Note: Did you miss Part One of this? Click HERE to check it out.
In the first part my Two Year Report on living and working in the Philippines, I yapped on ad nauseum about some of the physical and medical experiences I have had while living here. Now, let’s take some time to talk about some other aspects of my time here in the Philippines.
After two years, I will continue to shamelessly stereotype Filipinos by noting yet again how pleasant and hospitable they are. Yeah, there are exceptions to that rule, but – in my experiences – they have been VERY few and far between. Since arriving in the Philippines, I have personally not had an issue with a single Filipino. Yes, we’ve been “inconvenienced” by two of our neighbors as they relentlessly blocked off access roads during their never-ending property dispute, but other than that, we’ve had nary a single problem with a local. But then again, I haven’t gotten into a car or motor accident with a Filipino as of yet….
As time has gone on, I have noticed a few issues that occasionally pop up in the cultural psychology here. Pride is a big thing in the Philippines, and offending someone can result in some pretty impressive drama. Another issue that is relevant to this noticing just how sensitive a lot of Filipinos are (“onion skin”). And when that pride and sensitivity is combined, it can make for a pretty volatile mix. And if you’ve ever been (or are) in a relationship with a Filipina, you’ll not what I’m talking about. 🙂
You’ll hear “pinoy pride” bandied about quite a bit here. The Philippines is a very young country, having gained its independence for the United States only in 1946, and is still in the process of finding its national identity. “Pinoy pride” is a part of that, and as noted in some of our videos, Filipinos are extremely quick to take up the chant in the face of any slight, be it an actual insult or one that is simply perceived as such. At a governmental level, this can result in city councils taking the time to declare a foreigner who has “insulted” the national consciousness in such a way persona non grata. I know I have mentioned it before, but it’s something that any vlogger or blogger has to keep in mind when writing about the Philippines. Big Brother (kuya) is watching, and First Amendment rights really don’t apply to foreigners when it comes to certain topics. I mention this as it is not something I had experienced in the West before coming to the Philippines.
If you have been following our blog and videos for a while, you’ll know that the kids in our neighborhood became a pretty important part of our life here. Filipino kids are – without a doubt – the cutest and most endearing children in the entire world. Or – at least – in my limited experience! They are genuine, open and full of a quality of life and energy that has to be experienced in order to be fully appreciated. Although they are poor, they don’t realize it yet and have thus not yet succumbed to the apathy and resentments that you will sometimes see as they grow more self aware in their later years. The neighborhood kids have brought us a lot of joy just with their simple presence. And even though some of them have moved away (to the “Kid’s House” that our donations built), they still continue to be a source of real happiness. Rock on, Philippines – you have the best kids in the world!
On a more negative note…..
Hands down and without a single shred of doubt, I have had more problems with fellow foreigners than anything else in the Philippines. I had heard about this before coming to the Philippines, but as with many things in life, it was something that had to be personally experienced. Much of the verbal, hearsay drama seems to be a result of equal parts crab mentality, wanting to share personal miseries and a level of chismoso (gossip) that any self-respecting Filipino could never hope to match. At some points in my time here I have come to see the Philippines as a sort of catch basin for all the uncouth and unwanted that have been expelled from their home nations. Ironically, there was a Fil-Am who I got upset with a while back when he mentioned in a Facebook post that the shores of the Philippines are littered with the “flotsam and jetsam” of foreigner trash. After a bit of reflection, I decided to take it less personally and to appreciate the point he was trying to make….
For new folks coming to the Philippines, there is a lesson to this. When you first stumble off the plane and start wandering around in wide eyed wonder, don’t be offended when you pass other foreigners and they don’t look you in the eye. In other words, don’t take it personally. It’s just a coping mechanism that some of the guys who have been here for a while develop to preserve their personal well being…
In all, I have had two physical altercations since arriving in the Philippines. Both were with fellow foreigners, and for some reason, the men in these instances were both German nationals. One of them is back in Germany, and the other is still around Dumaguete. Both were initiated over nonsense and both – not surprisingly – involved alcohol (on their part, not mine).
Despite all the freedom (and cheap booze) that is available here, fights between foreigners are actually not all that common. Usually, the problems take the form of gossip and character assassination. And if you’ve got a somewhat successful You Tube or website, you’ll be even a bigger target.
Ah, yes, the eternal quest for the “perfect” long-term abode in the Philippines….. Finding that heady mix of “easy” town/convenience access, cooler weather, cleaner air and still solid electricity and internet is something that is at most times easier said than done. At present, we are still perched on the outskirts of Dumaguete proper, living out our Philippine Dream in the infamous Pink House. The location isn’t all that bad: I like having the option of heading into the city without having to take extended drives through occasionally scary road traffic, but the noise and smoke associated with living on the city’s perimeter can be a little overwhelming at times. We have been faithfully searching for a shady house rental somewhere in western Dumaguete – it’s cooler and cleaner in that direction, but as of yet, we haven’t been able to find what we are looking for. We haven’t given up, though, and finding that “perfect place” continues to be a work in progress. Until then, we will just keep on keeping on – where we are right now isn’t really all that bad at all – most of the time.
