Tag Archives: retirement

Our Philippines Retirement Routine

Now that we are genuinely settled into life here in Valencia, Negros Oriental, I thought I would report about our routine. We spent the first couple of months scurrying around and getting what we needed and wanted but the last couple of months we’ve settled in.

A friend recently commented that he was envious of our life. There’s reason for envy and yet every life has routine and ours might be considered sort of boring.

From a retirement standpoint, it’s a joy not to commute. Over the years, that commute had grown to be the worst part of my working life. Now Janet and I have breakfast together. Nothing fancy; I’m a cereal or eggs person, but it’s nice not to be wolfing it down in my cubicle.

I usually take a morning walk. Whatever direction I take, I pass about 10 cows, having their breakfast, assorted goats, chickens, roosters, dogs, etc. Dumaguete’s a city but it’s a provincial city. The view on my walk is fantastic and I love the sense of a non-urban life. OK, I do have to remember that pooper scoopers for cows don’t exist and if they did there would be no laws requiring them here. So I step carefully.

I have an office/shop set up in our home’s third bedroom. On one side’s a workbench I’ve cobbled together. Despite being made only of plywood and 2x4s it’s pretty strong and should allow me to make, finish and work on guitars. On the other side’s the small table where my computer and peripherals sit. In between are my tools and guitar.

I’m getting everything together to start building guitars again and perhaps after the first of the year I’ll be ready. In the meantime I’ve been playing more guitar than I have in years and am enjoying it a lot.  For Xmas Janet bought me a digital interface. The quality of recording is a little bit better than the last time I recorded my guitar playing – on a cassette deck! Also got a nice mic, so expect to be spammed with recordings in the near future.

Just as I did when I worked (lol) I spend plenty of my time checking email, surfing the web, and looking at YouTube videos. Interestingly, now that I am here, I watch less and less of my fellow expat’s videos, though I still watch Bud Brown and Ned regularly. One thing I don’t keep track of is the political insanity and general divisiveness back in the US. I wrote a blog post recently that I have yet to publish because it took the uncomfortable position that so many people “back home” are nuts and my stress level is less not being involved with so much of the nuttiness. Of course people are nuts here too, but they still manage to smile and say “good morning,” so it’s hard to get too stressed about it.

We seem to go to the grocery store or public market more often than we did in the US, probably because I was dictatorial in insisting that we did our grocery shopping once a week back there. I could only deal with Fred Meyer’s so often. Here there’s a couple supermarket’s, the Valencia public market, and a mall within easy driving distance. It’s certainly harder to find specialty items here but if you keep your eyes open you will see them (or a reasonable substitute).

And yes we do drive a lot. While I still like the trikes it’s just too convenient to hop in the car; so in that sense we are still good Americans.

Since Xmas is here we spend plenty of time listening to caroling kids. It’s a month long event here and every evening and sometimes during the day they show up outside the gate. Janet made ice candy (like ice pops) out of mango and the kids love those, as well as the few pesos they get. Each small group seemingly has the same routine of songs. It’s like somewhere at the North Pole there’s a Philippines section where every kid is taken (Polar Express?) to learn their set to sing.

As far as eating and drinking, we do plenty of the former and I do some of the latter. We certainly deny ourselves nothing and have had no problem finding enough good food and good restaurants to eat at. There are plenty of good restaurants in Dumaguete and while we haven’t been to them all, we’ve certainly been good customers at some of our faves. I’ve found enough Western food when I really wanted something; there’s a couple of good Italian places, one good Japanese place, a couple nice sandwich shops, a few decent burger places, and a couple of bakeries that are OK. Janet and I have always enjoyed restaurants and here you can really go out as often as we’d like without breaking the budget. We almost never spend more than $10 for dinner for the two of us, including my San Miguel, and often spend much less. BTW, for those interested, with the rare exception of an expensive meal, we’re strictly 20 peso tippers; you do the math. Speaking of San Miguel, I’m now a one beer at dinner kind of guy, which for me is more drinking that I did in the past.

I’ve lost a little weight but with no scale I don’t know how much. 5 pounds maybe? Could it be more? Not sure. It’s certainly nothing record-breaking since as I say I am not denying myself anything.

