. In one particularly famous and humorous occasion we felt that we got beat out of 300 pesos for a trike ride and did a lot of finger pointing at each other. Using my human calculator skills, I finally reminded her that “Hey, it’s only $6. We’d pay many times that for a cab in Portland.” But the truth is that at a certain level, that’s not the point. You are talking apples to oranges if you’re comparing prices between the Philippines and the US. In the end the Filipina girlfriend was right and I have to learn to take the 300 pesos for what it was – a bit of an overcharge. Today we have at times argued with trike drivers over an extra 5 or 10 pesos. It sounds ridiculously petty (which sometimes I am) but in the end sometimes it’s the right thing to do.

Janet has been recently trying to convince me that I need a coin pouch for going around Dumaguete; that pulling out my wallet all the time looking for change or small bills is cumbersome and potentially dangerous. We went into Robinson’s to look for a coin pouch. I saw a few for 50 pesos but they didn’t speak to me lol. Then I saw one for 59 pesos that I liked better. But we had to decide whether it was worth the extra 9 pesos. There’s no point in saying that 9 pesos is only – well, you figure it out – it’s only 9 damn pesos. The point still was that it was 9 pesos more and was it worth it? In the end I decided it was; and so did Janet. She wanted one too. So now I was shelling out more than double, when I could have just bought the crappy 50 pesos coin pouch. This is what we get for having too many pesos πŸ™‚

All expats say that there is a big difference between being in vacation mode and living in the Philippines and this is one of the differences. I am retired, living on a modest fixed income and I have to learn to work with my finite amount of pesos and not think “ooo that’s so cheap compared to the US.” While it is cheaper, it’s cheap compared to a life in another country where I had a job that paid a hell of a lot more pesos than my Social Security check.

We have recently rented a house and will move there in September and it’s unfurnished. So we spent some time looking at the appliances we will need. We want decent quality since they will eventually move over to a permanent location when we buy a house. So we looked at a Samsung refrigerator in Janet’s favorite stainless steel and a Samsung washing machine. The salesman told us of the big discounts we will get because we are rich Americans using a rich American’s credit card. I tried not to calculate but I couldn’t help it; the prices sounded good even in US dollars. And remember these were not cheap Chinese appliances – they were cheap Korean appliances – or wherever Samsung makes their stuff. So now the salesman takes us to the most important item – the TV. He shows us a 49″ 1080p Samsung set – nice and again a nice price. But next to it is a 55″, 4k Smart TV and with an even fatter discount and in the end it’s really not that much more. I quickly calculated what we had saved on the fridge and washer, and looked at Janet who nodded her approval.

Oh and have I mentioned we recently ordered a car? That story will come later.

It’s possible I am not totally in cheapassed retirement mode just yet.

Has it Only Been Two Weeks?

Janet and I have been in our new home in Dumaguete for a little more than two weeks. As reported before we’ve been busy little bees. Here’s my report and some observations:

We spent over two years getting rid of all our stuff in Portland and have spent much of the past two weeks trying to get it all back. A lot of that is necessary. Janet has done a great job outfitting the kitchen here. While we wait for our balikbayan boxes with more kitchen supplies, multiple trips to the mall have given us the basics. She’s also gotten everything needed for hand washing clothes, since there is no washer here and it makes no sense buying one until we get settled in a more permanent home.

Speaking of which, we have spent several days looking for a rental home. It’s been hit and miss as I am sure it is everywhere when looking for a rental. There is always something missing. For example we saw a large house on an equally large, well manicured lot. The only problem? The showers in the two bathrooms were little more than a shower head mounted over the toilet. Now, if you want to shower while pooping this works well, but it’s not up to my American standards. Another house we saw was two stories, brand new and decently built. But there were no aircons in the house and not even a hole cut out and proper electrical to accommodate the aircon unit. That too ain’t gonna fly with this American.

Nonetheless we have found a couple nice houses for rent and are “negotiating.” And what we have found for sure is that there are a great number of nice, quiet neighborhoods outside of Dumaguete where we think we can happily live. We’ve also seen plenty of decently priced properties to buy when we get to that point. Rental prices are inexpensive and unlike in the US can be negotiated. This is something to definitely remember in the Philippines; outside of malls and car dealerships, most anything is negotiable.

