Life In The Philippines

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I began life in Ireland which is my country of birth. I’ve also lived in Holland, Canada, the Unites States, Costa Rica, Brazil, and now the Philippines. So why did I decide to complete the final chapter in my life living here? And why, from over 7,000 islands, did I select Negros Oriental, and specifically around the Dumaguete area? There was nothing scientific in my approach. When I lived in Manhattan, I tossed a coin on the bar floor. If it came up heads, I’ve leave the next day for New Orleans; if tails, I’d travel north to winter in Toronto. Tails came up. While my approach coming to the Philippines was not quite as cavalier, it was still a throw of the dice. Yes, I knew of, and very much respected Philippine culture. When living in California, I met and dated some lovely Filipina nurses and, in time, met their families. I soon realized Philippine and Irish cultures have many similarities. Family is very important to both, as is a vibrant sense of humor, and a similar religion. Forbes magazine wrote a few years ago that Dumaguette is one of the best places in the world to retire. I visited here last year to get a “feel” of the place. I also visited the town of Valencia. Sipping coffee in the square, I didn’t realize then that my future beautiful home was waiting for me 15 minutes by scooter up the mountainside in barangay Bong Bong.

I’d read the biggest challenge facing any foreigner when living here is “accepting everything as they are” rather that how the foreigner felt it should be. I quickly learned these are indeed pearls of wisdom. I had spent many years in California, and became severely Americanized. America is a society where almost everything works efficiently. In contrast, the Philippines is a society with great heart and soul, but inefficiency prevails on almost every level. But inefficiency here is viewed by Filipinos simply as “the way it is,” the normal conduct, and therefore, not is inherently-wrong. Here’s one amusing example I experienced because of teaching at Foundation University. I had to go to immigration in Cebu for an interview, then be finger-printed, and a photo taken for their records. The ever-helpful, always patient Lucelle Saguban from the HR department was with me, so the interview went smoothly. Her work done, Lucelle left and I went to get the seemingly-simple task of having my photo taken and finger-printing done. After standing in line for an hour, I handed my paperwork to the clerk. He was the only person working behind the counter apart from three trainee- clerks who were not allowed to do anything. “Sorry Sir, the system is down.” I wondered why he had not told me earlier, and the other people waiting in line, that it was pointless lining up. “So when will the system be up?” I asked. “Don’t know Sir. It’s up to Manila.” When I explained the system didn’t need to be up for him to take care of the requirements for me, I was met with a blank stare. “You can fingerprint me, take my photo without the online system working. Then when it comes back up, you can simply input the information.” Apparently not. At considerable expense and inconvenience, I rescheduled my return flight to Dumaguete, then booked into a hotel.

Next morning I was at immigration bright and early to avoid any waiting lines. “Sorry Sir, the system is still down.” My pleas to apply logic were again unsuccessful. I returned a week later. And yes, you guessed it. Despite Lucelle getting confirmation, the system was working at 4.45 pm the day before, it was down yet again. I went for a very long walk. Fortunately, three hours later, the volatile system magically resurrected itself. My photo was taken, fingerprints done, and my processing had hopefully been completed. So what’s the point of this story? There are two. I experienced repeated, unnecessary frustration. I first needed to recognize the employees were in no way responsible. They are decent people doing a difficult job. It’s senior management, and the incompetent politicians who are responsible for the lack of funding to provide the folks at Immigration with adequate resources to do their work. The second, significantly more important lesson, and one that is vital for any foreigner wanting to live here in emotional peace, is I must never be arrogantly judgmental about any aspect of Philippine society.

I must always remember I’m a guest here, a foreigner who has chosen to live here. Nobody came banging on my door in California begging me to relocate to Dumaguete. What right do I have, as a guest in the Philippines, to decide how business should be done, and life lived? The simple answer is none. Whose country and society is it? If I’m not content, then I should leave. I’m here in Negros Oriental because I’m privileged to live in what I consider being a paradise where people are warm, hospitable, and tolerant of me. I’m here because each time I return to this Province, and am heading towards Valencia with the mountains high above it, I feel that I’m coming home. I also need to admit it doesn’t hurt that Filipinas are the most beautiful and sensual women in the world. Sadly, some expats disrespect Pinays.

After being here only a week, I was embarrassed and annoyed at Why Not restaurant to constantly hear rude, obese, vulgar, low-life, drunk, old foreigners with their sad-eyed, beautiful girls, unanimously bemoan how messed-up everything is in “this third world country” and how wonderful everything is back in their country. I couldn’t resist walking over, and reminding them there are daily flights from Cebu that would happily repatriate them. But they will never leave because they can’t afford to live in their country of origin. Besides, nobody, especially their families, wants them there. Also, if they even looked at beautiful girls “back home” the girls would scream, run away while calling for the police to arrest the dirty, old men pestering them. It’s a sad reflection on Philippine society that lovely girls, in order to live, and support their families, must sometimes subject themselves to indignity. What is redeeming is the fact there are many good relationships between foreigners and Pinays that are respectful and successful.

Until next time, remember to enjoy today. It will be a memory tomorrow. Make it a good one.

The author’s latest book “More Almost True Irish Stories” may be purchased from the Amazon

This story was first seen at:

michael's life in dumaguete

Shortly after arriving into Dumaguete, Michael  intuitively knew it was the right place for him. Everything seemed to be right. It was and is. In addition to enjoying the way of life, he also met a special Pinay, and is living contentedly with her near the city.

He now operates Veritas Consulting Group, a company dedicated to helping other expats and Returning Filipinos with their transition to life in Dumaguete City and surrounding areas

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