Where is ‘Home’ For the ExPat?

whereishome-400pxI was recently reading an article talking about the ‘dark side’ of being an expat.  In that article it focused on the sentiments primarily of expats who are (a) still in their 30’s and (b) living abroad for the purpose of a college education.  That’s a different fish than the typical expat who comes here to the Philippines.  I don’t want to overly generalize, but I’d say it’s a fair statement to say that when it comes to the Philippines, most expats here are looking at early retirement.  The expats mentioned in the article are primarily younger students.


But the comments from students living abroad did touch on a side of being an expat that I’d been giving some thought to as I moved from Mactan to Bohol.  In making my move I was leaving behind a few good friendships I’d made in Basak (my local neighborhood) and that was the only bittersweet part of coming to Bohol.. not being able to hang out with my buddy Kristine and close-friend Delia on a regular basis.  For seven months I’d embedded myself into the local, Mactan, area and made it ‘home’.. for a period.  I knew from the get-go that I’d be considering Mactan as a temporary stay, just long enough to get my bearings.  When I arrived I was offered a one-year lease on my studio but I opted for a six-month lease for exactly this sort of contingency.. moving to another island.  Now, for as well as I can foresee, Bohol is my ‘permanent’ home for at least the next few years.  Unless by that time I have to exit running from local villagers with torches and pitchforks who mistake my late nights standing in the dark and Stones music to be indications I’m some sort of warlock that needs to be eradicated.

And so all of this brings me to the question in general, “Where is ‘Home’ for the expat?”  In my own case I answered that question before I’d even left the States.  I made it up in my mind that come hell or high water.. the Philippines would be my new home.  Even if my aspired romance did not pan out, I would stay.  Even if there were challenges, I’d adapt and stay.  Even if it took me years to learn the language, I’d stay.  For me, the Philippines is my new home.

But in one regards there is something of a ‘dark side’.. more of what I would call a ‘trade-off’ when it comes to charting a course for yourself that takes you geographically away from your homeland.  It is that, usually, you cannot convince all your friends and family to come along with you.

Yes, there is a trade-off in taking off for a life abroad.  In exchange for the adventure, better retirement, innumerable pretty girls, fantastic beaches and tropical lifestyle.. family and friends usually choose to stay put several thousand miles away.  That means all those things you took for granted; meeting up for bbq’s, birthday parties, weddings, births, lunches and even funerals, you will not be able to share those with your loved ones in person unless you take the long flight back.

Now, technology is great and come a long way.  Between Skype, email, Facebook, Youtubestaying in touch and Twitter.. keeping ‘in touch’ has never been better or cheaper.  I imagine back in “the old days” of standard (expensive) phone calls and postal snail-mail.. it must have been even more of a chasm to deal with for expats choosing to live abroad.  And yet, not even Skype can take the place of a real hug or looking your family in the eye over dinner.  It’s just not the same. It’s better than nothing, of course.  But it’s like having Taco Bell instead of your Mom’s home-cooked Mexican food.

Now, some ex-pats have solved this issue by simply living with one foot in both worlds.  I know one expat who spends two months in the US with his adult children every six months.  That’s a great solution if you can afford the air-fare and don’t mind the air-time traveling.  But even he told me that when he’s in the US.. he misses his Filipina wife and children who are in the Philippines.  And when he is in the Philippines, he misses his children in the US.  His Philippine children need to stay in school and have some sense of routine, so he usually travels alone between both countries every six months.  But I wonder if that really solves anything since he’s missing one family or the other year-round anyway.

I suppose in the case of some expats, maybe they leave their home-country with not a lot to leave behind.  Perhaps they are alienated from their children to begin with and have nothing ‘back home’ to miss in the first place.  But I’d say for most of us we have parents, children and long-time friends we will miss to a varying degree while living on the other side of the planet.  And they miss us as well, so it’s not easy for them either.

When I announced to my family that I planned to make a permanent move overseas, the reaction from my family was overall very supportive.  My children took the position, expressed by my eldest son, “Dad, you were always there for us while we were growing up.  Once we turned 18, we took whatever path we had to in order to find our own happiness and goals.  So now, you’re free to do that as well.”  My Mom.. well, on the one hand she told me what she has told me my whole life whenever I made a big life-decision; “What I want for you, is that you are happy doing what you’re doing.  If this is what it is, then just be careful and be happy wherever you are.”  But I knew that inwardly she wanted me to stay in Southern California.  We are a tight family and visit or call several times per week. To make things a little easier before my departure, I stayed with her for about 9 months while I got things in order and to spend lots of quality time together.  Since arriving here, daily phone calls on MagicJack have reassured her that I wasn’t going to just disappear off the edge of the earth.  My brother, on the other hand, actually became violent and abusive at the news of my travels.  Telling me I “..had no business moving so far away” and that there was no future for me in the Philippines.  My direct response to him was, “No, there’s no future for YOU in the Philippines.  But me, I’m going.”

