“Various” thoughts on moving from Tokyo to the Philippines

Posted By on Mar 26, 2017 in Columns |

When Dan asked me for some comments on how I’m finding life in the Philippines after spending 35 or the past 40 years in Japan, I thought “what on earth can I write about?”.

The answer is plenty!!

But first some background.

I moved at the end of December 2016. My consulting work had gradually moved offshore, over time, with the advent of the Cloud and so I didn’t feel my business was tied to Japan anymore and a significant part of my income could move with me, giving me the foundation to be active in a new place.

Also, “tempus fugit”. I always said that I did not want to retire in Japan. Well, retire is the wrong word as I don’t want to do “nothing”, I want to keep active and contribute something. But move to the next stage in my life, anyway.

So, why the Philippines? In a nutshell, lower costs, easily acquired visa, no language difficulties, lots of opportunities to do things and no restriction on working (my visa entitles me to an “alien employment certificate” as well as a lot of other benefits).

Well, actually, the visa is bought. I joined the Philippines Retirement Authority, which comes under the Ministry of Tourism, who apply to the Immigration Department on behalf of members who meet their requirements; and then provide incentives in the form of relaxed regulations, compared to regular visa holders, to come and live here.

I also decided that I had lived my whole life in major cities and that a bit more space with a more relaxed outlook was needed. So a definite NO to Manila, and also to Cebu (which I disliked even more, although I’m sure it has its fans).

So I decided on Iloilo – the last bastion of Spanish culture in the Philippines; a city of about 450,000 people, located in Visayas, the central part of the Philippines, almost it’s the geographical centre, on the island of Panay, a couple of islands west of Cebu and to the south of Boracay, for you diving enthusiasts .

I did come over twice to check it out before making the decision and liked what I saw.

At this point, let me point out the pun in the title of this column. Think of the city name and translate “various” into Japanese and you should get it. No-one here does, though.

So, how is life here?

Well, as Dorothy said, ‘Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.’ (Come to think of it, there are fewer Totos, as well).

Actually, I think that I fit in here much better than I would in Kansas (no offence, Kansans).

First, the elephant in the room – this is not a developed country. 165th in the world in terms of GDP per head. US$4,700 compared to Japan (US$37,100), UK (US$37,300), the US (US$52,800), Singapore (US$62,400) and, would you believe, US$102,100 in Qatar. And less than half that of Thailand (US$9,900). (source https://www.indexmundi.com/).

Gulp, one eighth of Japan?

So, one shouldn’t expect the infrastructure of the developed countries and we don’t have it.

The air quality is not what I hoped due to the overuse of un-tuned diesel engines and the local coal-fired power station.

Electricity is not 100% reliable, brown-outs are a regular occurrence (a side effect of which is the loss of internet access as it takes down my wireless router). Internet, by the way, at least where I live, is better than expected.

The water supply is also not the best, often depending on deep wells with insufficient water pressure and not always clean. Rivers and streams needs cleaning up as well although this highlights the needs for better drainage and sewage systems. Some areas are prone to flooding, again partly down to inadequate drainage.

But this is what I signed up for so these are not things to complain about but things that need to be worked on.

The other big issues are social – poverty, corruption, drugs and crime. I’m pleased to say that in Iloilo, while all these things are present to some degree, I have so far been completely unaffected by them.

The upside is that the people are so friendly and cheerful (the exception that proves this rule is the huge female security guard at my local supermarket). I see more smiles in a day than I did in a week in Tokyo. And the people are very helpful, to each other as well as the hapless foreigner.

The ability to communicate in English helps of course. The language situation is confusing for the new arrival. The local language is Hiligaynon, spoken throughout Visayas, with varying degrees of conformity. But there are also more local dialects that are only understood by locals. And then there is the “national” language, Tagalog, which is actually a language from Luzon, where Manila, the capital is located. So English words are widely used (taglish) and I have yet to meet someone with whom I couldn’t communicate at the level I needed to. And the higher the level of education, the greater the command of English.

So for me, at least, the people and their attitude towards life trump the infrastructure.

I’ve plenty more to say about the quirks of living here (good and bad), the cost of living and what I would like to achieve (including the occasional plea for help/support when the need arises). Hopefully, I can cover them in future columns.

Author: Tim Coomber, founder & CEO Platformone