Tag Archives: family

The Move – a Blur of Insanity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The “Outdoor Plumbing” and Bladder Retention Issue

Note: We’ve got a shiny new (ok, not so new) YouTube Channel, called, Married a Filipina. Please check it out and subscribe as I post more videos! https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_1lUo3tR9-JQK3gXLRkYag

I spent part of this morning reading some of my old blog postings. I know, I know – spending time reading my old scribblings proves I have a thrilling life! My readings included a piece called, Meet the Parents. Feel free to go back and read it; it’s a good ‘un.

I described the first time I met Janet’s family and her fear of my reaction to the home she grew up in, her “old” parents (who were younger than me). She also warned me about the lack of indoor plumbing in their home, and here I’ll quote what I wrote a couple years ago about the experience. “Of course there was no indoor plumbing and I was told by Janet to avoid using the outhouse. Thanks goodness that at my advanced age bladder retention is still – well, retained.”

I found, as I described in that previous blog, that her modest home was perfectly nice and her parents were not old looking or acting, or at least not as geriatric as the guy she was going to marry 🙂

But I avoided the “outhouse” and continued to avoid it for years and the many times I visited the family home. And Janet continued to mention over the years that I should avoid the bathroom. This led to a curious, though effective scheduling scenario every time we went to their home based on the fact that I was confident that bladder retention could be retained for perhaps  half a day. So, if a late afternoon dinner was planned, we might arrive in the early afternoon and leave in the early evening, just in time for me to get back to our hotel, the famous BBB (Bodos Bamboo Bar) so that I could do my best imitation of Tom Hanks in the Green Mile.

I suppose that if asked I would admit that I was afraid of what I might find or what I might smell in that large concrete structure. Honestly, images of the kid hiding in the outhouse in Schindler’s List came to mind. And no, I will not post a video of that scene; no need to thank me. That image kept me far away from the bathroom. It also kept me from drinking too many San Miguels at Janet’s ancestral home, which disappointed the men in the family, who might have wanted to see the kano get hammered.

But over the years I had my doubts. After all, I was now married to Janet and knew her to be a very meticulous, cleanly person. I had been around her sisters enough to know that they were the same way. So how, I wondered, could they stand it? Poverty forces difficult sacrifices, I told myself as I forced the Schindler’s List image out of my mind for the hundredth time.

This past April, we spent a week in Alcoy. The last day lunch was scheduled at the ancestral home with the required lechon. I had always expressed a desire to see how they did it and Janet asked if I wanted to go early and see what the lechon guy did. So, we arrived around 10:30 and watched the lechon guy perform his magic. You can see a video of that and some other Alcoy fun here. By 12:00 the happy barangay was being fed.

Me and my lechon friend.
Me and my lechon friend.

After lunch, I proceeded to consume 3 glasses of Red Horse with my father in law and Lolo; a bit more than would normally be prudent, but it was my last day in Alcoy. Games happened, talk happened. 4:00 arrived and Janet and I actually took a mini nap. Upon awakening at 4:30 I knew I was in trouble and woke up Janet quickly and said “we have to go.” Janet awoke and slowly complied but of course, since this was our last day in Alcoy we had to say our goodbyes – to everyone. I felt embarrassed by how quickly I was saying goodbye to the family.

Now you might be wondering, this being the Philippines, and deep in the provinces, why I didn’t just head off and find a place to do my business. I mean that’s certainly culturally appropriate in the Philippines.

The reason is that my mother in law and everyone else in the family keeps an eye on me like a hawk. Just the day before I was going to go back to the BBB and Janet was going to stay for dinner. I got up to leave. My MIL insisted that I have the kids accompany me to the main road where I would get a trike. I assured her that I knew the way and had been successfully walking on my own since my 30s. No dice. Ten kids accompanied me.

So I knew I could not just sneak off to find a place to pee.  I rushed Janet, we quickly said our goodbyes, hit the trail toward the main road, accompanied by the kids, and grabbed a trike. A little bit after 5:00 I was back at the BBB again pulling my Tom Hanks impression. OK, “pulling” is a bit inappropriate 🙂

But Janet was upset. “Why did you have to rush us,” she demanded to know.

“Because I had to pee – badly!” I said.

“So why didn’t you just use the bathroom?”