Speaking of car dealerships, we spent most of today looking for a car. Did the normal thing of going to dealers and taking a test drive. Except I had never driven in the Philippines and – well the driving is different here. Dumaguete is a mixture of hundreds of trikes, thousands of motorcycles, as well as plenty of cars, buses and trucks. There are no stop lights here; you heard that right – not a one. Therefore the way people negotiate the traffic (what we would call right of way) is unique and complex. But hell, I drove in NYC, so I can drive here, right? The salesman sat in the passenger seat and Janet sat in the back of the car, allegedly to check the leg room. She was terrified and there was a certain amount of backseat driving going on. I reminded her that I’d driven for nearly 50 years and hadn’t killed anyone yet. This did not allay her fears.

As I took four different cars out for a spin I found myself getting more and more comfortable driving in the Philippines madness. It was kinda fun and I realized I just might like driving again; I had grown to hate my daily commute over the last few years. I won’t say that Janet’s fears disappeared but she did stop yelling in terror. The biggest thing I have to learn driving here is how to use the horn. Filipinos don’t use it the same way as Americans do. We use the horn to tell some idiot that he’s driving like – an idiot. We use it in anger and sometimes when real risk requires us to warn the other driver – that he’s driving like an idiot. In the Philippines the horn is used as a warning to let people know that you’re coming. No driver will stop in the Philippines but they are polite enough to warn you they’re about to run you over. And since there are many blind, narrow curves here, a quick honk is necessary to let the other guy know you’re entering the curve. But even this I began to learn and by the end was honking like a Pinoy; I’m very proud.

It’s unscientific but we were at 3 different dealerships and were well treated and well served at each one. Everyone happily wanted my business which was no surprise to me, were knowledgeable and professional. I can’t say that I would have had the same three for three batting average in the US, where in my experience at least one of the three would have ignored me or it just would have been difficult to arrange a test drive. “Are you ready to buy today,” they often ask. “How would I know until I test drive the car,” I would respond. Here in Dumaguete no one expected me to guarantee I was buying today.

While most of the normal players in the car industry are in the Philippines, many of the models are different. I drove a Toyota Vios, which is the market leader in the Philippines, the Toyota Avanza, sort of a people mover, a Suzuki Ciaz (definitely a nice car) and a Ford Ecosport, very similar to the Ford I just leased in the US, and with high ground clearance that might be very practical here in the Philippines.

In other news we have some family members coming to visit this weekend. I don’t think anyone in the family has ever been to the island of Negros and the kids seem pretty excited to see the place or see how we live or maybe just get to eat at Jollibees (look it up – it’s the Philippines answer to McDonalds).

A few observations based on my two+ weeks as an expat:

1. It’s no secret that there are a lot of expats here. And while I don’t want to offend anyone – so how do I put this – there are quite a few sketchy looking expats here πŸ™‚ And again how should I put this; I was concerned that I would be kinda old for the Philippines but man some of these expats make me look like a kid lol. There’s an “old” joke here somewhere but I can’t think of it so please insert your favorite. “He was so old that…”

2. Looking for houses is different here. We hired a trike driver to show us around the town of Valencia. Every street we went on he’d stop, talk to some friend of his who would tell him about a rental house. In the US getting ahead is based on “who you know.” In the Philippines it’s based on just asking anyone and they’re likely to know.

3. Everywhere we go when people meet us they ask if we have children and when we say no ask if we intend to and when. Just today we were on a trike and 2 women struck up a conversation in Visayan with Janet. Suddenly they were all giggling. Despite not speaking Visayan I knew exactly what they are laughing about. It’s sort of refreshing because we get treated like a “normal” married couple here. We have experienced this every time I have been to the Philippines.

4. Speaking of not knowing Visayan, while I do know a sprinkling of words and because many Visayan words are based on Spanish, know some more because of my four years of high school Spanish taught by Mrs. Juliano, who I think was trying to use the classroom to recreate the Spanish Inquisition. The point I am laboring to make is I realize more than ever that I need to learn more. I try to keep the expectations down but I intend to do my best to learn more. The truth is I usually have a general idea of the conversation but the details get lost. My inlaws express disappointment that we cannot really speak to each other and I hope to remedy that at least a little bit (gamay).

5. I am sleeping better than I have in years; frankly I am sleeping like the dead. I suspect this is a combination of our being busy every day and the heat. By 9:00 or 10:00 at the latest my head hits the pillow and I am out. We both seem to be sleeping much better than we did in Portland. Hope it continues.

Well that’s all for now. From Dumaguete, the City of Gentle People, I’m out.

