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!

Trike Land

Let’s start out with the basics: I like trikes. In Dumaguete they are ubiquitous and pass by constantly. It’s rare that it takes more than a few minutes to grab a trike. I’m height challenged, so I can, unlike some foreigners, fit in a trike. Yes, I did post about actually breaking a trike’s seat but that was an aberration (I think). Trikes are generally cheap (which is the topic today) and while uncomfortable, for the short ride, they work well for me. Since I purchased a car several weeks ago, I take them less often but I still take them; sometimes it’s just more convenient than driving and parking.

So today, let’s discuss how the process of trike taking works. I know I know, I’ve lived in the Philippines for all of 6 weeks but I’ve been on plenty of trikes over the years and my lack of time as a resident of the Philippines never stopped me from giving my opinions before.

Now in Dumaguete, like many cities in the Philippines, trike rates are regulated. No, really – I’m serious. I know a lot of guys who complain about getting beaten out of major amounts of pesos but in reality there is a system to the way trikes charge. This is true whether you are in Dumaguete, or the small town of Alcoy, Cebu where Janet is from; there is a regulated rate.

In the core area of Dumaguete there is a rate. Now don’t ask me exactly what it is because I have heard various figures. Actually it’s 8 pesos/person, but that gets a bit complex because that is technically only for the 1st kilometer. Each additional kilometer is .5 peso, which can add up to big money 🙂 When Janet and I take a trike in the core area of Dumaguete I usually give the driver 20 pesos for the two of us. If I am in a particularly generous mood (meaning I’ve had a San Miguel or 2) I will give the driver 25 pesos.

So now we come to Tip #1: Know the rate as best you can and don’t ask what it is. If you get in a trike and ask the driver to take you somewhere in the core area and then ask “how much” you may get pissed off by the answer you get. The 1st time Janet and I were in Dumaguete a few years ago, I made the mistake of asking the driver “how much.” “50 pesos, Sir,” I was told. I answered, “I thought it was 8 pesos per person.” Without missing a beat, he responded, “It is, Sir, but perhaps you’d like to give me a tip.” The point being tell him where you want to go, get on the trike and just pay at the end.

BTW, the official Dumaguete rates can be found here.

Tip #2: Now here’s where it gets complicated. Let’s say you want to go somewhere outside the core area.  There are fixed rates for many towns, and they can get pretty high by trike standards. But most trike drivers will negotiate. In the first few weeks after we arrived , Janet and I took many trips to the town of Sibulan, north of Dumaguete. All the car dealerships are there as was the place where we ordered furniture. So in this case, the trike stops and I would say “Ford Dealership in Sibulan. Near the airport.” One of several things happens. The driver may look at me like I am an insane kano and drive off, because he doesn’t want to drive all the way to Sibulan, which can take as long as 30 minutes. Generally the driver will not even say “no” – he’ll just drive off. Don’t feel rejected; the next driver will want your pesos.

Or, the driver might state a price. It’s your choice to accept it, reject it or negotiate. If you get agreement, he’ll nod and you get in the trike. Or if you’re married to Janet, she will yell and if you’re lucky an agreement will be made, you’ll get into the trike and then hear about what a terrible deal we made 🙂

In the 3rd scenario, the driver will ask what you are willing to pay, putting the ball squarely in your court. If you’ve made that Sibulan run a bunch of times like we have, you know what you will probably have to pay. Depending on whether you are in a rush you might lop 10 pesos off the price you usually pay and start there for negotiating. The driver might accept it or might simply drive off. They don’t tend to throw the bird much in the Philippines but this basically means the same thing.

The 4th scenario – and I’ve only had this happen a couple times – is the driver will actually say, “whatever you wish to pay, Sir. Its up to you.” Don’t count on this happening, but it might. If it does, thank your creator or whomever you believe in, then give the driver a decent amount to encourage his great behavior.

Tip #3: Here’s where it gets even more complicated. Let’s say you want to go somewhere off the beaten path. One of the reasons the regulated rates in the core area are so cheap is that the driver is likely to find other passengers along the way. But if you want to go to Timbuktu (or the Philippines equivalent) he’s unlikely to find anyone else and you are essentially hiring the driver exclusively. It’s called Pakyaw (pronounced Pacquiao, not to be confused with Manny). Again, negotiation is the call of the day but expect to pay more.

