Tag Archives: Philippines

Why I don’t Blog/Vlog for Cash and Prizes

“It’s a slippery slope” or “once you go down this path” or some such cliche but what I am referring to is the growing number of Philippines expat blogs and vlogs that ask subscribers for money. Now I don’t want to judge anyone who does this; they may need the money to supplement their income. Or they may legitimately be involved in projects that help Filipinos and accept donations toward that end. Or they may owe their shabu dealer. But it’s a slippery slope – there, I’ve said it again.

As we get very close to moving to the Philippines Janet and I have discussed what we might like to do to help (in some modest way) Filipinos in our new community. But the one thing we have decided is that whatever we do we won’t be begging you, dear readers, for money.

Now, I had an experience that gave me some insight into the subtle power that we have in this new media of blogs and vlogs and how the dark side can tempt you (queue Darth Vader breathing).

About a year ago I posted a piece about a neighborhood in Cebu City which was destroyed by fire. My young BIL lived there and his apartment was destroyed. He lost all his possessions (clothing and rice cooker charred to a crisp). Janet and I immediately decided we would send him a little money to help him get back to normal.

The next day I got a note from a subscriber asking if he could “help.” I was taken aback; I didn’t know what to say. “How much?” I finally asked. In the end without thinking much about it, he Paypaled me a little cash and we included that in our donation to my BIL’s recovery. I was shocked, surprised and delighted that someone would care enough to help. But it all happened so fast that I didn’t think of the ramifications.

The next day Janet suggested that I should do a follow-up blog to thank the generous subscriber. That seemed like the right thing to do but I hesitated. I finally told Janet, “I can’t figure out a way to write a thank you without implying that the rest of my deadbeat subscribers ought to do the same.” What if they take it as a subtle hint and I end up with $1000 in donations? I’m repeating myself, but it’s a slippery slope. Of course then we could get my BIL a Zojirushi rice cooker, a 10-cupper with all the bells and whistles!

So in the end I did nothing. I thanked my newly found friend again privately and BTW, we’ve remained friends ever since but I never thanked him publicly. But I am now although I won’t embarrass him by naming names. Thank you anonymous donor for your generosity.

So dear readers be assured that if you too send me money I won’t embarrass you by thanking you by name. No, no – that didn’t come out right. What I mean to say is that if you want to send me money to put in the slots at the Waterfront Mactan Hotel and call it a donation – no, no – that won’t work either.

What I really mean to say is that I won’t ask for your money. I’m a rich kano and don’t need it.

The point of my story is that I understand that it can be tempting. A stranger you’ve never met sends you money over the Internet. Since Janet and I are good people we used the money for a good purpose. But where is the fine line between getting cash and doing a good deed and holding my hand out hoping (and perhaps begging) for a little more cash. That’s a fine line I don’t wish to cross.

I admire the way that many bloggers and vloggers do it. They don’t ask for donations but once in a while mention that someone sent them a box of supplies to help kids. Or they use the small amount of Adsense money they earn to help someone. But some guys have crossed that invisible line and it gives me the creeps. You can hear them subtlety hint for things that they need in order to help others. “Boy, a 60″ flat screen would sure help with our charity work.”

But as I say, I understand from my tiny experience how easy it is to be seduced. So for me it’s easier to “just say no.”

But if you insist, well I don’t want to insult you, so…is PayPal good for you?

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?”


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


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 🙂





“You Don’t Look Like a Drug Dealer…”

I’ve never been one of those paranoid people who believe that the media controls everything and everyone.  We are all human beings and control our own thoughts and destinies. I may have to change my mind.

As an aside, like most American husbands I know who actually controls everything and everyone – my wife. Just kidding, honey 🙂

I’ve been visiting the Philippines for about 5 years now and have been there 8 or 9 times (I’ve lost track). I’ve married a Filipina and as probably many of you know we’re intending to retire in the Philippines next year.

With few exceptions, nobody I know ever said squat. “Where are you going on vacation, Dave.” “The Philippines.” Nothing – crickets. Or maybe, “The Philippines again? You must like it there.”

When I would return I’d get the standard, “How was your vacation?” questions and the standard, “Glad you had a good time.” And that was it.

Let’s face it, most Americans know more about the changing shape and size of Kim Kardashian’s loboot than they do about the Philippines.  They know it’s a tropical island (ok, 7107 islands to be anally precise but who’s counting). They think it’s sort of in Asia. And if they are old enough they vaguely know something about MacArthur returning there, though since he’s long dead it’s possible that ain’t gonna happen.

That’s about it.

