A while back, somebody named Richard Van Der Voort left a few comments here on the How to Move to the Philippines site. I did not know Richard, so I sent him an e-mail and got to know him a bit. Richard’s experience in living here has been pretty different from mine, so to me, that makes for an interesting interview for the site! Variety is the spice of life, so I am happy to share Richard’s experiences and hope that you, the reader, will understand that there are lots of different experiences in living in the Philippines. Some are positive, some are negative. Some are just in between. What you experience probably will have something to do with your outlook on life. Let’s see what Richard has to say.
What is your name, and can you tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Richard Lee Van Der Voort, and I am from outside the Cesspool, Detroit, Michigan. I took my B.A. in Philosophy at Michigan State, Lansing, and loved being there in spite of winter. In the 70s, after 15 years as University English professor, including two writer and poet-in-residencies, I moved to Houston, Texas, and later Austin and San Antonio, and loved all three! My second career, free at last! 20 years as a touring psychic consultant. My second base was Oklahoma City. Good people there also! I was also a Radio & TV personality all those years, and had 8 psychic call-in shows of my own. I was often introduced as “one of the Real Ones”. About 20 years before the mixed blessing of moving to da Pil-a-peens at age 56.
You’ve been around the block a time or two, Richard!
How long have you lived in the Philippines?
Too long, but now I am stuck here. I have a 3 bedroom rent house full of stuff which now owns me. George Carlin had a great monologue on the subject. Cannot live in my first choice, Mexico, because of the Drug War. And, it got expensive there. I had a Big Chance to “get rich” so I left Houston on a Trade Mission with the Phil Consulate and Phil-Am Chamber of Commerce as a Psychic Consultant and Business Finder representing the TexaPhil Corp that never came into existence. I left February 1992. The Fil Rep advised that once in the PI, TRUST NO ONE! He failed to say, INCLUDING HIM! And the Mob he represented. I lived in the PI full-time 1992-94, most of the time very poor and underground, then half years 94-04 until my mother died, then full-time again to present. 3 legal Fil-wives before getting cured of marrying, and a live-in these past 9 years. Years ago a psychologist friend told me I was a “rotten chooser”. And then I started to get “old”. Now age 77 goin’ on 80.
Sorry to hear that you feel stuck here. I do understand, though, about having a house full of stuff that basically owns you. Yes, Mexico was an expat haven for years, but has been on the decline in that sense for a decade or so. Cured of marrying? Ha ha.. I hear you. I have been lucky, though. My current Filipina wife is my only wife. We’ve been married for 23 years now.
What made you decide to move to the Philippines?
Bad Luck! Boredom in the States, and the changing nature of the country, and, my love of adventure when I was still young enough to take risks. Personal Freedom and Self-fulfillment has always been my twin overall primary motivation in life. Living on the American treadmill chasing money and stuff never appealed to me. And I got cured of credit cards and debt early 1960s. TexaPhil Corp intended to refine gold in Cagayan de Oro in co-operation with the Small Miners Association. They and their legal team nicked my guy for about One Million Dollars U.S.! Cash and equipment. I lost 15 boxes of my personal belongings shipped with the equipment in the process. The liaison guy bragged to me about who got what of MY PROPERTY. Magellan, I read, called the PI “A land of thieves”. Beware! Newbies, beware!
We all need a change of scenery from time to time, I think. Hopefully, the moves are for the good, though. Sorry to hear of your negative experiences.
What do you like or dislike about living in the Philippines?
I am and have been AMBIVALENT AT BEST my entire tenure here! Depending on WHO and HOW you are determines ones’ quality of life in the PI. AND, how much money you own. Life is a whole lot easier if you have at least enough money, BUT, you won’t have the adventure, the learning experiences if you do. Many or most here are single men, boozers and ex-boozers, and are happy to live in a country where women, including young ones, are available to them. Beautiful brown-skinned black-haired girls and women certainly played a major part in my staying on here. Some guys, a few, bring their white American wives here with them. I have no idea why! But, once experience teaches about the cultural, or other, nature of the Filipina, a guy may reason that he can’t win fer losin’. I married in the States five times, mostly “rescue missions”, so AFTER EXPERIENCE, I by far prefer the Filipina in spite of the potential downside. But that’s a very long subject on which most guys here like to expound for hour on end.
