Tag Archives: money

Dollars vs. Pesos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“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!

 

 

 

 

Retirement: “The Decision” – (Hey, if LeBron Can Do It…)

If you’re a reader of this blog it should come as no surprise that I not only love my Filipina wife, Janet, but love the Philippines as well. Since I am approaching retirement and can almost taste it I am ready to announce that in a couple years Janet and I will be taking our talents, not to South Beach as LeBron once did, but to the Philippines. I’ll get into my reasons shortly, but first a bit of convoluted background.

Nine years ago, at age 53, I was divorcing. There was a nearly infinite list of things I had to pull off to survive the life change for myself and my two youngish kids. But a year later I popped my head out of the ground and looked around at a new life. I had obtained a nice job (I was a contract employee previously, and self-employed before that), had medical benefits (no Obamacare back then), a new house with a giant mortgage which I could pay (barely). The kids too had survived the trauma and were prospering. We had just taken our first vacation together as a threesome.

The only thing that seemed impossible was retirement. I always had mixed feelings about the classic American retirement scenario anyway. For one thing when I was young and nuts I was sure I would never live to retirement age. I worked a series of jobs which paid squat and then was self-employed, which paid squat + 1. I got married and had kids and drank the American koolaid which stated that anything above and beyond the bills had to go to the wife and kids.

But I did have a bit of fortuitous luck. My then wife, better known here as Ex Number Two, had a bit of money. In point of reality, her parents had a bit of money, which she knew (and told me constantly) would someday be hers. Therefore the attitude tended to be that whatever we saved would be supplemented by my inlaws impending demise.

Besides the inlaws cash, I told myself, I was smart, had talent and someday would strike it rich, either by selling a novel or screenplay, or if that didn’t work out, I was surely clever enough to rob a convenience store.

I actually had a screenplay with genuine Hollywood producers (a story for another day) but somehow didn’t exactly make Spielberg money.

So, I found myself at 54 on my own and finally doing OK. I did have a 401k and it actually had almost a thousand dollars in it. I began to do the right thing and started to save a small amount into my retirement fund. I did the math and found at my current pace I could successfully retire at 85.  I resigned myself to working till I died.

At the same time I had decided to fulfill one of the biggest goals on my bucket list – an African safari. I went to Kenya, and after a life changing experience on safari, spent a week relaxing at a beach town named Malindi. I loved it there and met several European expats living on their pensions. Based on their encouragement it occurred to me that I could live in Kenya on my Social Security plus my 401k, that is if I started to save like a madman.

I came home excited, began to save more into my retirement funds and dreamed of the possibilities. The only thing I worried about was women. As a guy, I know that makes me unique.

I wondered, whether as an ancient retiree/expat there would be the opportunity to have romantic relationships with even semi-attractive women. After all, I’d have the vast Social Security windfall. And so I went to the Internet, where all good things are discovered, to find information about multi-cultural relationships between geriatric old farts and – well anyone.

My search led me to a forum, run by a complete nut job who exemplified the old adage “those who can’t do – teach.” The men there, of varied ages and mental illnesses, discussed the pros and cons of living and dating in a variety of foreign countries. Asia was a hot spot and the Philippines seemed to get more comments than any other country. Like most Americans, I knew virtually nothing about the Philippines, but was a quick study.

As I have documented before, I found my mentor Pete, one of the few non-nut jobs on the forum,  joined Cherry Blossoms at his recommendation, and met my darling wife, Janet. And the rest as they say, is history.

Many men travel to the Philippines to find the love of their life (or sometimes a few dozen loves of their lives) but have nothing but complaints about the place. But for me, as a experienced traveler, I found that I loved not just Filipinas, but the Philippines itself and began to wonder whether this was the place to spend my dotage. I can now state that it is!

———-

Most of our reasons for choosing the Philippines as a retirement destination are pretty ordinary and straightforward. So here goes the list in no order of importance:

The Family: Unlike some expats I am not looking to avoid Janet’s family. I like them. What’s more surprising is that it’s possible they like me. Of course, once we move there, they will get to know me better, so that might change.

Most importantly is that Janet will be close to her family. She can see them whenever any problem or bit of drama occurs. Since she has nine brothers and sisters, I expect that to be often.