But all it takes is for Philippines President, Rodrigo Duterte, to kill a few (ok, a few thousand) drug dealers, and talk a little smack about President Obama and now everyone I know is an expert on the Philippines.

“That guy’s a loose canon.” I’ve heard that comment often enough that I have to assume CNN is promoting it as the new slogan for Philippines’ tourism, replacing “It’s more fun in the Philippines.” Frankly with Duterte in office I think it is more fun in the Philippines, but then I love Scorcese movies and the Taken series . My son and I once counted the number of people Liam Neeson killed in Taken and let’s just say he could be very useful in the Philippines. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets a call.

Janet also has gotten a negative remark or two and handles them with her normal graceful aplomb – by reaming the remarker with a new one 🙂

And of course I have also gotten plenty of, “Are you still thinking of moving there?” followed by a roll of the eyes and a mumbled, ‘That guy’s crazy.’

This rose to the height of bizarre nonsense just the other day. As part of the downsizing of all my junk, which I recently documented here, I sold off my Nikon cameras, lenses, flashes, bags and associated crap. I decided to go the typical old geezer or traveling geezer route with a point and shoot camera. Of course having owned plenty of nice cameras in my life I wanted a good one that I could still get decent pics from and use for vlogging. And BTW, you should all get ready to be inundated with fascinating videos to come on my YouTube Channel here!

I chose the camera I wanted, found that Best Buy had an open boxed one at a discount and Janet and I headed over. As I’m playing with the camera, I’m telling the salesman what I will be up to as a soon to be retiree. Of course he’s glancing at the old guy’s cute wife, but at this point in my life that just comes with the territory.

“Where in Asia are you retiring?” he asks.

“The Philippines,” I say and pointed to Janet adding, “that’s where my wife’s from.”

“Well at least you and your wife don’t look like drug dealers. I guess you’ll be safe.”

“I take it you watch CNN,” I replied giggling. “OK, I’ll take the camera. You can watch me dodge bullets on YouTube.”

I guess the point is that people who didn’t know the Philippines from a hole in the wall now are experts. I find myself defending the country, Duterte and our future plans. Now as a defensive guy I don’t mind doing that but when you are debating it only works if the other person knows something about the subject. Someone who’s only seen a 30 second sound bite knows nothing about the Philippines.

“I hear that loose canon’s gonna kick all the American military out of the South part of the Philippines,” a co-worker informed me. She actually said it like it was a bad thing.

“I guess at your age they won’t confuse you with American military,” she added positively.

“Yeah, I might be able to pass.”

Although if I start smoking a pipe in the Philippines I suspect I could pass for MacArthur.

P.S. If you’re wondering why I posted the particular pic of Pres. Duterte above, which has nothing to do with the drug wars or his row with Pres. Obama, it’s because I think it represents the real Duterte – which is a very good thing!




Guitarmaking in the Philippines

One of the questions I get often is, “What the hell are you going to do when you retire?” Of the many things that concern me getting ready to retire (when, where, how much cash will we need) this is one that I don’t worry about too much.

For one thing I am very good at being lazy. Spend an entire Sunday watching movies or surfing the Net – no problem. Spend three weeks on vacation in the Philippines hitting every beach, drinking San Miguels, trying to understand Filipinos, having fun with Janet and her family –  why can’t it be four weeks.

I work hard but don’t live to work!

But I am unusual in that not only do I have a lazy character but I also have an obsessive one. I set up and began this blog 1 1/2 years ago while on my 8-week sabbatical from work, intending for it to be one of my obsessions when I retire.

In short, when I get interested in something I get obsessive. Find a writer I like; next thing you know I have read all his books. Discover the Philippines; next thing you know I’ve visited 8 times and gotten married to my lovely Janet. This seems to be my pattern. Between being lazy and being obsessive I rarely suffer from boredom.

Twenty years ago when my son was a newborn, I got the wild idea to make a guitar. You would think that between running a business and caring for a baby I would have had enough to do but apparently I didn’t. I bought the one book in existence on how to build a jazz archtop guitar and told my then wife that I was going to do it.

She rolled her eyes and said, “Well, no loud power tools and nasty wood dust. We have a baby, you know.”

“No problem. The book tells you how to do it with hand tools.”

So as insane as it sounds, looking back on it, I began. I hit garage sales to buy old, cheap hand tools, obtained the materials and followed along with the book. Of course I had a baby and a nursing wife so any work I did in my 90 year old, bug infested basement, I did after the baby and mother were asleep. The obsession bit quickly and I was often up until past 1:00 AM happily working on the guitar and cleaning up any blood from the frequent self-inflicted injuries. Then up in the middle of the night for baby feeding, and up again around 6:00 to begin the day.

