Expat Life: Visiting ‘Home’

It’s mid-December and for the third year in a row I am in California to visit my family for the holidays.  I arrived just before Thanksgiving and staying until end of the year.  My family mainly consists these days of my Mom, three sons and one daughter.  Although I have quite a few aunts, uncles, cousins in the area as well.

Each time my plane leaves the Philippines and later lands at Los Angeles air terminal I go through such a mixture of thoughts and emotions.  My first visit to my home country was a bit traumatic after having spent 18 months in the Philippines.  It hit me like a ton of bricks.  I had unknowingly become very disconnected to the life I’d always known.  Even familiar places seemed so strange and ‘foreign’ to me.

But each visit since then, I know what to expect.  As I drive about town I notice businesses that have shut down and new ones that have taken their place.  Some people I know have either had a new baby or gotten divorced.  A few close friends are still in the area, but others have left California for a better life elsewhere.  (frankly, I don’t blame them.)  A lot shifts around while you are gone for a year or more.  All the changes that were subtle to those local become apparent all in one blast as you revisit your old haunting grounds.

Sticker Shock

One great thing about living most anywhere in Southeast Asia is the exchange rate on your dollar/euro.  When I first moved to the Philippines in 2012, the exchange was 44.50 Pesos to the 1 US Dollar.  Currently (2016), it has increased to 49.80 Pesos to the Dollar, thus increasing my buying power there.

And so, I return to the USA and decide to go get a burger combo.  For the most part I’ve been out of the loop for the last 4 years on price changes.  In my head, I remember dropping into a Carl’s Jr.fast-food-prices-expat or even a Del Taco and grabbing a combo meal for about $6.  So imagine my surprise when the total is now more like $8.25.  It used to be that if I was paying $8 or more for a meal, I got a waitress.. not a plastic tray.

But it’s not just fast food.  Sit down restos (we call restaurants, ‘restos’, in the PH).. sit-down restos for a meal and it’s going to be an average of $12 a person.  The last time I remember paying $15 a person for a meal was back in 1990 at a nice place in the Marriot, San Diego.

In the Philippines, I can sit down and have a great meal on a resto that floats on the ocean with a great view of the sunset for less than $19.. total for 2 people.  With a waitress, cloth napkins and a great ambiance.  And if all I want is some local food at a decent place (Food.net, in Dumaguete).. I can have bbq chicken, fruit salad, drink, rice and a brownie for about $2.20.

Bigger By The Minute

It’s a 2-edged sword being in the USA when it comes to keeping my weight down.  Each time I visit, guaranteed each time I temporarily gain from 5 to 10 pounds during a six week visit.  Between the holiday meals, bigger portions and dining out every so often.. it’s just inevitable for me.  There’s just no comparison between SoCal taco shops or Mexican restos with the rare choices for similar in the Philippines.  But I already know that each January I return to the Philippines, start ‘juicing’ and get back to my smaller-portion lifestyle there.  Away from the many fast-food franchises and taco shops that surround me in Southern California.

Yah, times are changing.  Always.  It’s just that when you’re gone for a spell you notice it all at once.  A dollar for a Snicker’s candy bar?  I guess my memory from my childhood of getting them for 25 cents is pretty much just that, a memory.  I got a small, refillable drink the other day.  I expected it would be about 75 cents.  Nope, $1.25.

philippines movies expatIn the Philippines I love to catch movies as they come out in the theater.  Unless you are at a large cinema in downtown Cebu, on any of the smaller islands you can usually see first-run movies for about $6.00 per adult.  Here in the USA that same movie ticket is about $12 and a bit more if you want IMAX or 3D.  Also, in the Philippines you can walk into the theater with snacks, pizza, drinks from the mall.  So snacking in the theater is much cheaper than back in the States.