“What!” I yelled. “Because you’ve told me for years that I should never never use it – that it was awful.”

“It’s perfectly fine,” she shot back, surprised.

“It doesn’t stink?”

“No.”

“It’s not like, you know –  Schindler’s List?” I asked.

“Huh?”

So, first I insisted that Janet acknowledge that she in fact had repeatedly told me over the years that I should never use it. She finally laughed and admitted she had said that. I then screwed up my courage and asked her to describe the environment.

Turns out my image of splintery planks with crude holes in them was not quite accurate. In fact there were standard toilets and no smell. The only adjustment you’d have to make is that, as in many places in the Philippines, including a couple of hotel rooms we’ve stayed in, a bucket of water and a ladle sits next to the toilet and that’s what’s used to get it to flush.

There was no sense in busting Janet too much for her deception. I understood that just as she had described her home as poor and terrible and her parents as old and poor, this was her way to protect me from the reality of her upbringing.

Next time I go to Alcoy I’m going to overdo the San Miguel and do my best Tom Hanks impression right there. Just don’t expect a video 🙂

 

 

 

 

The Philippines – It’s Like the 50s Only More Humid

If you’re past a certain age (and since I don’t want to offend anybody I won’t say what age that is) the first time you go to the Philippines you invariably come back thinking, “the place is right out of the 50s.”

As fellow blogger, Max Veracity, says in Living in Dumaguete, “time seems to stand still in this country as fads which were popular before these ladies were born are still current … today.” Fad number one is music. The first time I arrived in Manila and got in a taxi I was surprised to hear the radio play oldie after oldie; the stuff I grew up with; nothing past 1980. I assumed the driver, a middle-aged guy like me, liked him his golden oldies music. Hmmm…not quite. The next time I got in a taxi the driver was playing the same station. Quite a coincidence, I thought. That is until I heard the same station blaring out of a store.

How did I know it was the same station, besides the ancient play list? Because the same little kid yelled out the promo, “WIN Radio, WIN Radio” a thousand times until I heard it in my sleep. In fact, it sounds sappy, but now when I arrive in the Philippines and grab a taxi and hear that kid yell out “WIN Radio, WIN Radio, WIN Radio” I get all warm inside and feel like I am home. I mean I’m Jewish and they’re playing Neil Diamond and Barry Manilow. I have to feel at home, right?

In short, 70s and 80s music is modern music in the Philippines!

Then you have karaoke which hit it’s heyday in the US about thirty years ago. But every Filipino knows how to sing American songs from decades ago and they do it in every conceivable place. I mean coin operated karaoke machines on the beach? That seems a bit obsessive doesn’t it? When I hit the beach the last thing I am thinking about is singing. Swimming, snorkeling, checking out bikinis, drowning in an undertoe – sure. But Beach Blanket Karaoke? Not on my radar.

You want to dance in the Philippines – go to the local disco. Yep, they still exist. Travolta would feel right at home.

Malls: The financial pages are predicting doom and gloom for this year’s Xmas retail shopping season in the US. Mall traffic is down; brick and mortar stores are dying. But in the Philippines? They continue to build bigger and bigger malls. SM Seaside City Cebu Mall, will be the biggest mall in the Philippines (and 4th largest in the world) with 1000 shops and restaurants, is about to open; ok, based on Philippines time, who the hell knows when it will open. The point is mall construction is exploding in the Philippines.

These are not little strip malls like when we grew up. They are luxurious shopping cities. I’ve said this before, but it’s hard to imagine how a relatively poor country like the Philippines supports such high-end malls. Somebody’s hiding some cash somewhere. All I know is when we arrive in Cebu Janet is a very happy wife 🙂

Foods: I like many Filipino foods but other expats complain.  Fried foods, grease, cholesterol, pork, ice cream and chocolates are staples in the Philippines. Frankly people say this like it’s a bad thing 🙂

The issue isn’t the quality of the food; the issue is the country is right out of the 50s. Remember what we ate when we were kids? When hots dogs and beans was considered a quality meal. When proper cooking of  a steak meant how bloody could you cook it and still have it be considered dead. When vegetables came out of a Birdseye bag. When a healthy salad meant a chunk of iceberg lettuce with a tomato covered in Thousand Island dressing, aka mayonnaise. BTW, this is still my fave salad. The first time I got a salad at a restaurant in the Philippines it was a chunk of iceberg with some watery Thousand Island; they didn’t even bother with the tomato. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven!

