Tag Archives: Dumaguete

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 šŸ™‚

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:Ā 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:Ā 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:Ā 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 Ā 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. Ā 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 seatĀ 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 šŸ™‚ 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. Ā 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 šŸ™‚

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!

 

 

 

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 šŸ™‚

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!

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 šŸ™‚ 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.

Dumaguete ’16 Gallery

Our Progress Toward the Big Move

Lots of people ask me how ourĀ planned retirement and move to the Philippines is going, so it felt like a good time to update. It also seemed like a good time to detail some of the decisions we are making; that way we can look back in a year or two and see how badly they all went šŸ™‚

Getting rid of the crap: Strangely enough, I’ve enjoyed downsizing. It’s been going on for a couple years but is now in real earnest. A month ago we had a big garage sale which went well and was lots of fun. We scoured the house for everything we didn’t need and didn’t intend to bring to the Philippines. About 3/4 of the junkĀ put out was sold by super pitchman, Dave. The rest we either put out on the sidewalk marked free or I took to the Goodwill. I even made some money, which I put into ourĀ “Get outta Dodge fund.”

BB box

We decided quite awhile ago that we would not be shipping furniture or large items. We will be going the Balikbayan Box route and my current guess is that we will ship between 10-15 BB boxes @ $75/each. The boxes will contain clothes (although I am already donating most of my winter clothing), some kitchen items (the better pots for example), a few household items and items of sentimental value. Unquestionably the biggest single area of stuff to ship are my tools and guitar making supplies.

For many years I collected old hand woodworking tools. There, I admitted it – I was a collector. When you have 2 finger planes, you’re a user; when you have 30, you’re a collector.

2 finger and 1 palm plane by Legendary English plane maker, Bill Carter.
2 finger and 1 palm plane by Legendary English plane maker, Bill Carter.
Chris Laarman finger planes on rough archtop top.
Chris Laarman finger planes on rough archtop top.

A few years ago I started downsizing and probably sold off 60-70% of the toolsĀ I had; there were a lot of happy tool collectors on ebay. At the same time I have acquired some items, wanting to have enough supplies to make at least 3 guitars in retirement. By the timeĀ I run out of those supplies I will have foundĀ local sources.

I had my biggest victory on this 2016 Sale Olympics a week ago. In a fit of stupidity (or excess cash) I bought a high end elliptical machine some years back. Had it installed in our basement. Janet used it more than me. I didn’t want to end up just giving it away and worried about how I would get it out of the basement. I listed it on Craigslist and for weeks – crickets. Then I heard from a guy who was interested. He arrived with a trailer behind his SUV – that was a good sign. He brought his own tools – even better. Most importantly his wife brought the envelope with cash; not even an argument over the asking price. We took the thing partially apart and the 2 of us (both over 60 oldies) schlepped it up the stairs. I didn’t even end up with a sore back; the positive influence of an extra grand in my pocket, I suppose. Our basement looks quite a bit emptier and my “Get out of Dodge fund” is a bit fuller.

Next spring we’ll sell the furniture put the house on the market,Ā ship the BB boxes, and then it all gets very serious.

Finances: I’ve met with my bank and the company that manages my retirement account to see what issues I might have to deal with when living out of the country. Of course they want my vast kano wealth (just kidding) and so are pitching things like I will have no problems.

Where: While the decision to move to the Dumaguete area was made a while back, the question is how. We definitely want to rent for a while at firstĀ (a year?) and then may buy a house. But how to pull this all off? Oh, I could rent a house or apartment online, but do we trust the pics and glowing descriptions online? Or we could just arrive and with with “boots on the ground” stay in a hotel and look for a place. The problem with that is where to ship our boxes without an address?

There are a few complexes that rent by the month (most require longer leases) and we could rent for a couple months, have a place to ship our stuff, and then find the real rental when we arrive. Decisions decisions…

Tricycle-Batangas-PhilippinesTransportation: Do we need a car? Janet thinks we do and I tend to agree. But what kind? After all I will no longer have the long daily commute, thank God; I will be an old fart retiree! So new or used? Small, large or medium? SUV? Old pickup truck? Jeepney? Trike? Who knows, although unlike many other retirees there, I will not go all Fonzie and buy a motorcycle. Janet is most attracted by the looks; I mostly care about cheap to own and operate. I am open to suggestions? No matter what, I am sure we will still use plenty of public transportation; trikes are cheap in Dumaguete; buses are readily available. Most importantly, Janet knows how to get from Duma to Alcoy, her hometown.

Work Schedule:Ā The clock is ticking and I’ve got one of those countdown programs displayed on my screen, that I glance at whenever I get overwhelmed, which in my work environment is hourly. My company understands firing betterĀ than retiring. Ā I therefore know that there’s always a possibility that I could be downsized before my planned leaving date, but since that date is quickly approaching it matters less and less. I hope to go on my own terms but at a certain point…

BTW, for any co-workers or, worse yet, managers reading this, you know I love you, right? I have just one word for you in anticipation of my retirement – kudos šŸ™‚

Our US Home:Ā Once we get to the 1st of the year we will be getting ready for the aforementioned sale of the last of the crap and put the house on the market. There’s a couple minor upgrade items to perform, but nothing too big. Fortunately the real estate market inĀ my area is pretty hot, so I don’t anticipate a long wait for a sale. But as we know buying and selling a home is one of the most stressful things in Western life, so I will at least have one more stressful task to finish before I hit the beach with a San Miguel in my hand.

