A year or so ago, while we were still living in the Phoenix area, I decided to build a patio roof over the concrete slab outside the back door of our house.  Visiting the Building Safety Department of our suburban city, I learned that, yes, this would absolutely require a building permit. The application fee would be more than $500, and I would need plans, signed off by an architect.  In other words, it would cost more to get the permit than I was planning to spend building the patio cover.

That was the end of that project.  Just as well, given the subsequent trajectory of Phoenix area real estate.

Now I live in the southern Philippines. Neighborhoods here tend to operate on a principle that may seem strange in modern America: it’s your property, you can do whatever you want. More »

(Published in Live In The Philippines web magazine)

Along the usual route of my daily walk, my neighbor, Joe, an elderly Filipino, is often sitting in a chair just outside his gate, having a late afternoon coffee. I usually stop for a moment to chat. Good chance to practice some Bisaya (the local language here in Davao).

A few days ago Joe mentioned that he and his wife were going to Manila. So, in my usual “talk like Tarzan” version of pre-kindergarten Bisaya, I asked if he was flying there.

The Bisaya word for flying is “lupad”. (I learned this from the quite excellent Bisaya course offered here on this very web site.)

So I asked, “molupad ka ba sa didto?”, which, according to my calculations, meant “are you going to fly there?”

Whereupon everyone present (anywhere you go here, there are always other people around) burst into peals of hysterical laughter. More . . . 

(Originally published in Journey To Samal blog)

How long would it take to learn Tagalog, if you concentrated on nothing else and worked at maximum efficiency? Herewith, a couple of data points . . . .

For those who haven’t heard of him, Tim Ferriss is the best-selling author of books like The Four-Hour Work Week, The Four-Hour Body, and The Four-Hour chef. The underlying theme of all his books and other projects is what he calls “deconstruction” — breaking a skill down into its essential elements and figuring out how to learn them quickly and effectively. . . . More »

(Originally published in Journey To Samal blog)

This week I got a dose of reality about driving in the Philippines.

Just to be clear, I’m not one of those foreigners who complains about the local driving customs. I actually like driving here, better than in the obsessive-compulsive rules-intensive systems prevailing in many ‘advanced’ countries.

Here traffic flow depends much less on rules and much more on individual drivers exercising common sense. Mostly, it works fine. In two years of driving here I’ve seen a total of perhaps three accidents, all minor fender-benders.

It can seem a bit chaotic – turning left from the right lane, turning right from the left lane, . . . More »

(Originally published in Journey To Samal blog)

Moving to a new country and culture requires making some adjustments. You’re used to doing things a certain way, and you move to a place like the Philippines and you discover that people here have their own ways of doing things, and they’re different.

One of the differences has to do with shopping. On the surface, it doesn’t seem all that different from America. There are malls, they have stores, they sell stuff. But one thing they don’t usually do is let you return things. In the U.S., most large retailers will give refunds on just about anything, no questions asked. You buy a coffee maker at Walmart or an electric drill at Home Depot, you can bring it back for a refund, even if it works perfectly.

Not here. Different system. On most items purchased at the larger stores, the usual . . . More »

(Originally published in Journey To Samal blog)

People sometimes ask me what I miss the most from Arizona, now that I live in the Philippines. For me, the answer is easy: the public library. (A close second would be Mexican food.)

In 1993 my wife and I seriously considered moving here to Davao permanently. We even came over and lived here for six weeks as a kind of test drive. No internet then, no bookstores that carried foreign books – the best you could do was a few foreign magazines. No Skype or Magicjack, either, back then long distance to the U.S. was about 80 cents a minute.

Now, of course, life here on Mindanao is completely different. Internet is available nearly everywhere, and although the available choices More »

(Originally published in Live In The Philippines web magazine)

This month marks the end of our first year living full time in Davao. When we came here from Arizona we bought a round trip ticket, thinking that we would probably want to visit the U.S. every year or so anyway. The return ticket was set to expire after a year, so it was either use it or lose it. So we just returned from two weeks in the U.S. with a week in Hong Kong on the way back. A one way ticket this time.

The Hong Kong stopover involved an experiment that may be of interest to others, Hong Kong being not too far away and not too expensive to travel to, and also one of the obvious options for those needing to go out and come back in to renew a visa. It’s also a good place for shopping, especially for electronics; if you go to the right places, prices on computers and related items are ten or twenty percent less than U.S. prices.

Coming to the Philippines from the U.S., it’s often possible to get a few days stopover in Hong Kong for not too much more than the price of the ticket to Manila. The drawback is that Hong Kong hotels tend to be expensive at best, and it can sometimes be hard to find a room when you want one. This time, the hotels we stayed at on previous trips were full; the only hotel rooms I could find in Kowloon were going for prices that would have had my Scottish ancestors spinning in their graves. I was at the point of giving up on the Hong Kong stopover, but then it occurred to me to try airbnb.com. Continue reading

(Originally published in Live In The Philippines web magazine)

Back when we lived in southeastern Arizona, a well driller showed up one day in a vacant lot near a trail where I used to go for walks. Always fascinated by things mechanical, I watched the operation for a while, and chatted with the driller. The equipment consisted of a large truck with a rotary drill rig mounted on the back. As I recall, the driller was only there for a couple of days – that’s all it takes for one of these rigs to knock out a two or three hundred foot hole.

We’re now in the process of building a house on Samal Island – a long, very slow process, it seems – in a location where city water isn’t available. Catching rainwater is one option, but the rain doesn’t always cooperate, so we figured that a well would be a good investment. I mean, how hard can it be to drill for water in a place where it rains all the time? Continue reading

(Originally published in Live In The Philippines web magazine)

Shipping containers. Tax exemptions. One of the questions that comes up when you start thinking about moving to the Philippines permanently is: what do you do with all your stuff? Over the years, most of us accumulate large quantities of furniture, appliances, electronics, books, tools, etc. Do we store it? Give it to the Salvation Army? Hold a giant yard sale? Cram it all into balikbayan boxes?

It’s common knowledge that you’re entitled to bring in one shipping container of personal and household goods, exempt from VAT tax and import duties, if you get a permanent resident visa such as a 13A (spousal visa) or an SRRV (retiree visa). It says so right here: http://www.philippineembassy-usa.org/uploads/pdfs/DutyFreeImportation.pdf. (This also applies to returning overseas Filipino workers.)

In an unbelievably laborious and expensive experiment which I hope to never ever repeat, we have proved that this can actually be done. Continue reading . . .

(Originally published in Live In The Philippines web magazine)

There’s a new “Mindanao Bob” in town!

We finally pulled the trigger.

Last week we relocated from Arizona to Davao, lock, stock, barrel, and cat.

This isn’t about moving. That would be boring.

This is about the cat. (The cat’s name is Bob, and this is Mindanao, so I guess that makes him “Mindanao Bob II”. )

Some have asked “why are you taking a cat to the Philippines?????”, or “don’t they have cats in the Philippines?????” (“?????” translates roughly to “are you insane?”). I could reply that we’ve had Bob for ten years now, and he’s a member of the family. But a non-cat person will find that answer unconvincing. A cat person would never ask such a question in the first place. . . . Continue reading