Lots of people ask me how our 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 🙂
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 junk 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 our “Get outta Dodge fund.”
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.
A few years ago I started downsizing and probably sold off 60-70% of the tools 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 time I run out of those supplies I will have found 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, 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 first (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…
Transportation: 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: 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 better than retiring. 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 🙂
Our US Home: 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 in 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: 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!
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:
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 the Philippines the noisiest or most romantic place on earth:
Janet and I were in El Nido, Palawan – a beautiful place. We’d just had dinner and were 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:
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 there 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 doable to my standards. I don’t need luxury but even in a 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:
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.”
Last year, at just about this exact time, I posted, Tell Us Where to Go, a request for input on your favorite places to visit in the Philippines. We ended up traveling to Boracay, Camiguin, and did a couple days in Moalboal, in addition to our standard week in Alcoy, Cebu.
Well, it’s Back to the Future, folks and I am looking for more recommendations.
First the good news. We booked 3 weeks in April. The flight prices from Portland to Cebu were substantially less than last year and any of the other 7 or 8 times I have gone to the Philippines. Whether this was the luck of the draw, because of the decreasing oil prices, or my brilliant shopping skills, I don’t know. But if you were thinking of visiting the Philippines this is a great time to check out the flights. A $300/per ticket savings was a pretty compelling argument for us to book our next trip.
As always, we will spend a week in Alcoy, Cebu. Janet will get to see her family, as will I, but I also look forward to Tingko Beach, Dalaguete, Oslob and the whale sharks we didn’t see last year.
I also look forward to not cutting my damn hand like I did last year.
We will also spend a week in the Dumaguete area. Since there is a good chance that Dumaguete will be our retirement destination, it’s time to check it out further. We will again see the city and Valencia. If anyone has any recommendations about other towns in the vicinity, please let us know!
Well that leaves another week open. We could just hit another wonderful beach, look at other retirement destinations, or some combo. We’ve never been to Palawan, so that’s an option. Malapascua, off of Cebu, sounds nice. And last night, for the first time in three years, Janet expressed an interest in returning to Leyte.
Now, Janet worked and went to school in Leyte for five years, and every time I have asked if she would like to return and show me the place she spent these important years, I get – the look!
We have a friend, who I suspect will weigh in on this posting, who owns a small resort in Maasin, Leyte. He asks every year if we are coming and I reply not to count on it. So Janet even hinting she’s interested in going to Leyte is a big step.
Here’s a link to an article on Kalanggaman – supposed to be a great island off Leyte: http://www.thetravelingnomad.com/2016/01/better-leyte-than-never-kalanggaman.html
Me? I am interested in any place fun, off the beaten track. And if it’s cheap, all the better.
So. what do you all think? Tell us where to go – we can take it!
Once you decide that you’re going to retire and relocate to another place, another country even, you breathe a sign of relief – the big decision’s done, though maybe your goose is cooked. You’re relieved until you realize that the country’s pretty damn huge, with 7100 islands, and there are nearly as many places to live in and styles of living as there are places and styles in your home country. Do you go all metro, live in a small city, or live out in the Philippines version of the sticks, lumped together by expats as the generic term “the provinces?”
That’s the decision every expat wannabee gets to ponder. Janet and I could go in many ways. I sure as hell didn’t make this strategy up but when I make any major life change I usually separate what I want into three criteria: “must haves,” “important to haves,” and “nice to haves.” There’s also the negative category of “are you effing crazy?” For me that negative category encompassed Metro Manila and Cebu City. I have no interest in moving into an environment of pollution, overpopulation, and traffic madness. I have that in the US.
For a long time Janet’s “must have” was any place that included Cebu in the address. Having grown up in Southern Cebu it was hard for her to imagine living on any other island. She didn’t necessary care where it was as long as it was on Cebu Island. I basically agreed. I didn’t want to be in Metro Cebu City, which is a place I like to visit but couldn’t imagine living in. But I liked the towns along the southern coast, and this year we visited Moalboal on the left coast of the island and we both liked our few days there. So there seemed to be plenty of options that included that cherished Cebu in the address.
There’s no right answer here folks; it’s not a standardized test. What was important to me was to be somewhat close to a city (albeit a smaller city). The city should provide access to decent medical care, some restaurants, a movie theater, a coffee shop or two, as well as mall shopping for Janet. I’m not sure I actually want to live in a city and since the biggest Philippines cities do not have what we think of in the US as suburbs (they’re more defined by the gentle term “urban sprawl”), having an area outside a smaller city would be rare and come under the “good to have” category.