I came here with a nice stack of cash. Lost it all in about 2 years. That is when I decided that I needed to learn how to make money here. Thankfully, I did it, and the rest is history for me.
I’d like to say it is cheaper to live here, and overall I guess it is. But I do miss all the material things, some not all, one can buy easily and cheap in the States. In the PI I’m always jockeying to get my pipe tobacco from the States, vitamin supplements at the reasonable American price, etc. The cheap rent is the best feature here. For $250 a month, I have a large house that might cost one or two thousand dollars in the States, and certainly not near an ocean, or even a lake, and beaches like here.
You are right on the mark. It used to be cheaper to live here. These days, it is not all that cheap, though. I have a friend from the States who used to live here. He moved back to the States about 5 years ago and still swears to me that life is cheaper there than in the Philippines.
There are endless laws here, but none that I’ve noticed are rigorously enforced. Driving is a free-for-all. Fun for good drivers like me. Terrible for the lily-livered type. Many guys here are relatively RICH. I went through absolute poverty here and was broke in the streets of Manila for my first 7 months, after the fall of the would-be company. How I survived and worked up is a very long story. My LIFE LESSON was to learn GRATITUDE since I was an only child and materially spoiled. Now I live well enough on about $1,500 a month income, SS and VA Pension. I am one of the few relatively poor ex-pats here. I’ve always gambled on my talents, considerable and marketable, and lived by my wits. BUT, BEING A WRITER, I EXPECT TO BE QUITE WEALTHY ANY DAY NOW, if only in my dreams. For me, and I am unique here, I have all the time I want and need to write my books. A dozen since 2005. On the down side, weather here often drives me nuts because I have a worn-out hip, arthritis and chronic pain. So, not ideal, not paradise, but, better than a lot of places I’ve been, especially where I grew up!
Ha ha, you are right that many laws here are not enforced, or are sometimes selectively enforced.
Being broke in the Philippines would not be fun at all. Congratulations on making it through that.
Oh, there is one not-so-small matter, and that is the “rooster chicken situation”, the “cockadoodledooo” irritation. Some of us foreigners absolutely detest those noisy cocks around the clock! I had one that doodled up to 14 times a minute, if you can imagine. Why should I have to put up with that constant folk-stupidity? Why should I be the one who needs to wear my gun-range ear-muffs if I take a geezer nap? I like a recent internet joke that says: In the Philippines people have chickens for pets and eat dog, while in the States it’s the opposite! And if and when I object to Authorities, the attitude, with a smile of course, is “screw you. This is my/our country. If you don’t like it, go back where you came from.” Guess whose side the Law will always be on in the Philippines. And that’s why drivers avoid hitting people walking in the middle of a street while talking on a cell phone. You, foreigner dog, will be in the wrong every time! Now pay your way out! I learned to NOT TRUST attorneys here… the hard way.
Been there, heard that… I don’t like it either. I have lived in many Philippine neighborhoods where the rooster’s crow was a big hassle. Thankfully, I am in a relatively quiet area now, though.
Where do you live in the Philippines?
I live in Olongapo, Subic Bay where the American Base used to be until 1991 just before I came here after Mt. Pinatubo blew. Before moving here to live near the beaches, I lived in Angeles “Sin” City, but my very favorite place was San Fernando, La Union, up north. People are nicer, more normal up there. I knew to go there after most of a year teaching English at Brent School up in Baguio which I hated. Cold in winter and no heat. And because of the high altitude, not good for high blood pressure. When I was there, it was quiet. I guess now it is flooded with poor people. If I live long enough, I may move back to SFLU. But probably not. Unless of course I hit big with a book, and then anything is possible. I will never move back to America, though, because I refuse to live in a Socialist Muslim country! In America, everything is Materialism and Control! Living kind of “underground” has always been best for me. *Whoops, low batt. I’m typing overlooking the beach with only moderate noise for a change. That is what I hate most about the PI: the many kinds of ignorant, irritating NOISE here! And I’m half deaf at that! I cannot stand the noise when wearing my hearing aids. But, where in the world isn’t there the noise of stupid people anymore?