Roosters: We all know that roosters and chickens are ubiquitous in the Philippines, even in the cities. How does this relate to the West? I’m watching the Godfather Part 2 for about the hundredth time and in the scenes in New York City when Vito was a young man there were roosters and chickens in the middle of the NYC streets. OK, it wasn’t the 50s and I doubt that Coppola had been to the Philippines at the time (he was there later for Apocalypse Now) but still it was a touch that defines the modern from the old. In short, we had roosters too damn it, so stop complaining.

Family: Everyone’s attracted to the old fashioned family values in the Philippines, though if truth be told if those values no longer exist in the West, we must be somewhat to blame. But if you ask almost every expat they will tell you that they love the attitude towards the family, the elder members of the family, as well as the perceived attitudes toward marriage and divorce. Well, at least they love it until the family asks them for money 🙂

Women’s Attitudes: OK, here we have a sensitive subject, at least in the West. Ironically we’ve never had a woman President in the US (yet) but they have had in the Philippines and women do well in politics and business there. That being said, it’s easy to view women’s attitudes and gender differences as right out of our parents’ or grandparents’ generations. I image that, “Hey Edith, get me a San Miguel” can often be heard in the Philippines. (OK, it’s an old reference – look it up).

Recently Janet and I were out with a longtime female friend of mine. The two women got some alone time and my friend asked Janet what she liked to do with her free time after work. Janet told her she liked to “cook, bake and clean.”  Do I really need to tell you all how that answer went over?

 

 

 

 

 

“Helping” Your Philippines Family

Today, I’m in an ornery mood and am going to give my take on one of the most controversial and trickiest (that is if you want to stay married) issues there is in a Fil-Am marriage: how to “help” your Philippines family.

First, let’s get the basic terminology out of the way. “Help” is a euphemism for money. If your fiancee asks you whether you are willing to “help” her family, she is not talking about performing household chores when you visit her in the provinces.

I bring this subject up today because I am on a forum and a guy there is asking about it. He’s looking online for a Filipina to potentially marry and wants to shell out as little green in the process as is possible; a good fiscal conservative, I suppose. He is assured by all that some form of “help” is essential. He is adamantly against that and begins to propose strategies to avoid “helping.” Surely, he reasons, he can find a middle or upper class Pinay whose family is loaded with pesos; there must be a few single Marcos or Aquino women lying around. No, we assure him; there aren’t many attractive, young and rich women interested in a poor, aging Westerner – especially one who refuses to “help.”

Finally he decides to search for women without parents and who want no children. Yep, lots of those in the Philippines 🙂 Apparently he’s also not yet heard of lolos and ates.

I honestly don’t know how this “help” business became a Philippines-only thing. Even among Western couples, assuming you stay married long enough (and maybe that’s the problem) someday you will be “helping” some family member(s). When my maternal grandfather got cancer (I was 12) he came to live with us. My maternal grandmother had a stroke and lived in a nursing home. I was too young to know the details but I have to assume my father shelled out some cash for the care of those inlaws. In those days it was part of the deal. Few women worked and the guy paid for his family and quite possibly hers as well. And she in turn took care of everyone, including his parents. The kids stayed out of the way and learned the hard and unpleasant truth about Poligrip.

In my childhood neighborhood this was quite common. Grandparents lived with their children/grandchildren. Are we so delusional that we don’t realize who paid or at least “helped.” Today we take the elderly in less often, preferring to farm them out to assisted living centers; BTW, you all have my permission to off me with a 357 before sending me to one of those. But regardless, someone’s got to pay.

OK, this piece is getting morbid which wasn’t my intention. My intention was to tell you all to man the hell up and pay – or at least contribute.

The best way to work this all out in a Fil-Am relationship is a radical one; talk to each other about it. I won’t get into too many of the specifics of what Janet and I do and don’t do, because frankly it’s none of your damn business 🙂 but we’ve talked about it from the beginning of our marriage, continue to talk about it regularly, make decisions together, and then take action. Or sometimes choose not to take action.

