Expatriates in the Philippines

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Tell The truth: What you should know.Good & Bad.

When I first started this Blog, I wanted to be fair in my opinions. But, more to the point, I wanted - still do - to let people know a lot of the "hard" truth. Painting only a rosy picture abut the Philippines wouldn't be fair to anyone. If you're reading my blog it's probably because you're already giving some consideration to perhaps moving here. I'm not interested in "selling" you on moving here. I sold myself - that's all that matters to me. Now I've been here for 3 1/2 years. If things were so horrible, would I still be here?
If it were you, maybe you would have left long ago. We're all different. I've traveled, one way or another, most all of my life. I'vw learned to adapt easily to new situations. Also, I like the differences between my American culture and the rest of the world. I like the challenge of merging into other cultures and lifestyles. Best of all, I've always been consumed with curiosity about things of which I knew nothing. And the desire to find out.
I believe that to be a successful traveler or expatriate, one has to have the ability and the philosophy to face the unknown.
If you are of the mind and nature to be rigid and are one of those who wants everything around you to bend to conform to you, then you'd never be happy anywhere in the world other than the "spot" you're used to.
The sayings, "Look ahead," "Be prepared," "Know what you're getting yourself into," are all appropriate to one who considers leaving his or her country, family, friends, culture, society, food, ad infinitum.
Knowing the worst you'll be facing can be very advantageous. If it frightens you, then you know you don't want to spend lots of money and lots of time going somewhere you're just going to turn and run from. There's a certain strength in knowing what dark streets not to walk down.
So... yes, there's lots of things "bad" about the Philippines. Whether it's wrong is something else altogether.
I like living here. In spite of the differences - maybe because of them. I've come here for my own reasons, and I've found that I've gained more than I lost by leaving the USA.
Will I ever return to live in the USA? No, I don't believe so. I can't imagine at this time what could get me to return.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Meet Filipina's for love and romance! Read this first.