Time Marches On

The other thing that weighs on me is the bittersweet realization that my Mom is getting older with each passing year.  We all are, but at 83 the point is all the more poignant in her case.   Fortunately, she is in great health and gets around like she’s 55.  Drives to get her own groceries, has an active social life with family, friends and neighbors nearby and has more money than she needs.  She works in her own 2-acre yard to keep herself in shape, but takes breaks during the midday.   She does all her regular checkups with her doctor and as a retired nursing-aid she monitors her BP regularly.  So, all in all, I really couldn’t ask for much more regarding her health.  But even so, whether I am visiting or living abroad, it’s a reality that is never far from me.

So, for that reason I cross the planet once a year.  To sit and have de-caff coffee with her after breakfast or at times she wakes up at midnight and I’m busy tapping away at the laptop in the dining room.  So we’ll have a midnight snack or some hot chocolate.  She spoils me with her great cooking and I cook up some recipes I’ve learned while
in the Philippines.  And if neither of us feels like cooking.. we go out to a favorite resto for a relaxed dinner.

My children have all grown up to be good, responsible adults.  We always have a fantastic time together.  But life being what it is, time is a bit of a premium.  They have college, running a business and/or kids which consume much of their time.  But it makes the time we can have together all the more precious.  Each is plugged in online so we are
never more than a keyboard away from dropping each other a text, PM or voip-cam-call no matter where we might be scattered.

Being in the USA for a bit, it’s a great opportunity to bring back to the Philippines items that are harder to come by overseas.   I will usually buy shirts made in western sizes, vitamins, over the counter minor med items, spices and this time around.. some corn flour.  (for making corn tortillas)  My girlfriend usually doesn’t care for sweets, but she likes American chocolates, so I pick up some bags of mini-sizes for her at Walmart much cheaper than I could get them in the PH.

Every 2 years I will upgrade my laptop.  This year my Mom surprised me with an early Christmas gift and got me my laptop upgrade early.  (I didn’t even have to wait til Christmas.  hehe.)  For the most part, laptops are at least 25% more expensive in the PH than in the West due to tariffs on incoming product.

But, other than clothes, laptop and personal items.. I travel very light.  I have winter clothes I keep in California and board my outgoing flight in shorts so I’m all set for arriving in the tropics.  I avoid checked baggage most of the time and just take two carry-ons.

All in all, yah.. it’s a bit of hassle to do the trip once a year.  But I know it’s worth it.  In my case, I’m very fortunate to have a family that understands my desire to live abroad.  So we enjoy what time in the year we can sit down at the family table with some laughs and good food.  I enjoy viewing the crime-shows with my Mom that she loves to watch and we exchange comments about whatever case they are investigating.  Often it’s just the two of us so if neither feels like cooking or going into the cold to dine-out, I’ll go for a pizza.

I miss the Philippines when I’m in the States.  I miss my girlfriend, the weather, the food.. I even miss the roosters and the sound of coconuts hitting the roof at random moments.  But I’m fortunate to spend the majority of my time living abroad and doing what I love.  So it all works out.

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Author: Reekay V.

Since 2012 I’ve been traveling through various islands of the Philippines as a full-time Expat and spent 1999 living in Vietnam.

Share with me my ongoing adventures of life in the Philippines. Hopefully you find my observations helpful in your own adventures.
— Reekay


  1. Well hurry back ASAP because this is paradise over here not over there and we need to be spending our retirements in paradise ..

  2. My first trip back to Northern California in 20 years was last September and talk about shocking. Like your town, my little town had grown up. Some things at the time price wise that shocked me, was eggs almost $5.00 a dozen. Enough about prices, my main point is this, living in the united states for me is out of the question now, I really don’t know how my family manages it there with costs biting then in the ass every time you turn around. I am almost 70 now and will live out my life in the Philippines. Hopefully the first of next year, I will be making Dumaguettemy new home looking forward to meeting you in person Henry. Gods blessings for you and your family


