May of 2000, we moved to the Philippines. We had planned this move for years, and finally it was happening. This was a time of great excitement in my life. Oh, it was exciting for my wife, Feyma, too, but probably more exciting for me, I would say. Feyma had not really wanted to move back to the Philippines, but did so because I had a strong desire to do so. I wanted to move to the Philippines for various reasons. Some reasons were good reasons, and ended up proving themselves out. Other reasons turned out to be pipe dreams that never came to fruition. All in all, the move to the Philippines was a good move for us, but that does not mean that everything went smoothly over the years.
Stepping off of the plane
We flew into Manila, as most people do. There are a few other ports of entry to the Philippines, but most people fly into Manila. As normal, when I stepped off of the plane, the heat and humidity hit me, and it was very uncomfortable. It was HOT! But, I would soon find out that it really was winter. Oh, it was not winter as far as the weather is concerned, but what I mean is that I was about to experience some tough times. I was about to face some difficulties that I had not experienced previously in my life. I was about to be challenged in way that I did not expect. I was to be put into a situation that I could either succumb to, or that I could overcome, if I had the strength and will to do so.
A few weeks of bliss
When we arrived in our new home, General Santos City, everything was still wonderful. It was still hot, sunny, and all signs said to me that it was summer. Even my personal life was going great. I had only been here for a few weeks, though, I was still in “vacation mode”. Taking some days going to the beach, exploring new places and generally getting to know my new home better. I had been to General Santos, GenSan, many times during the ’90s, but had never lived there. Soon, I would learn that vacationing in a place and living there were two different things.
Nice wad of cash
I came to the Philippines with a nice wad of cash. I had a pretty large amount of savings that was available to me. I had figured that I was probably good for at least 10 years, even if I never earned another dime during that time. Of course, this led to a feeling of comfort, and also complacency. I could go enjoy days at the beach, sit around in the yard doing nothing and such, because I had a nice pile of cash to satisfy all of my needs. After a while, I did decide to do some businesses to try to supplement my savings. I did what I thought I knew how to do, I set up local businesses that earned from the local economy where I lived.
My first mistake was that I put way too much capital into starting businesses. It really ate into my savings. But, I figured that even if I was spending big money, I was using that money to start businesses that would pay off in the long run, so it was an investment, not a waste of money. Well, some of my businesses did OK, some did not do OK. But, the problem is, when I say they did “OK”, remember these were Philippine businesses and did OK by Philippine standards. I mean, at that time, having a business earn $1,000 per month was pretty darn good. But $1,000 per month was not enough to support our family, especially given that we were being wasteful with money, a common expat “disease”.
After about two years, that “ten year supply of money” that I had was pretty much gone. It was to the point where Feyma and I were looking at the situation and realized that we had to take action. Feyma told me that she would look into going to work abroad, or that we could go back to the States. First thing I told her was that the thing about her going to work abroad was just not going to happen. It is my responsibility to provide for the family, and I would not have her working abroad and sending money to us. That just was not even a consideration. Move back to the States? Ha. No way.
So, my plan was that I had to learn how to make real money. No more piddling around. I had to do it, and I had to do it fast. So, I studied and I learned. I learned how to make my money from places outside the Philippines, while living in the Philippines. I developed businesses online that would allow me to earn US style wages while living in the Philippines. My research and hard work was a success, and before long, I was earning a pretty respectable income.
Soon, all of us (me, wife and kids) found out that there was a lot of adjustment to make. Things were so different here than the life we had led in the States. While on vacation, things here looked so “US-like”, but upon living here, we found out that this place was very un-US-like. Even for Feyma, after living in the States for 10 years, she found that she was having a hard time readjusting to life in the Philippines. We knew for sure that we had to adjust, and if we could not adjust, we had to move back to the States. Feyma was constantly wanting to move back. I fought that off, I wanted to make it here. I will say, Feyma had a very difficult time, some of that difficulty was created by me, and I readily admit that. More on that below.
If you are a male expat and you move to the Philippines, be prepared to face temptation. I am talking about temptation in the area of girls. Without a doubt, you will be faced with a lot of Filipina girls basically throwing themselves at you. They will offer you anything in an attempt to steal you away from your wife. Of course, not every Filipina will act like this, but there will be plenty of opportunity if that is what you are looking for. For me, I had never been in a situation where I was basically a “hot item” and had my choice. I was happily married, but when you get into a situation where you have so many choices. It can be hard, especially it can be hard on a marriage when this type of situation presents itself.
I made some mistakes along these lines. I gave in to temptation in some ways. I have no need or desire to go into that in detail, but let me just say that I hurt my wife. And, she was right to be hurt. It lead to some rocky times in our marriage. Thankfully, we were able to overcome that, but it took a long time to do so. But, I learned my lesson, and have not repeated those types of mistakes.
I come across a LOT of expats who fall into similar types of trouble. Some of the people I know revel in this and have a lot of fun. Others fight it off. Some make the mistake once or twice, but are than able to overcome this behavior. But, if you are going to move here, you have to know, there will be temptation. You have to learn how to deal with it.
A long winter
So, within a few months after moving here, it was winter in my life. I faced some difficulties. Life was not all beach parties and fun, as I had stupidly envisioned it would be. I would say that for my first 3 years or so of living here, there was a definite chill in the air. For Feyma it was longer than that. Even to this day, I have some days where winter returns to my life and I face difficulties. Know what, though? That is the same no matter where in the world you live. That is why when people say that the Philippines is “paradise”, I always tell them that it is not paradise here. You will face problems just like you do where you live now. Yeah, there are many good things here too, but you won’t ever find a place where there are no problems.
Thankfully, for the most part, I have moved on, and winter is not an issue anymore. As I said, things are not perfect and never will be, but I mostly enjoy life now. I think I’ve figured out how things work here, and I can deal with those winter winds that blow from time to time, and I can also enjoy the warmth in my life that I feel most days. But, you gotta make it through the winter before things heat up a bit and your life is more enjoyable.