Cousin Claudine...
Celine told me a story about how a cousin and the cousin’s mother went to see her many years ago. The cousin, Claudine, 28 at the time, wanted Celine to be her companion on a trip to Manila because Claudine was going to the Manila airport to meet a man flying in from the States to meet her for the first time. Companion-ing is a very big thing in Philippine culture. Claudine told her that she’d pay the entire cost for the trip. Celine had no job at the time so, why not? A free trip and an outing in Manila? You bet! Celine was only 16 years-old – it would be a fun adventure for her.
Days later at the airport, when Claudine saw the man going through customs she quickly asked Celine to pretend that she was the one he'd come to meet. She'd explain later, she said. Celine didn't know what to do and had no time to consider what was going on.
Celine spoke almost no English at the time.
When the man approached them he was not looking at Claudine, but at Celine, and with a large smile on his face! He addressed Celine when he spoke, and told her how happy he was to see her in person at last.
I can’t blame the guy for looking and smiling at Celine. You can see for yourself, below, that she’s very slender, has a lovely face and, with a model’s fine bones, narrow hips, long thin legs with delicate ankles, long hair hanging to her mid-thigh, she could attract most any man’s glance. He told the women, while looking directly at Celine, that he wanted to go to the Duty-Free area to do some shopping before going to the hotel.
When there he went from store to store buying a 24-inch television, a watch, a gold necklace, high-top leather boots, numerous pairs of shoes, a blender, perfumes, lotions, cases of grapes, apples, washing detergent, arm-loads of chocolates, among other things. And always he was pressing Celine to either buy more things or accept what he had bought as gifts. “Buy whatever you want!”
But, Celine kept saying she didn’t want anything. She didn’t know this man. Why was he so eager to buy so many expensive things for a complete stranger?
The man was adamant and persisted in trying to get Celine to buy things.
Meanwhile, Claudine and her mother kept insisting to her in their language of Tagalog to take everything he offered and buy more, pointing out things she should choose. If she didn’t want it, Claudine told her, Celine could just give to her.
The three women then accompanied the American man to his hotel where he paid for two rooms – one for him, the other for the women.
Once in their room, Celine demanded to know what was going on, and why that American man was acting so familiar with her. This is the explanation she got...
Claudine, more than a year before, had stolen a picture of Celine from a photo-album while at Celine’s parents house, and sent it to that American man. The idea to lie to the American was Claudine’s mother’s, with a plan to steal, by fraud, as much as they could get from him.
In prior letters the man had told Claudine that he was only interested in meeting a thin girl with long hair. Claudine told the man that the girl in the picture was her, and that her name was Celine. Throughout the year Claudine had written many letters to him telling of all the things she dreamed of having – a fancy watch, a gold necklace, high-top leather boots and shoes, perfumes, and so forth.
Now, as to Claudine's appearance: She’s both short at 4’11” and she’s fat, weighing between 135 – 143lbs. This fellow would never have been interested in her. So, in order for Claudine and her mother to fleece the man, they concocted the story of Claudine as Celine, using Celine’s photo.
Believing that he was writing to Celine, and pleased with what he saw in the picture, he’d began sending money to Claudine/Celine regularly after reading how poor she was and how little she and her family had. Such a hard life!
Celine was very angry and she told them, “You lied to me, and now that man thinks it was me that has been writing to him. You made me be silent and allow you to continue to fool him. Now I don’t know how to explain to him that I’m not you... you’re not me. He came here all the way from America because he wants to marry me... not you. I don’t want to marry him, and how can he marry you when he thinks you’re me?"
"I need you to tell help me tell him the truth. We can tell him together.” But, neither Caudine or her mother were willing to admit to the truth that they were liars and thieves, and they said,”Just keep pretending. If he finds out the truth one day, we’ll already have all of the things he bought us. And we’ll share the loot with you.”
The following morning, he checked out of the hotel after purchasing four ship tickets. They boarded the ship that afternoon bound for Palawan. While on the ship, Celine was tried to find a moment alone with the man so she could tell him the truth, but the two others wouldn’t let Celine get him off alone. Celine, only sixteen years old and naïve, was intimdated by the two older women and had not as yet learned to have the courage of a more mature woman. So, though her heart told her that she should have spoken-up in front of them, Celine remained silent.
At the dock in Palawan, while loading all of the loot onto a jeepney, the mother and cousin kept insisting that all of the purchases should be stored at their house instead of Celine’s parent’s house. But the American showed some long needed good sense and said, no, that the goods belonged to Celine, and that they would go with her. The mother and daughter were only able to keep the large bags of chocolate with them.
When they arrived at Celine’s parent’s house it was late evening. The house was dark, and the man asked why there were no lights. Celine answered, “Because we have no electric power.”
“But, you said that you wanted a big TV because you only had a small TV. How could you have a TV at all with no power?”
“Small TV? How can we have a small TV if we have no electricity?” she answered honestly. Meanwhile, the two women were winking at Celine to get her to stop talking. The man noticed, but said nothing. And the two women just smiled brightly at him.
“Tomorrow morning,” the man went on, “we’ll go buy a washing machine and refrigerator, then go to the electric company to have power installed in your house.” He soon left to go check-in at his hotel.
Claudine and her mother, gleefully pointed to this and that box saying, “This is mine,” and, “That belongs to me.” But, although Celine kept saying, “This can’t go on. My mother’s going to kill me if she learns about this.” The women only replied, “Just keep pretending and don’t tell your mother, and we’ll take all of the things to our house tonight.” But Celine wouldn’t let them take it. “That American man is going to come here tomorrow and he’ll want to know where it went and why.” So they reluctantly left their bounty behind and went to their home for the night.
All night Celine was terrified, afraid that she would going to go to jail for what Claudine and her mother had involved her in. Or, worse... what might her parents do to her?
In the morning when the American came to her house, Celine spoke to him as best she was able in her fractured English. “I must to tell you something. You don’t need, really, to buy a washing machine or refrigerator and get us power from the electric company.”
“But, I already went to the store and bought you the washing machine and a big refrigerator. Now you'll need to go get power hooked-up.”
"But," Celine persisted, "I don’t want to marry you. I’m not the woman you’ve been writing to. I don't know you, and I don't love you”
“Oh, you’re joking,” he replied, “How can you not be the woman I’ve been writing to when I have your picture?”
“I’ve never sent my picture to anyone. Listen to me.” And Celine explained to the confused American man what her cousin and her couson's mother had done.
“Why didn’t you tell me this in Manila?” his face turning red and his voice rising.
“How could I tell you the truth? I was afraid, and I didn’t know what to do. I only learned the truth myself at the airport only moments before we met. The other two were begging and ordering me not to let on that I didn't know you!”
The American bristled, then immediately made Celine lead him to the house of Claudine’s mother. “Where’s my chocolate, all of my chocolate?” he raged.
The mother calmly asked, “Why, what's the matter, why are you so angry?”
“Because you and your daughter are thieves and liars! And you,” turning on the approaching Claudine, ”are a pig liar! And I want all of my things that you brought here!”
Returning with Celine to her parent's bamboo house, he berated himself. “I’m a stupid, foolish man! I kept sending money and packages of gifts before, came all this way... but it was all just a lie, a con-job!”
Looking to Celine, he softened. “Thank you for telling me the truth as early as you did. I appreciate that.” Telling Celine that he wanted to meet her mother and father, he added that he still wanted to give her all of the things he’d bought. Then he went again to his hotel.
He still had more than two weeks of vacation he'd planned to spend in the Philippines. He asked Celine to be his companion and to show him around as his tour guide. Celine said she was willing, but that she had no romantic interest in him.
A day or two later Celine’s mother arrived from where she and her family had been staying on Isla Decania. When Celine finished telling the story she was very angry with Celine and the other two. But the American man told her it was all right, everything had already been straightened out. To her mother, the American said, “And you can still have all of the things I bought.”
“No.” responded Celine’s mother, a proud woman, “We don’t need that. You can still refund those things like the refrigerator and washing machine you bought here in Puerto. And we can sell those things you bought in Manila to get back most of the money you spent, so you won’t have lost too much.”
The American tried to insist on giving them everything. In the end nothing was settled, but left hanging.
In a twist of fate, Celine invited another cousin, Jessica, to join them in sight-seeing so she would not be alone with the American man. Jessica is extremely tall for a Filipina; she’s five-foot eight inches tall, fine in bone and thin in build, and possesses a long mane of hair. Before long, the American man had eyes only for Jessica, and they became inseparable.
Once back in the USA, the American began a sustained letter-writing campaign and within three months proposed marriage to Jessica.
He returned soon afterward when she accepted his offer and, marrying her, he eventually took her to the United States as his wife.
So... things turned all right after all for that American man. However, he was more fortunate than many others.
There’s a lesson in there for all of we foreign men who do not look at what’s in front of us with eyes wide open, but would only see only what we wish to see.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Cost Of Living - part two