I know guys who claim that they have never “helped” their Philippines family. There is a name for that kind of husband in the Philippines – a liar 🙂 OK, there’s another name for such a husband – horny. Take your pick.

I know guys who claim that they have never “helped” their Philippines family. There is a name for that kind of husband in the Philippines – a liar 🙂

I also know foolhardy guys who wildly pay for everything, wanting to improve the quality of life for their new family. Of course it’s their money and if they want to buy an aircon for every room in their family’s home, or get each of their BILs a motorbike, and each SIL an ipad, then I need to ask these fools one thing and one thing only – how do I become of member of that family?

I have known plenty of guys on both the too little and too much end of the spectrum. Eventually it hurts the marriage and they have to find a moderate solution.

The following are some of the areas of “helping” you might need to discuss. I am not going to tell you what to do or not to do (what am I crazy); I just want to list areas of consideration:

Emergencies – I consider emergencies to involve major medical problems or funerals but it’s possible for your BIL to consider that motorcycle he wants you to buy to be an emergency. You and your wife must come to an agreement on what constitutes an emergency. I’d recommend leaving the BIL out of that discussion.

BTW, just because you agree that there is an emergency does not mean you are responsible for paying for the entire emergency. I told the story recently about Janet’s uncle’s funeral; we did contribute, but just a modest amount of the cost.

Monthly Assistance – Many couples send an allowance to help the family with recurring bills. The advantage I suppose is that sending a set amount is easy. The disadvantage is that you may not be positive how it got used. Instead of a sack of rice or two, it could be going for a motorbike payment.

Education – Many Filipinas, wanting a better life for their younger siblings or cousins, send back money for education. The good news is that private education and college in the Philippines can be quite inexpensive. OTOH, if someone mentions the term “International School,” start taking out a loan or run.

It’s not unusual for the sister married to the kano to propose the following Pay it Forward type of arrangement: “I will pay for your college and you will work and contribute to the next kid’s college.”

Misc. – Janet and I have contributed small amounts of money for a variety of things: doctors appointments, meds, school clothing and supplies, etc. The amount is generally trivial.

Of course with all this you get into the question of who pays. If your wife does not work, the answer’s simple dude – you pay. If your wife works it gets more complex; do you ask her to pay out of her paycheck or share the expense. I am of the old school way of thinking that all the money that comes in is ours jointly, regardless of whose paycheck it came from. Actually I am from the old school way of thinking that all the money that comes in is hers, but let’s not tell Janet that 🙂

BTW, if you are as lucky as me to have a really nice Philippines family (and in my modest experience most are) you will be thanked for your efforts from here until your death bed.  Everyone will remember that last year you paid for the meds, bought a school uniform, contributed a small amount to the funeral, etc. Enjoy being the hero. You don’t get those accolades very often in my culture!

 

 

 

 

Sickness and Death in the Philippines

Note: There’s not a lot of humor in the following piece. Next time – I promise!

Sunday morning Janet got up early to check her messages. I wasn’t surprised. Her department at work is short-handed and she sort of expected to get called in on her day off. She’s an Asst. Manager and I am very proud of her, but this crap happens all too often.

She threw on some clothes and I expected to hear that she’d gotten called in. Instead she only said, “my uncle died.”

“What? You mean the one who was sick?” Actually in my pre-awake haze I’d gotten that wrong. Another uncle’s wife had been ill and there had been several calls and drama about that over the previous week. A young woman in her early 30s she’d been going to doctors for months and they hadn’t yet solved the problem. In the end the family decided that she should travel to her parents’ home for rest and recuperation. But what to do about her three children? Her husband would come home to care for them and my mother in law volunteered to care for one of the kids, who immediately moved in with the family.

My mother in law has raised ten kids, three of whom are young and still live at home. In addition, she has two baby/toddler grandkids who live next door and spend much of their day with grandma. In fact so much of their day is spent with her that they call her “mama.” It’s common in the Philippines.

She has made it very clear that if Janet and I ever have a child and if we would like to drop off the child for a little while – oh, say six months – that would be fine with her! She’s had a lot of kids and grandkids, but no white babies with long noses yet 🙂

So it was no surprise that she took on her brother’s child so that the child’s mother could recover. Unfortunately, the woman doesn’t truly think she will recover and worries about what to do with her children after her death.