  3. Henry, That is great to hear your Mom is doing well, she seems to be in good health by doing the things you say she’s doing, and keeping her mind busy. She must be really excited to see you, as well as your brothers and sister. What do you think of this weather, compared to Dumaguete? I sit here sometimes watching your channels WITH A COAT ON. Lol. Reekay, I have been a longtime subscriber, and I really enjoy your Vlogs more than “the other guys” although they have some input that is interesting at times. I live here in Diamond Bar, Ca. and would really like to chat over coffee or lunch if you can spare an hour, my treat. I have an interesting story to tell about me, meeting a filipina here in the states, married for 18 years, that didn’t go well. She basically married me to get to stay here, INS breathing down her neck, she was about to be deported because of expiring work visa, and found me, begged me to marry her, had a child, turned me into a ‘Mr. Mom” while she advanced herself, got her citizenship. RN license, now an MBA graduate, and socking all of her money ($140,000 a year) away for herself. In self employed, and used to make really good money, but her long hours, forced me to take care of our daughter, who is now 12. And I still work around my girls schedule. I pinned my wife with a divorce, and by summer we should be separate, I will get custody, because my wife is a career woman that has no time for her daughter. (sad). But better days are ahead and my girl and I are happy, we do lots of things together, vacations and what not. My plan is to travel to the Philippines when Renae is 18 and off to college, to find a “Real Woman” I have been there twice. I will most likely settle there as well, like you, I’m getting tired of the rat race here. I am a really nice, educated, down to earth man, and would really enjoy talking to you. You can use my story of what could happen when a filipina becomes “Americanized” I can travel out to you (Moreno Valley?) no problem, meet at a Starbucks or your favorite “Resto” Please consider my friend, (I can call you my friend, because I know your name, Lol) Thanks, and I really look forward to meeting you. Rob

    1. Yah, actually, Lyn and I have been together since November, 2014 so it’s been just over 2 years together now. Been very happy together. 🙂

  4. The American girls/culture the same as always? Any Trump effect in the USA you can detect? No corn flour in the Philippines? Cost of living is huge in urban North America. The cost:benefit is not favourable I take it? Would you say home is now the Philippines?

    1. American girls/women.. nothing has changed. Feminism continues to derail a healthy relationship by putting men into the servitude role. Nothing good coming out of that other than women who lose respect for men who jump through hoops. As for Trump, he hasn’t been inaugurated yet so it’s still way too early to look for changes. But it would appear a lot of people are breathing a sigh of relief he won the election. There’s corn flour in the PH but usually at the big-box stores like S&R, which is not in Dumaguete. So I’ll just add some to my baggage. I’ve seen the PH as my new home since I arrived in 2012. I may end up in the PH or some other part of Southeast Asia, but not in the USA. Nothing against the USA, it just doesn’t have the life for me that I can have living abroad.

      1. Thanks for your note Henry, I have about 2 more years here to work. I want to make it to the PH before I’m too old. Im 54 now , and would like to retire with my Full pension at 57, but I may not wait that long. The rat race here (Vancouver/Seattle) is a nightmare most of the time. Misserable people everywhere , angry women, and so forth. My retirement company investment pension should be about 2500.00 Canadian right now . Will this be comfortable( about 2200.00’ish USD ?) .Maybe 280/month more if I hang on to 57/58yrs old. Don’t think I can wait though. Its killing me here .I can see it !

        Question – all up with health insurance, house rent( yes a house),entertainment, and food, et al , would I have cash to spare?
        My buddy at work(my age too ) just had a massive heart attack, he lived , but he is all messed up with depressions, sternum infections from the saw cut to his ribs and health issues now from the heart failure, and so on .So many men like this now are dropping dead with illness’s. Basically its from extreme stress at work and life style here – Doctors agree as well. I don’t want to be in that boat. I have been to the PH, last year , and after a week or so , i felt a peace of mind i never felt before …in a long long time. I was in Palawan and Bohol, and a week in Cebu. Cebu was nice, But I would never live in the city down-town area. On the women front , many of my buddies just have given up dating women here.They get asked out by women ( who want them to pay of course) but the bulk of the guys I work out with , don’t go near them – at least 8 guys I know from the gym .So weird now here – guys seeing women here as too much trouble . So “not right”” . How bitter is that huh ? Nice environment huh ?. I didn’t see this hyper-animosity at all in PH.I felt both male and females very respective on the whole.