Doctors: If you're traveling from place to place, try not to get sick. I'm only half-kidding. On the whole, doctors in the Philippines don't have much training. There is a big problem in the Philippines with the selling of certificates and credentials by professor's and officials. If one's grades aren't too good in University or other public and private institutions, more often than not with a little money you can purchase better grades from your teachers. It's a serious matter for concern for both Pinoy and foreigners alike.
The provencial hospital of Palawan is the very last place you would want to go to if you had a serious - beginning with a simple headache - or life-threatening problem. Doctors with good skills and training won't work there, and setup private practices. If you were in dire need of finding a competent doctor, how would you, the traveler, find one? One of the best can be found practicing at the Bio-Chemist drug store and pharmacy in PPC - which he owns. Usually only new doctors and interns would be fond at the provencial hospital, and they are very short on knowledge or skills. And I think I could safely say that that holds true through-out the Philippines.
At the provencial hospital, health care is free. Sort of. I think I would desribe that brand of health-care as health-damage. The big problem with the provencial hospital system, after the incometent doctors, is that they have virtually nothing in the way of medicines, blood, blood plasma, etc., to provide to those in need of it. Before one can have surgery, no matter how immediate the need, you must first go or send a companion to a pharmacy to purchase such things as suture thread. Blood and plasma must also first be purchased prior to surgery.
Adventist Hospital - or any private hospital - is the only place you should give serious consideration to when needing medical help. It's a private hospital in Puerto Princesa City and the standards are quite high in comparison to all other options. All foreigners without exception go there for treatment. The doctors are capable and they have what's needed if surgery is required, and a well-stocked pharmacy.
To be seen by a doctor at a private hospital like Adventist costs P150 ($2.68). Health care is very inexpensive, as is medicines. Prices will be higher in large cities like Manila, but even at four-times the cost it doesn't amount to much.