Now, as far as the budget, and no I’m not going to get into the debate about how much it costs to live in the Philippines. Nor am I dumb enough to publicly state what my income or budget is. What I will say is that we have had no problems so far sticking to our budget.  If anything we spend a little less than I anticipated when I made a tentative budget before we arrived. For example, while electricity rates are high in the Philippines my actual bill is about 2/3 of what I paid in the US. Why? Start with no dryer or dishwasher. And of course, no electric car. My water bill in the US was consistently hitting $100/month. Here? Last month’s bill was 23 pesos! That’s less than $.50. And garbage – it’s picked up free in Valencia. Janet and I pay about 600 pesos/month for our cell phone service; in the US we paid over $150/month and for that money had to deal with Centurylink, who six months later I am still fighting with over the final bill. But of course customer service is so much better in the US lol!

Our budget also includes my plan that at least monthly we would go somewhere. Now it doesn’t have to be anywhere fancy. We’ll go to a small hotel for a weekend or travel to an island we haven’t been to or an island we have been to and want to revisit. Or we’ll just take a couple days and go to Janet’s hometown. But the budget includes going somewhere out of Duma once a month. We will be doing just that in a couple days; going to Alcoy for Xmas. And the last week of the month and year we’re scheduled to go snorkeling at Apo Island, a short boat ride from Negros Oriental. In February we have something a bit more ambitious planned – so stay tuned.

OK, I hear you all saying; so while Dave does all these things, what’s Janet doing? She loves gardening and our small lot is getting filled with pots of plants and vegetables and flowers. She’s also done plenty of baking and has even sold some of her famous leech flan. Plus she gets to catch up with her family, which could be considered a full time job. I expect a small business might also be in her future. Once again, stay tuned.

So that’s the basics on our daily life. So far, it’s pretty much as I hoped it would be. Hope you all are having a Happy Holiday Season; we certainly are!




Six Months Retired Report

Actually I’ve been retired 5+ months, but 6 sounds better and when you’re retired who the hell keeps track of time. Nonetheless  it seemed like a good time to report about the boredom of retirement.

Let me think about what Janet and I have done since the 1st of May. We prepped our house in Portland for sale and listed it. We personally handled about half the open houses, giving us both confidence that we too could be realtors – if we were out of our minds. We cleaned obsessively (well, that was mostly Janet). We schemed how we could sell a house that we were assured would fly off the market (it didn’t). We worried – a lot. Who says retirement means no stress.

Finally we sold the old homestead and after a pleasant stay with some friends, a week later we were on a 20 hour plane ride to Cebu, followed by a 5 hour bus ride to our new home in Dumaguete.

We arrived at the Hermogina Apartments; our apartment was as advertised and reasonably pleasant. We immediately discovered the joys of Robinson’s Mall, since we had virtually nothing for the apartment. There’s been barely a day the last two months we haven’t been back to Robinson’s at least once.

While we intended to rest and take some time before starting a search for a house rental, we didn’t. 64 years of no rest mode meant we were anxious to find a rental house and a car. We scored both within a few weeks of arriving in Dumaguete. But an unfurnished rental house meant we had pretty much nothing other than an empty house. Appliance and furniture shopping followed and we scored some nice things at decent prices.

Just as importantly we shopped for an Internet provider. The Philippines is notorious for poor and slow Internet and most expats complain (sometimes bordering on whining) about it. I expected the same. The Internet at the Hermogina Apartments was slow but adequate. Since neither Janet nor I are gamers or downloaders of porn (lol) our speed needs are modest. We found a new service in our neighborhood and so far my connection is much faster than what I had in Portland. I try to be very careful about speaking about this too much here, since I do not wish to get kicked out of the expat community. So when anyone talks about their lousy Internet I just nod in agreement (while giggling to myself). This said, I know things do change quickly in the Philippines.

After 6 weeks or so our 9 balikbayan boxes arrived from the US. For a few pesos we were able to convince LBC to deliver them to the new house rather than the apartment; try doing that with UPS or Fed-EX! So now we had a houseful of crap and spent the next few weeks in frustration, trying to figure out how to organize it all. Oh, did I mention that unfurnished in the Philippines often means no cabinets and closets. Plastic boxes are plentiful and in every imaginable size and shape here.

