Day 156: 3 years living “abroad”

Happy to report that yesterday was a 4 star day 🙂 I was mindful, focused, and even read to the girls “principito” at 8am! Also Manila has been shifted to GCQ (General community quarantine) despite daily +3000 cases (YAK!) which means pool will reopen soon. Another good news is I might be able to go back to office for few hours a day as many colleagues have expressed “frustration” working from home. Next week distance learning will start for the kids which means I’d be constantly interrupted to assist them if I’ home, so it would be good if I can escape for few hours a day.

Today I want to reflect on our almost 3 years living “abroad” inspired by an episode I listened yesterday from a new podcast. We arrived Manila 3 years ago not knowing what life would be here. I didn’t know anything about the Philippines. I put abroad in quotes because it’s technically not the first time abroad for me nor husband, but yes for the girls as they were born in the US.

Challenges we faced in the beginning (probably first 6 months):

  • Inconvenience of life. We were used to the efficiency and convenience of american life. Most of things could be done online and everything was built around comfort. Here in Manila, many things are still require face-to-face interaction (banks, stores). While people here are super nice and kind, they are also inefficient and slow. At first I couldn’t understand why a simple dollar exchange requires 10 signatures in paper, and the person that was doing it doesn’t seem to know exactly what she was doing, which left me very frustrated. So a simple transaction takes hours!
  • Lack of groceries: I used to enjoy doing groceries in the US on weekends. I like to cook so going to groceries stores was going to wonderland for me, especially Trader Joes. Here in Manila selection is limited, many things can’t be found in one store, and if you find once it’s not guaranteed you can find next time. Doing groceries became a chore.
  • Relationships: obviously when we came, we knew nobody and no prospect of making friends here. On weekends we were still on our own, not what we used to when we were living in DC, always few activities with friends.

Things we love living here

  • Filipinos are nice and kind. It’s not myth, they are truly the nicest people, genuinely optimistic despite life hardship, kind, always polite and always trying to help. No wonder filipinos are all over the world and the best domestic helper ever! The more I get to know them, people from every class, the more I am grateful for their kindness.
  • Life is simpler. I know.. i just said life is inconvenient here. While options here are limited here, it also made me realise that I don’t need too many options which make choosing easy. It brings us back to basic and what we truly need to have a good life. Also we have driver and helper which can do a lot of chores for us. They might not always get it right but they can handle easy tasks, and i don’t ever have to clean a toilet! 😀
  • Family bonding: as we don’t have a big social circle here, we spend most of time with ourselves, especially during the 150+ quarantine period. They’ve always been my favorite person in the world, but even more now. On weekends even before covid, we do things as a family and call Sunday “family day” with nothing planned but to be together.
  • We traveled: we love to travel and we did so much in the last three years. Girls are asking all the time where should we go first after covid as they are so used to travel every few months. This is probably the biggest advantage of living in Asia, so many places to visit!
  • We became adaptable and resilient: new culture, new friends, new school, new office means we had to adapt and the girls did it wonderful. They embraced the newness and opened to new friendships.

Things that I learn:

  •  Class divide is real: poverty is everywhere while elites live the most luxurious life you can imagine.  This class divide is so large and it came to me and our family as a shock.
  •  Filipinos are so resilient: I’ve heard it since we arrived but fully understand it years later. Many families live with one income of less than 200USD a month, all in one room without AC (it’s summer all year long), eat two meals a day or less (mainly heavy on rice), and have no access to health nor insurance. Yet, they don’t complain, they are grateful for the very little they receive.
  •  Making real change is hard: I work closely with government here and despite good intentions and mind, making real change is so hard because how the institutions are set up, the strong power of local elites, lack of education, and simply widespread poverty. When you can’t even think beyond next week what to feed your family, you really don’t care how the policies are formed, and easily manipulated by popular politicians.  I am always optimizing for the first best, but coming here made me realize how policies are formed, so now I’d be content with a third best option.

Overall, I am really happy coming here with the family to take valuable life lessons that we’d never get if we stayed in the US. Our plan was to try this life for 3 years and go back to the US. Now we’re almost sure we want more of this 🙂

4 thoughts on “Day 156: 3 years living “abroad”

  1. Wow, Coco! I really don’t know how I would survive in Manila. It sounds like it would be an incredible place to visit BUT I enjoy my modern conveniences like being able to go to the grocery stores and get whatever I need from any of the 5 grocery stores within in walking distance of my apartment. I’m also a bit of a baby when it comes to the heat so AC is a must (I live in Minnesota and while our winters are frigid, the summer are HOT and HUMID). Do you guys ever experience cold periods in Manila? Also, do you think you could share more about the work that you do? Sounds like you are very busy with work and that you mainly work all of the time … is that a cultural thing or just because of the demands of your work??

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    1. hi Lindsay, Manila has tropical weather and lowest temperature is probably 20C few days a year. We live in AC environment so not big deal for us, it just limit outdoor activities. I work in development and with the COVID situation, my work has doubled helping the government figure out what to do policy wise, which is super rewarding but also demanding. 🙂 email me if you want to know more.

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      1. I’d love to send you an email … what’s your email? I work in business continuity for a large bank in the US so it sounds like we might have similar roles just in different sectors!

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