Tired of the rat-race that America has become? Then try something different, there is a place where things move at a slow pace, where women are feminine and lady-like, and the cost of living is a lot less. The weather is warm year-round, white sandy beaches are everywhere with coconut palms gently swaying in the breeze. Crystal clear waters that you can see 15 feet down through to the ocean floor.
The Place?The Philippines! There's nowhere else in the world like it in my opinion. After traveling there for the first time in early 1998, I was expecting to be there for perhaps four weeks or so, but instead I stayed for eight weeks before reluctantly returning to Florida. I didn't stay away though, a few months later I returned and stayed for two years instead of just two months.
I was mainly in Cebu Province, mostly in and around Cebu City, nicknamed the "Queen City of the South." But there is plenty to see there besides the Queen City of Cebu. There are 7,109 islands in the Philippines, some quite large, while others are the size of a small Buick.
The largest is Luzon, in the north, where the city of Manila is, the capital. Too big and crowded for me, there are around 18 million people living in Metro Manila. But there are some nice sights to see in Manila, like Makati City, the financial district. Modern sky-scrapers, and super clean. Great shopping, though prices are climbing. Cebu is much less expensive, and less crowded, with about three million residents. Including neighboring Mactan Island where the Mactan-Cebu International Airport is located. Mactan and Cebu are connected by two bridges, one new, it was completed and opened in late 1998. Japanese designed and financed, it is ultra modern and beautiful. The one original bridge isn't capable of handling the amount of traffic criss-crossing the islands every day.
Living there was great. With an income of about $1,000 per month, you can live a very comfortable life.
Less if you're frugal. Apartments are widely available all over town, but those on Mactan especially Lapu-Lapu City are less expensive than in Cebu. We had a nice one bedroom unit that cost us the equivilant of $75 per month. A fellow American rented a three bedroom for around $180-$200. Electricity isn't too bad, our bill averaged $50, and that's with the AC blasting whenever we were home. Air conditioning is like a close friend there; the weather is like a Florida summer, warm and humid, very humid. It averaged 88 F in the time I was there. With rain nearly every day.
They're supposed to have a dry season from October to May or so, but that isn't always the case. But its so lush and green, and the rain cools and refreshes the air.
Downtown Cebu City is crowded, dirty and polluted. But just dowtown. Outside of downtown it isn't so bad, though traffic is a nightmare during rush hour.
But what place doesn't have nightmarish rush hour traffic these days? Not as bad as some areas in the States: Like LA! Orlando & Tampa which are getting worse by the day!
Another nice convenience are the familar products that abound in the Philippines, Crest, Dawn, M&M's, Snickers, and many, many others that we're all familar with here at home. Including so many fast food names like McDonald's, (there are four in Cebu City), KFC, Pizza Hut, Shakey's Pizza, Dunkin' Donuts, Mister Donut, Subway, and quite a few others. Manila even has Wendy's BK, Starbucks, (of course), Fridays, and even Planet Hollywood and Hard Rock Cafe. Sears & JC Penny have stores in Manila, though no Wal-Mart, which surprises me. Give them time! Point is, you don't even have to give up familar foods.
Eating out in Cebu, you have a great variety. "Our Place" is American owned, where a steak, salad, and real mashed potatos will run you about $4. "Kiwi Lodge" on Tud-Tud Street is also American owned; it's also a hotel. Don't know what the rates are, but we ate there frequently. My favorite is the fish'n'chips which cost us about $13 for two.
Cheaper then Denny's!
The "Vienna Koffeehaus" is excellent, try the fish called Lapu-Lapu! "Idea Italia" in both the SM City Mall, and Ayala Center Malls, are out of this world Italian places.
If girl watching and window shopping is on your venue, walk the SM City Mall, four levels of beautiful women! The other mall is nice, but they all seem to congregate at the SM which stands for Shoe Mart, by the way.
There's even a bowling alley on the fourth level with computerized scoring, just as modern as you would find in the States. And to keep in touch with and rub it in your friend's faces while you're in paradise, internet cafes are everywhere. Just go during the day when the kids are in school. Once they get out, they get jam-packed and noisy with kids playing video games. And stay away from the malls on weekends unless you enjoy large crowds! Very large crowds!
All in all, the Philippines is wonderful to visit, and to live. And easy to get around since most people there speak English. It is the offical language in fact, and taught in schools. But there are numerous dialects, the main one being Tagalog spoken in Luzon but understood by nearly everyone. There's also Iango, Cebuano, Visayan, and I lost track of how many others. But again, nearly everyone speaks English. And some who do not speak English, do understand it, such as my father-in-law.