The Move – a Blur of Insanity

We’ve been in the Philippines for a week, I think, since we’re still jet lagged and I’m not sure what day it is. But here is my report.

The flight went well. For months I fretted about whether to check in my handmade guitar (made by my own hands that is) or to try to get it onboard. I literally made the final decision at the airport to check it threw.

21 hours later we arrived in Cebu. We had the fastest processing through immigration I have ever experienced in the Philippines or anywhere else; about 5 minutes. No problems for Janet and I getting the famed Balikbayan privilege (essentially a year’s Visa with no fee) for those lucky foreigners married to a Filipina.

After processing we went to baggage and amazingly the guitar already was waiting for me. Opened the case and all was right with the world. But now we had 4 suitcases, a guitar, a small amp, and 2 backpacks to somehow navigate. We exchanged some of our USD in the airport, got a SIM card for my phone and went outside to find a taxi large enough to accommodate all our crap. Cebu Airport is like Manila now with fixed rates (aka price fixing for taxis). If you want a real cab you have to walk about a block to metered taxis. Janet was furious when we were quoted a high price and wanted to walk to the metered taxis. Schlepping so much stuff was impossible, so cooler voices (mine) prevailed and we paid the blood suckers, got all our stuff into the spacious Innova and spent the next hour traversing Cebu City toward the South Bus Terminal. A three hour bus ride later we arrived in Janet’s hometown of Alcoy and our fave spot, the BBB, a small German-run resort, with a nice restaurant.

Janet arranged for her family to meet us at the restaurant for dinner. This was more of a big deal than you can imagine since her parents were always reticent to meet us at a fancy restaurant and never had. Around 5:00 small groups of kids and adults began arriving via trike. In total we were about a dozen. My inlaws stared at the menu and the prices and were in shock. No one wanted to order much or at least any of the expensive items; this is typical in my experience with the Pillazos. In the end with plenty of food, drinks, San Miguel for the men, and a modest tip, I was out the equivalent of about $75 – for 12 people. Well worth it!

The next morning we were off to Dumaguete. Janet realized we would have a tough time with all the luggage, so her dad and brother volunteered to join us. An hour bus ride and we were at the Fast Ferry in Lilo-An. Traversing the gang planks to the boat with our bags was impossible without the help of the porters. Janet was furious that each one wanted a tip; my wife is very fond of protecting our money! I tried to explain that this was a one time deal; we’d never have to travel with this much crap ever again. Still it galled her!

We arrived at our temporary home, the Hermogina Apartments, and happily they were ready for us. Showed us the apartment, checked every item in the apartment, and even made it clear that since we arrived August 2nd, not the 1st as originally planned, we would have month to month starting the 2nd. Very impressive service. The apartment is exactly as advertised, neither more nor less. Both upstairs bedrooms have decent aircon units, but the downstairs living room, kitchen, dining area don’t. “We need a fan,” I said quickly. So off to Robinson’s Dept. Store we went, and picked up the essentials: Fan, coffee maker and rice cooker, the main necessities for life in the Philippines.

The fan needed to be assembled and the box was missing any instructions. As a former technical writer I was at a loss as to how to proceed without documentation. Fortunately Janet and her brother had no such need and managed to screw the thing together with a kitchen knife. Filipinos are nothing if not resourceful and the fan hasn’t flown apart, killing us yet!

That night we settled into our rooms, my BIL and FIL in the 2nd bedroom. I don’t believe they had ever had aircon to sleep by before and I heard later that my FIL had not liked sleeping with it on. For that matter, Janet does not sleep well with the aircon on either; she prefers just the fan.

The next day we took the gang to Dumaguete’s famous boulevard and stopped for lunch. There was general shock that the restaurant charged extra for rice. No one could understand how in the Philippines you could get a Filipino meal without rice included. After lunch we dropped my FIL and BIL off at the ferry for the trip back to Cebu. I had asked my FIL if he had ever been off the island of Cebu and he said he’d been to Bohol and Dumaguete but of course the Dumaguete trip was now.

The next day there was another trip to Robinsons, and another the next day; we might as well move in there. But it’s close and we virtually need everything. Our personal 9 boxes that were shipped included many household goods but won’t arrive for at least another month.

The following day we returned to Alcoy via the ferry and bus and spent two nice days with the family, including an afternoon of beach and swimming at Tinkyo Beach. This helped me quickly remember why I love it here. The ocean seemed to melt years of stress from my body!