I have a few friends up in your neck of the woods. I have also heard good things about La Union. My problem with living in that kind of area would be that it is remote, and could be difficult to get the things you need. Also, I rely heavily on having a good internet connection, which is not always possible in such a remote area.
I am like you though… I will never move back to the States. I just don’t care for the hustle and bustle there.
Are you happy there?
I’ve never been happy anywhere! Joke. The real answer is Yes and No. Wherever we go we take ourselves, our inborn temperament and hang-ups, with us. And as a sage person said, “We are about as happy as we wanna be.” Which is to say choose or decide to be. I am happy that I’ve had a life of relative freedom and wonderful experience, even if I never amassed wealth. I avoided debt and that is the secret to real success in life. The Roman Stoics had it right: FREEDOM INHERES IN SIMPLICITY. Complexity complicates.
There are, based on experience, places with better weather… for me. And some of the ways of the great mass of Filipinos can be trying. On the other hand, the majority of people here, not the “rich and powerful”, are preferable in many ways to the folk in America. Here people smile, even if you are a stranger. Sometimes of course it is only in hopes of getting something out of you. Most Americans seem unhappy, but will become happy once they have enough money. But, alas, enough will never enough for that mentality. Here friendliness is usually genuine. If you are a hungry foreigner down on his luck, even “squatters” will share with you. Knock on the door of someone where you live in the States and they seem bothered, unless they know you well. The greater mass of people in the Philippines is poor or not very rich, and they still find ways to be happy, to smile, and they are usually happy, even flattered, to become friends with an American.
Filipinos, especially the hostile low ones, sometimes resent us, and if we are offensive, may say, “Go back to your own country.” My reply in such a case is, “When all the Filipinos in the States return home, then I too will go back to my own country.” Why do they sometimes resent us? Because to them EVERY American is RICH and they are not. And by contrast to them, WE ARE. But, I don’t owe them. I worked for what I have, but Filipinos on the lower end cannot appreciate that. The Filipinos a little higher up socially, and economically, are more understanding.
Some of us remember WWII and tend to believe we Americans “saved their ass from the Japs”. That thinking is NOT appreciated here. To most of them, that is ancient history. But, there is still a colonial consciousness here in which the Filipino looks up to and defers to the white American, and yet at the same time may resent him. But, it is difficult and perhaps unfair to generalize. There are many types and mind-sets of Filipinos just as there are of Americans, and other foreigners here. If as a foreigner you think you understand the Philippines and Filipinos well, you are deluded. After 20 years, I continue learning “how it is here”.
I don’t know, Richard, perhaps it is because I am younger than you are (I’m 51), but I find that “we saved you from the Japanese” argument to be offensive. It was so long ago, and not all that relevant in today’s day and age. I do feel, though, that most Filipinos are grateful for the assistance that the USA did provide to the Philippines. I am also proud that my country has helped, I just don’t feel a need to rub it in the face of Filipinos.
One judgment often heard here, on the part of the American male, is that the Filipino man is a poor excuse for masculinity. And that the Filipina, in general, is a much higher life-form. And yet, I’ve known many “nice guy”, “good guy” Filipinos as well as Filipinas. Why do I make such a big deal over this issue? Because our social relations largely make us happy or un, depending. Just don’t expect the people of the Philippines to be “like us”.
There are great cultural differences, and not ones that Americans can’t always understand or appreciate.
Oh, another thing: FAMILY is everything here! They hang together as a clan their entire lifetime… USUALLY. So, when an American man marries a Filipina, he’d better understand his place in the scheme of things. Generally he is expected to kick in and help the woman’s family. And, the husband will be at the bottom of the totem pole in the scheme of things. But, as Filipinos are fond of saying, “Not all, not all.” And, generally, Filipinos, and I suppose ALL HUMAN BEINGS, are light on GRATITUDE. Sometimes no “thank you,” only “where’s the rest” or “keep it comin’, bro!” My first Fil wife, even though I was poor at the time, liked to say, “Papa, I hit the Jackpot!” She didn’t speak a lotta English.