So now that we have been in the house about a month it’s actually taking shape. The 3rd bedroom which will be my shop and tiny office, seems to be the trickiest but I’m getting there. Another six months and I might actually be able to start building guitars here.

In the midst of all this we are still planning to build or purchase a house and are doing research on what, where and how much. And Janet has some business issues in her hometown of Alcoy which has taken her back there a few times.

I have also spent the last two months re-learning how to drive. Driving in the Philippines is not the same as in Portland. The closest example I can think of is when I spent a year in NYC, but it’s even crazier than that.  I have no words to describe it really; it has to be experienced. But so far I haven’t killed anyone and it may be the masochist in me – but I am kind of enjoying it.

In case anyone reading this thinks I am just listing complaints – I am not. I am having a blast! So I will add the times I have been at the beach and went into the warm ocean, the nice pools we have discovered, the varied restaurants and sights we have taken in. There hasn’t been much time for socializing, but we’ve met a few people and look forward to more of that. In fact, we have company coming over this afternoon for the first time since we moved into the house.

In short, I haven’t been bored for a second. Boredom isn’t in my nature in general but for those who worry that retirement in the Philippines might be boring – it’s been anything but.

We’ve also got a second bedroom set up as a guest room. Our first guests will be here in a couple weeks and I expect once the word gets out we might have a small stream of guests come by.

Oh, and one more thing. I’ve spent part of the morning chasing a Huntsman spider here in my shop/office. Apparently this thing does not want to die and despite their size they hide very well. So as the cliche goes it’s more fun in the Philippines!

“Never Can Say Goodbye”

OK, this post might come off as a little bit maudlin or saccharine. I’ll try to joke it up but no promises.

A couple days ago we met with some friends at a restaurant. One of those friends moved away a few years back but comes to Portland every couple months on business, so he organizes the get together. In this case I think that Janet and I were more the objects du jour. It was probably the last time we will see many of these people – at least until we return periodically to the US.

Of course Janet has invited everyone we know to come visit us in Dumaguete, but I’m a cynic and am not counting on everyone to take her up on the offer.

I suspect I’m like most guys – I don’t do goodbyes well. While the girls hugged and lingered at the end of the party, I shook a couple hands, said some meaningless stuff or didn’t say anything at all. After 64 years I still don’t know what to say. In the era of Facebook all I could say is “Watch us on Facebook, and the blog (and vlog)” which of course everyone said they would do.

We’ve also met some special friends for dinner. It’s like a farewell tour without the gifts at each stop. Tonight we meet with our next door neighbors. Thai food I am told. “You have to eat,” everyone says. We will talk about our upcoming adventures. I will bitch about my house closing, which is a bit delayed. But in the end we will shake hands and hug. It’s tough to know what to say. I think Janet’s better at it than me.

I may be old but I’m not all that sentimental. Some friends I will miss, some I won’t, others I will laugh about or at. And some I will get to see when we return to Portland; and maybe some I will see in the Philippines.

One thing about being retired is that we can meet them without much notice. So, someone is coming into Cebu – we can arrange a day in Cebu. Boracay? I’m there. Palawan? I’ll arrive before they do!

So we already have several get togethers planned over the first six months of our new life, as well as one wedding. Not that I need an excuse to go to Moalboal or Boracay. Anyone who wants to meet me there and buy me a San Miguel, just message me and I’m there.

This story comes under the category of the flexibility and practicality of my wife. The amount of stuff we will be bringing is much greater than a normal vacation. Each of us will have two stuffed suitcases. I am bringing my guitar. I will need to grow a third arm – and soon. We booked our tickets to Cebu and then a ticket from Cebu to Dumaguete. But after booking I realized the Cebu Pacific flight only allows 20 kg. I went back and looked it up; some flights have a 20kg max and this is a prop plane. Janet suggested we take the bus south to the tip of Cebu and then ferry to Dumaguete. I said “are you sure. We will have a 21 hour flight and then a 5 hour bus ride.” She was sure! Besides, we could stop in her hometown of Alcoy for the night and rest at our favorite, the BBB. And of course we could see the family while at the BBB. Something tells me I’d better sleep on the plane.

Speaking of the house closing delay. I planned this thing so well. Waited to book the tickets. Gave us 10 days padding between the closing and the flight, just in case. Finally even our real estate agent was confident enough to tell us “your safe to book your tickets now” and so I did. Flight leaves the night of the 30th. So guess what? Yesterday we hear the closing is delayed based on a paper work error. We may close as late as the 28th! Don’t these people know that I’m old and might keel over from the stress?

