So how is our new life in the Philippines? Is it what we expected? Is it what we hoped for? Are we doing OK? Have we had problems? Are we happy?
Well, I’ll post on some of those subjects in due course, but for now, I want to be totally honest and say that life isn’t perfect here, just like it isn’t perfect anywhere in the world. While there is much to be positive about, there are also irritations. Just small things that get under your skin and can put you in a bad mood if you let them.
At this point I want to make it clear that we’re not moaning for the sake of it, and none of these irritations are show-stoppers or end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it crises. They’re just irritations. There were irritations living in the UK, there were irritations living in Malta, and there are irritations living here. They’re just different irritations, that’s all.
Here is our top 5 list of irritations about living in the Philippines:
1. The Brownouts
You may say that by choosing to live in a rural municipality like Valencia rather than a big city, we’re asking for trouble, and that brownouts (power cuts for us Brits) are just part of Philippines life.
But when there are on average two to three brownouts a week, each usually lasting at least two hours, it’s not funny. And these are not even planned maintenance cuts posted on the electric company’s website – no, these are unscheduled, unpredicted cuts, often with no explanation or apology posted, even after the fact. Calling the customer welfare hotline simply results in someone taking details, promising to call back, then not doing so.
2. The Driving (or should that be riding?)
If there’s one thing Filipinos excel at, it’s pulling out into the road without the slightest backwards glance. If I had a peso for every time I’ve had to swerve over the centre line to avoid hitting a car or motorbike launching itself into the traffic without looking, I’d be a rich man. It’s like everyone has a death wish. Mirror, signal, manoeuvre – how hard can it be?
When I bought my car back in April, the dealer said that they could fit a louder horn to the car if I wanted. At the time I thought “Huh? why would I want that?”. Now I understand. My horn finger is getting even more use than it did in Malta. And that’s saying something.
3. The Hospitals
When a doctor’s appointment has a fee attached to it, you’d expect some level of customer service, right? Here’s how it actually works.
In each hospital in Dumaguete there are a load of doctors of various specialisms, as well as general practitioners. To see one of them, you have to be at the hospital when outpatients opens (7am or 7.30), wait in line to get a ticket for your doctor, then go away and amuse yourself until 10.30 or 11.00 when the doctor starts their hours. If you’re lucky enough to have ticket No.1 you should be seen quite promptly at that time. But if you weren’t early enough and have ticket 5, 10 or even 15, you could be waiting until after lunchtime. And they all take a lunchbreak. So any attempt to see a doctor, even for something minor, generally means reserving the whole day.
“But I have a private health plan” I hear you cry. Makes no difference. All you get for that is the ability to get the doctor’s bill covered afterwards. You still have to queue and wait, queue and wait with everyone else.
However, I’ve now seen that there is a small private clinic in Valencia with three doctors practicing, so next time one of us needs a doctor we’ll try there and see if small town means better service. Here’s hoping.
4. The Bureaucracy
If you need to interact with a government entity (and you will), be prepared for early starts, long waits in multiple queues, getting shuffled from one queue to another to accumulate extra (almost certainly useless) bits of paper, and uncertainty about the whole process and where you are in it. You should also be prepared not to achieve what you want the same day. I’m still waiting for my driving licence ten weeks after applying and having it approved. And now we’ve moved, when I pick it up it will have the wrong address on it.
In our experience this applies to PhilHealth, the Land Transportation Office, the Social Security System, the Bureau of Immigration, the Bureau of Internal Revenue, and the electric company. The only place where the bureaucracy was minimal and relatively painless was the Post Office (I applied for a Postal ID and was astonished at how easy the process was considering how difficult every other government interaction had been).
5. The Religiosity
Ever been in a supermarket where the staff all stop working at a certain time of the day and say the lord’s prayer, together, out loud, while customers just hang around waiting without complaining? That happens in the Philippines.
Ever seen state entities (transport, infrastructure, government departments etc) post bible verses on their Facebook pages? That happens in the Philippines. And you’ll see variations of “In God We Trust” plastered across the front of most government buildings.
Ever seen Facebook posts about LGBTQ rights or female reproductive rights (i.e. abortion) where 99% of the hundreds of comments are bigoted hate speech with added bible quotations? That happens (and goes unchallenged) in the Philippines. To be fair, it used to happen a lot in Malta, too, but not quite so much these days.
So have all these irritations made us want to throw in the towel and crawl back to Europe with our tails between our legs? No, of course not. They’re just irritations after all. They haven’t actually stopped us doing anything we need to do – they’ve just annoyed us.
But we wanted anyone thinking of moving here to be aware that life in the Philippines has irritations just like anywhere else. Moving here isn’t a golden ticket. It has many bonuses and advantages, and I will post about those in the future, but it does have its frustrations as well.