Other “must haves:” beaches not too far away. Neither of us is a fan of living on the beach, but we want to be close enough to hit the water at a moment’s (or hour’s) notice. Great views are a “must have” – well that’s easy – great views are pretty much standard faire in the whole country, minus the aforementioned Manila and Cebu City, although Tops in Cebu City and parts of Mactan have pretty spectacular views.
But here’s where Dumaguete, on Negros, is really perfect for both Janet and I; it’s a short ferry ride to Cebu (see map). Cross in a half hour and then about an hour’s drive north and you’re in the lovely town of Alcoy, Janet’s home. It makes it easy for Janet to get real Cebu sand under her feet, and go home any time she wants, but still gives us the independence of living a couple hours, and one ferry ride away.
Dumaguete’s got plenty of restaurants, hospitals for my old age (a long time from now), and 4 colleges/universities which add a youthful energy to the place. There’s a lengthy Boardwalk area (see featured pic) and unbelievably a decent park or two. Parks are not popular in the Philippines. I’m just spitballing here but it’s possible that in a country where most people don’t own a vehicle they figure that walking in a park for pleasure in 90 degree heat/90% humidity is one of those things only crazy kanos do. But I like parks, like to walk, and Dumaguete and Valencia have parks. Valencia has a great water park and beautiful water falls, as well.
Note: Yes, the picture above is just a stock pic of the water park and the cute Pinay is not Janet. Hopefully I will not pay for this tonight 🙂
Note: Here I am in front of some falls and the cute Pinay is Janet, so hopefully I’m safe.
Now that I’ve mentioned it, Valencia, is one of those rare things in the Philippines – a suburban town. Fifteen minutes outside Dumaguete it’s a bit higher in elevation and has spectacular views of the island of Cebu.
It’s cooler in the evening (though cooler is a relative term in the Philippines). The town is beautiful and peaceful. You can live like a rich foreigner if you want but certainly can live nicely without breaking the bank (well, not too much).
The negatives? A couple of major publications have recently called Dumaguete one of the best places to retire in the world. Why is that a negative, you ask? Because the rest of you might go there 🙂 Did I mention that one of my “nice to haves” is not to be surrounded by too many other expats? Note: Janet says this is mean, but the truth is the truth, although if you run into me I will be quite pleasant, especially if you hand me a San Miguel 🙂
I just got a great email from a reader preparing for his first trip to the Philippines to meet his girlfriend, who he hopes to someday marry. I realized in answering his questions how much basic information people struggle with about visiting the Philippines (or any international travel for that matter) and marrying a Filipina.
At the same time, I am on a variety of Philippines-related forums and sometimes roll my eyes at the debates and misinformation spewed out there. It suddenly occurred to me that visitors to these sites, seeking information are making a fundamental mistake in their approach – they aren’t simply skipping the middle man and contacting me first 🙂
Therefore I thought I would write the 1st in a potential series of what in my industry would be called “core dumps” about traveling to the Philippines, meeting your girl and her family, and surviving to tell the tale. I’ll end with a mini traveling tip.
1. Manila is a Shithole: Yes, you’ve heard it here first. Manila is all the stereotypes it is famous for. It’s dirty, polluted, the traffic is insane, it’s expensive by Philippines standards, taxis are nuts, beggars are everywhere, and the people are…well you get the idea; I don’t much care for the place. Now I know a few guys who like the city, and no doubt there are Filipina readers who were raised in Manila – and to those I apologize – but I won’t amend my statement.
Yes, Manila has an international airport (one of the worst rated in the world) and some high end malls, there are some neighborhoods that are better than others, and there are plenty of clubs for those of you into “clubbing” (wink-wink). Nonetheless, if you are a Westerner and visiting the Philippines for the 1st time (or the 10th time), unless your fiancé lives in Manila, avoid it like the plague. I see constant postings by guys who went to the Philippines, hung out in Manila and Angeles, hated the place, and complained at the fools who had advised them that the Philippines was a glorious, tropical country filled with wonderful Pinays. It is glorious – except for Manila – you have been warned.
2. You’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto: Americans (and that’s what I am, so I’m gonna hit it from that POV) do very little International traveling (Canada and Mexico don’t count, so don’t make me come over there and smack you) and we know nothing (and care even less) about the differences in various cultures. Don’t let the Philippines fool you. Yes, most Filipinos speak some English, know something about and love American culture, and the women will claim they love you the first time they see your pasty white guapo visage. But the Philippines ain’t America. Nothing they do will be done in the way you do it or Americans do it. I mean nothing! BTW, in my opinion this is often a good thing. But most guys can’t handle it. Adapt or die, cause it starts the moment you get off the plane. Want to have a happy vacation or a successful start with your new love? Assume nothing will be as you know it. You have landed on Mars. If you can make this leap, you have a chance to be successful; and a chance to fall in love with the Philippines. If not, you’re toast.