        Question- will you make PH your home and Duma , or what other countries are you considering and why ?( very interested in your answer here).It sounds like you have a lot of Pals in Duma now .
        Give my regard to Rob Julian, when you meet him this week. I know you will give him sound advise. He sounds like a terrific guy who got hosed when he brought his bride to America ( I hear this often) – Could you maybe do a spot on this kind of phenomina ( bringing a Pilipina/bride home to N. America) and what happens in your opinion !?

        Thanks for your valuable services and advise , Henry !
        God Bless/Take care / Merry Christmas ;

        Jimmy- from the Pacific N.W.

        1. Considering a couple can live very nicely on $1,500 usd per month in the PH.. your pension is more than enough. As for me, my future is definitely in Southeast Asia. Most likely Philippines, but I hope to see Vietnam, Camboia, Malaysia and Thailand so.. we’ll see. But definitely not the USA for other than holiday visits.

          Have a great Christmas! 😀

          1. Cant blame you one bit about the USA / Canada . I was in the PH a little while ago . I think my blood pressure went super low, I was actually sleeping in and having a super low stress free time. The people that you meet are very respectful, and you dont run into the ragging angry over controlling feminists at every corner. Blaaahhhhhh . Just awful see and getting worse.I Really thought PH had it together. I would imagine many more people are going to ‘check-out’ of this dysfunction in N. America and end up in the Phil’s , Thailand and Vietnam and so forth .for guys it is becoming apparent that a better lifestyle is beyond (and less aggravation) is outside the PC Culture . The PH would be my first choice at this point though … from what I have seen to date(language /culture closer to ours) .Cambodia is very cheap and nice too in many ways- but the language and culture are a hurdle . Having said this , as we age we need health insurance – do you have any? Costs? I follow Mike’s channel/Vlog out of Iloilo – he got quite sick heart-pneumonia issues and had to scramble to get health insurance. What insurer do you recommend for expats per se ? what do you have? any words of wisdom is appreciated. . Im no expert in your area of expertise . Gods Blessings to you and your Family Henry .
            PS- I don’t see Lyn in your Vlogs often- thats why I forgot you guys hang together now. – great to see/hear you guys getting along so well.

            1. Health insurance is a sticky one in the PH. A person could spend $200 a month on good insurance, that’s one route. Or.. get PhilHealth for about $30 a year and then put the $200/month into a savings account to pay for any medical issues in cash. Pros/Cons to each method.

              As for Lyn, I gave her a year to see if she’d get interested in vlogging at some level but, it’s just not her thing. Plus some people were getting way too invasive so I just pulled her out of any video unless it’s just us going somewhere together.

              1. F.Y.I. I couldn’t find an insurance co that wanted to write health ins at my age 69 except a UK co.$380 us a month with a co pay of $1500 U.S. my god out of the question and budget.

                  1. There is no local company all the health Insurances are foreign companies blue cross for instance is almost the same as the UK Ins. co. Last time I checked almost two years ago.


              2. Again, thanks for the info. I think I can get Health Insurance in Canada for extended travel ( yearly)for about 80/month or so. However, the 30/year sounds good. Philhealth doesn’t pay for everything? why save 200/month for needs if you already have health care Insurance. Your paying health insurance there for what purpose then? Hmmm I guess the whole learning curve being Canadian is expected on this subject , due to our Government paying all health care costs in Country.they also cover out of Country stuff for a max of 6 months…. But you could return home if its serious and get treated. Lots of twists here for sure ! BUT, I would not like to be caught w/o Health insurance that would pay.

                Yes, if its not Lyn’s cup of tea, to be in on the Vlogs, for get it. Some people like the camera and are super comfortable in front of it(you…) and some do not like it (Lyn) .

                BTW, I picked up some corn flour the other day at Costco – 🙂 . I hear S&R went in at Iloilo just last week. Its like a Costco, I bet they would have corn flour there for tortilla’s and such !
                Merry Christmas to you both and both your families !


