There are as many different ways of adapting to life as an expat in the Philippines as there are expats in the Philippines. Carol and I tend to approach our life here as though we were walking on eggshells. We advise against nightlife, business dealings, philandering and other behavior we think of as risky within the Philippine context. We recently have an exchange with another expat who does not mince words with us. He thinks our approach is living a life cowering in fear.
Like with so many things there may not be a right answer as to how to live in the Philippines. Perhaps we do deprive ourselves of people and experiences as a result of an overabundance of caution. Perhaps others live too dangerously. Of course one’s philosophy and options for life in the Philippines is influenced by personality and inclination. If you are a brash, type A, John Wayne (or Joseph Estrada?) type of person, we can see why we might come across as Milquetoasts. If you are old and shy, you might indeed see other expats behavior as reckless.
With those issues in mind, we like to share the exchange of emails and comments with a MyPhilippineLife reader. As we say, there may not be a right and wrong, but we hope the contracting points of view are worth thinking about.
Here is the first message we received:
“I am sorry when you are a foreigner here you are a target immediately. I am married to a filipina and i once told her to get me a bottle of water at a store and i was across the street, I walked into the store as the lady was taking the water and putting it on the counter once they saw me the price went from 20php to 35php. I took the water, paid for it opened it and then poured it all over her counter.”
Bob was taken aback by this and replied:
“Thanks for your comment. Actually, I don’t have the foreigner overcharge problem very often, perhaps because there are not so many foreigners in our area. Personally, I would be very uncomfortable reacting as you did for a number of reasons. It’s pretty confrontational and could provoke some reaction from a security guard, husband, boyfriend or bystander. Insults are not always forgotten or forgiven. Further, as I say, there are not many foreigners in our area and I try to behave so that it creates a favorable impression. Perhaps it would have been better just to refuse to buy, explaining why. Just my two cents. Bob Hammerslag”
This is the response we received via email:
Dear Mr, Hammerslag, I have to once again strongly disagree with many of the things you mentioned and what I said was just one instance but please let me enlighten you to some others I encountered. My business partners and I were at a meeting and we wrapped up, My wife was with me so we decided to just go home, we were in an area that there was much traffic ( jeepneys,tricycles,metered taxis, foot traffic) we got into a taxi, locked the doors as we always do and told the driver where to go. after about 1 kilometer he stopped and told us that we would have to pay additional money due to the time and traffic, I told him I would not pay him anything extra and only what was on the meter. He turned the taxi down a road and then floored it going about 60 miles an hour, I reached across to grab him and he ducked his head and then stopped the taxi, he jumped out of the taxi and had a machete in his hand and told us to get out. I told my wife to get out on my side letting me go out first. As I got out he started swinging the machete and my wife was screaming, I told her that I would keep him on my side and for her to get out on the other side. I reached in my pocket and showed him some money, he stopped swinging the machete and my wife was able to get out of the taxi. there were many rocks in the area so I threw the money in the air and then reached down and grabbed rocks and started throwing them at him. he was trying to see where the money fell so he could grab it but we both started pelting him with rocks. I hit him in the head with a fairly large rock and he reached up to grab his head and then I grabbed him and took the machete away from him. he took off running. He did not get the money either. The keys were not in the taxi so we figure he took them. we walked back to another road and got into a tricycle and got off one block from the house. by the way the taxi? this guy was standing outside the taxi smoking a cigarette talking with a police officer? the taxi? it was stolen? is not the warm and fuzzy friendship just gushing from the filipino people? By the way this was not a provoked instance. The next sir was 3 men who jumped onto the same tricycle my wife and I with another person were on and pulling a rusty automatic gun to rob all of us, the driver pulled the tricycle over and ran away, what they did not know was that I was also armed and since I am rather tall and they wanted my money I told them I had to get out to reach my pocket, that was a bad mistake for them because I started shooting at them before my feet hit the ground. I know I hit the one with the gun but when he screamed and I kept shooting the rest ran away like crazy. I do not call attention to myself Mr Hammerslag, I own 4 businesses here and have many great employees who work for me too! but I do not take no shit from no one. If you try to cheat me I will tell you and call you out on it. The one thing Mr. Hammerslag is that this society breeds this culture, it is not new, it is not recent, it has been around a long time. They kill their own, they torture their own, they rape their own and anyone else in between. You make it sound as if one acts a certain way one is safe, no you are not Mr, Hammerslag either just like any other foreigner is. One can exist but that is it.”