I'm amazed that I haven't once gotten sick since my arrival. After all the stories and fears of bacteria and germs with shouts of "Don't touch that!" from my mother, schools and TV health programs inundated me with as a child, you'd think I'd be dead after taking two deep breaths upon leaving the Manila airport.
I do get rashes from bacteria many times when resting my arms on a cafe or restuarant table top. Waitresses use the same cloth, dampened with tap water, to smear the bacteria around. I'm prepared to swear they've never used warm water or soap in the history of the business. Within minutes my arms, where they've touched the table, start itching and turn red. Going into most businesses restrooms to wash can be a lesson in frustration and aggravation; there's rarely soap, and hot water is even more rare. Add toilet paper to that "never have" list. And that includes the hospital restrooms.
You will never find toilet paper in 99 out of every 100 places. Toilet paper would immediately be stolen if it were placed in a restroom. Bio-matter, such as leaves, is most commonly employed, as is one's hand, well washed, one hopes, afterward. I always carry those little Kleenex packs of tissues in my waist-pouch, along with packs of moist towelettes that have alcohol in them.
For some reason Antibiotics are prescribed like candy and can be purchased at any drugstore without a prescription. Filipino's take antibiotics for headaches, sore throat. anything, really. Sore throat medicants like Hall's throat lozenges are stocked only on the candy shelves of stores.
Hydrogen Peroxide (Aqua Oxigenada): When I first moved to the Philippines you can expect that, as a westerner with squished-together toes from tight shoes and boots, I ran into problems with foot fungus between my toes. I bought over-the-counter lotions and sprays, saw the doctor and was prescribed pasty lotions. Everything was water based. Some did nothing - others made the peeling worse. As time went on the cracking and peeling became so bad and opened so deeply that it was bleeding, and I feared that I would soon see my toe-bones. I worried about real infections.
Then I remembered that Hydrogen Peroxide was good for infections, so I started using that. Almost over-night the wounds grew smaller. Within a week the wounds were closed. Now I apply a few drops between my toes about two times a week. Result: occasional minute peeling betweebn two toes only (because they're so close together) every 3-4- weeks. It's not a cure, but it's close enough.
Dentists: There's just no way to advise you about dentists. I can't say I've had a lot of experience with them. I'd only had check-ups and teeth cleaning with two different dentists. However, I took my girlfriend to have extensive work done to her teeth. What I saw of her experience was not encouraging. Celine had a bad tooth that needed pulling. When we went to have the work done, the dentist, a young woman, told Celine that she hadn't sleep the night before from worrying and nervousness about the work. She had never done it before! Now, I don't know about you, but that would make my feet fly me right out the door if I heard that.
Even my teeth cleanings were bad. The dentist used some mideival instrument of torture I'd never seem before. Three small prongs, like thin nut-picks, protruded from a metal tube. When the air was turned on the prongs rattled and stabbed at my teeth like miniature jack-hammers. It was completely ineffective.
I was finally referred to an excellent dentist, but only because the one that I'd been to was moving to the U.S. to start a practice there. The dentist, Dr. Acero, is highly trained. He first learned to speak Japanese so he could go to Japan to study. After six years of learning advanced dentistry techniques he was awarded a Ph.D and the title of "Doctor." No doubt, the man knows what he's doing, and I would go so far as to say he's more qualified and talented than most American dentists. So you never know what you're going to find, good, bad or ugly. As we say in America, "You lays yer money down, and you takes yer chances."
Dr. Acero charges no more than the worst dentists. I once spent four hours in his chair simply having my teeth checked and cleaned - the proper way, by hand with a pick, then rotory-polished. He charged me P400 ($7.00). Celine got some fillings in her teeth at a cost of P200 ($3.50) each.
I filed a case for an annulment from my Filipina wife 3-years ago. We never even lived together. It was strange. It was an Internet affair. Dangerous stuff, that. I think it was just a game for her - get online, say whatever you want, lie, pretend to be whomever, whatever you want, play, see what happens. Online relationships are not WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get). Far from it. And you need to be very careful if you decide to go the Internet Personals route. Many girls send other girls' pictures, so the young, beautiful, skinny girl with the model's figure turns out to be, after an expensive flight to the other side of the world, 45-years old and with the figure of a 55-gallon drum. The college-educated young woman who's working as a computer programmer is suddenly revealed to be a dancer/prostitute with a grade-3 elementary education and working in the bars at infamous Angeles City.
I wasn't deceived in that way. My wife was college educated, as were her parents, and it is a respectable family. But, she was just playing. Although she denies it, I believe she just wanted to find a (rich) American to foot the bill for her to go to America and provide the means for a green card. She was the one to propose marriage to me after a 9-month email relationship.
When I told her I was moving here to retire and live permanently, she offered to come and help me take care of my mother. When already in the Philippines, her mother and other family members gave her heck for showing signs of not wanting to go through with the marriage. So it was easier, apparently, just to marry me and get everyone off of her back.
On our wedding night, rather than kiss, and hug and laugh, and consumate the marriage, she wanted to sleep in separate beds. Then she spent a half-hour or so telling me what she would and would not do because she didn't really want to be married. I retired to the lounge to sleep on a couch, leaving her with the statement that, "I don't want to be married to anyone who doesn't want to be married to me." What more can one say when faced with that sort of future connubial bliss?
The next morning I was on a plane bound for Manila and San Francisco. Four months later, and after obtaining a 13(A) permanent resident visa, I returned to Puerto. At the house she'd rented for me I was presented the keys, and she left. So much for marriage Filipina style. I filed soon afterwards. Last October, 3 and 1/2 years later my attorney rested the case and I currently await the courts decision.
Well, as life mysteriously goes, it was the best thing that could have happened. I have my 13(A), which I otherwise couldn't get and I found the most amazingly wonderful woman I could have ever hoped to meet - Celine. Much more on that later...
I received a phone call from my wife not long ago in which she asked for my help so she could move to the U.S. "Why do you want to got to the States," I asked, "I thought you never wanted to live there?"
"Well..., I just thought it might be fun. What is there to do here?" Mm-hmmm.
Okey-dokey. My attorney is supposed to be one of the best on Palawan (he represents large clients like the University of Palawan). The man's an idiot. But for informational purposes, his fees are P150 ($2.67) for a consultation; (P500 ($8.90) to go to court; P1000 ($17.85) if he has to address the court on your behalf. The bad news is, if you find you need an attorney in the Philippines to represent you on a serious charge, you'd be smart go to Manila and find a more competent, more costly one. What fool won't do whatever necessary to save himself to save a little money on costs? The good news is that it won't cost you your life's fortune as it would in the USA.................

Rice Farmer drives his carabao. Posted by Hello Click to enlarge.

Coron Island off North coast of Palawan. Posted by Hello Click to enlarge.

Wonderful colors! Posted by Hello Click to enlarge.

Mindoro Island. Nice beaches. Posted by Hello Click to enlarge.

Monday, December 06, 2004


"Jeepney." A type of town-to-town bus service.
Click to enlarge Posted by Hello

Map of the Philippines

Click to enlarge Posted by Hello

Coconut palms and mango trees.

View from the screen-room.
Click to enlarge. Posted by Hello

Sunday, December 05, 2004

My House

What you actually see is the screened-in room connected to the front of the house. I had that built. I made a bargain with the owner of the property: I'd put up all of the money to a limit of P80,000 ($1,450) to have the screen-room added on. Half of the money would be paid back by charging me no rent, beginning immediately, until it was paid-off. That gave me seven months that I paid nothing to the owners. I told them that they could keep the other half, but that I also wanted the rent lowered by P500 ($9-10) per month. They lowered the rent to the current P4000. Over the last three years I've gotten just about all of my money back, plus I have the use of the screen-room.
It cost P80K to build. When the money ran out, the owners told the carpenter to stop working. It was 99.75% finished except for some cosmetic covering.
Why did I build the screen-room? Mosquitoes. I can sit in the screen-room and feel like I'm outside without worrying about those pesky little critters. Although there's very little evidence of it inside of PPC (Puerto Princesa City), malaria is common, as is dengue fever, though less so. My dining table is also there and that's where Celine and I eat. A breeze blows through the three floor to ceiling screened-in walls in the evenings and it's very pleasant.
In the evenings Celine and I always eat by candlelight. It's very romantic.
The property looks very different now. This picture was taken in December, 2003. There are now many dozens more plants - with lots of orchids - both outside and inside in the screen-room. Celine has a magnificent ability to grow healthy plants. I believe she could make rocks grow.

