TWO AND A HALF YEARS LATER
JULY 1st 2019. It’s been precisely two and a half years since I, like many other migrants before me, first saw Negros Oriental loom in the distance. Unlike many others before me, I arrived in the relative comfort of business class with Ocean Jet. The morning sun burst through the early morning haze revealing Rizal Boulevard in front while an impressive mountain range rose high behind the city. I briefly wondered if, after a lifetime of wandering, might the Philippines be my final destination. Perhaps, but if not, I’d move on to Thailand, Vietnam, or perhaps Australia.
Declining enthusiastic offers from many pedicab drivers, I began the first of what would be numerous walks along Rizal Boulevard. The cloudless sky had an interesting shade of blue. Another island I’d later learn was called Siquijor sat an hour away by boat. I walked contentedly further down the boulevard with a broad smile covering my face. It was that unique sense of anticipation vibrating inside my inner core that I always experience when beginning a new adventure. Making the feeling even better, my only remaining worldly possessions of a wallet, a toothbrush, toothpaste, two Levi jeans, three T shirts,four boxer briefs and one spare set of shoes, sat lightly in my backpack.
An assortment of interesting characters were on the boulevard. Lovers held hands on park benches doing ancient courting rituals. Schoolgirls walked hand in hand, or arm in arm, laughing delightedly while posing for photos with their friends. An occasional foreigner sat on a bench scouting what I would subsequently learn is a popular location for finding sexual company for a fee.
Attracted by it’s unusual name, I wandered over to the Why Not restaurant for my first meal in Negros Oriental. It didn’t disappoint. I was still jet lagged after the long flight from San Francisco to Manila then on to Cebu and felt the need to rest. So I walked into Bethel Hotel where I was immediately asked would my wife be sharing “the matrimonial bed” with me. I explained,that, since I was divorced, and because of the improbability the former Mrs. O’Riordan would be enthused by the idea, I would definitely be sleeping alone. My apparently, non humorous comments were met with collective sighs and deep frowns from the sanctimonious clerks at the reception desk. But I understood the unstated message. No women would be welcome to join me in my room. That was perfectly fine with me. I had absolutely no interest other than having a quiet room where I could fall into a deep sleep.
I spent the next two weeks going from one hostelry to the next, waiting for the right place to present itself. There were some unpleasant experiences, but I eventually found a beautiful home in the mountains above Valencia Proper. I’ve been living here now for well over two years. It’s very beautiful.
The following are random observations about life here since I landed here, and advice for newly arrived foreigners or visitors to Negros Oriental.
“For a while “ could mean a few minutes, a day, or a month. And don’t bother asking for clarification about the time frame. The response will simply be another smiling “For a while Sir.”
“Over there.” When in the supermarket at Robinson’s or Lee Plaza, don’t bother asking staff for directions to any specific item. You will inevitably be met with the Philippine patented “Over there Sir” accompanied by an imperious wave of the arm pointing to what could be any one of a dozen directions.
“I’m sorry.” Is the most used sentence in the Philippines. It covers a multitude of situations but focuses primarily on when mistakes are made. And it’s assumed that by smiling brightly then saying “I’m sorry” all inconvenience will be forgiven and forgotten.
“I don’t know.” Is the most unused sentence in the Philippines.It’s not a matter of ego, or pride. It’s simply because people here are intensely polite. They consider it rude not to provide an answer, any answer,even when, especially when, that answer has no basis in reality and usually results in total confusion for the foreigner.
NEVER ask for or take directions. If you want to go to Dauin, the directions given are more likely to see you ending up many hours later looking at Welcome To Bacolod signs or sitting confused on Apo island.
It’s difficult for any foreigner to calmly accept frustrations such as: non-working ATMs, big signs saying ATM ONLINE as if it’s to be celebrated, tellers taking forever to count then recount a modest amount of money both at banks and supermarkets, terrible internet connection, inconsistent Wi-Fi everywhere, “out of stock” statements being the norm rather than the occasional, horridly poor service in most restaurants where the staff often stand huddling with their backs to customers while sharing gossip, insane driving conditions, ignoring of pedestrian crossings, no traffic lights in Dumaguete, not that they would make any difference to driving conditions, business places closed at noon for lunch for up to an hour and a quarter, and, apart from token, occasional, face saving efforts, non-existence of legal enforcement.
With all these seemingly negative factors, why do so many foreigners still come to live here? Beautiful women must be a motivating factor. I’ve lived on four continents and one sub continent. I’ve dated women from twenty seven countries.The song No One Compares To You, is appropriate for the Pinay who are so beautiful, so exceptional in many ways. But, and isn’t there always a but, some can, like women everywhere, be dangerous. For foreign men wanting a casual fling, this is a wonderful country. But for the foreigner seeking a loving, long term relationship, caution is critically important. I’ll say no more. If you don’t understand the message, you deserve the inevitable consequences.
The only criticism I can’t let go of about life here is the extremely dangerous, anti-social behavior of almost all drivers. Nobody drives with any modicum of safety or caution. I’m fearful every time leaving home I’ll be involved in a serious accident. Rules of the road are either misunderstood or simply unknown. Everybody routines drives out from side roads while having no right of way. They never check to see if there’s oncoming traffic. Children are dangerously perched up front. Sometimes five or even six people are precariously balanced on a broken down scooter. Most drivers do not turn on their lights at nighttime. It’s unconscionable and impossible for a foreigner to understand, as is the fact there’s not daily mass carnage on the roads.
Taking everything into consideration, for me, it’s the people that most appeal. Their constant good spirits and appreciation of the life they have is a shining example to the rest of the world on how to correctly live life. And Filipinos are extremely generous in welcoming outsiders. I arrived as a stranger, but people from many walks of life immediately made me feel welcome. They have been unnecessarily generous and always kind. I’m now privileged to be on a faculty of a prominent university, while also teaching both undergraduate and graduate degree programs. I’ve been writing for the excellent, multi-award winning Metro Post for over two years. Perhaps most importantly, I’m involved in a loving, romantic relationship that I never anticipated experiencing.
It’s said the patriot Dr. Rizal called Dumaguete the city of gentle people. My experience since the moment I arrived would lead me to unequivocally agree with that statement. Two and a half years after arriving, I’ve got nothing but gratitude and praise for the lovely people of Dumaguete and Negros Oriental. Since arriving, apart from one ugly domestic street confrontation, the only times I’ve witnessed anger or frustration has been from myself or from other foreigners.
After coming from the highly efficient west, yes, there are ongoing frustrations here that I’ve already mentioned, but the positives hugely outweigh the negatives. Besides, as I‘m reminded by Vhie when I occasionally revert to negative comments, “The airport is a short drive away. You can always go back to where you came from.” But I can’t. My home is here. Today my thinking is I want to experience my final years living among the city of the gentle people, on the island that had been so generous to me, and in the country that has given me the privilege to live here.
There’s a German word called wanderlust. It means a passion or a need for travelling. I’ve experienced wanderlust throughout my life. I’ll be seventy next birthday. Will history repeat itself and I’ll be unable to resist the lure of seeking adventure in new countries? Clearly it’s an option. One cannot easily undo the habits of a lifetime. But I hope fate will have me stay here. I’m acutely aware how fickle everything is on this brief flight through time. Perhaps I should finally grow up. My life has been a roller coaster of often insane experiences. I can say to you today that all I now seek is emotional peace of mind and a few more interesting years here, before making my final journey into the realm of eternal darkness.