I guess that is what causes us expats to make fairly quick friendships with each other when we meet abroad.  Despite where we came from originally, we know each other’s sacrifices we had to make in order to find out what was waiting for us in a land far away from all we’d ever known.   We have a commonality that is rooted in a huge life decision.  Sometimes our new expat friendships are ones that last for years.  Other times, it’s simply an understanding when you pass each other on the street.  This has happened to me many times but I remember one time in particular.  I had been on a bus from Bogo all day and was tired of sitting.  So rather than catch a taxi right away in Mandaue, Cebu, I decided to begin walking towards the bridge that led back to my home in Mactan.

Crossing Mactan Bridge (2)Walking all the way home back to Basak seemed pretty crazy, even for me.  It was getting dark and the distance was about 3 to 4 miles, perhaps even further due to where I was in Cebu.  But I figured I’d catch a taxi when I got tired.  Before I knew it, I’d reached the actual bridge and decided I’d walk it since I’d been wanting to do that anyway.  I got some cool photos from the bridge and kept on walking as I stepped onto Mactan on the other side.  It soon got dark and I was still about 2 miles from home in Basak.  I was walking along a stretch of the street with only one streetlight for about a four block length.  Everything else was dark.

As I approached the light I could see that there was a figure of a man walking toward me, also on the same side of the road.  As I got closer, I could tell by the silhouette of his clothes and backpack that he seemed to be a fellow foreigner.  It looked like we were going to pass under the streetlight at the same time.  Sure enough, we did.  When he got to about eight feet in front of me I looked him in the eye.  He was a Caucasian man, American, about my build in his late 50’s with short hair.  Kinda looked like a cross between Richard Gere and Steven Spielberg.  As we passed we both had our guard up initially but, in that last moment we each kinda half-smiled as we passed each other. We each gave that ‘Pez’-nod of the head and had an understanding.. that it was good to see another fellow expat out on this dark, foreign soil so far away from home.

And, as it turned out.. I did end up walking the entire way home that night.  Took me four hours, but I was determined to do it.

Do I miss ‘home’ back in the States?  Not really.  I do miss my family and some close friends though.  Some days more than others.  But I’m very happy here in the Philippines and my resolve is as intact as it ever was.  I was asked about a week ago, “Are you sure you don’t have any doubts about deciding to live here?, now that you’re out in the jungle and everything??”  “Nope,” I replied, “..if anything I’m all the more sure that this was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

A few months ago I went to Chicago Joe’s during the daytime to catch a boxing match on the big screen between the local hero, Manny ‘Pacman’ Pacquiao and Mexico’s favorite, Juan Manuel Marquez.  The fight took place in Las Vegas, Nevada.  So, before the fight.. there I was.  In the Philippines ready to watch a bout between the local Philippine hero-demigod of boxing and his arch-rival from Mexico.  Now, I’m a Hispanic who was born and raised in the US.  My ex-wife was from Mexico.  I have a lot of good memories from Mexico so.. I was a bit torn even up to the beginning of the fight as to who to root for.  I finally decided to go with Manny.  But before the fight began, in order to properly represent and give homage, the national anthems from all three nations; Mexico, Philippines and the US were sung prior to the fight.  I was busy making progress on my burrito I’d ordered during the first two anthems and then got up for some napkins.  When I heard the Star Spangled Banner begin.. it stopped me dead in my tracks.

Wow.  I just had to turn around and give it my complete and undivided attention.  Someone was talking to me and I completely ignored them.  It was that riveting a moment.  I’m not one to wrap myself up in the flag.  In fact, I’ve been known to criticize any new US legislation or politician I didn’t care for in a very public way.  But it’s because I do love the US, imperfections and all.  It’s that location on the planet that is home to my family and friends.  It is where my grandchildren will hopefully find their future in the years ahead.  Hearing the Star Spangled Banner when you’re an American thousands of miles from home is a unique experience.  I am sure others have had similar experiences with their own national anthem when they hear it abroad.  For me, it totally caught me by surprise.

Personally, being an official expat has been one of the most exciting, adventurous and exhilarating chapters in my life.  It does come with this trade-off though.  I don’t think there is anything in life that is “for everybody” and living abroad is no exception.  Some people love it and others, they are booking a flight back home within 6 months.  I don’t blame them.  At least they tried.  As for me, home is physically here in the Philippines, even if a big part of me remains connected to my home country.