And importantly, most Filipinos have a high respect for visitors, including us Americans. They remember what America did for them in World War 2 and are still thankful for it. Quite a few dislike our current President, but hey, a lot of us here at home don't like him either! But they don't take project that attitude onto us. I didn't have a problem while I was there. Even during my first trip before marrying my wife, I was in Cebu, 2:00, 3:00 in the morning, not really knowing where I was, but no one bothered me. Several people said, "hi Joe," as they call us all "Joe", but were friendly. Once in a while I was approached by someone curious, just wanting to know what State I was from, etc. Terrific people.
However, a word to the wise; if you live there, discuss money with NO ONE but your wife, if you're married. Some will try anything to part you with your money. It isn't that they're truly crooked; its just survival there. Its a dirt poor country with many living in home-made shacks with no plumbing and crude wiring. We in the developed countries are spoiled rotten by our standard of living. Most people here have no idea what real poverty is, until you visit a country like the Philippines. You see people everywhere, even young kids, selling bottled water at busy intersections, old women selling home-made candles on the sidewalks outside of Catholic churches, earning money any way they can. Some woman are prostitutes simply because they have no other choice. College educated, but no jobs. Most girls work in retail stores and factories, or make hand-made items.
And many many girls remain virgins until they marry, a truly rare thing these days. Often, when you date a girl there, there's a chaperone present, like an aunt, sister, brother, cousin, usually a relative. Its awkward, but also a good sign that you're seeing a "good girl." There are more than enough play girls to keep a single man happy of course, in the nightclubs, massage parlors and karoke clubs. But I chased the "good girls," since I was serious about marrying. And marrying my wife was the smartest thing I've ever done. She's exceptional even for a Filipino. Wonderful, ideal and loving wives. And loyal. Most do not cheat, do drugs, drink, smoke, or lie to you. Most, I say. There are of course some just looking for a ticket to the States. I met a few bad ones, and a few outright nasty ones, but no matter where you go you'll meet good people and bad unfortunately. I wish I knew some nice guys, my wife has a few sisters who are also terrific young ladies, who would make wonderful loving wives like my wife.
Most men there do not mind "compeition" from us. In most places, the women outnumber the men by far. In a few locations, its about ten women to one man! So the men don't mind us coming over hunting for a potential wife, if that's what you want. And no need to be shy there when it comes to women, just a smile is all that's needed to strike up a conversation. At home, I'm invisible to women. In the Philippines, I am Mr Popularity! It is great being in a giant toy store, like a kid! Even being happily married, I confess that the smiles and the flirting is still a whole lot of fun, though I never cheat on my wife. No need to, number one, she keeps me happy, I don't have the energy to cheat! And no excuse to since she does keep me happy, as most Filipino women keep their men very happy. Though the men there still tend to have a girlfriend on the side. Most men, not all of course. That's another reason women prefer us, we have a reputation of being more faithful, and of treating our wives better. Many Filipino men also physically mistreat their wives.
So if you're looking for a whole different experience, try the beautiful Philippine Islands, you won't regret it in my opinion. Unique culture, cheaper prices, and it can be a rewarding place to call home, whether it be for a few years, or for the rest of your life. Even for the active type, its great, especially for watersports. American movies are popular, and cost only about $1 to see in theatres. Our money goes a long ways there, another great thing. Even more so now, then when I was living there. It was a little more than 40 pesos to $1 then. Now its around 50 pesos to $1! That is a huge difference, especially when exchanging a few hundred at a time. Don't exchange currency at banks, they give a lower rate. Exchange at the small exchange places located in shopping centers, etc. You'll always get the current rate shown on MSNBC and other news channels. A few pesos can make a big difference. Large stores, chain stores, and such are usually not any problem, as they don't cheat you on prices. But some small family owned stores have two prices. A "Filipino price," and an "American price," which can sometimes be double! My wife saw a piece of furniture she liked, and it cost P500 pesos. When I went in with her, it was then P1,000! There are many situations like that, look around, then send in a Filipino to buy it for you later. Taxis are bad, as they are in many, many other countries. I told a friend of mind from Chicago to remain at the airport, until I could pick him up. Well, he didn't listen and took a taxi to Cebu Plaza Hotel, a ride which should have cost no more than P100, even in heavy traffic. He was charged P800 instead! $20! Before getting into the car, ask if the taxi driver is going to use the meter. If he says no, shut the door and hail another taxi, you'll see one in about ten seconds, they're everywhere. The meter is cheaper.
Maybe I'll see some of you during my next trip to my second home. I hope this information will be of value to someone. I have a lifetime of memories in the Philippines. I hope you will also, Mabuhay, as they say in the Philippines!
Excerpted from "Two Years In The Philippines" in Escape From America Magazine, Issue 59.