So naturally, early in the morning, I got the various family members confused. “No, not her,” Janet said. “My other uncle. Another of my mother’s brothers. You remember.” And I did remember meeting him and his being a nice guy. He too couldn’t wait until Janet had her “white baby.”

“What happened?” I asked. Take the following account with a grain of salt, because it’s third hand and told in a different language.

“His leg was hurting and they took him to the hospital in Dalaguete.” Now hospital is a misnomer here; the small town of Dalaguete, in Southern Cebu, has little more than a clinic. In the clinic, Uncle complained that the pain was greater and he could not move his leg. Though not deemed critical, the situation was serious enough that they recommended he be referred to a hospital in Cebu City.

His wife was told by friends that she ought to apologize for any arguments they had had. This is apparently a common belief in the Philippines before death, where spirits that have unresolved conflicts can’t fly free. But in her view the condition wasn’t serious enough for the apology. She and other friends and relatives sat by Uncle, who had fallen asleep, as they awaited to arrange the transfer. Unfortunately Uncle had not fallen asleep; he’d passed away in his sleep.

The family was stunned as was Janet. Her Uncle was in his latter 50s; still relatively young; younger than Janet’s geriatric husband. And he was relatively healthy.

An autopsy was performed. It showed that he’d had a wound on the affected leg and apparently an infection traveled to the brain.

Janet was devastated by the loss of her uncle. The day was spent with lots of phone conversations and Facebook messages.

And of course when a death occurs you can’t help but think of one thing – your own death.

“I changed my mind,” Janet said. “If I die you don’t have to ship my body back to the Philippines. Just cremate me.”

“Why did you decide that?”

“It’s too expensive.”

“I’m sure I can manage. I’d call your mom and see what she wanted done. But what are you talking about? You’re 27. You’re not dying. You will at least make it till we retire in the Philippines in two years.”

“Well it’s too expensive.”

“Speaking of expensive, don’t spend much on my funeral. I don’t care – I’ll be dead.”

Of course this led to the most important question and the one that I knew was coming: should we contribute to Uncle’s funeral expenses, or more accurately, how much should we contribute?

“How much do funerals cost in the Philippines?” I asked.

“It’s very expensive. I know how much was spent for my lola’s coffin.”

I Googled it and actually found lots of information on funeral costs in the Philippines. Of course, just as in the US, you could spend nearly any amount, from 10,000P to 1,000,000P.

After some back and forth discussion I proposed a figure. Janet scrunched her nose. I wasn’t sure if that meant the figure was too little or too much. “Ask your mom how much it’s all gonna cost and then we can decide,” I said. But we certainly decided that while we were ok with contributing we were not going to pay the whole thing.

At night Janet called her mom again. After getting all the latest news Janet proposed our contribution. Her mom countered the figure – lower.

“Mom says you get a 20% discount,” Janet said and we both laughed; the first laugh of the day for Janet. In reality the amount was modest and once again showed me that for all the complaints from some expats about their Filipina’s family, I have a great one!

BTW, here’s another example of how wonderful my Filipino family is. Janet’s mom complained because her 19 year old son, now gainfully employed in Cebu City, called her 4 times to make sure she was OK. She had just lost her favorite brother and was no doubt heartbroken. But mom was amused and annoyed that the son wouldn’t leave her alone.

As with all deaths which occur suddenly, there were lots of comments all day about what a good thing it was that Uncle didn’t suffer.

My attitudes toward my own death have changed so much over the years. When I was 20 I was positive that I would “live fast and die young.” By middle age I figured I would live fairly long, not enjoy it too much and work till I died. Now at 62 I find myself at times a bit scared. I have so much to live for and don’t want to lose a moment of it!

P.S. Watching a movie Janet just leaned over and told me, “I want a baby more than ever.” We all think of our mortality in different ways. Clearly I have some work to do before I go 🙂

 

Dave’s Tips For a Successful Fil-Am Marriage – Volume 1

It recently occurred to Janet and I that we are approaching our 2nd anniversary. This blog was originally dedicated to describing the joys of a newly-wedded Fil-Am couple. At almost 2 years I may have to change the focus to a mature and experienced Fil-Am couple; cranky even (OK, that’s just the male half of the couple).

