This article kind of pairs up with the “slow down” one I wrote recently It’s mainly an expanded answer I gave to an interesting comment I received from a reader … keep those cards and letters coming, folks.
Here’s an interesting comment from faithful reader, Dave from Texas:
… More and more frequently I think about leaving the rat race and retiring. I could easily live on my savings until age 70 and collect SS at the maximum rate for the remainder of my life. Some questions I’ve been asking myself are:
1. Will I be able to adjust to shopping Filipino style: going to a store and spending excessive waiting periods to complete my transaction. The horror stories of mall shopping in the Philippines can be sobering.
2. Will seeming bureaucratic inefficiencies drive me to insanity? Reading about what should be a simple process of paying bills or renewing immigration documents is somewhat intimidating.
3. Sorry this is not in stock. I take for granted I can get just about whatever I want today. I rarely have to go to more than one store to find it.
I guess I can get used to the crowds, beggars, various forms of pollution – litter, smog and noise. I can even get in the habit of carrying my own TP. I suppose one could always hire a “professional shopper/line waiter. It’s one of the advantages of a third world country – low cost of labor.
How do you cope with things like these Dave?
Well the short answer is, I just do *sigh*. Looking at your concerns objectively and one by one, let me say in general I’ve experienced frustrations like many of my Philippine frustrations back in the USA … in some cases, maybe worse here, in other cases, the frustrations are just more noticeable because they are ‘different”.
In the US I am well known for avoiding malls like the plague. In the Philippines it seems quite the opposite. I visit our local SM City on virtually a daily basis it seems. Not that I like the place any more than any other mall, but here I find different things are a lot more important>
Convenience. Almost every store I ever want to go to, from buying some plumbing item for the house, to buying myself a new package of underwear, to getting a haircut or a manicure to buying fresh flowers for the table and a fresh salad to accompany whatever Mita is cooking for lunch is there …no searching, no wondering where to go, just follow my well-worn path down a couple local streets. Also the local branch of my bank, BDO is in the mall, so I get 7 day a a week, 10 hour a day banking hours, even on all holidays except Easter and Christmas day. Also, when you have a local branch available like that you don’t have to live in fear of an ATM outage when you’re short of cash … just step up top the counter with your passbook in hand (you do remember passbooks, don’t you?) and withdraw, just like we all used to do back in the pre-ATM days, if needed. Hard to beat.
Every other store I visit always has plenty clerks readily at hand and is never crowded in the morning when I typically go. I also buy regularly from several small kiosks in the aisle of the mall … people know me on site, ask about my health, my wife’s welfare, where my two little nephews are whom I take with me often, etc. It’s just like home there.
Parking: A big consideration. Many places in the Philippine shave no place to park, or else the parking lots provided are a cruel joke. here I can just drive in and park in am ample, well-patrolled parking lot. If I want to I can have the car washed right where it sits while I shop … and in addition to the regular security patrols, SM provides a basic theft prevention service … when you drive in you get a ticket from the guards and you must produce the receipt or your registration and proof of ownership before you can drive out.
If I chose to drive into the city, I zip right through the dedicated ‘Easy Pass” only lane … it’s great how no one else seems to want one of these great gimmicks, and when I get to the city mall I’ll have acres and acres of basement parking … but with a fee of 30 Pesos all day … about $0.66 USD cents at today’s rate.
Exercise: Let’s face it, it gets hot here. One reason I go to the mall most every day is mall walking along with whatever shopping needs doing. An hour’s walk around the perimeter of both floors is about 3,000 brisk steps (or 2.6 km) in air conditioned comfort. there are lots of free-standing gyms and fitness centers on local streets as well, and a swimming resort along the road to our local mall I am ashamed to say I have never checked out.
Mall horror stories? Not from me, YMMV. Unlike the malls in the US, I love going to the mall here. (also, I live near family. If I really didn’t want to go to the store, I could easily send a niece of nephew, they’re always up for a trip to the mall). Everything needed to live without the mall is within easy walk of my house as well … or at the press of a few keys to text. There are 6 or 8 sari-sari stores on every block, a bigger grocery store 2 short blocks away, a dozen food delivery places, filtered water delivery, delivery ladies who come buy with fresh fruits and vegetables (and fish and meats to order) several times a week.
All told it’s way, way more convenient than all the freeway driving I had to do in the US for shopping on a regular basis. And although I have a car and enjoy driving, I don’t need one at all … tricycles are available by texting or waving my hand from my front door to go anywhere local, and a walk (or tricycle ride to the major Jeepney stop two short blocks away will give me access to a 40 or 50 cent ride to Metro Manila.
These are things to consider when you are going to live somewhere long-term. I’d hate to grow old in the US, because you HAVE to have a car, and (as will come to all of us someday), when that day comes you no longer are safe driving, you’re essentially ‘dead’ … a huge burden on other people to get you places. Some cites are still blessed with senior ambulatory services, but I don’t want to live out my life as a pitiful old fart waiting for the city “short bus” to come get me … and in today’s budgetary climate, how many cites are cutting these services, drastically. Here, I take care of my own needs, I don’t live as a ward of the city and a burden on other taxpayers.