(The US National Anthem from an earlier Pacquiao-Marquez fight..)


Henry “Reekay” V.
www.lifebeyondthesea.com


 

Author: Reekay

After 49 years living in Southern California, USA, I decided to move to the Philippines despite never having been here before. In July, 2012, I took a leap of faith and transplanted myself to the amazing Philippines. I am a single man taking an honest look at all that the islands here have to offer, one day at a time. I hope you find my LBTSea site informative, entertaining and hopefully a bit of each. 🙂 Be sure to visit the Forum and other parts of what the site has to offer. Browse around and be sure to sign up for updates via email. Enjoy!
— Reekay

22 comments

  1. good story, Henry!
    When I told my family I was going to the Philippines to live they freaked! Why go there? Go to Panama or Dominican Republic, Costa Rica or Belize…don’t go so far away! I am still open to where I will go but Philippines seems like my destination,

    I hadn’t thought about “missing family and friends”. Celebrating holidays will probably be something you will never get used to. Hell, now they will have a vacation destination other than the Bahamas, Disney, skiing, cruises or New York or my house in Miami lol

    Your Star Spangled Banner story touched me. I guess you appreciate the song more when u are in another country. I love my country

    1. Even though our family loves to get together and bbq for pretty much any holiday, Thanksgiving and Christmas we’ve spent together my entire life, up until this last year when I moved here. Thanksgiving I was lucky enough that Delia took me to a wonderful, American style turkey dinner with all the trimmings at a place in Cebu. We had a great time. But Christmas Eve, wow.. that was truly dismal Long story but, in the end I ended up in a small town pension house on Christmas night watching holiday re-runs of movies. I ate some cold spaghetti and bread then called it a night.

      Christmas night was somewhat better the next day. I came to my neighbor’s house here in Bohol (before I moved here) and had dinner with them and stayed overnight. At least I was with a family.

      So, yah.. even though I plan to be in the States for next year’s holidays, being apart from family is part of the package moving abroad.

  2. Home is where you hang your hat Henry! Actually, for the many expats that are married to Filipinas, home is where she brings you to settle. Like you, I too will miss my family once I say goodbye, but now that my parents are both gone, and my brothers and sisters are all spread out over the country rasing families of their own, I will gravitate to my wife’s family where I know I will regain that “closeness” that seems to diminish over time as a family grows apart and in different directions. She, by the way, has sacrificed so much to be with me and away from her family for 27 years, that I owe it to her to bring her home. As an ex-Navy guy, I can remember boot camp where all us misfits from every dark corner of America were assembled and we all had instant commonality…that which brought us all together in the Navy. Expats are not any different, except maybe a little more worldly and wise. When you find that special Filipina Henry, you will again regain that which you left behind – new bonds, a half a world away. Amen.

    1. Everything in due time, I guess. Mind you, I don’t regret coming here in the least. But it’s part of the trade-off that’s unavoidable. It’s great that you’re willing to return the favor that your wife has experienced, away from her own family. As you said, in time her family will become yours. 🙂

  3. I’m not close to ex-patting yet, but even traveling to the Philippines causes stares and shaking of heads and worry from my kids and co-workers. I’m going again in a week and at least there is no longer any major complaints; they know I am going regardless. It’s the nature of humans to fear change and the unknown and to fear those who do not fear them.

    1. Yah, sometimes you just gotta blaze your own path in life.. leave the herd behind. That’s another thing about expats and frequent travelers.. we take that risk others won’t take. I’m not afraid of flying.. crashing kinda bothers me. When I’d wake up mid-flight and think about the fact that we were soaring somewhere over the Pacific with nothing around for miles.. I’d turn on a movie and resolve it was just outta my control. Other people, they just can’t handle it and choose to stay home. What part of Philippines you going to this time? Got some honeys already lined up? 🙂

  4. We all take so many things for granted here in the US until we're not there. I love a lot of things about the Philippines, but the high sugar & salt based diet and extreme poverty I can never get used to. Best and healthiest served food I've found over the years was at Bohol Bee Farm. Check it out when you're in Panglao again.

    1. I've passed by it a few times, I know the one you're talking about. I'll visit it soon enough. The fast-food here is fattening too, just like in the States. However I've lost 45-50 pounds so far since I tend to cook my own food aside from what I get in the street.. which is usually bbq-chicken or corn-on-the-cob. But the Jollibee, Chow King stuff is no healthier than McDonald's. Lots of salty food and sugary drinks.