Cost/Style of Living: This one’s obvious. The cost of living is much cheaper, especially if you are willing to avoid living like a rich kano. If you can’t avoid those things (Western foods and drink, luxuries, girls and more girls) your pension will be gone before you will be.

But even more important to me than the cost of living is the style of living. I have written about this before. In the West how much crap do we buy because we can, or to fill up a hole inside us, or because cash is burning a hole in our pocket, or because all our friends have the same crap? In the Philippines, while I have no desire to live in a Nipa hut, the pressure to buy all sorts of stuff is dwarfed compared to the pressure of going to the beach or hanging with friends and family, or chasing Janet.

I have already begun my simplification process. I’ve eliminated all sorts of things that I used to do and buy without thinking much about it. Therapy at $135/hour – gone, to be replaced by my sweet partner, the aforementioned relaxing beach, and a San Miguel or two. $50 haircuts – gone, along with my hair.

My criteria for eliminating things is – will I be doing/buying this in retirement? If the answer is no, I’ve dumped it. Amazing how much I have saved.

The People: I don’t want to rag on all Americans nor pretend that all Filipinos are wonderful, but in general I like the people in the Philippines or at the very least, I like the difference. I do not want to be one of those expats who only hangs out with other expats.

The Sun/Heat: Apparently this is a getting older thing, like retiring in Arizona or Florida. I hated the sun and heat when I was young. If it broke 80 I was unhappy. Now if it’s under 80 I am unhappy. Janet and I freeze in the fall and winter and dream of it getting warmer here. When it finally does and her bones warm up, she won’t let me turn on the aircon. I am sure saving electricity is her motivation 🙂

But I dream of a retirement where it is always warm and the ocean, pool or shower can cool me off if necessary.

Service: No, I’m not talking about customer service in the Philippines, which is legendary, though not necessarily great. I am talking about service oriented providers. Today we had a clogged drain and called the plumber. Including my frequent-plumber discount I paid $330. In the Philippines it might have cost 330 pesos.

Housekeepers, yayas, yard work, plumbers, mechanics, etc. all are inexpensive in the Philippines. Of course there is always the issue of finding a good person, but that hassle can be navigated, particularly since as a cheapass I will be thinking about the savings.

Adventure/Travel: I still love travel and adventure. With 7000+ islands I figure I’ll have to live to 150 to see them all. Sounds like a plan. That and visit all the Asian countries that are easy to get to from the Philippines.

I still have an adventuresome spirit and while I might not be interested in death defying stunts, I am interested in exploring a new world. And while Janet grew up in the Philippines, she’s really not seen much of it. I can’t wait to experience it together.

We might even do a bit of sleeping, as shown in the picture above.

Happiness: It sounds hopelessly sappy but Filipinos are fundamentally positive and happy people. Despite the poverty of many, they are happier than most Americans. I look forward to having some of that rub off on me. In point of fact, it already has.

Next Decision: Where? After all it’s a big country.

 

 

Is Your Filipina Wife Costing/Saving You Money?

The most negative stereotype about marrying a Filipina revolves around money; how much she might want, how much to help her family, and how many pairs of shoes to buy to stay happily married.

Janet’s lived here about 11 months and we’ve been married 10, which no doubt makes me an expert. 🙂 I certainly haven’t kept track of it, and she’d kill me if I did, but my guess is that Janet has actually saved us money. On our weekly grocery shopping runs, she’s even better at pinching pennies than I am, and I’m pretty damn good. And once she found out the dishwasher takes about two hours to run (with the associated electricity costs) she started hand washing the dishes most of the time “to save electricity.” No sense in my saying that as a Software Engineer, we can afford the electricity; she still hand washes.

Yes, like most women, she loves the malls, but her purchases tend to get made at H&M or Forever 21, bastions of inexpensive clothing for young women. When she sees a $25 shirt she inevitably exclaims, “OMG that’s so expensive,” and passes it by.

But recently she upped the saving money ante and decided to take on Ford Motor Company. To my shock, as a 61 year old who has never purchased a new American car (only imports), I was preparing to buy a Ford plug in hybrid (determined to spend more on electricity to make up for what we save on the dishwasher). The dealership had kindly given me a car to test for two days. I hemmed and hawed, each time getting  my payments a bit lower, until I was sold. They found the exact car I wanted in the color Janet wanted. She had no interest in the car; it could have been a ’91 Yugo, as long as it was ruby red!

