I was thinking about it the other night, as I relaxed out on my patio enjoying the latest lightning storm.. how there are two things to get used to when making a move to another country. The first is, “Things you learn to do without.” The second is, “Things you get used to living with.”
Regarding things to do without, I’m kinda fortunate in that regard. I’ve always strived to be a minimalist in my life. I’m no Buddhist by any stretch of the imagination. But the idea of keeping my life unattached to ‘things’ has always brought me a sense of security. The more things I’ve owned over the years, the more stressed I seem to feel day to day. Several times in my life I’ve really “cleaned house”. One time I gave away all my stuff to friends and family, keeping only my clothes, computer, some kitchen stuff and a few wall hangings I liked. The rest.. just got rid of it and for over a year I kept my apartment empty of furniture other than a few bean bags and t.v. for watching DVDs. I gave up television when I was 18. The only time I signed up for cable was when I was married so the kids could watch cartoons and shows.
Again, when I decided to move to the Philippines, much of the fun in making the move was giving away all my stuff. I sold a few items, put my family photos and some old high-school stuff in storage.. but 90% of it I just gave to friends and family. The rest I quickly gave away on Craigslist. With every box exiting my home I felt my material footprint getting smaller and my stress level going further down. I read an article by Jack Emery, an ex-pat describing his move to the Philippines. He described how he took practically an entire house full of items with him via ship and cargo trailers from the U.S. to the Philippines. I was exhausted just reading of his travails. My intention was to fly here with only two suitcases and a laptop bag. I felt burdened down with ‘stuff’ when I realized I would need three suitcases.
So.. now that I’m here, I’ve adjusted pretty easily to doing ‘without’ stuff. I’ve got my PC stuff, clothes, vitamins and a few books. The PC stuff is what filled my suitcases so quickly. I don’t find the American brands but, it’s no big deal. I can find some substitute locally. I don’t even miss a real shower-head. This whole bucket and ladle thing is kinda fun. It definitely wakes me up each morning since there’s only one temperature to the water. I don’t even miss having my own car. That was a concern I had before coming here. I knew I could get around with jeepneys, tricycles and taxis. It wasn’t that. What I thought I’d miss was driving along with the sunroof open, iPod blasting my tunes and going where ever I wanted. Surprisingly, I don’t miss that. If I want to go somewhere I tell the taxi and enjoy the ride. It’s that simple.
I don’t miss the high utility bills, the traffic or working 31 days a month to make ends meet either. I finally have time to do more writing and explore places I’ve never been to. After 49 years in Southern California I’d already done pretty much everything I’d wanted to do.. several times. Disneyland, Hollywood, San Diego, beaches, mountains, desert, snow, hiking, camping, road-trips, Vegas and jaunts to the Mexican border.. I was finally just saturated by it. I don’t miss the high fat-sugar-carbs franchises that were adding to my weight on a monthly basis. I’ve lost at least two inches off my waist since moving here 2 months ago. I still can’t believe a size 36” shorts fit loosely on me again! Yah, they have junk food here if I were to seek it out, but I don’t.. not with so many other choices and stir-fry so easy to make at home.
I’ve accepted that the Philippines is not the place to go for good Italian or Mexican food. Every so often I hear of some place that has it, but it’s usually on some other island. To compensate I’ve found some good places where I can get some home-made pancit, lumpia, skewers and other Filipino dishes that were a rarity back home.
As for things that I need to get used to living with.. that’s been slightly more difficult. The first was cockroaches. Geez, I hadn’t seen one since I was a kid living in an old duplex on the bad side of town. But even this I took on as something of a challenge. I’m happy to report that my periodic spraying in strategic locations has eradicated these evil buggers from my studio. I just keep the perimeter dosed every week and they know there’s nothing but death waiting for them in my domain. The weather has not been so difficult to adjust to, but then I’ve only been here during typhoon season so I’ve been kinda spoiled. The real deal comes in March with the onset of the heat. And that’s it. Those are the only two things I’ve found that I just have to deal with on a constant basis. There will always be bugs. There will always be heat. I’m learning to accept that and adjust.
But then there’s the ‘comfort zone’. These are the times when my personal bliss is just shattered by the weirdest things. They aren’t big things either. It’s nothing in the grand scheme of things and yet they are the only things so far that have gotten under my skin.
The first one I ran into was at the barber shop.
Now, the good news is that back home I was paying about $16 for a haircut. Here.. I pay 50 Pesos which is something around $1.25. And you don’t just get a haircut, it includes a short massage as well. This is where my comfort zone gets challenged. All my life I’ve been kinda particular about anyone touching me. I have a mental list of those who are ‘allowed’ to touch me and under certain situations. Family and friends I give a big hug, no problem. Girlfriend, naturally she’s on the list. But anyone else and it’s gotta either be a very crowded place (when bumping is expected) or I’ll make exception for those people who are just very friendly/touchy-feely.. I make exceptions for them like I would for retarded people. They can’t help it. They mean me no harm, so I give them a bit of leeway.
So I go to get my first Filipino haircut. My name was called by the stout, burly guy.. not the ladyboy so already I was feeling okay with this. He went about cutting my hair as per my request and hey.. not bad. I actually got a great haircut for 50 Pesos. Fantastic. Then he lowers the seat back and starts giving me this shoulder massage. What is this?? I didn’t know this was going to happen. In all my life I’ve avoided massages because most people can’t seem to give a massage without touching me all over. So now I was officially being weirded out. But I stayed calm, took slow breaths and tried to ‘go with it’. Shoulders, head, arms then he starts yanking my fingers out of socket. Why? What did I ever do to this guy? I had my eyes closed so I didn’t even see it coming. But I stayed calm. He finally stopped and I figured we were done.