Paying Bills: Well it is true this used to be an issue. But I just paid my monthly cable TV bill today .. 550 pesos … about $12.22 USD … includes the ‘big three’ movie channels, ESPN, the big news channels and Discovery and Nat Geo, along with a couple dozen other channels I never watch … and I realized it’s the only monthly bill I now have that I have to leave my house to pay. My rent I pay over the fence to my next door neighbor. Electric, Internet and my BDO credit card I pay on line via the bank’s excellent online bill pay system. I carry the BDO Philippine Master Card just for the purpose of things like grocery shopping, hotels, larger restaurants, etc., so I don’t have to carry wads of pesos around with me. It costs 75 Pesos a month and it’s well worth it. I normally visit the bank once a month to deposit a US dollar check from my US credit union and transfer dollars to my pesos account for the upcoming month’s needs. The cable company is the only one who hasn’t gotten on the direct debit bandwagon, so I stop at a local Bill Pay Center that’s on the way to the mall … takes 30 seconds or so for the guy to take my cash and issue a receipt … done and dusted. When I had a car payment, that came directly out of my pesos account monthly, and when my annual car insurance is due, they send a bill, I pay that online as well. Not much hassle in bill paying, pretty much the same as when I was paying bills back in Colorado.
Bureaucratic Inefficiencies: Oh yes, we have them, but really I don’t see much hassle factor. You do have to be flexible though … which goes along with the “out of stock” situation. Example, in January when my license plates needed renewal I drove to the local LTO (Land Transportation Office) in our town, backed my car into a stall in the adjacent emissions testing center .. there was no one waiting .. and stood with the emissions tech next to my license plate while the boss snapped a picture to prove the test was done with the owner present. this is part of a huge program the LTO is vigorously pursuing to stamp out ‘fixers”.
Then I went to Window One and asked what form to fill up … I mean you go to Window One at every motor vehicle department I have ever seen, except when I lived in Japan .. it was Window 0 first there ;-). Filled up the form, handed it in in Window two, sat on a bench in the shade and chatted with other drivers there about where I came from in the US, how much did it cost to get license plates renewed in the US, how I found Filipino driving, etc., and waited for the guy in Window Three to call my name.
When he did, he handed me a sheet to show my charges … about P3,000 since it’s a nearly new car still, then I went to Window 4 to hand in the bill and my money. Went back to sit on the bench until my name was called from Window 5.
In a few minutes the Window 5 guy called me, handed me an OR (Official Receipt) and said, “No renewal stickers, sir, out of stock, Come back in 30 days. You are legal to drive with your expired stickers and this OR.”
So I guess that’s pretty inefficient, apparently they forgot to order stickers. But, all in all, no big deal. I was in and out in under 30 minutes, and second week in February I drove over again, handed my OR directly to the guy in Window 5, he handed my back the OR and my shiny new “2010” stickers. The second trip, including sticking on the stickers didn’t take 30 minutes … about par for the course.
This was mostly all done in English by the way. My wife was with me on the first trip and did get into the conversation quite a bit, though. And while I am grateful for her assistance, I’m resolved to do it all on my own next time. I’ve learned the hard way that taking family ‘helpers” along, or worse yet, paying “fixers”, often gets things all screwed up. It’s not that they don’t mean well. In fact, it’s often a case that they try to do too much for you, sometimes asking special favors that annoy people and build up that hidden resentment against the foreigner throwing his weight around.
I mean truly, if you go on your own, what’s the worst that can happen? You get treated like you don’t know what you are doing by a rude clerk? Well, you don’t know what you are doing, and rude clerks are a hazard of life world-wide. It’s part of paying the tuition of life. Just learn from the experience and next time you will know what you are doing. You can’t learn to surf by reading a book, and you can’t learn how to live in the Philippines unless you learn how to fend for yourself.
Now with the Bureau of Immigration? Never had a problem. Just remember to wear shoes, long pants and a proper shirt, fill up whatever simple forms you are asked to, when the cashier calls your name, pay, when the immigration officer walks out of the back room with a handful of passports and calls your name again, go collect the passport and leave. You also can use a licensed agent for visa renewals, most travel agents are accredited, so it’s possible to almost never visit the BI.
I just read some very cogent similar advice from a foreigner whose been in the Philippines a lot longer than me.
Forget about the 2 words "WHY" and "SHOULD" or you get constant headache trying to understand why things happen like they do in places outside your own country, especially the Philippines. Acceptance is the preferable attitude. There are too many things for you to question, so it’s better for you not to start. So just relax and enjoy the positive aspects of your surroundings with a sense of humor.
Anyway, David (and others), hope these thoughts may help you a bit with the idea of what you will need to adjust to here. There’s another article I wrote with some good illustrations on these points … dealing with the inefficiencies and keeping you cool by deciding what you really want in the first place here.