Now Exiting ‘The Comfort Zone’

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.

Post Author: Henry Velez (10 Posts)

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!

Investigation in the Philippines


  1. Murray says

    When ever I walk somewhere it is not uncommon for a bunch of kids to walk with me. It kind of weirds me out too. I think they are just wanting to speak some English.

    • says

      Yah, that may be. Or they just figure foreigners are interesting. Still.. not doing my rep about town any good to be seen talking to really young girls. As it is people here think I have five or six wives because they see me talking to different women in public. Later they comment, “Oh.. I see you with your wife yesterday…”. Chisme moves quick around here. :)

  2. Scott Fortune says

    At that age, they have just begun to really get into the English language and form real sentences. MANY filipinos there, of all ages, just want to have a conversation to practice up on their English. College students do that too, as I have heard. It’s never happened to me. I was always well guarded by my wife. :)

    • says

      And isn’t it amazing that almost guaranteed.. within the 3rd question it’s always, “Where’s your wife?” or “You all alone? No wife?” or “You married?”. At a sari-sari store when I mentioned I wasn’t married, instantly 6 women showed up at the counter and, I’m not kidding, one came back with a camera and took my photo.

      Another day, just last Sunday, I had just sat down at the lechon station near the marketplace for some skewers. The lady cooking my food asked, “You have no wife?” As soon as I told her, “No.. it’s just me, no wife.”, she shouted out to the other women working there.. “NO ASAWA!!” and it echoed as they repeated it, “NO ASAWA??!” Within seconds over thirty people now knew I wan’t married.

      It’s not a bad thing though.. it breaks up the day. :)

    • says

      The young boys I’ve run into are more laid back. They just say things like, “Hey Joe!” or “Hey, my friend!” and that’s about it. The girls and women are a bit more persistent. ha!

  3. says


    Thanks for the beautiful piece! I like your Buddhist philosophy of no attachments – definitely words to live by while you discover your niche in the Philippines. Looking forward to reading more. By the way, what area of the Philippines are you in?

    Best regards,


    • says

      Yah.. too much stuff just weirds me out. Keeping track of it, maintaining it, owning it and not using it.. too much stress.

      I’m over on Mactan. It’s several small communities, nothing big like Cebu. I prefer it this way.. less crowded and feels safer here. Most people are busy with their businesses and very friendly. Not sure where I’ll settle down permanently though. Gonna explore around some more for a few years first. :)

  4. peterjoy says

    a nice post mate

    and it takes me back a year or 2 too a night when i went with filipina mate for a walk and where ever i went i had girls coming up to as me if i was married and if thay can have my nomber and what made me sad was most off them girls was just in there teens mate ok and would have been happy to get to out and so thay would have a batter life and the one thay had there as most off this place was the slums ok so god bless them i say to day and i hope some one will take them and and give them a better life and the one thay have there………..peter martin tassie

    • says

      Yah, I’ve met quite a few in the same situation. In the US I have lots of female friends, it’s casual and no big deal. But here, trying to be ‘just friends’ simply doesn’t work. They quickly become possessive and want a committed relationship. The idea of just having a guy-friend to talk to and maybe enjoy a meal together twice a month simply isn’t part of the culture here. They aren’t ‘bad’ women, I guess they just don’t see relationships in the casual manner I was raised to know in the States.

  5. says

    Hello HenryV and welcome to P.I.
    I make sure the area is busy and in daylight is children come to practise their English.
    One occasion in Morocco I was told by a young teen “if you don’t give me money I’ll. tell people you abused me” I called his bluff and invited him to come to the police. I also asked another villager about him, I was told he is trouble. He gave up.

    Many people in our are know, and respect my wife and I, but I’m still careful.

    • says

      Yah.. my g/f warns me there are some scammers out there, and very young.. often at the encouragement of their parents to target foreigners. I’m guessing there must be at least two schools near where I live since I see students every single day around here. So far no problems. If I have my camera with me they ask me to take their picture, that’s about it. They’ve been very friendly overall.

  6. Bobby says

    Nice article. You are a special guy to do without. I am still debating how my life will look once I move over there. Based on my couple of reconnaissance trips so far, I think I need more creature comforts. Hot water for sure. I am finding that the Country is rapidly moving to mass consumerism, modernism, and all this cheap tranquility will eventually be a thing of the past as will the now 41 peso:dollar rate with the expansion of this new Asia Tiger. Good luck to you.

    • says

      I honestly don’t miss hot water at all. Back home I hate cold showers because the cold water pipes run underground and are really cold. Here most water is from a water tower in the sun so, it’s actually lukewarm. I take about 3 showers a day, never with hot water since there’s just the one tap for water from the tower. Too hot for hot showers anyways.