Now Ford has been having a teeny tiny problem with the EPA lately. Seems their methodology of how they rate their hybrid cars’ MPG had come into question. I had been reading about this while negotiating on the car, but didn’t care. My previous car was getting 18-19 MPG using premium, so any way I looked at it, I was going to save money. Nonetheless, Ford lost with the EPA and had to revise their estimates downward. The day I was to take delivery on the car, Ford announced on their website that current owners of their hybrids would be getting a check to compensate them. I certainly didn’t expect to be included but called Ford just in case. They confirmed that the cutoff date was two weeks earlier and while they apologized profusely, I would not be getting a check.

Over dinner that night, just before I was scheduled to pick up the car, I told Janet the story. “They should give you the money,” she said. I agreed but said I understood that there had to be a cutoff date and I hadn’t even gotten the car yet. “The salesman should get you the money,” she insisted. I maturely reminded her that salesmen in the U.S. don’t have much influence on gigantic corporations. “Then cancel the car,” she said.

“What?” I laughed, assuming she was joking.

“Tell them to give you the money or cancel the car.”

Now being the thickheaded husband I am, it took Janet several repetitions of this mantra until I realized she was totally serious and not joking. By that point I wanted the car and didn’t want to cancel the deal, but I realized my wife was drawing a line in the sand and I had to respond.

“But surely you can understand that the salesman can’t…”

“Tell them to give you the money or cancel the car.”

“Ok, I will talk to the dealership and ask them what they can do.”

“Just tell them you’re not buying the car if they don’t do something.”

I arrived at the dealership and my smiling salesman greeted me, confident that I’d been reeled in. I took him aside and confided that I had a “marital problem.” I told him the story and he said he could check with Ford the next day. I told him not to bother; that I had already given Ford my VIN # and my car didn’t count against the rebate.

“I can’t go home with the car, unless you do something for me. So that I can tell my wife.” The wife who’s less than half my age and no more than half my weight.

Of course the salesman gave me the typical – “we’re making very little on the deal” bullshit.

Finally he said, “I can give you a set of all-weather mats. I’m sure I can swing that but it’ll take me about a week.” The mats are about $100 and in my wet part of the country I usually buy a set of these anyway. So, I agreed and we both breathed a sigh of relief.

I brought the car home triumphantly. Janet immediately wanted to know, “What did they do for you?” I told her about the mats. “How much do they cost?” she asked.

“Not sure. I think quite a lot. It’s a good deal and they did it only because of you.”

The next week I went to pick up the mats. Janet, who had not gone with me previously for the long process of car shopping and dealing, came with me to get her mats and meet the salesman. So, now I had the new red car, the hot, fierce negotiating wife, and rubber all-weather mats. All was right with the world.

How to be a “Sweet’N Low Daddy”

How much money should you give your Filipina girlfriend? How much have your got?

I am going to take a few moments to discuss giving money, gifts or prizes to your girlfriend(s) in the Philippines. I am not going to discuss how much to give your wife. What do you think I am – nuts? I am a happily married newlywed and want to stay that way. Besides, Janet is working now and raking in the green; soon I’m gonna hit her up for a loan!

But honestly, you’ve met a cute Filipina and you’ve been chatting daily online for a while. Have you met her yet in the flesh? My rule of thumb was, if you havent’t met her yet, you’re not really in a relationship and why are you giving her money. OTOH, below I will detail a couple instances where I broke that rule.

Now, when I was chatting online I was a very very busy boy. I am sure I chatted and cammed with over 100 women. So for me the problem was not how to find girls but how to eliminate the also-rans, and who should I ultimately choose. If a girl I was chatting with was asking for money or even hinting at it, that made the decision easy. I said no and ended contact with her; ended it sadly a few times. This strikes me as Online Dating 101 behavior. A good girl in the Philippines is not going to ask you for money. Of course a bad girl might not ask you for money either – they know what you’re looking out for also. And frankly while there were many obviously ridiculous reasons to ask for cash (“I need a new webcam to do a show for you”) there were also a few girls who I thought might have been sincere in their needs. Nonetheless my rule was pretty inflexible; yours should be too.

