I came to the Philippines in 2005. It was a fluke of fate, a left turn out of Hong Kong rather than right.
Before that I roamed the planet whenever I could afford it, which wasn't often enough, but, hey, alimony does crimp one's style. This ramblin' started courtesy of Uncle Sam's traveling circus, the US Army, which saw fit to give me an all expense paid tour of Saigon and its nearby environs, most of which were duly padded in sandbags to keep the shrapnel at bay. But after R&R in Hong Kong and vacation in Sydney, I was hooked. I liked the differences between other places and my home country.
Now my home country has the most varied scenery known to mankind, from the glaciers of Alaska to the sand dunes of Death Valley, endless rolling plains, some of the deepest ditches in the world painted red in the sunset, those elegant Rocky Mountains where I grew up, snakeland swamps, mighty rivers, gorgeous beaches. But the culture is pretty pat. By that, I mean ordered and proper and kind. People drive between the lines and generally follow the laws. It is hard to find exotica unless you like the kind represented in a stripper slipping up and down a silver pole at a gentleman's club out in South El Monte. Oh, and there is New Orleans.
"See Julie do something that no other woman has done before in public!" You can wander the streets of "N'awlins" with a beer in hand as the barkers fairly drag you in to the strip joints and clubs.
Well, Julie was pretty good, balancing that glass of champagne on her ample left boob.
Her right was ample, too, now that I think about it.
I've been to all those places. River rafting and hitchhiking, mountain climbing and body surfing, skiing and cross-country cycling. Camping. Ogling Julie. Luxury hotels and smoke infested dives with lumpy mattresses from all the prior action thereupon. I drunkenly pissed once from the terrace of the Morro Bay Inn into the mighty Pacific, and on another excursion got potted up whilst watching the whales swim south toward Mexico. That was in Clint Eastwood's town, lovely, artsy Carmel, California. Trust me, Mayor Clint would not allow any obscene painting of Jesus to be posted in an art gallery in his town. He has class. And a .44 magnum.
But you see, there are no tricycles in the USA for a 5 peso ride downtown. No outrigger boats for a quick jaunt over to that island off in the distance. No local wild fiestas where everyone feeds everyone else and half naked dancers bong their way through town vying in street dance competitions. Only in Hawaii can you drive between the sea and green tropical forests dissolving into the misty clouds high up the mountainside. And there, a cut-rate hotel room runs you $100. And everyone stays between the lines.
There are no drunken cock-fights with every motorcycle in town jammed aside the National Highway so the riders can foolishly bet away the family's money that they sweated so hard to earn. There is no tuba in the USA. Oh, the south has its moonshine and some people brew beer in their basement. But there is no mango tree to drink it under, where you can slobber happily with your drunken pals whilst the women fiddle with the food and kids.
There are no Jeepneys in the US of A. If you don't own a car, you have a headache.
Juices, I can hardly remember all the countries I've visited. Viet Nam, Hong Kong, Australia , Canada, Mexico, Chile, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, Egypt, Israel, England, Spain, Portugal, France. Aargh. I'm forgetting some, I know.
I would strike half those countries from my list of feasible retirement places because you can't live year-round in shorts and a t-shirt, wander about speaking English and be quite confident that people may try to scam some pesos, but not do anything really nasty; just avoid Mindanao. Some of those countries, like Singapore and Japan, live too much between the lines, if you catch my drift. Egypt is the best place to visit if you want to look at really old architecture, but the Sahara sand stings and I don't trust Muslims (no offense intended). Israel? Way too many guns hanging around on the shoulders of very young soldiers. England? Snooty, cold and between the lines. Spain? I don't trust Catholics. Hahahahaha, whooo, wheeeooo. (No offense intended.)
No, I like a place with character. It doesn't have to be rich. It has to be authentic.
The Philippines is authentic, even though the authenticity occasionally drives me nuts. I'd rather be nuts than bored.
My home is on a gently sloping mountainside just below the cloud line. If I look one direction, I see green volcanic mountains draped in wispy cotton veils, if I look the other, I see the West Philippine Sea with a Chinese aircraft carrier somewhere off in the distance. My kid speaks two languages at the age of three, he runs around naked half the time, like the locals, and he loves books, an obvious cultural contradiction. But hey, like his Pop, he believes in marching to the beat of his own drum.
Also, living here is a fine joke on those stuck between the lines. The Philippines is going up. They are going down.