Then.. BAMM! Suddenly my face is on fire. I quickly realize he’s tossed some hot, moist towel on my face. This was just getting weirder by the moment. After about 20 seconds of that he
pulls it away and what do I see? He’s coming at me with a straight-edge razor. I honestly had to quickly reason whether I was going to punch him in the face and make a break for my life. Too late, he had this thing up against my head before I could flinch. Visions from ‘Barber of Seville’, ‘The Godfather’ and ‘Sweeney Todd’ began to flood my mind. I don’t have panic attacks, but this was pushing me in that direction. A few quick swipes with that thing, my life hanging in the balance and we were done.
A sign on the wall that would read, “We will be cutting your hair, yanking your fingers, tossing a hot towel on your face and coming at you with a straight-edge razor. – The Management” would have prepared me in advance as to what to expect. So, for all of you who have yet to get a haircut in the Philippines.. here’s your “heads up” that I didn’t get.
The second thing that unexpectedly got under my skin was this whole “smooching” sound men use to get your attention. The women not so much, and I wouldn’t mind it from them. But I walk the streets a lot and often the Tricycle drivers will slow down and make that “smooching” sound to see if I want a ride. I’m sorry, but that just creeps me out. I’ve learned it’s customary here to ‘point’ with one’s chin.. the women do that a lot. I’d ask where something was in the store and they would just look the other way and turn their chin up. I thought, “How rude.” Well, now I know that’s how they point. Kind of an inaccurate method if you ask me but, I guess I gotta just get used to it. But this ‘smooching’ thing coming from guys wanting to know if I want a ride while I’m walking the street.. that’s just weird in my book. I’d rather they shouted, “Ride?!”. Like the guy who rides along on his bike selling balut. He doesn’t make ‘smooch’-noises.. he just rides along and slowly says, “BAAAALLLLLLUUUUUUTTTTTTTTT.” Although I have to admit the first few times I heard him I thought he was saying, “HEEEEELLLLLLLLLOOOOOOOO”. We had a crazy-guy in our old neighborhood who used to ride around on his bicycle with a cooking pot on his head. I just figured every town had one of those guys, even in the Philippines. Until I finally noticed the cardboard box on his lap with the word, ‘BALUT’ written on it with a marker.
The third thing happened to me just yesterday. Again, I’d hit the streets to get some chicken skewers. I was just walking along.. minding my own business. (that’s usually when things get weird on me) From about 30 feet behind me I could hear some kid screaming, “Wait!! Wait for me!!! Stop!!”. I didn’t pay it much mind at first because I don’t know any children here. They must be talking to someone else. But then it got louder and immediately two girls in school-girl uniforms run up behind me and start walking next to me, keeping in stride with me. They were only maybe 9 or 10 years old. I figured that now that they could see my face they’d realized they’d mistaken me for someone else. But no. They wanted to walk with me.
Fortunately it was still broad daylight and we were in the open road. Then the slightly older one asks me in all boldness, “How are you?” I looked at her kinda dead-pan and said, “Fine.” Then the interrogation began..
“What’s your name?”
“Where’s your wife?” (the younger girl just watched, she never spoke.. just giggled whenever I looked at her.)
“Not married. Where’s your husband?”, I turned the tables on her.
“I’m not married!”, she replied.
“So, no kids either?”
“Huh?” I’d obviously confused her. The subtlety was completely lost on her. I just kept on walking and they kept on walking beside me.
“Can I have your card?”, she then asked. Now.. how did she even know I carried business cards? I do websites so I carry cards just in case I come across a possible client. (which isn’t often here, I charge State-side rates) So I gave her a card and immediately she was fascinated with it, her and her friend so I gave one to her friend as well.
“I can keep this?”,she asked hopefully.
“Sure, why not.” I just kept walking and these two young girls are keeping up with me.
Now.. this has NEVER happened to me in the States. Never. What are people going to think? Some foreigner walking and talking with two 10 year old girls in Catholic school uniforms? It was definitely creeping me out and I needed to shake these kids.. quick. Nothing but a gas station and plenty of road ahead of me. Thank goodness my cell phone rang. I took the call and turned, while walking, to tell them, “I gotta take this.. have fun, bye-bye!” They diverted to a sari-sari store across the street from the gas station as I quick-stepped it outta there. After I got off the phone I began to re-think whether giving them my card was such a good idea. I could just hear this at the dinner table somewhere that night, “Look, Daddy.. some big foreigner gave me his calling card today.” So much for quick-thinking. Good thing my address isn’t on there.
But I don’t have any real complaints that hold any merit about life here. I suppose with any relocation there’s the possibility of too many changes for one person to handle. For me, I don’t pine for things I left behind, other than missing my adult children. But they are all tech-savvy so we keep in touch. As for things I just gotta get used to here.. that’s not such a burden either. But just like mosquitos.. sometimes it’s the little things that get you.
Henry Velez is a recent (2012) addition to the Philippines and brings with him a fresh set of eyes as well as a talent for bringing his first-hand observations clearly to the reader. Motivated by both a life-long passion for writing, as well as for a Filipina he met in the US, Henry dove right in and made the move to the Philippines 'sight unseen'. He currently maintains three blogs, one which is devoted to his adventures here, and is currently working on a fictional novel set in the Philippines. We wish him the best of luck in his new adventures!