You are certainly right that under the culture here, if you marry a Filipina you are marrying the entire family.
I was thinking the other day about where I was happier than here. Of all places, Toronto, Canada, came to mind. In spite of the weather. I toured there often back in the 70s and 80s and experienced very comfortable and satisfying “meeting of minds”. I loved Mexico, but, socially, Mexicans in general are altogether too much like Filipinos. In the States, I got along well with people in Nashville where I lived and worked for a year, and in Texas and Oklahoma. Weatherwise, my ideal is Hawaii, but I can’t afford to live there. I did my psychic work in Honolulu three tours. If one of my books becomes a best seller, I do believe I’d leave for Honolulu in a heartbeat! And if I got to missing Filipinos, there are plenty of them there, and most everywhere in the world these days!
I forgot to say, I took my M.A. at the U. of New Mexico in Albuquerque. That was a VERY satisfying place to live in spite of some of the petty academic BS I went through there, and my second divorce. If I were rich, I’d surely consider living in Santa Fe, a wonderful mystical place to be!
Do you have any regrets that you can share with us?
Sometimes I wish I’d kept a place and my excellent clientele and reputation back in Houston. Houston is very cosmopolitan, so it doesn’t have to be boring there. For example, I often went to Sunday meetings at the Chinese Buddhist Temple, and had acupuncture treatments in Chinatown. And the various Asian restaurants there were outstanding, as well as Dunkin’ Donuts where I was part of the morning gang. Also, anything and everything I wanted to buy was available. There also was no lack of women to relate to and satisfy my male “wants and needs”. Austin was right up there in those regards also. There I had another chance to “become rich” as a successful psychic oil finder (proved!), before the Government ordered domestic wells capped! What a downer that was! San Antonio, unfortunately, has yearly “cedar-fever” which threw me into pneumonia one season. Otherwise, I liked it there also. California, I found from experience, may well be left to Californians.
But, you did mention earlier that personal happiness does not really depend on where you are, right?
But, after my mother died in 04, I burned my bridges. I sold off the small house (by then rotting down) my dad built back in the 40s, and decided to live in the Philippines full-time, even after knowing what it is like to live here. That house where I grew up was on a beautiful acre on the edge of what had been my Hungarian grandfather’s 80 acre farm. Oh, there is another true tale that we male ex-pats laugh about. At times we are hot to get back home to the States, but after a couple of weeks back there, or a month tops, we can’t wait to get back to the PI with all its flaws and irritations. For whatever reasons, the Philippines gets in one’s blood!
I often tell people not to burn their bridges. However, having been here for a long time by the time you burned your bridges, I would tend to think it was an “OK thing to do” by then. Like me, I have don’t nothing to burn my bridges, but my attitude is that my bridges are long gone by now.
In my case, I’ve pretty much run the gamut in the Philippines, from high to low. The Rich and Powerful are too much like Americans for my taste. Materialistic, proud and greedy! I’m more comfortable with the low or lower people. They are more real. I come from “working class people” so that makes a difference in who I relate to. I am an odd one, a guy, thanks to the GI Bill for Higher Education, from the lower classes who got educated. EDUCATED, not TRAINED. In any case, most members of humanity don’t seem to revere the “Life of the Mind and Spirit” as I do, and so I am often lonely for like-minded people wherever I hang my hat or lay my balding head. But, periodically I meet other guys who love to exchange experiences and ideas. Such conversations “make our day”!
All in all, FOR ME, living in the Philippines is a very mixed bag, but then I’ve never found any one place to be absolutely ideal. That’s the nature of human life on Planet Earth. Richard Lee Van Der Voort, American Ex-pat living in the Philippines… for 20 years now…
Oh, I think it has to be expected that no matter where you live it will be a mixed bag. Living in the Philippines has been a mixed bag for me too, but I try to focus mostly on the positive.
Please visit Richard’s website Psychic Consulting by e-Mail.