In addition, in my previous forays into marriage I visited many couples therapists. Usually these pleasant engagements occurred when my ex would sweetly say, “honey – go with me to therapy or get the hell out!”

I counted the other day (this is how exciting my daily life is) and came up with six different couples therapists I have seen, though fortunately none with Janet. In addition, there was the couples therapy group I was a member of for several years. Of the eight couples that worked successfully together to improve their marital lives, I am pretty sure that one or two pairs are still married.

The point of all this is that clearly I am now an expert in the area of Fil-Am marriage (and marriage in general) and so finally feel capable of dispensing “Dave’s Tips For a Successful Fil-Am Marriage.” Read it at your own risk. You have been warned!

1. Learn to speak her language: No, I am not talking about learning Tagalog or Visayan, though that’s not a bad idea and I know one or two guys who have actually learned to speak Filipino well enough to not be laughed at throughout the Philippines.

Me? Janet has taught me the Visayan words for all the body parts (or at least the good ones) as well as a few intimate acts. When Janet told her mother what she had taught me her mother yelled, “Why would you teach him that!” Because it’s fun – that’s why. At age 62 I now get to talk dirty in a new language and am having a blast.

But actually what I meant when I said you should learn her language – is English. English, you ask? That’s what we Americans and Canadians and British and Australians speak. That’s the language our Filipina brides ought to learn better. That’s the language we, as native speakers, ought to be teaching our Filipina brides. Wrong!!

Don’t kid yourself: it’s not your responsibility to teach her English. It’s your responsibility to learn her English! Think you’re gonna get her to stop using terms like “nosebleed,” or “open/shut the light?” Nor could I ever get Janet to stop calling me “Sir Dave.” Come to think about it why would I want her to stop 🙂

Despite the fluency of many Filipinas, English can be tricky. Lately, Janet’s gotten into baking. The other day she asked if she could find “coqua” here. She described it as a chocolate baking powder. I assured her that chocolate baking powder was easy to get but I didn’t know about coqua. “I’ll look it up. How do you spell it?”

“Cocoa,” she answered.

“Oh, you mean cocoa.”

“No, coqua.”

“Don’t worry. We can get some Hershey’s coqua at the store.”

So bone up on your Filipino English, guys. You’re gonna need it.

2. Find the best place for lechon: There’s the old adage “a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” In this case your silo of a stomach is irrelevant. You’re a kano; you can eat whatever crap kanos eat. But she will miss all of her native foods.

Before Janet arrived I thought I had done the right thing. I’d bought a rice cooker, and a good one at that, and scoped out several Asian markets and a Filipino restaurant. ‘That should do it,’ I thought. Wrong! Despite the stereotype that they are poor Filipinas who mostly subsist on rice, and only white rice at that, her palate is as varied as yours; for example, sometimes KFC will do and other times is has to be Popeyes 🙂

But seriously, just as if you lived abroad you might miss a New York steak, your fave gouda, or if you’re me, Kraft Mac and Cheese, she will miss all her favorites. Sometimes you will look everywhere and find something and declare “Eureka! I found it,” only to be told that that brand isn’t very good. Janet has been trying to find a good chicharon (pork rinds) for 2 years with no success. Sure we can find chicharon but not the good stuff. BTW, for those really interested, Carcar is the chicharon capital of the Philippines, so if you want the good stuff it’s only 8000 miles (and a 2 hour drive south of Cebu City) away.

BTW, for those really interested, Carcar is the chicharon capital of the Philippines, so if you want the good stuff it’s only 8000 miles (and a 2 hour drive south of Cebu City) away.

Sometimes it’s the simplest things. When we first arrived Janet wanted corned beef. No problem, I told her, and picked up a can of Hormel’s. “Yuck,” she said. “This is not corned beef.” “It says corned beef and it’s made by Hormel, the king of junk meat,” I replied.

All the Asian stores we have been to do not carry real Philippines corned beef and Janet has been missing it. But then a miracle happened. A couple weeks ago for her birthday a friend brought Janet a couple of tins of corned beef. A certain amount of begging was required to get the friend to reveal her special source. These are the sorts of things you must do to keep your wife happy and avoid the couples therapist, who wouldn’t know where Filipino corned beef can be gotten anyway.