      Even though the new Seaside Mall is a sign of growth in Cebu there are still lots and lots of areas on the fringes of the provinces, yet near the big cities, that offer the best of both worlds. In the states I lived in a small town, but it was only 30 minutes drive to any of several big cities for the malls, restaurants, theaters, etc. That’s what I’ll settle down to here. For now Mactan is nice, small and Cebu is only $5 cab ride away. I enjoy the city for the day and then.. get out to my sleepy little Mactan. :)

  7. says

    Hi henry, I arrived here in February this year with only one 20 kg suitcase plus my laptop. I have been building up “things” since I landed, and I don’t miss any of the “things” I had before, except maybe a few specialized tools which I haven’t needed yet. Anyways, it is possible, and enjoyable to live life without “things”. Enjoyed your article.

    • says

      Glad to hear from a fellow ‘minimalist’. I’ve accumulated some small furniture and a refrigerator. I make exception if it’s useful stuff. I can get an awesome bamboo bench for the porch to see the lightning at night for only $10, but still keep debating it because if/when I move I’ll need to rent a truck rather than just pile some suitcases into a cab and go. Like George Carlin said, “We keep getting bigger houses just so we have room to put all our STUFF!” :)

  8. Rae says

    As a Pinay I find your story hilarious. It’s so refreshing to read an expat’s reactions to the Pinoy’s idiosyncrasies: “smooching”, “pointing w/ mouth or chin”, barber’s extra service/massage. Indeed these habits are weird & kinda rude (smooching & pointing w/ chin) but welcome to the Philippines! Great article, thanks for making me lol.

    • says

      Glad I could brighten your day. :) I just figure it’s ‘me’ who is the fish outta water here in the Philippines and try to take it as it comes. ha! But that’s all part of the adventure.. keeps me on my toes.

  9. Bob New York says

    I arrived at a store I wanted to go to a few minutes before opening time. I had one of my Filipino friends with me and as we were window shopping at the merchandise inside I could see two young girls approaching us by the reflection in the window. They were about the age that you have described in your article. I don’t remember if they had school uniforms or not. As they got close we turned around and were greeted by the girls holding their hand out as if asking for money. I pointed down the street and commented ” ATM That Way “. They just stood there with their hand out. I didn’t want to be rude so I just began talking at about 4 times normal speed informing them that they should be the ones giving me and my friend money since they made a lot more by begging than we have with us. I kind of figured that they could not understand a word I was saying at that speed and after about 30 seconds they both shrugged their shoulders and moved on.

    Always lots of custom like surprises in The Philippines.

    Thanks for your informative and entertaining article HenryV.

    • says

      Surprisingly, here on a small island with a small community, the only ‘beggars’ I’ve seen have been 2. One is crippled and the other is blind but plays guitar and both are at the entrance near the church. Other than that I haven’t run into a single person asking for money. Ironically, when I was in the States, I couldn’t pump my gas or walk about town without getting hit up for money. My theory is that it’s a ‘big city’ issue more than a ‘small city’ one. I’ve heard there are lots of beggars in Cebu downtown and Manila.. where there are more ‘rich’ foreigners to ask from. I’ll give someone food though instead of money. But when my g/f gives bread rolls to the street kids usually the local security tries to discourage her. I guess it only encourages the kids to be more brazen. It’s kind of a catch-22.

      • says

        Now that I think of it, let me amend that. I haven’t had any people “on the street” asking me for money. What I have run into is people quickly becoming “friends” who then start loading me down with requests for money.. EVERY day. I tried having direct conversation with them about it but to no avail. I finally just had to distance myself from them due to their constant requests for money. Being a small island I still bump into them occasionally so it’s awkward but, I can’t afford to take care of all their money problems repeatedly, nor should I have to.

  10. Ronny Dehens says


    About getting rid off stuff, I’ve been having the same feeling here for some time now. Often I have been asking myself this question : if I were to move to the Philippines right now would I take this or that with me ? If the answer is no, then I might aswell get rid of it here too. Many things we did nu use for a long time, or have no need for, or don’t like anymore, are just collecting dust and taking up space ; so, away with them. After all, what you own, also owns you.
    Enjoy there,

    • says

      Yep.. good questions to ask at any time really. It’s like groceries.. I like the occasional candy bar or sweet bread. But my diet only works if I don’t buy fattening foods and bring them home. Same with life. I’d never buy a boat or RV when I could rent one for the one weekend I needed it at much less the cost than owning it. Some things in life are like an elephant. As W.C. Fields said, “Nice to look at but I wouldn’t want to own one.” (he was talking about having a wife at the time. ha!)