NOTE: When the girl generously proposes performing via cam for you, if only you will provide her with the $75 dollars needed to buy a cam, point out the fact that nowadays you can get a cam for $20. Believe me, she won’t blink. “You cannot get one for that price in the Philippines, Sir.”

When the girl generously proposes performing via cam for you, if only you will provide her with the $75 dollars needed to buy a cam, point out the fact that nowadays you can get a cam for $20.

But seriously, everyone’s different and only you know what you can and cannot reasonably afford. OTOH, just because you can afford it, does that mean you should give it?

For example, do you really need to spend $300/night on that 5- star hotel in Manila? For what – just to impress her with a quality towel to steal? In most cases she will be clueless why the hotel is $300 (as am I) and will think you’re an idiot for spending 12,000 pesos for what is essentially a rented bed that the night before someone screwed a bargirl on.

I can send you to a very nice hotel in Manila for $100/night, she will be suitably impressed, and you can send me the difference.

My rule of thumb in traveling with a companion is to travel the way I normally would. I book the style of hotel I normally book on whatever budget reflects my normal traveling comfort. I eat at the types of restaurants I might normally eat at. So, I don’t spend more to impress someone but I don’t deliberately go cheap just to see what the girl’s reaction will be. Some guys do this and I don’t get it. Why should I be miserable on my own trip?

Besides, my strategy shows her what kind of life she will have with me. If you’re a 5-star guy, be a 5-star guy. If you’re a 2 1/2-star guy, welcome to the club. To beat this dead horse one more time, be the person you truly are with her!

Here’s another point to remember and it’s just human nature – whether in the Philippines or anywhere else. It’s much easier to go up the spending ladder then down. Meaning it’s easier to spend more on your girlfriend than less. If you gave her a $5000 gift for Christmas last year (and if you did please immediately friend me on Facebook) then you’re gonna be hard pressed to give her a $50 gift this year – and live to tell the tale. On the other hand, if you gave her a $50 Christmas gift last year when you were dating, now that you are married you can easily justify bumping it up; a $55 gift means a 10% increase, which is better than a cost of living raise, isn’t it?

Let’s get back to the idea of never giving a girl money who you haven’t met. I think there might be an exception or two. For example, you’re going to meet soon and she needs air, bus or ferry fare to meet you. You should expect to pay. If she’s taking a 7-hour ferry ride (as Janet did) to meet you, don’t just spring for the cheapest ticket; she needs a bed to sleep on and a bag or two of chicharon. If she tells you not to worry, that she can pay, then start worrying; either she’s one of those rare middle class Filipinas I blogged about or one of those not so rare bar girls I won’t blog about.

The other option is to give a girl you’re interested in a small amount of money or a small gift to test her. If you give her a $20 gift and she reacts by calling you a cheap bastard and screams that you’re worse than the five Pinoy boyfriends she has – well, you have your answer. If she is thrilled, then you might have met a really good one. I sent Janet a dozen roses for Valentines Day. She was in heaven, told everyone, and posted pics on Facebook of her with the flowers in every conceivable angle and setting.

On the other hand, a year before, I was chatting with a girl I liked. Our chatting was inconsistent since she only could chat in the Internet Cafe and she was always too broke for the café. I told her I really wanted to chat with her more often to see if we were a good match. I proposed that I would be willing to send her $20 which she would use only for Internet Cafe fees. She agreed and promised she’d only use it for chatting. You can guess the conclusion of the story. A week went by before I heard from her again and at that point she admitted she’d spent the money on her needs. So for the small sum of $20, despite the fact that she had a body you could shake a stick at (if that’s your idea of a good time), I found out she was not the one for me.

The irony of all this is that many men have tired of the hoops they have to jump through to obtain Western women. So, they rationalize (and a good rationale IMO) that a non-Western woman with more modest needs and requirements might be better. Then what happens? Some guys immediately begin treating their Filipina woman like a Western woman and feel the need to shower her with cash and prizes. You should resist that urge.

But who am I to tell you what you can and can’t do with your own money. Maybe you’re Donald Trump and you can afford all the $10,000 hair pieces you want. For a person like that a $1000 gift to your girlfriend might be nothing. Again, if you are in this category, please friend me on Facebook; it’s Dave Weisbord – that’s W-E-I-S-B-O-R-D.

 

 

 

 

Does Poverty Make Filipinos Happy?