A year later I had a finished archtop. When I showed it around people would compliment me and ask, “Why did you choose the most difficult type of guitar to make as your first guitar?”

The answer? “Because I was too stupid to know it was the most difficult type of guitar to make.”

For the next seven years I spent nearly every night (early morning really) working in my shop building guitars and accumulating tools. Finally between a change in work, divorce, moving, caring for two kids and trying to make money, the guitarmaking came to an end. The tools and materials sat in my new basement, along with a 3/4 completed archtop. Other obsessions had taken over but when friends asked I told them I intended to get back to it in retirement.

Yes, you're right - I'm younger here :)
Yes, you’re right – I’m younger here 🙂


Over the past 6 months, downsizing in preparation for retirement, I have gone through my shop and sold off some of my tools. As an obsessive it was not unusual for me to buy 5 of a tool I only needed 1 of. So I sold the excess off on ebay, taking the money and putting it into my retirement war chest. But as I brought the tools out of the basement, prepared them for sale, showed them to Janet and explained what they were for or reminisced about the great deal I had gotten, I realized how much I had missed guitarmaking.

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

More importantly my wonderful Janet realized it too. “We still have plenty of time. Why don’t you finish that guitar in the basement?”

I knew myself too well and knew I couldn’t just spend a little time on the hobby; that like the old “bet you can’t eat just one” chip commercials, I would be unable to hold back the obsession. So I resisted.

Now, I own a couple of my own guitars including that first one. I’ve seen it daily for 19 years and never liked the finish on it and could see some of the woodworking imperfections.

After building that one I developed a co-obsession: French Polishing. It’s a very old form of wood finishing and perfect for my obsessive nature: time consuming, hand done and with natural materials. I studied and learned everything I could about it and from then on it became my guitar finishing method.

So I thought, ‘It won’t be too hard to sand the finish off guitar #1, fix most of the woodworking imperfections and French Polish it.” Janet was all for it and as a Filipina with a business administration degree said, “then you can sell it and take the money and buy supplies for more guitars.”

Ready for French Polishing.
Ready for French Polishing.

I began and of course it was like I had never left. The older hands, eyes and muscles quickly remembered. Immediately I began to think of the type of shop I might have in retirement. A nipa hut in the backyard?

BTW, guitarmaking is a growing concern in the Philippines. There are several well known builders in Mactan, Cebu. I’ve been there and watched them a couple times and the methods are fascinating. For one thing, their work bench is often the ground.

At least he's not standing like I do.
At least he’s not standing like I do.
I can't understand how they let it bake in the hot sun.
I can’t understand how they let it bake in the hot sun.

I was speaking to a guitar playing friend who’d visited the Philippines a couple times. “Why not teach classes on guitarmaking?” he asked. I thought that might be impractical (too long a class) but thought that a day class on French Polishing or other traditional woodworking methods might be fun to do. So that will be part of the obsession. Janet immediately volunteered to provide lunch to the students!






Tell Us Where to Go (Again)

Last year, at just about this exact time, I posted, Tell Us Where to Go, a request for input on your favorite places to visit in the Philippines. We ended up traveling to Boracay, Camiguin, and did a couple days in Moalboal, in addition to our standard week in Alcoy, Cebu.

Well, it’s Back to the Future, folks and I am looking for more recommendations.

First the good news. We booked 3 weeks in April. The flight prices from Portland to Cebu were substantially less than last year and any of the other 7 or 8 times I have gone to the Philippines. Whether this was the luck of the draw, because of the decreasing oil prices, or my brilliant shopping skills, I don’t know. But if you were thinking of visiting the Philippines this is a great time to check out the flights. A $300/per ticket savings was a pretty compelling argument for us to book our next trip.

As always, we will spend a week in Alcoy, Cebu. Janet will get to see her family, as will I, but I also look forward to Tingko Beach, Dalaguete, Oslob and the whale sharks we didn’t see last year.

I also look forward to not cutting my damn hand like I did last year.

We will also spend a  week in the Dumaguete area. Since there is a good chance that Dumaguete will be our retirement destination, it’s time to check it out further. We will again see the city and Valencia. If anyone has any recommendations about other towns in the vicinity, please let us know!

Well that leaves another week open. We could just hit another wonderful beach, look at other retirement destinations, or some combo. We’ve never been to Palawan, so that’s an option. Malapascua, off of Cebu, sounds nice. And last night, for the first time in three years, Janet expressed an interest in returning to Leyte.

Now, Janet worked and went to school in Leyte for five years, and every time I have asked if she would like to return and show me the place she spent these important years, I get – the look!

