“What are you gonna do?” I was having dinner with my boss and his wife Sunday night, and he asked me this question. I visit the office in LA about four times per year (this time, 8 stops in 10 days), usually blowing into town for a day or two, couple of quick meetings, try to catch up on paperwork (Usually unsuccessfully), deal with errands (Normally involving my bank, passport, and storage unit here), and then off to a few stops for business in the States before moving on. It has become routine. I’ll usually fill up on BBQ, Mexican, and Pizza while here (The stuff that’s not really very good in Asia), get a horrible belly ache from all the grease, and then be ready for Becky’s cooking by the time I get home.
What brought on this question? Well, in 2006 and early 2007, I reached a sort of “burn out” level in my life. Too much travel (300+ days). Too much excess. Not enough exercise. Just not feeling “good” or very happy. I seriously considered moving on, despite career progress. It got to the point where I would sometimes wake up in the morning and not know what continent I was on, much less which country. I even flew from Istanbul to Tokyo, was there six hours for a meeting, and flew back to London immediately for another meeting. I had no idea even what time it was for about two days afterwards.
What changed since then? Well, simply put, I became involved with Rebecca and my priorities changed from making money to her as my sole priority… I am happy for the first time in many years. She has changed my focus to a much simpler life. I have pared down my travel as much as possible, but it is still at 200 days per year (My country tally for 2008 is now at 40). I am trying to get it down to no more than 150 days, and that is a goal for 2009.
A bit about my job. I am eight and one half years with the same employer, and I was there when the company started. We have only one product, a computer system for ships, that has many different functions, depending on the customer. I have a single responsibility: I am responsible for worldwide sales and marketing. Our sales are highly technical, and it takes between 6 months to 3 years to conclude a contract, depending on the customer. I am able to take a technical sale and put it into terms that corporate management or military command can understand…. That is what I do and the reason I am paid what I am. My customers include tugboat companies, ferry companies, big shipping companies, oil companies, and the military from many different countries. I don’t play corporate mind games. My company is far too small for that crap. I answer to one person, and am free to do 90% of what I feel needs to be done in order to get my job done, normally without question. Most of our customers are in Asia, with Middle East, Europe, and the States following, in that order. We are growing, and it has taken nearly eight years of very hard work to reach break even, due to a very large capital investment and the fact that we are unique in our market: no competition, so we define the market. We will be opening a full-service Asian office next year due to growth, possibly in Manila or Shanghai, but most likely in Singapore. I have sales managers in Singapore and Germany, and am searching for one in the States and Latin America. I have also developed a worldwide network of agents and dealers, covering every continent except Africa. Since most of our business is in Asia, the Philippines makes a decent base from which to do my job, at least thinking geographically (There are, however, other issues).
So, I am at dinner and this question is asked. I had to think for a minute on how to answer. You see, I have adjusted, somewhat, to living in the Philippines and, as I stated above, my priorities have changed. The travel is starting to wear thin, quite frankly, and, though I have seen many things and experienced many things I would not have otherwise done, I am wanting to stay home more often. The travel just stopped being interesting. For example, on this trip, I had an overnight layover in Japan (I came from Shandong, China). Three or four years ago, I would have played tourist, gone shopping, or eaten native. What did I do? I slept, ordered room service, and watched a Godzilla movie without dubbing… Not real exotic, eh?
Becky and I have a deal: When I am traveling, she visits the province to work the fish ponds, and we meet at home when I return. In 8 months in the Philippines, I have not had to extend my 21-day visa once (Whew!). We are together the entire time that I am in Manila, and we share a home office for our respective businesses (One side of the room for her, and one side for me). We are thinking of moving up to Tuguegarao or Laoag in the next year or two, since life is much quieter up there and both cities have airports nearby. I find myself yearning for a simpler life… Not so complicated. That is possible in the Philippines. Rebecca and I have some ideas for several “retirement” businesses. However, my salary from the States is what makes all of the options possible, so I’ll be working for a few more years, at least. It has taken Rebecca a little time to get used to it… That is why I am glad she goes to the province when I’m gone… She’s not alone and has her family there with her. (My in-laws still don’t really have a clue what I do… They have trouble understanding why I need to traipse around the world… I just tell them that business has to be conducted in person. )
It’s funny: When I return to the States, I almost feel like a foreigner here. This is no longer home. There is no excitement at returning. It has become, as I stated, routine. No emotion, just business. My home is the Philippines and I look forward to returning in a week.
So, the question was asked of me when the boss’ wife said, “You look really happy.” I had to answer that I am happy… Much of the stress is gone. So how did I answer the boss’ question? He stated, “John, I just can’t picture you as a farmer!” I thought for a minute, and responded, “You’re right.” He then stated, “Before you answer, remember that you have been here from the beginning, and you will inherit a company that is global, and running smoothly. Money stops being an issue.” That is true. I told him that living in the Philippines has been good for me and we intend, at present, to stay. I am planning on sticking with what I have started, at least for the next few years. If I inherit, then I’ll deal with that issue when it arises. The company can be run from Asia just as easily as from California. If we “retire”, and that word really isn’t in my vocabulary, I’ll do something else, but sitting around is just not me. I am, however, cutting back on the travel. Since my wedding, I have spent only 7 non-consecutive days in Manila and traveled around 70,000 miles… but I have the last three weeks in December at home. Once our Asian office is open, my goal is one week per month out, three weeks in.
This posting is a bit personal, not really intended to gripe. It is simply my experience as an expat working for a foreign company in the RP.
John Miele is a Citizen of the World, having spent time in many locations around the globe. Currently, he finds himself in Manila, but travels throughout the Philippines. John joined the Live in the Philippines Web Magazine in mid-2008.