I have to acknowledge Spike Milligan’s take on the old cliché that, “money can’t buy you happiness, but it does bring you a more pleasant form of misery.” Why is it that we go to the Philippines and many of us discover happy, friendly, contented people? Something seems wrong with that picture. It’s a shock because as first worlders we’re trained to believe that the only thing that creates true and lasting happiness is cash and plenty of it.

OK, there’s love too; lots of people believe that true happiness comes from love. But sometimes love requires a bit of money also, especially if you’re planning a big Jewish wedding.

And some people will tell you that good health is the key to lifelong happiness. But try finding a decent doctor when you have $1.95 in your bank account.

So, now I have proven that happiness requires money, preferably in dollars not pesos. Why then do Filipinos, most of whom are poor with limited prospects of every being anything but poor, seem so happy? Is it possible that in fact poverty creates happiness?

Riding Carabao
OK, it’s a cliche but pretty happy kids.

Why then do Filipinos, most of whom are poor with limited prospects of every being anything but poor, seem so happy? Is it possible that in fact poverty creates happiness?

I first wondered about this question many years ago when I was on my honeymoon (with wife #2). We went to the Caribbean country of Trinidad and Tobago. The island of Trinidad is bustling and industrious; but Tobago is tropical, poor and laid back. In Tobago, you would not see a car under twenty years old. Few people seemed to have jobs; the few jobs were in tourism and labor was dirt cheap. And yet I observed that the people smiled – and not just while they were waiting for tips. Children laughed and played and I couldn’t help but wonder why; after all, they didn’t live in the U.S., which I had been taught was the universal source of all happiness.

Four years ago I went to Kenya for safari and vacation. Once again I observed that very poor people smiled and seemed pretty damn happy. I actually met many people who lived in mud huts and invited me into their poor homes to share a meal. What the hell did they have to smile about, I wondered? My flooring is oak hardwood; their’s is hard dirt. It made no sense and yet I loved the discovery.

It emphasized what I intuitively knew – that human happiness existed outside of our Western notion of the crap we buy to create it.

And then I came to the Philippines and met many seemingly happy people. OK, mostly I met many happy, cute Filipinas, but you get the idea.

Karaoke always makes Filipinos happy
Karaoke – the source of all happiness in the Philippines

Last month we returned to Alcoy, Cebu for our wedding party. The entire neighborhood gathered to celebrate, play games, sing and dance for hours. They seemed happy and witnessing it truly made me happy. Why such happiness over the wedding of a daughter and a foreigner? Perhaps it was the delicious lechon that kicked off the party. Whatever the reason I loved it and my inlaws were happy that their daughter had married a foreigner who loved the Philippines culture. I don’t know whether I know the culture well enough to love it, but I love the people, or more accurately I love their happiness.

So, what’s the reason for it? I have no easy answers. I have had a lifetime of access to all that a sophisticated culture provides: a consistently full belly, nice home, good job and opportunities, a certain amount of toys, travel. And yet, like many Americans I’ve often struggled with unhappiness, sometimes breaking down into depression and despair.

Dancing Girls
Dancing Girls

When I met Janet and we began our journey together our daily online chats would emphasize the differences:

Sometimes I was worried; she was generally confident.

“What if…?” I would ask; “you mean when,” she would answer.

“I’m afraid of the future,” I would say; “life is short, live it now,” she would reply.

And always she would tell me, “be happy.”

Janet is still a newcomer but she’s lived in the U.S. long enough to know that despite our positive cash flow, Americans are not a bunch of happy campers and even her wonderful, guapo husband can be a depressed mope at times. She doesn’t understand it but gets her happiness fix by singing aloud and calling home, where the latest news is met with laughs and screams of delight.

I hear lots of expats complain, often vehemently about Filipinos and the Philippines. The air is polluted, the traffic sucks, the government is corrupt, the people are unethical, customer service is terrible, street food sucks, and worst of all – the Internet is slow. Yet most of them keep coming back and back. Why? Because Filipinos seem happier; happier than they are. And they hope some of it will rub off. So do I.

Of course, going back to my original question, it’s ridiculous to say Filipinos are happy because they are poor, any more than to suggest that many Americans are miserable because they are rich. It’s a conundrum and I’m still searching for the answer.

Yep, it’s gotta be the lechon!

Lechon after 10 minutes
Lechon after 10 minutes