Other things to do:Ā Buy a bunch of crap when we arrive in Dumaguete to replace the crap we sold here; find a doctor, dentist and acupuncturist; visit the relatives on the East Coast one more time; throw a party; throw two parties. And get ready for the great adventure!

 

 

 

Snipets from our Latest Trip to the Philippines

We’ve been back less than a week from our 3-week vacation to the Philippines. Our itinerary was: 1 week in Alcoy, Cebu; 1 week in Dumaguete; 1 week in Palawan. It all went by too quickly. Here are some impressions.

I need to work on my drinking:

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I had the opportunity to meet three expats for lunch while in Dumaguete. They were guys I knew online from a Philippines forum I frequent. Good guys, not an American among them, and it seems clear that when we move to Dumaguete, that if I want some expat friends, at least a few good ones live there.

But when it comes to drinking San Miguel I am woefully lacking. Had my standard 1 beer while two of my new friends were plowing through a 6-pack each. The waitress was running full speed to and from our table to take and then deliver the next beer run. Somehow the guys had the energy to flirt with her every time she arrived – which might have been the purpose. Finally I ordered a 2nd San Mig just to keep from looking like the lightweight that I am.

Afterwards Janet took one look at me and asked how many beers I’d had.

Is theĀ Philippines the noisiest or most romantic place on earth:

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Janet and I wereĀ in El Nido, Palawan – a beautiful place. We’d just had dinner and wereĀ walking back to our hotel. Janet spotted a cart with her fave grilled chicken intestines on a stick; and no I did not partake. I like Filipino food but there’s a limit. She is waiting with baited breath for the grilling to finish when suddenly we hear a dog yelping in extreme pain. Like most places in the Philippines the streets of El Nido are narrow, trikes, motorcycles, and cars rush along with little concern, and we assumed the dog got hit by something. Everyone was looking in the direction of the cries of pain, which did not stop and if anything intensified. Janet and I feared the worst and approached the dog. I was expecting to see massive injuries. Instead we witnessed two dogs humping happily. “Must be a virgin,” Janet remarked. Only in the Philippines!

Janet takes on the trike drivers:

One of the gripes for most expats is with the taxi and trike drivers trying to overcharge. In many cities trikes are regulated and there’s a flat rate wherever you want to go. For example in Dumaguete the rate is 6.5p/person. In Puerto Princesa, Palawan it’s 8p. During our stay in Puerto Princesa we went out to dinner and had no problem with a trike driver taking us from our hotel to the restaurant for the 8p x2 plus a small tip. On the way back we flagged a trike. Janet told the driver in Tagalog the name of our hotel. “40 pesos,” he said. “No way!” responded Janet and we didn’t get into the trike. She flagged the next one. “50 pesos,” he immediately told her. Now she’s pissed. Traveling in the Philippines, knowledge is power. We knew what the rates were and she would not pay more. Finally the 3rd driver took us home and we paid him the correct amount plus tip.

I am lazy enough that I probably would have overpaid, but do not mess with Janet!

Palawan really is that beautiful:

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Palawan has been on the list of the most beautiful islands in the world many times and finally we decided to go. As a cynic I know that such lists are exaggerated. For example, despite the hype, Boracay, which I do like, is far from the best place to vacation in the Philippines.

But Palawan is beautiful. El Nido has to be seen to be believed and we just scratched the surface. Even the 5+ hour drive from Puerto Pricessa to El Nido was extraordinarily beautiful.

There are so many mountains on Palawan that they haven’t bothered to name them all.

We will be returning!

Yes, sometimes there is progress in the Philippines:

The Philippines is not known as a place where change happens quickly. We spent a week at our favorite resort in Alcoy, the BBB (Bodos Bamboo Bar). Ok, truth be told there aren’t a lot of options in Alcoy so every year it’s the BBB. The 1st time we stayed thereĀ some years back, we had a very nice cottage. The cottage had a fan, but no aircon, which was doable. The cottage had no hot water in the shower, which was not doableĀ to my standards. I don’t need luxury but even in Ā a Ā place like Alcoy in the summer, I want hot water. But worst is that while the hotel advertised free wifi, the wifi only worked in public areas, not the cottages.

But sometimes, if rarely, things change in the Philippines. This year the cottages were equipment with aircon. Modern hot water was plentiful. And what’s best is that the wifi worked everywhere and the connection was reasonably fast. At the end of our stay I approached the owner, told her we’d been coming for several years and appreciated the improvements, particularly to the wifi.

Of course the rate for the cottages was increased 50%.

Everything is crispy in the Philippines:

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In the Philippines “crispy” is king. Lechon must be crispy. Anything grilled is only good if the skin is crack in your mouth crispy. The first time Janet had KFC in the US I ordered Original Recipe. She tasted it and crinkled her nose. After that we always ordered Extra Crispy.

There is no such thing as rare meats in the Philippines, Most meats are cooked to death – probably for health purposes. But that’s the taste that people are used to.

But it seems that this crispy thing was taken to an extreme when I saw that all the cigarette ads advertised the flavor of the cancer stick in question as “crispy.”