The screen-room

And the front yard.
Click to enlarge. Posted by Hello

How And Why The Philippines - Cost Of Living

Before I get into life, living, and Filipina's, I'm going to get a few things out of the way. Cost of living is one of them. But first I want to apologize for the way pictures are loaded onto the site - I can't copy and paste to these postings, and I don't know HTML so I can't change around how the page is laid-out. At least, not yet.
Right, the cost-of-living is ridiculously cheap compared to the States (or Europe). I lived mostly on the west coast of the U.S., and the California lifestyle begins and ends with large amounts of money.
In San Diego, in 1990, for instance, I rented a two bedroom house in a bad neighborhood for $600 a month, and I considered myself lucky. Never mind all of the other expenses for power, phone, garbage pick-up, and so forth. Iit costs a lot to live there.

HOW and WHY I moved to the Philippines... It Could Happen To You.
The abbreviated version:
I was injured while working on a construction job in 1984 and my earnings fell to only receiving workers compensation; and my wife at the time had to start working full-time to help cover costs. But I was on workers compensation for over six years; and it didn't take long before all savings and anuities were wiped out. Like too many American families, we lived month to month with nothing left over after the bills were paid.
With a permanent back injury, I was out of the rat-race for good and was, in 1990, sent to the retirement farm, and Social Security Assistance payments became my only means of income.
Before long, with little money to satisfy my wife's taste for what the green stuff could provide her, I soon had no wife, and had to find a way to live alone on SSA. In America that's just about impossible unless one decides to turn over his or her life to the bureaucrats and feed at the trough of Medi-Cal, general assistance, an assisted housing allowance, welfare, ad nauseum.

The puppet's life is not for me. I might be a half-broke down, half-old guy with half-zeimers, but I have some pride left. I left California and tried to live cheaply in a small town in Arizona. It was cheaper, but still not cheap enough. I realized that I was priced out of the American dream. I didn't want to spend my end-days as an invisible man pushing all of my earthly posessions in a grocery-cart down crowded lonely streets.
I had internet service, so I started researching the possibilities of moving to another country where I could live within my means. You may be doing that very thing yourself as you read my blog for similar infomation.
My initial interest was in Costa Rica. It's still close to the States, the government is stable and the country ecologically enlightened. The weather is magnificent if one lives on the Pacific side of the mountains, and the Tico's speak Spanish - an easy language to learn and very grammatically similar to English. I'd be there at this moment if I could.
But I could see that American developers had also discovered Costa Rica, and though I could have afforded to live there in 1995, before ten years had gone by I knew I would probably find myself looking for another cheaper country to move to.
If you're going to become an expatriate and you don't have much money, you'd be smart to plan to move only once. You may find yourself trapped somewhere you don't want to be.

Okey-dokey... look elsewhere. I remembered the Philippines from when I was in the Navy in the 1960's. The weather's pretty good, though more humid than Costa Rica. The humidity is not overly bad, relative to the rest of Southeast Asia. I remembered the women as being very beautiful and extremely loving and loyal, and having a preference for older men as husbands - but more on that later.
I set my efforts to researching the Philippines, and it proved to be viable as a long-term retirement spot.
While on the Internet, as you must have discovered by now while researching the Philippines yourself, you will eventually be bounced to Personals sites like Yahoo; pen-pal sites, etc. Meet Filipina's for love and romance!
I originally thought to use some of those sites to get free access to people who could tell me first-hand and truthfully what life in the Philippines - and real time cost-of-living - was like. That can work well. Other types of sites have their own agenda to get you to go to the Philippines - MONEY. But local people are the real deal.
As you may have guessed, I started a long-term email relationaship with one particular woman and, long story short, visited her and married her before I really got to know her well, but from from letters and email's. Another time I'll tell you why that's usually a terrible idea, but briefly, though you may get truthful info about the Philippines, you probably won't get much, if any, honesty about the girl on the other end of your email's. It's far better to move here first, and for many reasons I'll describe later. One very important piece of information to consider, however, is that there is no divorce in the Philippines, and getting an annulment can take from a minimum of 3-years to 15-years. The Catholic church has a death-grip on this country and virtually everything is filtered one way or another through the church.
My own annulment case is 3 1/2-years old and growing older. Make a mistake in your choice and it can become a mighty big headache for you.