  11. donna west says

    i really enjoy your articles henry. they are so amuzing. i wonder how it will be for me an older single america woman. i would gladly speak english with the youngsters. I think it is going to be hard for me to take care of my business when i go out and around there. i think I will be like the sword swallowing lady in the circus….everyone wants to watch her. now that is gonna take some adjustment i can accept. thanks for the heads up information henry. keep writing

    • says

      In the last two months I can tell you how many foreign, White women I’ve seen.. 5. Aside from that the only foreign women I’ve seen are either Korean or Japanese. Oh, I did meet one very beautiful, college student from Africa. Zero Hispanic women, by the way. So.. yes, you’d definitely attract attention. :)

  12. David S. says

    Great article Henry! Thank you for sharing. I think the most valuable possession you brought with you is your attitude. Learning a new culture is difficult enough without surrounding one’s self with unnecessary baggage that constantly reminds us of what we left behind. Being willing to try the Filipino way and adjust to the world around you rather than trying to force it to conform to you makes the transition so much easier. Too many people adopt the refrigerator syndrome. They live in an artificial microcosm of the world they left behind only venturing out when absolutely necessary.

    • says

      Yep.. ‘immersion’ from the beginning was the only way to do this. I’m not looking for apiece of America somewhere else. I came to do my writing and experience life their way. It’s been an adventure, and I’m enjoying it. :)

  13. chasdv says

    Great article Henry, and like you i’m slowly going minimalistic.

    I downsized several years ago and found all this “stuff” i forgot i had and some i’m sure i only ever used once.
    Now it’s getting closer to another major clearout, lock, stock and barrel this time before i relocate to the PH. Soon be time to list in Ebay and the classifieds, and stock up the charity shops, lol.
    Travel light is the only way, then i can start collecting “stuff” all over again, not!
    A great opportunity for me to be “stuff” free forever more, lol.


    • says

      Chasdv.. that’s great news to hear! We’ve been conditioned for so long to think that contentment is found in “having more stuff”. But that is actually the opposite of contentment. (greed) Contentment is being satisfied with what we have now.. and being both patient and discriminating about what other ‘stuff’ we think we might need, rather than rushing out for the latest gadget, toy or vehicle.

      I’m not against nice things, or even people who like nice things. Luxury is not evil, it’s kinda nice. But when the ‘things’ and cost of maintaining luxury become our slave-master.. life starts to suck really fast. When I was younger and had three kids and a wife, the ‘list’ of what was needed was much larger. Now, the kids are grown and their Mother is married to my (now) former-best-friend. So my list of what I can be comfortable with is much shorter, just the way I like it. Having the main things we need to travel though life lightly is what I prefer.

      Keep in touch and let us know when you land in the Philippines! :)

  14. says

    Great article. I like what you said:

    “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.”

    I came across the word minimalist (I mean, when I seriously considered becoming one) not too long ago. Until now, I am still in the process of de-cluttering and de-owning. It’s not easy, as I am ‘guilty of sentimentalism’. I keep a candy wrapper (or scrapbook it) just because I like/love the person who gave it to me! Don’t get me wrong, I am not a hoarder :D.

    But, I agree with you, the more you own, the more stress it could bring you. I remember what my Dad used to tell us, not sure if this just one of his made-up lessons of life to share or really happened :P. It’s about a neighbor who could no longer sleep peacefully eversince he bought a car. When he used to not own a car, he could sleep soundly! My husband, a Buddhist, once told me… ‘you never know what people can be addicted to’.

    Sad to say a lot of us, are or have once been, too addicted to material things.

    • says

      For me the lesson came early in life, when I was around 16. Money was tight was I was a kid and finally I’d gotten a job to earn my own money. (as a cashier) The first big purchase I made with my own money was a brand-new 10-Speed bicycle from a well-known bike shop in the next town. I had my first transportation! About a year later I dismantled the bike so I could change the color to Silver. So.. I painted it and reassembled it. Everything was great. Until after only a week or so the wind blew my bike over against some jagged rocks and destroyed the paint job. Ironically, years later, when I had just re-painted a custom VW Bug.. the very first day I took it on the road with the new paint job.. someone backed into me and destroyed the headlight and front fender.

      Meanwhile, my close friend would just calmly comment, “It’s all going to burn in the end anyway.” So, for me.. I learned quickly that all shiny things eventually wear out, break or lose their original luster in some manner. Contentment has been a much easier path. I still have goals and ambitions, but I don’t wait until reaching them to be happy.. I’m happy now.

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