But don’t worry – nothing’s gonna stop us now.


The Retirement Move is Nearly Here!

Here’s an update on our upcoming move. Just random thoughts really but hopefully there is some insight into what we’re doing and our thought process (or lack thereof).

I retired May 1st. The date wasn’t random and was based on trying to milk as much as possible out of my job. Since I had accrued 4 weeks vacation time, the month prior to retirement I was on vacation. And since our building was closed for the two months prior to that for remodeling, the reality is I was “working from home” starting in February.  It actually helped in the adjustment since basically I was retired for the 3 months prior to my actual retirement.

I had the standard retirement party except at my company there is no such thing as a standard retirement party since almost no one makes it to retirement. My manager kindly arranged the party and his manager even more kindly paid for it.

Since I am fundamentally a cheap bastard, I arranged to retire May 1st, which meant that my medical insurance was paid for the month of May. I had scheduled my Social Security to start in May. The process of applying for Social Security was much less Draconian than I thought it would be. The only gotcha was they told me that while I can collect for May the 1st check didn’t come until the last week of June, so there was an annoying gap between my last paycheck and my 1st Social Security check. Nonetheless on June 28th it was auto-deposited into my bank account and all was right with the world.

Then in May, Janet passed her final interview and was sworn in as a citizen of the United States. This was a goal of ours to have her become a US citizen before we would move. Two weeks later a shiny new blue passport arrived for her. Lots of people have asked me why we did this. I don’t think that most Americans understand just how amazing that Blue passport is and the fact that it allows you to basically go anywhere in the world! This is certainly not true of a Philippines passport. And to be frank, Janet is very proud to be a US citizen and I am very proud of her. She got to celebrate her first 4th of July as an American and did it the way most Filipinas do – swimming at the river and taking a ton of selfies wearing her American flag bathing suit!

Two days after I retired we listed our house for sale. I had told Janet many times that in the United States the process of buying or selling a house is, outside of having a baby, one of the most stressful things in life. Unfortunately, I forgot to tell myself. The house remained on the market for 6 weeks and each week we were under more and more pressure trying to figure out what to do to get rid of the old dog (not me, the house). For those 6 weeks the house and yard were the cleanest and neatest they have ever been (mostly due to Janet’s efforts). We are currently in the closing process, which is almost as stressful, and in two weeks we sign the papers, get the check and are officially homeless.

Our strategy of where to live in the Philippines is sort of complicated. While there are many houses in Dumaguete for rent online, I was uncomfortable renting a place I had never seen, particularly since all house rentals there require a lease. I didn’t want to get stuck with a year’s lease on a rental house we hated or one where the next door neighbor sang karaoke till 3:00 AM. So the general consensus among friends was to rent a month to month apartment, and with “boots on the ground” go about the process of finding a house to lease. So I officially sent a deposit and we have a 2 bedroom townhouse. By Philippines standards it isn’t cheap at 20k pesos/month ($400) but is modestly furnished and includes cable and wifi.

In the next couple of days we will ship 9 balikbayan boxes to our apartment. It’s amazing how much you can fit in these boxes. Basically everything we decided to keep is in these boxes, including my tools and enough materials to make the first few guitars in my retirement. We’ve had good luck with balikbayan boxes before so hopefully these will arrive perhaps a month after we arrive in Dumaguete and the contents will survive.

An interesting tidbit on the financial front. We decided to visit our banks and the company that manages my retirement funds to ask what issues we might encounter. They all told us the same thing; don’t tell us you are actually residing abroad, since that will put restrictions on the accounts. Just pretend you’re traveling a lot. This is consistent with the experiences of a few friends in the Philippines who told their banks they had moved to the Philippines, only to find their accounts restricted afterwards. So honestly is not always the best policy.



Our Progress Toward the Big Move

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

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

BB box

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Stress and the Filipina

It’s June 1st. May has just ended and none too soon. It was one of the most stressful months in recent memory.  And stress is the subject of today’s post.

