The Philippines: A Great Vacation Destination. But You Are No Longer on Vacation.

Tom Ramberg. He’s one of my funniest commentators on PhilippinesPlus. His twisted, wicked sense of humor appeals to me. When he sent me an email recently wanting to know if I would like to publish the occasional article to this website, I was off quicker than a prom dress to dash him a reply in the affirmative. Tom had been answering an email where I had wondered what had happened to the material he had recently posted on a new blog he had started (more on that later in his article.)   I am thrilled and honored to have the opportunity to publish his nuggets of humor and wisdom. Here’s Tom’s initial offering sprinkled throughout with his own unique witticisms, anecdotes, and useful advice.

(Photo by KateInHawaii  © All Rights Reserved from Flickr.)


Everybody has a different experience while vacationing or living here in the Philippines. There are however some similarities in many of them. When the foreigner first arrives here he is a celebrity. He is different, he is unique, he is rich, he is handsome, he is the salvation of the family. To keep his partner or his wife happy he allows this myth to continue and in some cases grow. She is also basking in his glory. The wife is as popular as a newly arrived OFW. He will undoubtedly come to regret this later. There will be big parties and family outings courtesy of the rich handsome foreigner. He will be the guest of honor and treated like royalty. Wow! I never got this much attention at home, this is a great place! I will build a house on the beach, drink cheap beer, my obedient wife will tend to my every desire. It is really true that you can live like a king on a small budget! Everything is so cheap here! Pesos are like Monopoly money and I have a wallet full of them.

Okay now for the reality. Here is the harsh part. Everyone is still as ugly as their ex-wives said they were,  Dave is the exception because he has the Sean Connery thing going on. He will become old and wrinkled but chicks will still dig him! Even though I myself am a dead ringer for Val Kilmer I know that I am not nearly as gwapo as the ladies say I am. I always correct them by telling them that I am white not handsome. The last time my 19yr old son was here the girls were saying that he looks like Justin Bieber. I felt it was my fatherly duty to correct them and soon they were saying that he looks like Mr Bean. My son is actually a chick magnet here and in the US. I like to think that he is just following his father’s legacy. Joke!

 You are not rich! There are exceptions but very few. More than likely you are using savings and possibly credit cards to enjoy your vacation lifestyle. Wait until you get home and see the transaction fees that you accrued, I came here four times before moving here. One time when I returned I tried to use my debit card to buy gas and it was declined. I was quite upset because I knew that I should have plenty of funds in that account. I went to the bank and complained. The response was; “You don’t have any money left in this account Mr. Ramberg” My outrage turned to embarrassment. Luckily I had several checks from my customers sitting on my desk. The lesson I learned from that is there is a false sense of being rich while here on vacation but the reality will bite you in the posterior when you see your bank statement.

It is quite easy to overspend while on vacation here. Things seem cheap by comparison but it all adds up to a shocking total. If you move here you must train yourself to think in pesos exclusively. If you are a pensioner then you really need to make a budget in pesos. While on vacation many foreigners tend to over tip or give gratuities to random people. I am talking about giving 100 pesos to a server at Pizza Hut or likewise to a cab driver, a street beggar, or even a  hard luck story relative. It is true that there is visible poverty here. Sometimes it is hidden, sometimes it is painfully obvious. It is truly sad but it would be worse to see an old white guy here in a dirty Hawaiian print shirt playing the harmonica and begging for pesos. Nobody is going to bail you out if you screw up. There is a chance that the U.S. embassy will loan you the money to return home so you can lick your wounds and lament your misfortune. That is if you are an American. But first you would have to make it to the embassy so get your harmonica warmed up so you can earn the plane fare to Manila.

Be prepared to spend a huge amount of that monopoly money when you move here. You had a certain standard of living in your former place and it is human nature to try to replicate that standard. I have a Swedish friend that shared a story of trying to use a primitive style bathroom. He had a huge lizard drop on him from the ceiling. He thought it was a snake. The story ended with him bursting through the door with his shorts around his ankles screaming. The view was enjoyed by the 20 plus family members sitting outside. The Swede soon commissioned a proper bathroom to be constructed at his expense. Last time he was here he gave a huge amount of money because a brother in law wanted to get married but had no money or job. I laughed at him and suggested that I would not give a single peso for that unless I am included in the honeymoon. (I am curious to see if that one will slip by the editor)

Okay since the money topic could have a lengthy book written about it so I will undo the last fallacy. It is not easy to buy beachfront property to build your own paradise. They quit making beachfront property here several thousand years ago. Most is already owned by someone and has a pay per head resort facility on it. Only your wife could own such property if she is a citizen and has not had to regain her citizenship. If she has had to regain her citizenship here then she has limitations on where and what size property she can own. It is just a thank you to the OFWs that they refer to as heroes. Odds are that you will be living close to the extended family. Per Dave and others you should avoid this. If your wife is considerably younger than you she will fight you like a demon at the mere suggestion of moving away from the family. They are her security blanket. This will make you the go to guy for even a minor crisis. Hey now you are their security blanket.
It is great to be needed. One time we had a distant relative come to the house and ask for money for a hospital bill upon the birth of their child. The husband had a job which provides Phil Health. The family owned some cows that could be sold to pay the bill. They also had several months to save for the event. They mistakenly thought I was the go to guy and was declined. When they left I asked what color the baby’s eyes were. Luckily the answer was brown. I suggested that maybe I would have to pay if they were blue! Joke!