Tip #4: Tips. It seems that most Filipinos at the end of their trike ride, get off, hand the driver some coins and wait for their change. I just hand over whatever I have decided to pay and get the hell out of the trike; which often involves some groaning and banging of the head. In other words, tips are optional but I always try to give a few (but not too many) extra pesos.

Tip #5: While I just talked about Filipinos getting change, we are talking about a few pesos. Do not give the driver a 500 peso note and expect change. He won’t have it and will look at you like a fool, as will all the other passengers.

Tip #6: If you find a driver you really like for those off the beaten path trips, you might consider getting his phone number. In fact, he might suggest it as well. That way when you want to go back to that unusual area you can call “your guy” and both of you will know what to expect.

Tip #7: Don’t overpay. I know I know, you’re rich, the rates are dirt cheap, and you’re trying to impress your girl. You might even rationalize that you’re helping the poor driver. Stop it! You are only perpetuating the notion that every foreigner is rich and this only leads to drivers wanting to overcharge said rich foreigners. Besides, despite your generosity, the driver will still think you’re an idiot! And so will your girl! So do us all a favor and don’t overpay or overtip.

Tip #8: Unless you are Janet, don’t start arguing with the driver. And for God’s sake, don’t start claiming you’re being taken advantage of because you’re a foreigner or start spitting out “long nose tax.” If you genuinely think the price is excessive, don’t get on the trike. Janet and I have literally had a trike driver pull over if we felt uncomfortable for any reason.

If you look at the rates quoted in the link above, you’ll see that the trip from Dumaguete to Sibulan is 120 pesos, Janet and I generally paid 70 for the two of us from our apartment, which is south of Dumaguete. Knowledge is power. If you know what things are supposed to cost, you will get taken advantage of far less frequently.

As I said at the beginning I generally like the trikes. If you can fit into them, you might also. Enjoy!




Appliance Shopping in the Philippines – Or Comparing a Consumption Culture vs. a Simple One

Today’s blog is about appliance shopping in Dumaguete which let’s face it, is a boring topic unless you are looking for a ref (that’s what they call them here) in the Philippines. Even then it’s boring, if useful. But trust me, I’ll meat it up because the experience reminds me of the difference between the West and the 3rd world. But bare with me in the meantime.

As I’ve talked about before, Janet and I rented a month to month apartment so we could arrive here with a decent place to stay and to ship our stuff to while we looked for a house to lease. The Hermogina Apartments filled the bill if not much more. I figured it would take us a couple months to find a rental house but we were motivated to act quickly. The process was not simple and perhaps I will blog about that later. The bottom line is we found a small house in Valencia (10 minutes west of Duma) that met our needs and signed a one year lease. While many houses for rent come with furniture, ours is unfurnished and the price reflects that. We debated about whether to get a furnished house or spring for furnishings but in the end rationalized that we will have to buy stuff in a year when we will more than likely build a house, so we might as well do it now.

Unfurnished in the Philippines generally means pretty bare bones. Our house actually has an oven/stove; lots of unfurnished houses don’t even have that. It’s got a couple aircon units and 2 water heaters in the showers, but that’s it. There is no refrigerator, for example. So we knew we needed a ref, washing machine, and TV and thus began our journey into appliance hell – or was it hell?

Let me step backwards in time for a moment. Just a few short months ago we sold our house in Portland, preparing to move to the Philippines. The appliances in our home were functional but old. Frankly, I liked them – but I too am functional but old. It became quickly clear that the kitchen itself and its appliances were a stumbling block in our desire to sell the house for the massive killing I imagined. The house was built in ’43 and the kitchen was efficient but small. As a single father (which I was when I bought the house) I liked it; why waste space on a kitchen, I said often. But there was no room in the kitchen for a modern refrigerator; you know the ones the size of an SUV with a price over $1000. Nor was there a breakfast bar or one of those cooking islands. What did I care – I was cooking frozen pizzas most of the time.