One last thing: Don’t get caught up in the cost of a home or apartment rental – it’s far better to pay more and be happy than to scrimp and save but be less happy. And remember – the difference between 10,000 pesos and 15,000 pesos is only $107 USD; a lot of times when thinking in pesos, the difference seems to be a lot more than it actually is.
Going on motorcycle tours around the islands is a great way to see the sights. With that said, I have also learned over the past few years that motor touring in the Philippines is exhausting. What with constant hypervigilence necessary in avoiding dogs, wandering Filiinos, rampaging roosters, careening sugar cane trucks and anything else that might jump out in front of your motor, combined with bumpy roads and merciless heat as the day progresses, I have to say that the best approach to motor touring is to start early (around 6:30 AM), ride until noon and then find a hotel to stay until the next morning. Five to six hours of riding in the Philippines is about the maximum that I can physically and mentally take here – anything beyond that and I start to become dangerously fatigued (and extremely frikken grumpy).
The Philippines is stunningly beautiful, with sections of the archipelago truly resembling paradise. We’ve been to a bunch of beautiful locations throughout the Visayas, and in the future I am sure we will be visiting many more. Some of my favorites have been dolphin watching at Bais, SCUBA diving expeditions to Apo Island, canyoneering at Kawasan Falls, and some good times spent up in Sipalay. Any negative experiences I have had while out on tour have usually come as a result of not being able to find a particular place (the subject of one of our latest videos) and/or breaking my frikken back.
I am hoping soon to take a trip up to the cooler climes of Mt. Canlaon in north-central Negros Occidental. We haven’t gone further north than Sipalay, and I have heard that the Canlaon area is possessed of some simply stunning vistas. The only issue right now is that there has been some eruption warnings in the area – Canlaon is still and active volcano, and it has been spitting out clouds of dust and smoke for about a week now. Our trip plans to go to Bukidnon in Mindanao this month (very cool weather and lots of Dole pineapples!) were similarly stymied with news of folks in central Mindanao taking up the ISIL flag. Ah, the best of intents and laid out plans….
Some of my favorite experiences and memories revolve around some of the good works we have tried to do in and about the city of Dumaguete. From the Jollibee and Christmas parties to Michell and Dina’s Spaghetti Fests to the kids’ house building project we oversaw after three families in our neighborhood were evicted due to an ongoing property dispute, I can’t help but see these as the highlights of my time here. It’s funny: I never intended to get involved in any of this stuff – it just sort of happened. But I am glad they did, as each and every one was a true example of win-win situations for all involved. And you don’t often get opportunities like that in life…..
My Two Biggest Issues with the Philippines
The Heat: Yeah, I’ve said it before, but since it’s my site, I’ll take the liberty of saying it yet again: Sometimes it’s just to frikken hot in the Philippines. This past year in particular has been a bear what with El Nino kicking in. I just checked the PAGASA site and they are noting average temperatures are about 1.5 degrees Celsius higher than last year. Yes, I have noticed that I tend to adapt a bit to the heat over time (newly arrived foreigners are sweating, and I’m not), but after around 10 AM, if the sun is beating down, it’s pretty much gonna be a hot one – stay in the shade, drinks lots of water and move slowly until around 4 PM.
Burning Stuff: After the heat, my next biggest gripe is the daily trash burning that blankets Filipino neighborhoods with palls of billowing noxious smoke. If it was only yard waste, that would be one thing, but instead it’s usually a mix of plastic, rubber and whatever else they’ve scraped up and set a flame to. It’s pretty gross and combined with the diesel and two-stroke exhaust, makes for rather murky evenings. The real headscratcher is the health effects – a number of Filipino kids and adults in our neighborhood have asthma, and one of our neighbors was actually complaining about his shortness of breath while a pile of trash and leaves blazed merrily away just a few meters behind him…
Truck: As I’ve previously noted, buying the Pajero was the pretty much the biggest mistake I made since arriving in the Philippines. Don’t get me wrong: It was a GREAT truck and didn’t give us any issues. The problem instead was that with the near-constant good weather, we only used it about once or twice a month – maybe on a trip down to Dauin or to do a heavy shopping day at the grocery store/public market. There were two reasons that I originally purchased it: First off, I’m an American and having a vehicle seems to be an inherent part of our self identity (kind of along the lines of an Aussie having to have a kangaroo saddle – I kid, Australia, I kid!). The second reason I purchased the Pajero was because I been informed that the Philippines was subjected to an interminable rainy season that could stretch on for months. Not wanting to be “trapped” by torrential monsoons in which I would be soaked and miserable on a motorcycle, I got the truck, checked its waterproofness and even installed gutter guards around windows. Fully tricked out and configured, it sat. And sat – gathering naught but dust and gecko droppings. After about a year out of the US (and relishing the convenience of smaller, more maneuverable motorcycles), I got past the whole “I’m an American, and I need a car/truck” thing. By that point, I had also realized that our area of the Philippines (Negros Oriental) didn’t have much of a rainy season at all – sure, it might rain for a few hours, but then it would generally clear up enough to go out and about on the motorcycles. So finally, after having our four-wheeled cat stand for over a year, I put it up for sale on olx.com. And as chance would have it, it was snatched up the very next day by a Englishman in Valencia who was looking for a manual, diesel Pajero. Thanks, Marcus.