I apologize for being so long in responding to your email. I am sorry if I came across as preachy regarding your experiences in the Philippines. I often receive criticism for being alarmist about the risk of crime against foreigners in the Philippines, especially from people who have lived in the Philippines and never had any problems.
I have lived here for almost seven years. Because of where we live and my cautious, perhaps timid, lifestyle, I have had nothing but positive experiences. But, I am fully aware that just because I have had no problems so far, living a reclusive lifestyle in a quite secure house and taking few risks (no girlfriends, bar hopping, late nights out, business deals) certainly does not mean I am unaware of the many foreigners who have had serious and often fatal trouble in the Philippines. I generally save new reports regarding foreigners being killed here and elsewhere in the Philippines. I have quite a collection. If I were to post them on my blog, one after the other, it would create quite a lot of discomfort by those who think the risks of living in the Philippines are overblown, and to those considering retiring here. I might just do so. I will say that almost all, but not all of these are inside jobs such as wife’s boyfriend, maid’s boyfriend etc.
I do realize that my whole perspective and peace of mind here could be shattered if I had experienced even a portion of the things that you have been through. In fact, I don’t have your quick wits and strength. I am a timid old man. I probably would have just paid the extra money to the taxi driver. Sometimes timidly does not work and if something like you described happens to me I’ll be in big trouble.
This is the final installment in this conversation
Good Day Robert,
I grew up in New York City, I am a disabled Vietnam Veteran. Out of three of us on a mission I was the only one who returned and I was carrying my buddies body which had no head. All during this time part of my leg was blown off. For every one report you have I have 4 of them. I also work all over the world where I have been in some pretty hairy areas. I have lived in the Philippines for 10 years robert, I own 3 businesses along with another foreigner who is married to a filipina. The one thing you leave out is that the filipinos are desperate people. You may slide in under the radar, but you in a round about way are saying is that as a human being you can not live as you would like because your head would be removed from your body. You must work for the travel bureau since you say that if you placed reports out in your blog no foreigners will visit or retire here? The phils have some of the most archaic laws in the whole Asian theater. Even Thailand who is widely know for their sex trade is not as bad. so what you are telling the masses is to dress like bums hide all your valuables, make your homes impregnable and you will live an carefree life with a beautiful filipina woman.
So robert if you moved to the philippines to hide then by all means do, I to am married to a filipina, I like to dress well, I like to go out and eat in the better restaurants, my home has the most up to date security systems, I always carry a .357 and a 45 my wife carries a 25 auto and a host of other small things to render folks stunned. My SUV is Armored and also well equipped. I brought it with me from the states. I do not walk scared Robert but I detest people who would harm others because they are to lazy to work or feel that taking from others is much easier because they are desperate. Their desperation if it comes up against me or my family is immediate death period. By the way robert just so you know after all the bad experiences I went thru and all the changes I just discussed, there have been some who have tried, you may have read about them or seen them on the ABS-CBN news program. My business partner who has lived in the phils much longer than me once told me while in the company of many other foreigners discussed all the things talked about in all the blogs here in the phils, the majority of it is bunk period does not matter what you think robert if you have molded your mind to believe all the drivel then I feel that is why you think and responded as you do. Tell the truth Robert it is less costly than telling lies and living a life cowering, and even if you do not say you are, let me enlighten you on something you are.
At this point it seemed like we had pretty much both expressed our differing perspectives and approaches. As in all things, there is may be lesson or lessons to be learned from this exchange. Each foreigner living in a foreign land brings not only their passports and luggage, but also their own history, strengths and weaknesses. Out of these they fashion a way of life in the Philippines which suits them.