Today we begin day 1,462 - our fifth year - in Northern Mindanao, Philippines. Our family decided to leave Corrimal in the Illawarra so our son could continue his education at the same high school his mother taught at for 14 years before she met me in 1994. Later, she applied for a spouse visa, which took 77 days to grant (and would have taken longer had I not contacted the secretary of our sitting MP who happened to be speaker of the house then, Mr S Martin.)
We’ve met only two other Aussies here but everybody who strolls around here and wants to be cheeky just calls me “Hey, Joe” even when I tell them I’m not Joe and there’s no Joe around.
A friend of ours agreed it might be a good idea to get wheels so in June 2008 I bought a Kymco 100cc scooter for 32,000 pesos (approximately $AUD700 at the time), but it was I who got taken for a ride. The motor cycle shop claimed it was “new”, then “as new”. Only later did I find out it had been sitting in their shop for about 10 years gathering dust. The reason they dropped it down to half price was because no one was interested and there was no Kymco dealership in town anyway. Since then, I’ve had many folks advising me to buy “brand new branded” motorbikes, but I must admit I’ve grown fond of this old clunker. Sure, it’s a 2-stroke, fuel inefficient and runs on a mixture of oil and gas. It’s noisy and definitely not pollution free and it’ll never be a clean or green machine but I’ve ridden it over 33,000 kilometres in a bit over three and a half years. It’s got me where I needed to go (occasionally breaking down), got my son to school and back (occasionally breaking down) and my wife shopping (occasionally breaking down.) But with a recharged spare battery always to hand, spare spark plugs and a good honest competent professional mechanic handy, I manage to get through the day reasonably smoothly.
The place we live in is a fairly basic subdivision and I’d rather not go into the workmanship; suffice it to say they don’t claim it to be “world class”. We had to do further renovations because of leakage through the roof but most of our problems are fairly minor now. We were fortunate to have the roofing done by my wife’s cousin’s son, who organised the job through friends, though it did take a few weeks. But everything takes time here, and if Australian expats want to live here, they will have to slow down from life in the fast lane to a slow trisikad (sort of cycle trishaw) meander down the byways.
My wife has the place in her name. In a reversal of roles from Australia, I’m her dependent. She’s my son’s best tutor and diligent homework checker. She’s at home and amongst friends. We checked with Centrelink as to my son’s school entitlements and were allowed payments but after a few months they changed their minds and demanded the money back. We sent them the money back but I gather they’re not terribly familiar with expats going to another country for their kids’ education. For anyone considering this, I recommend a second or even third opinion from a higher echelon person at Centrelink before setting off. We appealed but lost.
My son has done quite well at school and is familiar with his mother’s native tongue, and even tagalog (local language) The school itself is the second oldest and most prestigious but the other year the tuition was raised to P32,000 per year, which at the exchange rate of 45 to the dollar works out to about $AUD711; a bit more than my Kymco pop-pop but would probably take him a bit farther.
One drawback is that because there are so few foreigners here, some folks think I must be a filthy rich Yank. Nothing could be further from the truth: I was a junior public servant with the ATO and my pension is under $AUD9000 a year so we have to watch our pesos, not go to Maccas too much and do without overseas, even domestic, holidays. I must admit, though, to going to Bohol a couple of years ago with a friend for the 17 May fiesta of San Jose. . It was an absolute delight! Bohol is just brilliant, the roads excellent, the cathedrals truly historic and beautiful, and with Panglao International Airport about to open soon, well worth a visit.
Another drawback is relatives tend to put the bite on you, and with the pathetic health care system here, it’s no wonder. We were only too glad to help my wife’s mother defray the “gap” that results from the minuscule 20% remuneration by Philhealth. If there is a next time we will not be able to be in such a position because we’re just about running on empty but if we just stick to the basics and avoid any luxuries we’ll get by. The strength of the Aussie dollar is just amazing, expats really feel it! How long can it last?
This is just a general overview. Our experience has been definitely positive; despite many drawbacks, disappointments and difficulties, it’s been a lot of fun and I thank the Lord and the guardian angels for us surviving many close calls. We missed out on dengue, malaria and a host of other nasties (although I got something in my eye for which I’m seeing an ophthalmologist at an affordable price, unlike in Australia, where an eye treatment, like dental, is not covered by Medicare.)
We’re expats, and hope to be back home some day, hopefully before this “typhoon-free city” gets king hit again by another one, as happened 16 Dec 2011 with Typhoon Washi (“Sendong” locally), which left about 1500 dead and as many missing. But after the last tree of the last forest on the watersheds is chopped down, the penny might drop.
That’s it, folks, the day is bright and sunny and we need to scoot over to Gaisano’s to get a few things. Ciao.