3. Get to know (and like) the family: I know, I know. You married her, not her family. You have enough troubles dealing with your own family and if you’re like me you deliberately live thousands of miles away from your ancestral home and return rarely. And of course you and your bride live many thousands of miles away from the Philippines. And even if you two eventually decide to live in the Philippines, you will heed the words of many wise expats and live two islands away from the family; that’ll keep you from having to deal with them. Umm – not quite!

Janet has nine brothers and sisters and while it’s taken two years of intensive study, I now know all their names and pretty much know who is who. Since I am told about them in intimate detail, I figured I might as well learn to accept that fact. So should you.

But if you’re fool enough to listen to me, you ought to take it a step further – get to know the family and like them.

We’ve returned each year to Janet’s hometown in Alcoy and frankly the family, while happy to see Janet, seems fascinated to see me. Actually, they seem most fascinated that I am interested in them and wish in some small way to be part of them. As I’ve detailed before, the kids are shy, but watch what I do like a hawk.

I suppose when it comes to the family, the greatest fear on the part of many husbands of Filipinas is financial. We hear horror stories and figure the easiest way to not have our cash parted from us, until we’re cold and dead,  is to stay far from the family.

While I suppose it’s a risk, I just don’t agree. Get to know her family, her friends.  Soon they will spill the beans on your bride and tell you everything imaginable. You want to know everything don’t you? No? Then why did you marry a Pinay?

And if someone asks for money (that you don’t have or don’t wish to give), describing in their best English what they need the money for – tell ’em you’re having a nosebleed.

Tip of the Day: If you’re visiting or moving to the Philippines and are worried that everyone will think you are the aforementioned rich kano – well, you’re right. Every cousin, hell even lolo, is on Facebook. They know the car you drive, the clothes you wear, the square footage of your house, what version of iPhone you have, etc. Why? Because you are an idiot and post all these things!

So what’s my tip? Think Jed Clampett. Remember the Beverly Hillbillies, where Jed had something like $60 million, back in the day when $60 mil was real money? Did he drive a Mercedes, dress in Armani, and post it all on FB? Nope. Here’s how he rolled. Do the same and you won’t be considered the rich kano. Or, only somewhat rich 🙂

first_shot_beverly_hillbillies

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manila is a S*ithole and Other Words of Wisdom

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Meet the Parents

Janet and I were preparing for our first meeting. We’d known each other online for nearly a year but hadn’t met. I’d proposed that she meet me in Cebu City the previous December when I was preparing my first trip to the Philippines but she turned me down cold. I was honest and told her I intended to meet several of my chatmates during the trip.

Her response was right to the point. “I don’t want someone who just wants to ‘collect and select.’” Frankly, up until that conversation the notion of “collecting and selecting” sounded like a pretty good thing but I understood and respected her point of view. Unlike some Filipinas, she was not willing to give up her values just to meet a foreigner, no matter how guapo.

In another posting I’ll get into the details, sordid as they are, about how that all turned around. The main point is that by the summer of 2012 we’d decided to meet. By then I knew enough about the culture of the Philippines to be unsurprised when Janet proposed that we spend part of our time together traveling to the small town of Alcoy, Cebu and meet her family.

I’d been in Cebu City before. A metro area of about 3 million I liked it, despite the pollution and mad traffic. But Alcoy had nothing in common with Cebu City, other than the provincial address. From Cebu City, Janet and I took a non-aircon bus for the three hour drive south to Alcoy. It seemed to take most of that time just to get out of the metro area, but once we did it was a different world. The highway hugged the coastline and many of the towns that we passed had wonderful views of the ocean. But none were as beautiful as Alcoy. The further we traveled south, the more I saw what I viewed as “real” Filipinos, with the attendant chickens, roosters, cows, and goats on the side of the road. Vendors constantly climbed on the bus, carrying Costco-sized bundles, hawking their food treats. Janet munched on a bag of chicharon; pork rinds. It was a different world from Manila and Cebu City.

Prior to arriving, Janet and I suggested to her parents that we take the family to a local restaurant for a meet and greet. Janet’s mom would have none of that, insisting we meet at the family home. This terrified Janet. “My home is very poor,” she repeated dozens of times over the weeks. “Are you sure you want to go there?”