Janet and I arrived back in town  from our wonderful trip to the Philippines at the end of April to discover that my employer had decided that despite the tens of billions of dollars in profit they earn, that 11% of the staff had to go. We had arrived Sunday night and I intended to sleep in and do some work from home when I awoke Monday afternoon. But instead I went to work bright and early to see if I still had a job.

My friend Jim messaged me via Facebook at about 6AM to say he had just received an email and wondered if I had; I hadn’t. Throughout the day and the rest of the week, the bodies began to pile up. Of course since I work for a high tech company, they can’t simply pull a Trump and say, “you’re fired!” They developed multiple categories: involuntary separations (get out – now), voluntary separations (here’s some money – now get out), and my favorite, enhanced retirement (you’re old – here’s a bunch of money – now wheel yourself out).

For the entire month everyone walked around with that look like they envied the dead. And yet I survived, at least for now. I have been joking that by the time the actions are over I will be the oldest person working there. It is no longer a joke.

But wait a minute, you ask, what does this have to do with Filipinas or even my wife, Janet. Patience, grasshopper.

Each day I would come home more beat up, worried and stressed than the last. And each day Janet would say, “Don’t worry – we’re fine. If you lose your job we will just retire now instead of next year.”

Last Thursday was the topper to my wonderful month. I was driving home from work on the freeway at 60 MPH. The modern tire air pressure warning system told me that my tire needed air. “Nice,” I thought. “When I get home I’ll add some air. What a great feature in these modern cars!” I thought that about 30 seconds before the tire decompressed – on the freeway – at 60 MPH.

As if it was something I did every day, I somehow pulled the car off to the shoulder and called roadside assistance. The tow truck arrived. I stood 100 feet behind my car, directing cars whizzing by at 70 away from us so that the tow truck operator didn’t get – you know – run over! It was actually kind of fun. It never occurred to me how lucky I was to survive the blowout. Nor did it occur to me that I was an idiot for directing freeway traffic. After all, it was a lot more exciting than work.

But the next day when I called the dealer and was told the price of the new tire, I lost it. “The tire’s a year and a half old. It has a warranty, right?”

“Yes sir, but that only covers manufacturer defects.”

‘What the hell would you call this? The thing blew at 60 MPH!”

“The tire was slashed. You must have run over something.”

“I didn’t run over anything. I was just driving on the freeway. I’m lucky to be alive.” I threw that in just to bring out some guilt; it didn’t work.

The guy repeated the price. “What is it – a Pirelli?” I yelled. “Last time I checked I drive a Ford.”

“Well that price includes $120 for the sensor?”

“The sensor? You mean the sensor that gave me a 30 second warning that the tire was going to blow?”

“Yes sir.”

And when I told Janet about what happened and the expense just at a time when I might lose my job she just shrugged one of those ‘what else can you do’ sort of shrugs. She hugged me and again told me not to worry.

And it struck me that she was truly being honest in her assessment. She genuinely did not seem worried. Unlike us Americans she chooses not to worry about things she cannot control.

It’s a quality I have seen and admired in the Philippines; a ‘life is short, enjoy it now’ type of quality. It’s also a quality that some expats living in the Philippines do not admire. It drives them crazy to see people smiling despite their circumstances, despite their poverty, despite scams and corruption, and even despite slow service at Jolibees.

So bottom line is that my 28 year old wife is wiser and more mature than her geriatric husband. Like most Western men, I worry and stress. When I was younger I needed stress; it seemed like I couldn’t get going without stress. But now as old age approaches I don’t like stress.

And unlike most of my peers I am not much capable of alleviating stress through drinking. Oh sure, I like my San Miguel at dinner. But one is about it; two’s my limit. And that doesn’t allow me to get hammered enough to reduce the stress. If any of you drinkers has a suggestion about how I can increase my intake, please let me know.

I look forward to retirement for many reasons but the notion that it will reduce my stress is at the top of the list.

But still I look around the Philippines and see generally happy people and wonder – why aren’t they stressed to the max. Oh I know, there’s “high blood” in the Philippines, just like there is here. But you don’t see that “I wish I were dead” sort of strained face that many Americans go around displaying.

One more addendum. Last night, May 31st, I come home to find a letter from the IRS. They claim we owe a boatload of money. I stress and Janet says, “Don’t worry. Come sit next to me. You’ll figure it out.” And maybe I will; or pay them the boatload of money. Now where did I leave that San Miguel?