3. Not every Filipino is out to take advantage of you: OK, let me amend this; some Filipinos are out to take advantage of you. By comparison to the average Filipino you are Donald Freaking Trump, a billionaire with unlimited amounts of money – money that they hope to get a tiny taste of. Is this really so unusual? I owned a service business for many years and when a guy walked into my office wearing a $1k suit I knew it was gonna be a good day. I quickly pulled out my top of the line stuff and added a few bucks to the standard price, just because…well just because he could pay it and I was a poor working stiff.
Last year Janet and I were in Dumaguete. We ended up in a terrible argument about an overpriced trike ride, each assigning blame to the other for the fact that we had obviously been overcharged. Finally I calmed down and said to her, “Do you realize we are arguing about a ride that cost us $6?”
We went downstairs and asked the front desk clerk how much trike rides cost in Duma and from then on only paid the standard rate. Knowledge is power and it’s your responsibility to know how things work. So don’t be a dumbass, and if you get beat out of a few pesos, grin and bare it – and learn.
But I guess the real take away should be that if you assume everyone exists in the Philippines to take advantage of you – you’re gonna have a lousy time. Enjoy yourself. Any way you look at it your vacation’s gonna be a lot cheaper than almost anywhere you could go in the 1st world; and the view (both tropical and female) is gonna be a hell of a lot better.
4. There’s No Political Correctness in the Philippines: It’s surprising, sometimes off putting and often refreshing, but expect Filipinos to tell you directly what they think when it comes to other people and cultures. Your gf/wife will tell you she loves white skin, doesn’t like people with darker skin (including her own). You will hear references to person X, followed by “he’s a gay.” It’s not meant as an insult; just a point of information.
If someone is a bit overweight, you won’t hear references to glandular or hormonal issues; they’ll be called fat. Last night, as Oscar winner, Patricia Arquette, made her impassioned speech, Janet said what millions of others thought but wouldn’t dare say – “she’s getting fat.”
Filipinas are unlikely to understand you when you refer to African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Native Americans, etc. They will just say “he’s black.” Or more likely they will say, “I’m black,” or “I’m too black,” and look very sad in saying so. Respond by saying you like black – black is good, devils food cake tastes yummier than angel food cake, and you will have a very good time.
5. Family is everything: Now, many expats in the Philippines and men married to Filipinas say this in a negative way, but that’s not how I mean it. You probably wanted a woman with traditional values, didn’t you? That means family is central; they’re Leave it to Beaver with a Filipino accent, and Lumpy Rutherford is a little less well-nourished.
When you meet your gf/wife’s family you ought to check out how she treats her parents. That’s how she’s gonna treat you someday. Or, if you’re like me, and are older than her parents – that’s how she’s gonna treat you right away!
Now compare your relationship with your family at home – and enjoy the difference.
Remember, if you do the right thing, very soon you will be part of the family as well, and will be treated accordingly. And no, I am not just referring to being asked to kick in money, although that’s a sometime part of family life.
The first time I visited Janet’s family in Alcoy her younger brother attempted to take my bag and carry it for me. Since in the US we are independent and an older guy like me might consider it an insult, assuming I could not schlep my own bag – I politely refused, telling him that I was fine. He was confused, later asking Janet why I refused his help. I was looking at the whole thing though my American eyes; I sure as hell don’t expect my teens to help with a bag – and they don’t.
Janet waited a month or two before mentioning that her brother was surprised at my refusal. I realized it was a point of respect he was showing me, so from that point on I decided for subsequent trips to act feeble and let him help. Frankly, the whole family treats me wonderfully and it makes me wish for more of the same in my home country.
6. Today’s mini traveling tip: Carry lots of small bills or coins. I know, I know – you’re a rich kano who doesn’t want to be bothered carrying anything less than a 1000 peso note. Be bothered. The little store you want to buy a coke in, or the taxi driver you want to give a 20P tip to will not have change and then you will have to scurry around to find some change or get frustrated and overpay, thus being pissed off at getting cheated again. And if you are in Manila or Cebu and encounter a child looking for a coin – give one to him. It won’t kill you; you might even feel good about yourself. So carry lots of small stuff and leave most of the big bills at the hotel.
P.S. If you were offended by the title of this piece, I again apologize. You ought to realize by now that this is how I try to suck you in, right 🙂
An Update: It’s official! Manila is not a complete shithole. In-n-Out Burger comes to Manila.