                1. Yah, S&R has lots of hard to find items. But nearest one is in Cebu and I’m way south in Duma. If I ever really got a craving I could have one of my buddies in Cebu send it to me via LBC pretty cheaply. Since I’m in Cali right now, I’ll bring some back with me in my luggage. 🙂

          2. Great ….I thought my indexed pension would be Ok there , but I thought Id ask about it . I too would like to have a home base in the PH, maybe even Duma, Cebu or Iloilo , and travel around SE Asia . I hear Cebu Pacific Air has some very good deals to the countries you can go for a couple weeks or so .

            1. Cebu Pacific is the biggest local airline in the PH. I’ve only used them once, to go to Cataclan, but others have had some bad experiences.. mostly the flights being delayed. But if you go to their FB page you can find out about very cheap promo flights for getting around the islands.

  5. Heeeyyyyyyyy Reekay, I would like to wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and a happy new year.it’s been a great year following your journey.you have been so entertaining in all your videos and blogs.
    Best wishes to you and Lyn,

    Greetings from Australia,hehe

  6. Reekay,

    Nice summary… I expect I will back in the US in another 3-4 months, after already living here in Cebu City for 6 months and Manila for a month. I think I am almost more worried about the culture shock of going in that direction, than I had in coming this direction haha.

    Agreed in comments etc on the de-stressing atmosphere of Phils… first of all, everyone is smiling at you, especially if you smile first. For me, back in the US I had risen up to “rainmaker” level in the company I was with there in SoCal… I enjoyed it very much, but it came with a lot of stresses and pressures… and also left you somewhat “alone” if you had the vision for how to pull down new work (architecture). I was surprised when, during a podiatrist visit he advised me that my blood pressure was unacceptably high. I told him it was the office… he said it was diet, but I felt like I knew what was running through my veins, and it wasn’t too many cheeseburgers… Anyway… after six months here, one day on Osmena Blvd the local hospital had about a dozen different stations of nurses and interns giving free blood pressure… my result? 100% normal. Okie, all the walking and exploring helped a lot too, and I sweated off a lot of weight also… but I totally attribute it to walking away early from “success.” Oh yeah, and the plantar fasciitis… gone.

    Anyway.. hope to meet you too one day in Dumaguete (visited there, super town). Really I’d like to be one of those casual sidewalk surprises as I don’t want to take up too much of your time (I like your ambition and plans). My purpose would be mostly to thank you for all the great videos you posted in your first couple of years – they were very helpful and thought-provoking for me… not to mention entertaining ha.

    Again…. thanks. Not sure I need to wish you the best coz you are definitely on the right track in everything already, just keep on trucking’ huh.

    1. Yes, if you’re in Duma definitely drop me a line and we can chat. I can’t complain, life is good. Have a great Christmas and New Year! 🙂

  7. Reekay – so whats your observations so far being State Side on your vacation ! Are you more committed than ever to stay and live in the PH as time progresses on your vacation in the USA ? When I was on my vacation in the PH , on my trip back I could feel the stress building . There is something about Being over there that de-stresses …..hmm the polite people, the slow pace of life, helpful people, good friends over there . I cant put a finger on it per se , and thats odd in itself. Maybe its just being away from the toxic culture here in North America ?? Do you get the same vibes ?

    Hope the Family is fine / Merry Christmas !

    1. Nothing has changed in my mind since I first arrived in the PH in 2012.. my future is there. I may tour around a bit to nearby countries, but I see the PH as my continuing home. 🙂 I have no desire for my former American lifestyle anymore.

  8. Will I be able to bring my laptop there, is the electrical system compatible with electronics from the U.S.?

    1. yes. pretty much all modern laptops run on either 110 or 220. you only might need a cheap adaptor to convert a 3-prong to a 2-prong outlet. i’ve been doing this with 4 different laptops since i arrived 6 years ago with no issues. but small items like electric toothbruse or alarm clock won’t survive the 220 power source.

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