Cost-of-Living: All rates are based on P56=$1.00 (USD)

You now know that I live here and support myself entirely from my Social security benefits, so you also know, then, that it must be pretty cheap to live here. Well, that's both true and not true. Yes, you can live here cheaply, but how do you equate that to quality of life?
For instance, I'm living in a compound of rental houses with a caretaker on the premises. That's common for foreigners; we need to protect our possessions. A stand alone house can and will be be a target to thieves. This is a very poor country, and most have very little or next to nothing. For a huge number of people, basics such as food are a daily chore to find. Hunger is common, and many go hungry often. As a foreigner, you absolutely will be viewed as rich, and what you have in your house will be highly desirable to many. So living in a stand-alone house without a full-time live-in housekeeper is not a great idea. After being here awhile that will change with experience and wisdom.
A full-time live-in housekeeper would cost you about P2000 to 3000 ($40-50) a month, but she will do everything you need done, from cleaning the house, cooking your meals, washing clothes and dishes, ironing, sweeping and caring for the yard, shopping, paying your bills, and more. I had a part-time house keeper who did all of those things for P1500. She worked for me for 2-years and I grew to trust her. I later learned what a very talented actress she was. I discovered she'd been deceiving me all along and was skimming money in some pretty ingenious ways and more than doubling her income. Rule number one for those living in the Philippines: keep your eyes open and trust no one.
My telephone bill for unlimited local calls is about P800 ($14). The Internet is not so cheap. You will still have to pay by the hours of usage: 50-hours of time will normally cost around P1400 ($25). When you exceed your time/contract the rates go up to at least P25 per hour which can quickly turn your $25 monthly fee into $45 or more. It happened to me enough times.
The Internet is your life-line to your home country. Snail-mail is just too slow, and you may find that a lot of your mail never arrives, opened prematurely -and illegally - by postal workers.
Mail: Corruption is a way of life in every facet of the government of the Philippines. The mail service workers are notorious thieves. Lots of foreign men send money (foolishly) to Filipina's through the mail, or those who live here receive retirement and pension checks; OFW's (Off-shore Foreign Workers - Filipino's) and Filipino expatriates living in places like the U.S., collectively send billions of pesos and presents home to their families. Most of the money is sent through wire services, but a lot is just put into envelopes and boxes and mailed. The mail workers know that all too well and very often treat the mail office like their own private candy store. There's been a number of instances where I never received letters from my mother and others. Anything of importance should be sent by Fed-Ex or another courier company.
Do your banking online. Before you leave your home country, you have a lot of preparations to do. The smartest thing you can do for yourself is to keep your home bank account if you bank with a large international company such as Bank America who have a website and have foreign offices. Keeping your bank account at home will better protect your money. The Philippine banks don't have the same protections, such as F.D.I.C., that you enjoy there. Only 100,000 pesos of all of your accounts in one Philippine bank is guaranteed. That's only $1785.00!
In addition to better protections at your home-land bank, your interest rates will be better, also.
You will want to open two accounts here - A dollar (pound, franc, etc.) account and a peso account. Since first writing that, I have dropped my Peso account and only have a dollar account. The peso fluctuates constantly. If you pay attention you can increase your income by selling dollars.
If you have a dollar account, then you can deposit your home-land checks just as you do now, and only dollars will be deposited by the bank to that account. Later you can exchange (sell) them for pesos at a time when the exchange rate in is your favor and make a small profit.
If you deposit your country's money as pesos, then the deposit will reflect the exchange rate of that day of deposit only! If the exchange rate rises in your favor the following week or month your pesos will still only be worth what they were the day you deposited them.
Your peso account should offer ATM services. You'll have to ask for it; it's not automatically given to you with any account like it is at home. Having an ATM card will allow you to access extra money when you need it, if you're traveling or shopping in places like Manila or Cebu. And you will have to make trips to Manila to shop if you live in other outlying areas such as Palawan.
You won't need to bring a lot of checks with you. You'll probably be making most all of your purchases and bill payments with cash. I have only used about 12 checks in the 3+ years I've been here, and they've all been deposits to my bank account. I only move money from the States every 4-5 months. Since the cost of living is so much less in the Philippines, and the banks here, with the exception of a few of the largest banks, aren't all that safe (bank closings), you're better off depositing enough money to live on for 4--6 months. Leave the rest at home.
In June, 2005, I was notified by the Philippine National Bank (PNB) that they will no longer accept foreign check deposits above $2000 USD. So now I have to deposit two checks where I used to only deposit one. THat means I have to use 8-12 checks a year.
Be sure to notify all of your banks, credit card companies, etc., that your are moving to the Philippines and that they should expect to see all transactions reflecting that. Otherwise they may think your cards have been compromised by a thief and close your card accounts. You should also tell them that they should not see activities in your home country. And notify them before you make a trip home that you're returning to your home country for a visit so they won't refuse payments or close down your cards.
You have to think about all these things. It's important to keep things flowing smoothly. Just getting on the phone or driving to the BofA office won't be so simple when you're 8000 miles from home!