House Hunting: I mentioned this already above, but you really have to put the time in when searching for a place to stay. Don’t skimp on the peso outlay in order to save some Benjamins, because at the end of the day, having a place you are comfortable with is worth every penny. If nothing else, make sure it’s secure and shaded – not having adequate security (window grates, wall/fence and – more importantly – good neighbors) will soon separate you from your stuff and having a house or apartment that receives direct sunlight all day is a recipe for misery. We do have good neighbors (for the most part) and our house is pretty secure. And since we built the giant nipa car port cover that blankets the whole side of the house, the internal temperatures have dropped to almost-bearable. As a matter of fact, it is 90 degrees in Dumaguete today, but sitting under the nipa roof typing this up, my handy thermometer is reading 86 degrees. With a half decent breeze (and the fan), that ain’t so bad. The 76 percent humidity on the other hand….well, there ain’t much you can do about that.
Motor Mishaps: Not paying attention/being tired when riding the YBR at high speed and hitting a pothole, breaking my back. Also, trying to “save” the bike as it was falling over (instead of jumping away from it like I was taught).
Lack of Travel: The Philippines has so much to see and travel between or across the islands is so easy, it’s a durn shame we haven’t gone out and seen more of it.
Re-starting smoking: I quit this past May while I was in the US and started up again about a month after returning to the Philippines. Pure and utter stupidity….
Tolerating trolls: I honestly do try to not be heavy handed when it comes to removing posts and banning users, as it is important to show all sides of a topic and foster discussion. After a while though, I realized that the same users were repeatedly making the same whiny miserable posts about life here every time they fired up their keyboard. Sure, there’s a place for talking about the negatives about living in the Philippines, but when that’s the only thing that you can write about (and you do it every – or multiple times – a day), it’s time for you to go seek some medical help. The trolls take a few forms: First up is the butt-hurt user who got hustled by a Filipina and can’t let it go, painting the Philppines as a place populated only by scammers and hustlers. Then there’s the guys talking trash about other You Tubers in my comment section (usually because they’ve been banned from that guy’s YT channel). And then,of course, let’s not forget the occasional sexpat who feels like he needs to share stories of his sexual conquests with the whole world.
Oh, the list, it goes on and on…
Linguistically Challenged: Another mistake (or regret, if you will) is that I didn’t take the time to learn more than basic bisaya (the local lingo). I am planning on staying here for many years, and to truly be a “part” of a culture, it’s critically important to know the language – when you can communicate in the local lingua franca, your whole experience changes. (I am actually planning on a series of basic bisaya videos in order to start addressing this deficiency.)
Buying a “China bike”: Although it was a good “starter bike” for Michell, I have been less than impressed with the reliability of our RUSI Yamaha Mio clone. Since acquiring it, we have had numerous electrical issues with the scooter and have had to replace a number of parts. At one point, the damn thing was in the shop three times in two weeks. Bottom Line: I used to like our RUSI, but after having it for over a year, I would recommend spending a little more to purchase a “branded” bike (Yamaha, Suzuki, Honda or Kawasaki).
The Price of Freedom
One last thing I would like to touch on is the price of freedom in the Philippines. I’ve mentioned it before and it’s worth mentioning yet again that one of the great things about living here is the amount of personal freedom you have living here, unshackled by liberty-stifling legal statutes or expectations placed upon you by external forces. Indeed, I hear a lot of folks complaining about the “nanny states” that have developed back in their home countries which load down their citizens with an unfair number of rules and regulations. I can totally understand that and sympathize, but after being here for a while, I have to think there is a downside to not living in a country that has (or – more accurately – enforces) regulations. Yes, it’s nice that rules about helmets are not enforced here, but talk to anyone who has been in a serious accident, and you might rethink the importance of having a regulated helmet law (especially when it is children receiving the sometimes-lethal head injuries). The same thing could also be said for the actual enforcement of emission laws to cut down on the clouds of noxious diesel exhaust blanketing the country. Or maintaining safety standards at construction sites so that concrete slabs and steel girders don’t routinely fall to the streets below. Or enforcing dynamite and cyanide fishing regulations so that reefs don’t get destroyed and SCUBA divers don’t get killed (as recently occurred in Cebu). Or having an FDA that actually inspects medications to make sure they are real and/or adulterated…
Yeah, freedom is nice, but as we have learned (and continue to learn), there is always a price to be paid.
So, there it is – some of my thoughts on the two years that I have spent in the Philippines. Thus far, the positives have FAR outweighed the positives, and I am very happy living here. Each day is pretty much an adventure (even if I don’t really want it to be) and it usually is….. another day in paradise.
Sunny skies and pretty pinays, readers.
I wish them upon you all.