Of course it would not be the Philippines if there weren’t a posse of kids that joined us at the beach. My FIL had roasted sweet potatoes and corn, which everyone ate heartily after lots of water play. At an opportune time (I think he was checking us out) an ice cream guy passed by. I thought “wouldn’t it be nice” but there were over 30 kids and I am not that generous lol. “How much?” we asked. 5 pesos each (about ten cents). At that rate I figured I could be the rich kano. 35 kids lined up quietly and respectfully. It was like a fire drill in school when I was a kid. Never had I spent $4 that created so much happiness.

As the weekend ended we went back to our new home in Dumaguete. Other things accomplished? We opened a joint back account. This was a big deal not only for the obvious reasons but because I was questioning how easy it would be for me to get an account. Typically bank’s require a foreigner to have an ACR card, a government ID card, and I certainly did not have one yet. But it was recommended that if we walked into the bank like well-heeled Americans it might work out. Janet took this advise to heart and dressed up a bit and put on heels. I put on a clean t-shirt! The banker asked if I had an ACR card and when I replied not yet, she looked at the rich kano and the subject went away; we filled out voluminous paperwork, pulled out those magical USDs – and we had an account.

The next thing on the list to get done was to settle our cell phone load issue. The Philippines has several major carriers and they do not communicate very well with each other. But all of Janet’s family uses SUN, so Janet wanted SUN so she could make unlimited calls to her mom. We proceeded again to Robinsons and the SUN Store there. I told them the plan we wanted. “No problem selling you the plan, Sir. But we are out of SIM cards.” “So the SUN Store does not have any SIM cards for SUN service?” I asked incredulous. “Yes but upstairs you can buy the cards.” So, she actually sent us to a retailer to get their own SIM cards. We did just that. The retailer installed the cards but unfortunately did not have the load plans available that we wanted. So they sent us to another store in the mall and actually walked us there to make sure we were taken care of.

So a week’s gone by and much has been accomplished. Too much maybe. We’re supposed to be retired and lazy. On a positive note we both got a fantastic $5 massage and I have been drinking the appropriate amount of San Miguel.

“Never Can Say Goodbye”

OK, this post might come off as a little bit maudlin or saccharine. I’ll try to joke it up but no promises.

A couple days ago we met with some friends at a restaurant. One of those friends moved away a few years back but comes to Portland every couple months on business, so he organizes the get together. In this case I think that Janet and I were more the objects du jour. It was probably the last time we will see many of these people – at least until we return periodically to the US.

Of course Janet has invited everyone we know to come visit us in Dumaguete, but I’m a cynic and am not counting on everyone to take her up on the offer.

I suspect I’m like most guys – I don’t do goodbyes well. While the girls hugged and lingered at the end of the party, I shook a couple hands, said some meaningless stuff or didn’t say anything at all. After 64 years I still don’t know what to say. In the era of Facebook all I could say is “Watch us on Facebook, and the blog (and vlog)” which of course everyone said they would do.

We’ve also met some special friends for dinner. It’s like a farewell tour without the gifts at each stop. Tonight we meet with our next door neighbors. Thai food I am told. “You have to eat,” everyone says. We will talk about our upcoming adventures. I will bitch about my house closing, which is a bit delayed. But in the end we will shake hands and hug. It’s tough to know what to say. I think Janet’s better at it than me.

I may be old but I’m not all that sentimental. Some friends I will miss, some I won’t, others I will laugh about or at. And some I will get to see when we return to Portland; and maybe some I will see in the Philippines.

One thing about being retired is that we can meet them without much notice. So, someone is coming into Cebu – we can arrange a day in Cebu. Boracay? I’m there. Palawan? I’ll arrive before they do!

So we already have several get togethers planned over the first six months of our new life, as well as one wedding. Not that I need an excuse to go to Moalboal or Boracay. Anyone who wants to meet me there and buy me a San Miguel, just message me and I’m there.


This story comes under the category of the flexibility and practicality of my wife. The amount of stuff we will be bringing is much greater than a normal vacation. Each of us will have two stuffed suitcases. I am bringing my guitar. I will need to grow a third arm – and soon. We booked our tickets to Cebu and then a ticket from Cebu to Dumaguete. But after booking I realized the Cebu Pacific flight only allows 20 kg. I went back and looked it up; some flights have a 20kg max and this is a prop plane. Janet suggested we take the bus south to the tip of Cebu and then ferry to Dumaguete. I said “are you sure. We will have a 21 hour flight and then a 5 hour bus ride.” She was sure! Besides, we could stop in her hometown of Alcoy for the night and rest at our favorite, the BBB. And of course we could see the family while at the BBB. Something tells me I’d better sleep on the plane.


