A couple of years ago, the tourism secretary of the Philippines made a comment that the government should make an attempt to attract “quality” tourists: Those who actually spend money. In other words, stop targeting balikbayans, backpackers, retirees, and sex tourists. How’s that going now, eh?
Well, the answer is that there already are luxury accomodations in the Philippines, and tourists do come here and spend money. However, many of those tourists originate in China and Korea, and are therefore ignored by most of the English-speaking community here. No… What we get are lamentations about poor tourism from the West. (Though Chinese or Korean money spends as well as other money)
If you go onto virtually any web site, blog, or forum targeting expats in the Philippines, you will see many comments and statements along the lines of:
- Inflation is too high.
- What does it cost?
- I’m a walking ATM.
- I hate the “skin tax” there.
- ZOMG! The Dollar sank to 42.3!!!!
The Philippines is, generally speaking, a cheap destination in which to visit or live. Yet, there are many ways that you can spend an awful lot of money here. A few weeks ago, my boss visited here for a meeting. The hotels that would be regarded as “luxury” in any major city have all substantially raised their prices. It was a bit of a surprise for me (Since I live here, I don’t price hotels here that often. Our company policy is generally mid-to-upper range, as long as it’s not ridiculous… Though there are exceptions). Though still cheaper than most of the USA or Europe, for similar quality, the overall increase in prices indicated, to me at least, one of two things: Either tourism has increased dramatically, or inflation is running wild. Since my overall cost of living has stayed within the bounds of inflation, my guess is the former.
The obsession with money and costs by many expats really perplexes me. With a few notable exceptions, the cost of living here is still cheaper than in the West. You can have a good life here. Then why all of this fixation on minor price differences?
To hear some people talk, you would think they are a single Peso away from the poorhouse. Go take a little trip to Tondo and think for a minute… Most Filipinos would give their right nut to have a pension, social security, or wage that is even half of the average expat income.
Yet, there are cries of “racism”, “skin tax”, “walking ATM”, “I’m not rich!”… Please!
You ARE rich by local standards.
You have a pension and are paid for sitting on your butt all day, drinking beer and chasing tail.
“Oh! I get overcharged when I go buy vegetables.” “It’s just not FAIR!!!!” “This doesn’t happen in the US!”
Cry me a river. Life isn’t fair. Wanna bet it doesn’t happen in the US? Go talk to my black friends in Chicago who were recently apartment shopping. Tell them they paid the same.
“But the exchange rates are bad!” “I’m on a fixed income!”
OK, so you watch the rates…. and watch them…. and watch them….
What are you gonna do? So you get 1,000 pesos less this month. You could just as easily get 1,000 extra next month.
Do you honestly think that any Filipino cares? NO! Why? Because a strong Peso means more money in HIS pocket, not yours.
Look, I’m not the best personal money manager in the world. I can easily manage millions in company money, but I cannot balance my checkbook. I let my wife do that stuff. Sure, I go shopping once in a while. Sure, I like a bargain (Who doesn’t?). Yet, I don’t obsess. Things cost what they cost. I don’t walk around posting on the Internet about how poor I’ll be when the dollar crashes. I don’t obsess for months over the taxi driver who charged me P50 too much. Paying P6 for some kalamansi versus P5 does not throw me into a racist rant. My mother-in-law needing a little help with some medication doesn’t send me into a “walking ATM frenzy.”
Wanna know why?
- Because I made the choice to live here. Macroeconomics do not stop at the US border.
- I love my wife and her family. It is a privelege to help if I can.
- The farmer selling the kalamansi may regard me as rich. To them, I am. I couldn’t survive very long on a couple hundred Pesos per day. Could you?
- My cost of living would be higher just about anywhere in the West.
Prices in most malls, supermarkets, and retail stores are fixed or posted. I know at the palengke I would pay more than Rebecca. So what?! If I don’t like the price, then I don’t buy and move on. What’s the big deal? Same thing with taxis. If I get a “bad” one, I tell them to stop and get out. So what?
So, I don’t obsess. Money does not buy happiness, but neither does obsession. Yes, there is no government support here if you run out of money. Sure, you may need to leave in the future.
Yet, the old saying, “you get what you pay for” rings true whether in the USA or the Philippines. If you want quality, you pay. If you want “the finer things in life”, you pay. What is so difficult to understand about that?
Many of these beliefs stem from the fact that as an expat, you stand out here. You are obvious, particularly in the more rural areas.
Partly, I also think many people simply have unrealistic expectations before they move. Much of what you read online is just crap… Live like a king and all. So many come here to meet a girl they met online. You just spent a boatload on a plane ticket, restaurant and hotel prices are much cheaper, and quite frankly, you are probably horny as hell. First date, you want to make a good impression. You spend. She now thinks you are rich, right? Everyone in the US drives bg cars, eats out every night, and lives in mansions. That must be true. Movies don’t lie. So, you enjoy your vacation, play the big shot, and live the life. She’s out of her panties that night. Gee, an American date would be more expensive, and I might not get any!
So, you make plans to move. Wow, had a great time that trip, and it only cost me ____!
You get here, and the reality sets in… Uh oh… I’m not rich. OK, you aren’t. Did you pay rent in the US? Did you pay electric there? Did you buy groceries? “Oh God! What if the exchange rate changes?” So, overcompensate away… Squeeze every peso. Rub Rizal’s face right off the coin. Is your life any better?