Dumaguete Just Might Be the Place

Once you decide that you’re going to retire and relocate to another place, another country even, you breathe a sign of relief – the big decision’s done, though maybe your goose is cooked. You’re relieved until you realize that the country’s pretty damn huge, with 7100 islands, and there are nearly as many places to live in and styles of living as there are places and styles in your home country. Do you go all metro, live in a small city, or live out in the Philippines version of the sticks, lumped together by expats as the generic term “the provinces?”

That’s the decision every expat wannabee gets to ponder. Janet and I could go in many ways. I sure as hell didn’t make this strategy up but when I make any major life change I usually separate what I want into three criteria: “must haves,” “important to haves,” and “nice to haves.” There’s also the negative category of “are you effing crazy?” For me that negative category encompassed Metro Manila and Cebu City. I have no interest in moving into an environment of pollution, overpopulation, and traffic madness. I have that in the US.

For a long time Janet’s “must have” was any place that included Cebu in the address. Having grown up in Southern Cebu it was hard for her to imagine living on any other island. She didn’t necessary care where it was as long as it was on Cebu Island. I basically agreed. I didn’t want to be in Metro Cebu City, which is a place I like to visit but couldn’t imagine living in. But I liked the towns along the southern coast, and this year we visited Moalboal on the left coast of the island and we both liked our few days there. So there seemed to be plenty of options that included that cherished Cebu in the address.

There’s no right answer here folks; it’s not a standardized test. What was important to me was to be somewhat close to a city (albeit a smaller city). The city should provide access to decent medical care, some restaurants, a movie theater, a coffee shop or two, as well as mall shopping for Janet. I’m not sure I actually want to live in a city and since the biggest Philippines cities do not have what we think of in the US as suburbs (they’re more defined by the gentle term “urban sprawl”), having an area outside a smaller city would be rare and come under the “good to have” category.

Other “must haves:” beaches not too far away. Neither of us is a fan of living on the beach, but we want to be close enough to hit the water at a moment’s (or hour’s) notice. Great views are a “must have” – well that’s easy – great views are pretty much standard faire in the whole country, minus the aforementioned Manila and Cebu City, although Tops in Cebu City and parts of Mactan have pretty spectacular views.

But here’s where Dumaguete, on Negros, is really perfect for both Janet and I; it’s a short ferry ride to Cebu (see map). Cross in a half hour and then about an hour’s drive north and you’re in the lovely town of Alcoy, Janet’s home. It makes it easy for Janet to get real Cebu sand under her feet, and go home any time she wants, but still gives us the independence of living a couple hours, and one ferry ride away.


Dumaguete’s got plenty of restaurants, hospitals for my old age (a long time from now), and 4 colleges/universities which add a youthful energy to the place. There’s a lengthy Boardwalk area (see featured pic) and unbelievably a decent park or two. Parks are not popular in the Philippines. I’m just spitballing here but it’s possible that in a country where most people don’t own a vehicle they figure that walking in a park for pleasure in 90 degree heat/90% humidity is one of those things only crazy kanos do. But I like parks, like to walk, and Dumaguete and Valencia have parks. Valencia has a great water park and beautiful water falls, as well.


Note: Yes, the picture above is just  a stock pic of the water park and the cute Pinay is not Janet. Hopefully I will not pay for this tonight 🙂

Successfully reached the falls
Successfully reached the falls

Note: Here I am in front of some falls and the cute Pinay is Janet, so hopefully I’m safe.

Now that I’ve mentioned it, Valencia, is one of those rare things in the Philippines – a suburban town. Fifteen minutes outside Dumaguete it’s a bit higher in elevation and has spectacular views of the island of Cebu.


It’s cooler in the evening (though cooler is a relative term in the Philippines). The town is beautiful and peaceful. You can live like a rich foreigner if you want but certainly can live nicely without breaking the bank (well, not too much).

The negatives? A couple of major publications have recently called Dumaguete one of the best places to retire in the world. Why is that a negative, you ask? Because the rest of you might go there 🙂 Did I mention that one of my “nice to haves” is not to be surrounded by too many other expats? Note: Janet says this is mean, but the truth is the truth, although if you run into me I will be quite pleasant, especially if you hand me a San Miguel 🙂 



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.