DSL (broad band) has recently been introduced by the national telephone company, PLDT. I had it installed last month, and I now have full-time unlimited Internet access. It costs P2000 ($35) for installation and P2500 ($45) a month for 125 Kbps (yes, BIG K= megabytes) of speed, and P3000 ($54.50) for 200Kbps. It works very, very well. It sounds expensive, but it actually turned out to about the same as buying blocks of time from an dial-up Internet company, since I almost always exceeded my time allotment.
There's no charge for garbage pickup, but lots of trash winds up strewn on the street and is ravaged by hungry dogs, who aren't pampered (or even neccesarily fed) as they are in the States. Dogs and cats mostly fend for themselves. Six months ago, in 2005, the city introduced rolling garbage cans with lids and now have new garbage trucks that automatically lift them. The streets are much cleaner. Things are improving. But the dogs, already skin and bones, are looking anorexic.
Electricity is comparably inexpensive. My monthly bill normally runs about P1300-1700 ($23-30). Besides the refrigerator, TV, PC, weekly ironing, and other standard stuff, I run two fans all day and evening everyday, and I run one of those fans 24-hours non-stop in the bedroom. It's always hot or very warm year-round, save for the cool days when it rains. The air is sweltering and, for me anyway, sleeping would be difficult without the fan moving the air. So don't bring your winter clothes when you move here!
Although I have an A/C in the bedroom I don't use it much, but that's just because I don't much like A/C. When I do use it, that's when the electric bill goes to P1700 and beyond. There've been cost increases in 2005. Not by much, but still rising slowly.
Rent and the typical house: I have a one bedroom house that my darlin,' Celine, and I share. You'll see a photo of it - or what you can see of it in the picture. Carpentry skills here are mostly that of a mid-level imbicile. For the most part, 'skilled worker' is a contradiction in terms.
Houses aren't built by developer's as they are in the States. Each one is individually built by someone without much knowledge; plans and blueprints will not often be employed.
Most houses built for Pinoy are built by the owner and his entire family, and the house will be made of bamboo and rattan with a covering of nipa leaves as the roof. The interior wood frame-work will be plainly visable. Tree trunks are a popular frame-bracing technique in places like the living-room.
Houses built for use by foreigners loosely resemble American building techniques.
There's not a level floor(cement) in my house. Nothing else is level, either. The walls, conventional in that they have sawed wood and are covered with plywood have very little interior cross-bracing and they undulate (they're wavy). There's very little uniformity in board size. Most everything is cut using a hand saw. Few "craftsmen" use power tools. Cement is hand mixed on the ground in the dirt and carried to the "pour" one bucket-load at a time.
You can have a well-made, beautiful two story American style 4 bedroom, two bath house built. It would normally cost about one to two million pesos. Man, that sure sounds like a lot of Dough-ray-me! But, do the math... at current exchange rates, P1,000,000 equals $17,857.00. Not bad.
A stove is commonly a portable two-burner affair set on a counter-top or small table and fueled by a propane tank on the floor. There's no oven. You can purchase a U.S. style stove/oven, but it's not that easy to get. It would probably have to be bought in Manila and shipped. I usually baked my food in the States, and I miss it. Now, I fry using olive oil.
The kitchen sink will, more often than not, be made of ceramic tiles (which tends to leak at the corners) and the single tap will be an outdoor-style spigot that would commonly be used in the West for a garden hose. There will very rarely be hot water. Hot water tanks are as rare as Cadillacs (I've never seen a Cadillac here). Who needs hot water when it's always hot?
If you want hot water, the typical choice is to install (at your expense) an electric P.O.E., or Point-Of-Exit water heater. It has to be turned on to use and works pretty well.
Once a week, Celine cleans the sinks and counter-tops with soap and hot water from the stove. Also bleach is used to kill germs.
I should add that I've never once gotten sick from anything, not even a cold.
The C.R. (Comfort Room): Otherwise know as the bathroom.
There are far more gravity toilets in the Philippines than the conventional flush toilet. I have no love for them and never use a gravity toilet if I can help it. For the uninitiated, a gravity toilet almost always sits away from the wall, most often all the center of the room. The size of these toilets is very small and there is no seat. The release of one's bowels is done in the method of one in the woods; one must squat over the toilet. Flushing the gravity toilet requires having large plastic drums (55 gallon) in the C.R. - this is standard throughout the Philippines. A pail is used to pour water into the toilet to "flush" it.
Most foreigners won't have to use them often, thank goodness.
Zippers down! One thing that truely disgusts me is seeing, and smelling, the common practice of men pissing anywhere they please. No Pinoy gives it a thought because everywhere one goes one will see it happening. Public bathrooms are virtually non-existent! The tricycle - motorbikes, "cabs," that are the Taxi's of the country - drivers stop and piss on the side of the road. They make little effort to hide. Even in the center of town you will see men pissing on the ground.
In front of the super market, three blocks from city center, some thirty to fifty tricycle (trike) drivers wait for shoppers to emerge. There is no public bathroom for them to use, and they're not allowed to enter the store where there is a C.R. for the customers. There is, however, a small 4-square-foot patch of dirt where a few small shrubs struggle to survive, because those poor bushes are drowned daily in urine. The stench is horrific when walking past the dirt patch with bags in hand to get into a trike for the ride home. The smell of urine is noticable when riding along the boulavards of any town.
I live three kilometers from city center. On any given trip to and from town, I can expect to see at least one, and as many as six men standing on the side of the road, zippers down, relieving themselves.