Speaking of the house closing delay. I planned this thing so well. Waited to book the tickets. Gave us 10 days padding between the closing and the flight, just in case. Finally even our real estate agent was confident enough to tell us “your safe to book your tickets now” and so I did. Flight leaves the night of the 30th. So guess what? Yesterday we hear the closing is delayed based on a paper work error. We may close as late as the 28th! Don’t these people know that I’m old and might keel over from the stress?

But don’t worry – nothing’s gonna stop us now.

 

The Retirement Move is Nearly Here!

Here’s an update on our upcoming move. Just random thoughts really but hopefully there is some insight into what we’re doing and our thought process (or lack thereof).

I retired May 1st. The date wasn’t random and was based on trying to milk as much as possible out of my job. Since I had accrued 4 weeks vacation time, the month prior to retirement I was on vacation. And since our building was closed for the two months prior to that for remodeling, the reality is I was “working from home” starting in February. Β It actually helped in the adjustment since basically I was retired for the 3 months prior to my actual retirement.

I had the standard retirement party except at my company there is no such thing as a standard retirement party since almost no one makes it to retirement. My manager kindly arranged the party and his manager even more kindly paid for it.

Since I am fundamentally a cheap bastard, I arranged to retire May 1st, which meant that my medical insurance was paid for the month of May. I had scheduled my Social Security to start in May. The process of applying for Social Security was much less Draconian than I thought it would be. The only gotcha was they told me that while I can collect for May the 1st check didn’t come until the last week of June, so there was an annoying gap between my last paycheck and my 1st Social Security check. Nonetheless on June 28th it was auto-deposited into my bank account and all was right with the world.

Then in May, Janet passed her final interview and was sworn in as a citizen of the United States. This was a goal of ours to have her become a US citizen before we would move. Two weeks later a shiny new blue passport arrived for her. Lots of people have asked me why we did this. I don’t think that most Americans understand just how amazing that Blue passport is and the fact that it allows you to basically go anywhere in the world! This is certainly not true of a Philippines passport. And to be frank, Janet is very proud to be a US citizen and I am very proud of her. She got to celebrate her first 4th of July as an American and did it the way most Filipinas do – swimming at the river and taking a ton of selfies wearing her American flag bathing suit!

Two days after I retired we listed our house for sale. I had told Janet many times that in the United States the process of buying or selling a house is, outside of having a baby, one of the most stressful things in life. Unfortunately, I forgot to tell myself. The house remained on the market for 6 weeks and each week we were under more and more pressure trying to figure out what to do to get rid of the old dog (not me, the house). For those 6 weeks the house and yard were the cleanest and neatest they have ever been (mostly due to Janet’s efforts). We are currently in the closing process, which is almost as stressful, and in two weeks we sign the papers, get the check and are officially homeless.

Our strategy of where to live in the Philippines is sort of complicated. While there are many houses in Dumaguete for rent online, I was uncomfortable renting a place I had never seen, particularly since all house rentals there require a lease. I didn’t want to get stuck with a year’s lease on a rental house we hated or one where the next door neighbor sang karaoke till 3:00 AM. So the general consensus among friends was to rent a month to month apartment, and with “boots on the ground” go about the process of finding a house to lease. So I officially sent a deposit and we have a 2 bedroom townhouse. By Philippines standards it isn’t cheap at 20k pesos/month ($400) but is modestly furnished and includes cable and wifi.

In the next couple of days we will ship 9 balikbayan boxes to our apartment. It’s amazing how much you can fit in these boxes. Basically everything we decided to keep is in these boxes, including my tools and enough materials to make the first few guitars in my retirement. We’ve had good luck with balikbayan boxes before so hopefully these will arrive perhaps a month after we arrive in Dumaguete and the contents will survive.

An interesting tidbit on the financial front. We decided to visit our banks and the company that manages my retirement funds to ask what issues we might encounter. They all told us the same thing; don’t tell us you are actually residing abroad, since that will put restrictions on the accounts. Just pretend you’re traveling a lot. This is consistent with the experiences of a few friends in the Philippines who told their banks they had moved to the Philippines, only to find their accounts restricted afterwards. So honestly is not always the best policy.

 

 

Humorous, irreverent, occasionally informative look at a newly wedded Fil-Am couple

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