  5. @ WiseAssedDave. Here in Mississippi, I can still show you folk who have never been on airplane and some have never ventured much farther than the next state over. I call it Ignorance Beyond Boarders! Sometimes I wll share recent Philippine videos (like the latest DOT promo More Fun in the Philippines) on facebook just so they can get more informed. As I age, I find my tolerance for ignorance is diminishing! :/

  6. In my extended family, I only know of a handful of travelers, and we’re a huge family with 9 aunts/uncles and lots of cousins. The first cousin to travel pretty much ‘disappeared’ for about 15 years somewhere in Europe. He later resurfaced, he’d become a stage manager for Iggy Pop and other bands. Naturally much of my family thought he was/is insane for living abroad. Other than that I have a cousin in Alaska and a few in Hawaii (I know, but it’s off the mainland).

    That just leaves me as the only other lunatic in the family living abroad.

    1. No matter where you go have a plan B. Then Plan A won’t be so bad. I do miss my family back in Australia quite a bit yet I miss the pizza, the food sux hard here in the Philippines too salty and too sweet but found an amazing place for pizza in Thailand.

      1. Thailand is next on my list. I’d like to stay a few weeks at first then see about a longer stay. A friend of mine just returned from there. He said their infrastructure is better in Thailand, but the people were much friendlier in Philippines than Thailand, in his experience. I’m still new to Bohol so I’ll have to find a good pizza place, if it exists, here. That microwaved stuff is only ‘ok’ if it’s crispy. I still haven’t found any good Mexican food, although Chicago Joe’s burritos were a good attempt, better than most. Next time I’m in Mactan I’ll try the menudo or tacos.

  7. another great article. I really enjoy the thoughts and indepthness of your writing. you are right….the one thing all expats have in common is they miss people and things back home. since not yet experiencing living in the Phils so far away from familiar things in my life, i cant say what things I will miss the most. as for family, i miss my grandchildren every day even living here in the same state with them, only one county apart but that is a personal issue I wont get into.the rest of my family is not close by and I havent seen them for years. are only real connection is fb and it will still be there for me in my new home abroad. and my parents have already passed so I continue to miss them and that is something I cant change. I feel there is really nothing to hold me here. the one son who is close to me is coming to the phils with me so I kinda am cheating there. hehe. as i have approached my mid 60s I often think of experiences and people from my past and I miss so much of it and again I can only turn back the hands of time briefly in my mind and that is bittersweet. I am so looking forward to my son and I starting new lives so I can keep looking forward, learning and experiencing life to its fullest. Sometimes people say hurtful things because they hurt and dont know how to express it. especially guys cause they dont want to let the tears out that they are hiding inside. Your bro is one of those people I think. You have a wonderful, very upbeat attitude Henry and it will bring you happiness wherever you go.

  8. Henry Velez I know what you mean about the connections to the USA, however, I think it is necessary for all of us to go outside of our usual "comfort zone" and wrap our minds around the things that exist outside of that sphere…I think as we grow "older" we should do our best to see things as we did when we were kids…why? because it is a chance for renewed vigor, a chance to be reborn…

  9. Hey Henry, been reading your blog and watching you on You Tube for about a year now. Love your site manly because I have always wanted to retire in the PI. IN fact, I thought I would go there and find a nice dark skin beautiful girl with long black hair. I got as far as Panama and met the girl I was looking for and married her. been married for 30 years now and will probably live til death do us part./ lol. Panama is a lot like the PI only smaller. The people were a part of the Spanish Empire and they have most of the same culture. I would still like to go to the PI but my wife is close to her family and would not be happy to leave them behind and since her happiness is my main concern I guess we will be here for the rest6 of my life.

    A lot of people are EX Pats for different reasons. I love my country very much and have served her dor about 40 years, but I just cannot afford to live there anymore. That's why I moved overseas.

  10. Don Rainwater hey Don that is cool takes guts to pack up and move to another country and immerse yourself in another culture. Of course we old soldiers are used to it and crave the excitement. If I could move right now it would be to Cambodia, it is more edgy and living on the frontier.

    1. An expat I know from Bohol spends about 4 months a year in Cambodia. He says he’s been to about 40 countries, PH and Cambodia being his favorites. Hotels for under $10, good food and life on the edge. Who knows, maybe I’ll take a visit there after I visit Thailand next year.

  11. Love it here in the Philippines. I am dependant on VA care, it is the only country outside of the US and its territories that has VA medical facilities. I go about every 6 months, mainly for prescription renewals. And even old crippled fat men like me get more than enough of young beautiful sexy women. It is called PARADISE

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