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Living in the Philippines
The Philippines is perhaps one of the cheapest places on earth to live. Most areas have modern amenities and a home can be rented or built to accommodate the western lifestyle with an Asian flare. Condos can be purchased in larger cities, and owned by Americans, for around $100,000 USD. Homes can be built for $30,000 to $40,000 USD, plus the cost of the land. Of course land cost can vary and only native Filipinos can own land. Land can, however, be leased for 50 years and the lease extended for another 25 years.
Luxury apartments can be found in most cities and in many rural areas. A full-time housekeeper can be had for about $20 a month. Those that come in for the day can be had for about $2 to $3 a day. These domestics are eager to work, are clean and most speak at least some English. Most are hard-working, honest, and glad for a chance to show you what they can do as cleaners, sitters for the elderly or children, cooks and the like. Where else can you live like an emperor on a pensioner's purse?
Meals can be had in the larger cities, including a four course dinner with beverage and desert for under $25.00. Meals for the international set, found in the rural areas may be less in quality and less in cost. Five star eateries in many rural areas are hard to come by.
But still you can sit in the lap of luxury on a pensioner's budget. This is true of most of the country.
The Philippines offers colorful traditions, along with many other countries in Asia and Central America. The result of many indigenous tribes or clans that have held on to vibrant traditions and artisan skills, handed down from generation to generation, in a proud and honored manner. Take a trip to any rural area and you will see much in the way of artwork. Stalls in local markets offer treasures for the trained eye. Prices can often be negotiated into bargain finds. Go deep into the interior and these treasures become even more of a bargain, at prices you may not have seen since the 1960s.
One can live in cool mountainous areas or warmer coastal areas. The higher up the mountains you go in a tropical area, the cooler it gets. You can choose your own comfort level in many areas, particularly in mountainous areas, many of which are still very reasonable in price. The Philippine Islands is an area rich in cultural diversity and richer geographical diversity. Many areas are humid, but still other areas can be found without humidity. One can find rainforests, arid areas, (especially during the dryer seasons), tall mountains, beautiful rocky areas, volcanoes, fertile farmlands, rich valleys, and of course lush tropical beaches with white and other types of sand. You can find good swimming areas in many resort areas.
English is the second official language of the country. Most people speak at least some English. Many people also speak Tagalog/Filipino. There are of course other indigenous languages that are spoken in many regions of the country.
The people share common traits. Most are hard-working, gentle and family oriented. They are kind, family and friendships are more important to many of them than jobs, money, and material possessions. Most are religious people, over 85% of the country is Christian. Most of the people, to a large extent, are poor, and set in their cultural framework. Many are superstitious, and look for signs of luck and brighter days ahead. Most are respectful and honorable, especially the poor. Most do not have material possessions, but have dignity and honor. They hold fast to honored values, not to be taken from them or their culture. As an American, I am learning to adapt to that attitude, it is a gift the natives are constantly giving me. They can get upsets over small things, even petty things, and angry at times, but still be loyal and loving to you on the following day, like a true friend, and not a rainy day acquaintance.
There are many areas in the Philippines where you should not drink the tap water. In most areas, even small rural areas, filtered, distilled, or mineral water is bottled and inexpensive. Vegetables should be well washed before cooking, and in some areas, iodine or chlorine bleach should be used to soak the vegetables and fruits before eating.
Most areas of the country are safe. Political stability is always in question, but never have in 35 years question in my safety or that of my family. Despite what you hear, the Philippines is a safe place to live and enjoy.
Cities are generations ahead of many rural areas. Some rural areas, such as Cayagan de Oro are light years ahead of other rural areas, like my island province of Marinduque. You will find malls and fast food restaurants in most cities, but these are unheard of in Marinduque. Our area does not have the fine mega malls, the multi- screened cinema houses, or the fine eateries of the big cities. This is all a matter of taste and settling in an area to accommodate your needs and desires.
We have no Sam's in Marinduque. We are two hours by boat from ACE hardware and many other brand name outlets. More sizeable towns in the Philippines offer much of what is found on the average American sales shelf? Some rural areas offer more, some less, but always you see smiling sales people ready to help.
The local infrastructure in some areas is quite modern. In other areas it is a turn back in time. Highways can be two to four lane concrete or a single lane of gravel and mud. You wait for one car to pass, so that you can use the same lane to continue. Cell phones are popular. Land lines and DSL may be less common. Hospitals in the city can be modern and up-to-date. Hospitals in rural areas often leave much to be desired. High-speed internet is hit and miss.
Above Cagayan de Oro there no land lines and no internet services. Folks text by cell phone. On our tropical island of Marinduque we enjoy the benefits of DSL almost every day. I have been blessed to give medical care by Internet. I have been blessed thus far.
Food and alcohol are almost everywhere in the islands. Most areas offer cheap food, and very cheap beer, brandy, rum, and gin. Other drinks are often available. Soft drinks are everywhere and offered in different sizes. Foreign fare is available in the large cities.
I was taken by a relative to a nice Mexican restaurant last week. We were taken by another relative to a Chinese eatery the week before. Filipino fare is still by far, the cheapest and most available in the country. The quality of San Miguel Beer will spoil you, distilled spirits can leave your lacking in smoothness and taste. I wish tequila was as available as whiskey and vodka.
As I mentioned, English is an official language of the islands. English is spoken as a second language, there are few native speakers of English in the Philippines. The Philippines is also a long way from the United States. Doing business at home can require that you stay up half the night to make a phone call to a company in American. The USA follows the islands by 12 to 17 time zones. Like any country that has a foreign language, learning at least some of the local language can be fun and rewarding. It will also gain a lot or respect from most of the natives if you do make this attempt. In an emergency however, you will almost always be able to make yourself understood in English.