Showers are rare. Bathing is normally done by filling a bucket with cool water from the CR spigot and using a small plastic pail with a handle to pour the water over oneself. Of course there's a toilet; a little smaller than U.S. size. But then Pinoy (Filipino's) are smaller than most westerner's. There's a sink, but with only one tap for the cold/cool water.
Water is commonly supplied by a tank that sits about 30-feet in the air atop a girder platform. Water pressure is low, maybe 3 or 4 LBS psi. If you have a shower the water would usually just fall on you, not spray. I don't know what water costs, as water is included in my rent.
When I first got here I thought I would die from either a heart attack or the chills when I bathed. That water was cold! After six months I didn't give it much thought anymore. You adapt. Three years on, I like the cold water baths; it feels very refreshing. That coming from a die-hard hot-shower addict!
Drinking water should be purchased. I wouldn't recommend drinking tap water anywhere. There's no public (or private) sanitantion systems in the Philippines that I personally know of, though I guess there is some sort of sanitation system in places like Manila, Cebu or Davao. I do know, also, that there's lots of raw sewage run-off into the fowl smelling dead rivers that pass through Manila. Almost every house in the country uses a septic tank which leeches all waste into the ground. And most all tap water is pumped-up from that same ground into the raised tank that sends the water to the country's houses. The water is also heavily calcified. When I first arrived I used tap water for coffee and cooking, until I noticed the thick coating of calcite inside the kettle and on the pots.
There's lots of treated drinking water services and the water is cheap; two 2.5 kiloliters (about 10-gallons each) bottles cost around $1.50.
Again, my rent is P4000 ($71). I've seen a few really nice houses that were being rented by other foreigners with more money than I have. One was a 3-bedroom, 2-bath, with a large kithen and living room. The livingroom had a sunken floor covered with Epil wood - that's Teak wood to you. Epil/Teak grows here.
The property, with about half an acre of land, was fenced and covered with Bermuda grass. There were lots of trees, and Bougainvillea plants growing all over the house and porch. It was quite pretty and built with a much higher standard than the one I'm in. It would fit in anywhere in the States, and maybe even pass most state codes, as well. The rent for that house was P10,000 ($179) per month. That's too steep for me.
Food costs are less than in the States, maybe by half, perhaps less. I can't say anymore with accuracy since I've been gone too long.
If you're willing to go to the palengke (pah-leng-kay) - open market - to buy your meat it's less costly than going to the one-and-only supermarket on Palawan, but all the meats and fish lay out, unchilled, exposed all day to the open air and flies. The smell is pretty bad.
Fruits are cheap. Way cheap. A banana costs one peso (about a penny or less). And you can buy 30 or more different types of banana's. One, very delicious, tastes just like strawberries!
The supermarket is not as well laid out, or as aesthetically beautiful as you're used to. Nor is it filled with endless choices. In the three+ years I've been here it has constantly improved, however. There's quite a few products from the States you would find familiar. There's an import section that has some good product offerings. Of course, the import goods are more expensive. Milk comes in half-liter boxes and all of it is UHT treated ( I think that means, Ultra-violet Heat Treated), so it may or may not be in a chiller. It's mostly full-cream milk, though there's also skim milk offered. It doesn't taste at all like what I was used to in the U.S., but it's not bad, either.
In Februay, 2005, NCCC began selling yogurt/fruit cups. They're expensive at P38 each, but I love 'em. Then American Fresh orange juice appeared for about two months - I was in heaven! Then, as with most products, it disppeared again.
Recently. fresh strawberries from Baguio, appeared for a few weeks. It was the first strawberries I'd seen in four years. I made a pig of myself. I'm hoping they come again next year. Last week - July, 2005 - Kiwi's showed-up for one week. Now that's a fruit worth loving. Again, they were the first in 4-years. When will I see you again? When?

A Currency Converter Website

Hmm, the first currency converter posting disappeared. One more try...

Another Currency Converter

Here's another currency converter that you may find easier to read, though I like the other one.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Divers delight.

Near El Nido, Palawan.
Good diving at a great resort. Posted by Hello

Palawan, Philippines

Palawan Island sits by itself, separated from the rest of the Philippine archepeligo (island's) by the Sulu Sea. On the western side of the island is the South China Sea. Palawan is called the "Last Frontier."
The living is slow.
Manila can be reached in 45-minutes by air, or 24-hours by two different shipping companies. I prefer booking the stateroom on the ship; it's slow and peaceful and can be very romantic, if you have your Filipina honey with you. However, things aren't quite as "accomodating," sanitary and comfortable as those of us from the western world take for granted.
A one-way ticket in a stateroom will cost about US$50.00.

Banca (boat) Posted by Hello

Welcome to Puerto Princesa. Now shut-up.

Rik - new resident in Puerto - July, 2001 Posted by Hello Click to enlarge

Rik and Celine Posted by Hello

Life Under The Palms

Expatriates in the Philippines: ETP will involve every aspect of life and living for those who already live here and those who would like to. It's an informational site for those of us who live here permanently to share our experiences and help make it better.
For those if you who want to retire here, or maybe just meet a Filipina and take her home to your own country, I and the others, who I hope will join in, will endeavor to make it possible to make it possible for you to have a good understanding of what you're getting yourself into, how things work, and to provide information on how to get things done.
Expatriates: If you want to gripe about the bad stuff, talk about the headaches your Filipina girlfriend - and her family! - are causing you; that's fine. I believe it will help to guide each of the ones already living here to smoothe the bumps - and let the "wannabe's" see what they may be getting themselves into.
Herein is the beginning...