We have a friend, who I suspect will weigh in on this posting, who owns a small resort in Maasin, Leyte. He asks every year if we are coming and I reply not to count on it. So Janet even hinting she’s interested in going to Leyte is a big step.

Here’s a link to an article on Kalanggaman – supposed to be a great island off Leyte: http://www.thetravelingnomad.com/2016/01/better-leyte-than-never-kalanggaman.html

Me? I am interested in any place fun, off the beaten track. And if it’s cheap, all the better.

So. what do you all think? Tell us where to go – we can take it!

Fiery Disaster in Cebu City

My young brother in law works in Cebu City and we are very proud of him. At 19 he moved there almost a year ago and is now in the middle of his 2nd working contract. Lots of work in the Philippines is on a 5-month contract basis, no doubt so that the employers can avoid shelling out benefits that we Americans would consider essential to the basics of life. My BIL works in a mall, 6-days a week, for what is, by American standards, shockingly low pay. Apparently the Philippines needs Bernie Sanders 🙂


Janet and I hear from him regularly but it is obvious that life in the big city is difficult, work is hard, and fame and fortune are far away. But this Christmas made it even harder.

Christmas Eve my BIL called home and told his mother he missed the family. Because of his work schedule he could not take the 3-hour bus ride home to the provinces in Alcoy and asked her whether she could send his father to come spend Christmas with him. Drama ensued but father was convinced and the next day he and his youngest son were on the bus heading for Cebu City.

Upon arrival, my BIL was working and encouraged his father and brother to stay in his tiny room, where he would join them later that night. His father turned down that suggestion, saying he would go see his brother who also lives in Cebu City. In all likelihood, even by provincial Philippines standards, my BIL’s room left something to be desired. As you will see this turned out to be literally a life and death decision.

The youngest son accompanying his father, was ecstatic to be in Cebu City. No matter what culture you live in, the big city offers kids delights and distractions that no small town, with its “take it for granted” vistas and beaches, can rival. But that night, from his brother’s home, my FIL noticed a large fire in Lahug, the area of Cebu City my BIL lives in.

My BIL’s rooming house, as well and between 60-100 other homes were burned to the ground. Janet and I got bits and pieces of details over the next couple of days. Here’s a few links to the news stories showing the extent of the disaster:




Because of the nature of the very poor Lahug neighborhood, where streets are just alleys and fire trucks cannot pass, the fire department was incapable of controlling, or even getting to, the inferno.

And how did the blaze begin? A lit candle unattended, used at night by a household with no working electricity. Interestingly, the newspaper literally named the offender.

My BIL was devastated. At 19 he had little, but all his clothes were gone, except for the work uniform he was wearing. His few possessions, such as a rice cooker and fan, were gone. And perhaps most importantly to him, his important documents were gone; documents such as his high school diploma, which in the Philippines are hard, if not impossible to replace – all gone. In addition, with what little money he earns he had bought Christmas presents for the kids which he intended to send home with his father; all gone. His loss was just as devastating to him as the loss of our homes (and all the stuff in them) would be to you and I.

Of course the good news, which was repeated over and over, is that he was safe. His father and brother had not gone to his room and so they too were safe. And in fact, despite the devastation to the neighborhood, apparently no one died in the fire.

SITO AVOCADO LAHUG FIRE AFTERMATH/DEC.27,2015:Acting Cebu City Mayor Edgar Labella talk to resident of sitio Avocado Barangay Lahug who were affected of fire the other day during his visit in the area.(CDN PHOTO/LITO TECSON)
SITO AVOCADO LAHUG FIRE AFTERMATH/DEC.27,2015:Acting Cebu City Mayor Edgar Labella talk to resident of sitio Avocado Barangay Lahug who were affected of fire the other day during his visit in the area.(CDN PHOTO/LITO TECSON)

Now the Cebu City government, which is just as effective as our own FEMA, set up temporary shelter and food at a school, and promised victims a small payout, which my BIL is hoping to be able to take advantage of – maybe. BTW, if you look at the article and see talk of 5000-10000 pesos to the victims, that’s the equivalent of between a little over $100-$200. And let’s face it, these folks aren’t calling State Farm or Allstate to make a claim.

Fortunately the family, as generally happens in the Philippines, has chipped in. Janet’s cousin, living in a nicer area of Cebu City offered a room, not only to my BIL but to his two roommates. Oh, did I forget to mention that BIL lived in that room with two friends, who also lost everything.

I have no funny or wry conclusions here. We are very sad for BIL, but like most Filipinos he will survive, the smile will return to his face, but he will have learned a life lesson no one should have to learn.


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!