In recent months, the peso that floats against the US dollar has been worth more, and the dollar worth less. The peso has also gained against the British Pound, the Euro, the Australian Dollar, and the Canadian Dollar. Don't forget, a strong peso makes for a strong host country.
In rural areas the dollar will go farther, but services available are often less. All services with the exception of the Internet are cheaper than in the USA. Some areas of Cagayan de Oro have Internet cafes charging 10 pesos an hour. Some areas of Manila have DSL for about $19.50, (PHP 1000 a month). I pay PHP 1995 per month for decent Internet and feel the price is well worth the cost. I now use VOIP at $25 a month and find the service for domestic calls and faxes in the USA to be excellent. In most areas housing costs are far lower than in the USA. Some areas will take more getting used to than others. Gated communities, like in the USA, are available, but another writer will have to clue you in on those. I live in a small house with two baths, warm water showers, three bedrooms, a sala, a dining area, a kitchen and a dirty kitchen for almost no cost at all. I built the home mortgage free for about $7500 or less, and have upgraded almost monthly since. Mama owns the land, the home sits on a little over three acres of paradise. Property taxes are about PHP 2000 a year, about $39.00. Insurance is nil, driving costs even cheaper. Our neighbors envy our little bungalow, but there are many large, fine mansions in the country that would make my home look like a salt box.
Buses, jeepneys, and tricycles can get you just about anywhere, be it across the road or across the country. Many areas have good airline service. Mass transportation is cheap. I recently took a bus from Manila, near a cousin's home, reserved the two front seats, and was dropped off at my door in the province. The bus was barged on a boat from Lucena to the port in Marinduque. The cost was 450 php, or about $8.65 each. The bus was clean, comfortable, and air conditioned. The boat had bunks and was air conditioned. The a/c worked so well I caught a nasty cold.
Will any of the islands be right for you? This is hard to say. You will not be able to drive here to find out. The country has 7,107 islands; the ten largest islands contain 90% of the population. We are the 13th island in size. We island hop, and travel. We enjoy domestic help and rural family life to the fullest. Today I visited a relative in the hospital, same as I did yesterday, but today it was a different relative. The Philippines offers me everything any country could even attempt to promise. I enjoy more cool areas, but mama has land here, as well as family, so we opted for this tiny remote island, about 40 % larger than Guam. We have a diversified climate on the island. I may investigate a plot of land on the mountain soon. For landslides, we are on the warning list. For now I am staying on the coastal plain. We have occasional electric brownouts, but we can also drink the tap water. We made trade offs with needs vs. desires and stuck it out here on our tropical island. We are not alone, as our 960 square kilometer island is home to an additional 218,000 people in six towns.
Would we have enjoyed Mexico, Central America, South America or another area more? We will never know as we have found paradise here in Marinduque. Now if I can just find a trucker to bring in 20 loads of fill, get a fish pond dug, build a piggery, drill a well, and find a man with a carabao and a plow willing to plow my upper field for corn and peas, I will indeed be a happy foreigner. Also, mama will be a happy ''wife of the foreigner''.
Come, take a look, take a real look, and stay a while if you can. See why we choose the islands, just like so many others.
Paradise is within you. I think someone said that. If not, they should have.
Morning coffee on my porch. My neighbor's roosters are clamoring. There are cows in my backyard, and an old mean-looking billy goat. There's a school across the street, on vacation now, and I miss the noisy midgets playing, stares and "good mornings" from the bold ones when I'm out there, while the shy ones run away if I approach only to giggle and whisper in the distance. Soon the fishmonger's trike may drive by, shouting to the winds.
He will stop. "Fish, sir?"Wait, let me go get asawa."
Another neighbor's chicken decided the gazebo in the back is a good place to lay eggs. I lay a piece of wood across the entrance to keep any wandering dogs from an easy meal. She's nesting now. Soon there will be chicks. Another crazy chicken flies up through the bars in my tool room and lays her eggs there. We pick them up and return them to owner.
Dogs? Yes they are around. Only one with which I have a beef. He belonged to the man I rent from, and was left to fend on his own. I shoo him away when I see him because he decided to assert his territorial rights by pissing on my sandals outside the door.
A dead tree fell by a canal on the property a while back. It fell across a fork of another, and made for giant see-saw. Soon there were twenty or more little ones taking turns flying up in the air, laughing and screaming. Asked my neighbor to cut it down. Hated to do it. Hated to see the disappointed faces. But I was afraid of broken legs and more.
School will open soon, and the powers that be decided to announce it to the world by turning on the music at 5AM this morning. The neighbor behind me, he runs a copra business. My gate is open at daylight, so there are people in on out through my driveway every day. Kids pushing rusty old bikes loaded with sacks of coconuts, or just carrying loads as big as themselves on their backs, motorbikes, mothers and children, all carrying their few pesos worth of treasure.
Such is life in this town on the side of the mountain. Guess everyone has their own version of paradise, and carves their own slice. The other day I drove by a house that I had tried to rent. Another foreigner beat me to it. He now has covered every spot where one can look in his front yard. His wall, his moat, no gawkers need to apply.
It would remind me too much of a suburb of beautiful Anytown, USA. I need not have traveled so far for that. To each his own, I guess, paradise or it's adverse. I love it here just as it I may be not what everyone wants, but my paradise.