The last point that I will hit upon is the celebrity status. There was a jockey that once claimed he was taller while standing on his wallet to entice the buxom blonde. It is a pretty good measure for whether you are considered a Brad Pitt type of celebrity or one of those secondary actors that you see in movies but can not recall their name. Hopefully you will have enough money where you will not share your fame with the creepy kidnapper guy from the movie Fargo.
Money matters aside you will see big changes in life once you live here. There will be no daily family excursions to the beach. The lechon pigs that were present many times during your vacations are nowhere to be found. Now you are lucky to have Spam. Just saying that anyone is lucky to have Spam is pretty ominous to me. Food is not cheap unless you adopt a Filipino diet. There will be times where you have to forage in your cache of survival food. Mine is Swift black labeled corn beef or Armour vienna sausages with skyflakes. These are my backups in case their is a fish head staring at me in a bowl of soup.I can only bend so far with the adaptation thing.

If you are a regular reader of Dave’s well written website you will see his accounts of the hurdles that are sometimes faced with living on a budget. Dave and his wife seem to manage their money well and have a nice life as a result. They are a great example of how a couple can manage on a budget. Sometimes I smile when I read his accounts of the addition of creature comforts. I remember as a newlywed  in my first marriage we bought a huge two storied farmhouse in the country. This house would make Bob Villa run away in terror. We managed to live there for six months before we could afford to install hot water. When I installed the last fitting and turned the unit on we were jumping up and down and hugging each other. The small victories are pretty cool. When you live here you will probably experience some of them. I did when I installed the back up generator, the water tank, the hot water shower unit, the ceiling fans, and the air conditioners.

It seems that this article keeps going back to money. It is really not my intention. There is also some things to note regarding your celebrity status. You will at some point feel alone. It will not be because you are alone but because you are an outsider. You can rationalize until the cows come home that you are different but that is my point. You are different. Hopefully not different like the smelly kid in school but different none the less. Some guys accept this and adapt, some guys become bitter. They are the ones that hang out with other expats so they have a chance to vent. Unless you find another bitter expat you will probably drive this guy away with your complaining. I know a bitter expat and me and my Filipino friends are amused by the things that he says. I am told that I do a pretty good imitation of him. Sometimes when Filipinos are smiling they are laughing at you. Don’t be that guy!

Sometimes it is frustrating to live here. Service is slow, driving is bad, there is an obvious attempt to complicate even the simplest transaction. I could go on but then I would need to find a bitter expat to befriend. Sometimes there are perks to being the outsider. An example would be when my son and I were alone and attended a bikini open at a beach resort. There were hundreds of people surrounding a barrier around the event. I told my son to follow me and assume your usual cocky demeanor. We walked past security and then were accosted by many beautiful service personnel. They promptly guided the white gate crashers to the best table next to the stage and provided us with cold beverages in amber bottles.  Bikini opens are a yearly event so for three hundred and sixty four days a year I am not so special. I was asked by one guy if I was a judge and he walked away shaking his head when I said I was just the oil boy.
The reality is that unless we go on a vacation then my only vacation is when we have visitors. Then we go into vacation mode providing good food, entertainment, and cold San Mig. Since I don’t drink alone I am looking forward to a visit from Dave so I can go on vacation. Hopefully there will be no fish heads peeking at us from the bowl of soup. Otherwise I hope you like vienna sausages and Skyflakes Dave! I am working hard at this point constructing and starting a bakery so I need a vacation!
P.S. To those that read my former website I extend a heartfelt Thank You. Readers and their participation is the true reward for a writer’s efforts. The website platform that I used before was really unstable. It would make changes to the format on a whim and became increasingly frustrating when it started deleting articles that I wrote. When I started my website I was forced to be inactive due to a bout of back pain. I have since decided that the only way to improve that condition is to be as physically active as I can each day and so far I have seen gradual improvement. I invited myself to contribute to Dave’s reknown website and he accepted. For me this is a great deal. Dave does all the hard work maintaining the site and I submit an occasional article. I just hope that all of my contributions meet his high standards of journalism.
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