Janet and I began to wonder whether there was anything we could do to update the kitchen without spending thousands to blow the whole thing up. We focused on the refrigerator; I’m guessing it was from the 70s or 80s. I liked it. Hell it had an ice cube maker; that is it did until the water line started leaking and I turned the thing off. What, we wondered, would the kitchen look like if we put in a new refrigerator? But here was the problem. Like the rest of the kitchen the refrigerator was white and it was decidedly not the size of an SUV. We went to Home Depot in search of a smallish, white refrigerator. The salesman looked at me like I was a crazy old coot; OK he got that one right. They did actually have one that would fit our space and was white. It was $550. In the end our realtor told us not to bother and the house managed to sell with the old refrigerator.

A lot of guys go on and on about the cost comparisons between the US and Philippines. While many things are less, they say electronics and appliances are more expensive. Is this true? Yes and no – how’s that for being definitive. If you want the exact same model of something you are likely to pay more in the Philippines than on Amazon. But in many cases, can you find or do you really need the same model. And here finally we come full circle, to appliance shopping in Dumaguete.

We went into Robinson’s Appliances and made a bee line for the refs. For me it was ref heaven; unlike in the US where 90% of the models were those SUV types with prices to match, here 90% of the available models are what I think of as “normal” refs. Most are stainless steel, which Janet loves, and most were major brand names (Samsung, Panasonic, Sharp, even Whirlpool). But most were in the 9-12 cu. ft. size. Most were far less expensive than that lone white ref we saw in Home Depot, back in our former life. We saw several options we liked and moved onto washing machines.

Now, in the Philippines most people who own washing machines (and many many people do not) only own a washing machine. While a few dryers were available, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that the function of a dryer naturally exists in the Philippines in the form of 365 days/year of heat. So most people do what your mother or grandmother did; hang the clothes outside to dry. So now we had eliminated one appliance and could focus on what we actually needed, a washing machine for two adults. In the US, washers and dryers have grown larger and larger, their increased capacity paralleling the SUV-like refrigerators. I’m sure there’s a formula to compare food consumption to clothing size. The bottom line is that many washing machines in the Philippines have small capacities and are cheap! Janet liked the Samsung models and the grey (I wonder why). I liked the cheap.

BTW, speaking of cheap, it seems that in the Philippines the price marked on the appliances is not the price you pay. The experience was the same in several stores. The salesman opened a book and quoted the real price. The cash price was significantly less that the listed price but their notion of cash included credit cards. I think all it meant was if you paid, rather than financed, you got a nice discount.

So now I’m getting excited. It looks like we’re going to save money compared to what I was used to in the US, so it came time to look at the TVs. We once again turned to Samsung and looked at a 50″ Smart TV. While I went in with no particular interest in a 4k TV (there is no content broadcast in 4k in the Philippines at this point) the money difference between the 4k set and the 1080p set was small.

Next, I did what I always do: went to the 3 or 4 appliances stores in Dumaguete to compare. In the end we found the best prices at Imperial, a Philippines appliance store chain. I am always reticent to talk about what I spend on stuff (it’s the old guy in me) but I will say that for about the price I would have paid for one of those American SUV refrigerators, we got a Samsung ref, Samsung washing machine, and Samsung 50″ 4k Smart TV. The good price was not because things are cheaper here. They were because we didn’t need the excesses so common in the 1st world. In the US would Janet have accepted the 11 cu. ft. ref or would she have jonesed after the aircraft carrier models? And what would the washer-drier have cost? Even I would have been unlikely to get excited over 50″ when so many have 60+”. So we got what we needed and didn’t break the bank.

We had the same experience with furniture. I love wood and wanted something of a “native”, not Western, style. Janet prefers the quality of rattan over bamboo, so that’s where we focused. In the end we furnished the house with a nice living room set, 6-seat dining room set, 2 queen sized beds with matching foam mattresses. Again, we spent about what we would have spent for one of those aforementioned refrigerators. And again, we didn’t save because things are fundamentally cheaper in the Philippines (though some things are) but because we didn’t need what we would have considered necessary in the US.

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 🙂

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!

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

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