“Of course I want to go there and of course I want to meet your family,” I told her, loving the fact that she was being both protective of me and her family. But as a traveler who loves the road less traveled I built in my mind an image of poor, provincial Philippines and couldn’t wait to experience it.

Her fear about my meeting her parents was equally intense. “They are very old,” she’d say often.

“But you told me they’re younger than me,” I reminder her.

“Yes, but they look much older. They are just poor Filipinos. You’re a very guapo foreigner,” she threw in, already knowing how to divert my attention.

Once in Alcoy, getting to her ancestral home takes a little doing. We found a motorized trike willing to take us there easily enough; he probably sized up the rich kano and figured a big payday. We exited the highway and bumped downward along a dirt road, passing gaping children, not used to foreigners in their neighborhood, cows, pigs, and the ubiquitous roosters. Even at my small size, I banged my head on the tiny trike’s crossbeam several times as we hopped along. All the while I wondered to myself, “just how bad will the house be and what will the family be like and how should I react.” I reminded myself that I’d spent time in a mud hut in Kenya and shanties in Tobago, so I could take anything.

Lechon anyone? The sign was made to welcome me the 1st time I visited Janet's family.
Lechon anyone? The sign was made to welcome me the 1st time I visited Janet’s family.

The trike stopped with a jolt. On the side of the house we were facing was a large banner, “Welcome Dave Weisbord,” with photos of me and my family. Many of Janet’s family members were outside waiting for us. In a blur I was introduced to everyone. All I could think of was how touched I was by the welcoming banner. Lunch was already set up with the pig next to the table and chairs. The banner was magically whisked inside and hung over the soon to be devoured pig.

The Spread
The Spread

Wave after wave of people came in for the food; the adults including the guest of honor first, followed by kids, neighbors, neighbor kids. Janet is one of ten children and I was amazed at how efficiently people came in and out and were fed. I am sure 60 people came to eat and gawk at the foreigner.

At the Family Home
At the Family Home

I am sure 60 people came to eat and gawk at the foreigner.

As for the house that I had built up in my mind as part of a shanty town; it was modest but clean and comfortable. It wasn’t really that different from an American home; a couch and chairs in the living room, as well as a small TV and videoke system. The dining room was well set up. There were several electric fans which actually made the home cool, despite the mid-day heat. The porch was the main hangout for the kids and young adults and each time I was invited to sit there a flurry of pictures were snapped, everyone wanting to be photographed next to the kano.

Of course there was no indoor plumbing and I was told by Janet to avoid using the outhouse. Thanks goodness that at my advanced age bladder retention is still – well retained.

And what about Janet’s elderly parents that I’d been led to imagine were on death’s door? Both looked healthy and vital. I took Janet aside.

“I don’t know what you were talking about. Your home is perfectly nice.”

“But it’s poor.”

“And your parents. You made it sound like they were on their last legs. They look their age; younger than me.”

“But you’re more guapo.”

“Anyway, I like it here.”

After everyone had been fed, her dad brought out the Red Horse and we had a glass or two together. I asked to talk to her parents. With Janet and her younger sister translating I explained to them where we would be going on our trip and what we would be doing. I assured them over and over I would take very good care of their daughter. While they did not speak much English it was also clear that they understood it well enough. I asked if they had any questions. By now I wasn’t just talking to the parents. The entire family had gathered, neighbors were leaning in through windows. At least 40 people were listening intently. It was like one of those old Paine Webber commercials; when I talked – Filipinos listened.

Her dad calmly asked about how I would handle the differences, the difference between my being rich and Janet being poor. He had clearly thought out what was his greatest concern. I started out by gently correcting him. “Well, the truth is I am not rich.” But I immediately realized the foolishness of such a statement. Any way you look at it, by their standards, I am rich. All I could do was assure her dad that like all couples we would talk and resolve any differences.

Her parents seemed satisfied so I looked around and asked if anyone else had any questions. They all giggled and the Visayan flew. Finally, her brother asked in English the $64,000 question, “So, are you getting married?” Everyone laughed and cheered.

I asked him, already knowing the answer, “Are you a gambling man?” He nodded. “Well, there are no guarantees yet but in my country we would say that it was a good bet.”

More cheering and laughter. I had passed the first test!