Wednesday, December 12, 2007

It USED to be Paradise; now....?

There’s a trend going on in these parts, and it’s not a good one if you plan on living here on a modest military pension consisting of U.S. dollars. And For those of us ALREADY living here in what USED to be paradise, well, we are thinking of changing it's moniker from paradise to purgatory, as in “for all ye who enter, beware,” at least for a while anyway.

Over the last year, in several posts, I’ve complained of the increased local criminality, but at least with robbers and pickpockets you can take precautions and guard against them. However, there’s nothing to be done about the double edged sword of the falling dollar and the rising cost of living.

Another concern is medical care, especially for American military retirees. When I first arrived five years ago, medical availability was impressive. Tricare paid for everything and life was good, certainly for those of us who needed lots of treatment and medication. Unfortunately, that’s mostly finished. Now, except for a few hospitals, we pretty much pay as we go and send the receipts to Wisconsin for payment. This means its best to have at least a healthy credit card to pay your medical bills up front, or better yet, have a hefty savings account balance. Either way will work, although I know a lot of folks who have neither. Woe is them.

So, the depressing trend I referred to at the top of this post is the negative buzz I’m hearing from a lot of my fellow expatriate retirees trying to live here among all these bad developments. In the last couple of days I’ve spoken to 10 retirees, and 7 told me they are seriously thinking of leaving Angeles City, either to go back to the US, or to try to find a more suitable place here in-country. One confirmed that he will be leaving as soon as the VA in Manila finishes adjudicating his claim for disability compensation. Only one of the ten mentioned nothing about leaving and he happens to be well-to-do.

Just today I spoke to a fellow Air Force retiree who cited the typical difficulties. His problem is that he only has his retirement, with no social security or VA disability to help him meet his living requirements. He got out as an E7 with 23 years of service, which provided a decent living back when the dollar was getting upwards of 50 to 58 pesos. Now it’s only worth just over 40 and from what we can see, the actions of the federal government will do nothing to help those of us living overseas. If anything, we expect the dollar to become even weaker right up into next year’s general election. Gulp!

The cost of living is soaring. Gas and transport prices have gone through the roof just as they have all around the world, but housing is what has really hurt quite a few of us. For instance, rent for a 3-bedroom house now goes from P25,000 and up, mostly up. In 2002, the year I got here, even 4-bedrooms went for much less, perhaps starting at P10,000 to P12,000. Of course, back then the dollar was getting close to P55, so decrease that by the 25% to 30% that the dollar has lost in value since then. Combine the higher costs with the lower dollar and you might as well rent a house back in the USA. From what I’m seeing, its cheaper to rent a nice place in Jacksonville, Arkansas where my kids live than it does to rent one here in Angeles City, Pampanga.

A lot of what’s driving up the housing market is the influx of Koreans. For some reason the word has gotten out up there that this is the place to start a Little Korea.

My only complaint about Koreans before was that they had driven many of us off the local golf courses. They come down by the score and deluge the couple of courses we have here, which should be no problem if they were normal players. But they are not normal. Most of them do not know how to play by the accepted rules and they are too arrogant to learn. They do stupid things like tee off the fairway, and play in groups of 5 and more, and generally clog the courses up. There are no marshals to keep them moving and the caddies do nothing to threaten whatever little tip they might get. I know several guys who decided to simply stop playing when it started to take 6 hours to play 18 holes. I am one of them.

But aside from the Korean penchant to mess up golf course play, the real damage they have done is to the housing market. As I said, the costs have skyrocketed. Generally Koreans are harmless and they keep to themselves. Most of them even bring their own women and families. I don’t blame them for coming here, but here they are, and with their numbers going up daily so does the cost of housing. I shrug as I write it.

I get a lot of hits from folks looking at the cost of living in the Philippines, from military retirees and other pensioner types looking to live here. To you folks, I say that if you can come up with at least $2300 a month and have about $15,000 to spend on getting a household started, you SHOULD be okay to live here in AC. That is unless the dollar continues to slide, in which case you should increase the above figures accordingly. It all depends on what living standard you want to exist in. The numbers I quote above are to live like an enlisted person is used to. Keep in mind that the average Filipino lives on much less, but most Americans I know wouldn’t want to live the way they do.

A final note is that I am speaking of life here in Angeles City. My best friend, who through good investments is independently wealthy, told me just today that he is thinking of moving to Cebu City. He says costs are lower there than here. Personally, I have no idea. I plan to stick it out here for a while. My income and investments have kept me somewhat above the fray, but if things continue, I might just consider getting out of here myself. If only it weren’t so darned cold in Michigan!


Ed said...

I like a more quiet life and thus have ruled out any retiring to the Philippines where it is so crowded.

Ed said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PhilippinesPhil said...

That's a good standard to go by, quietude. That can be a problem here where Filipinos have the ability to block out the sound of barking dogs and blaring karaoke. How they do it, I don't know, but it can drive "quiet nuts" like me into stark raving craziness.

Ed said...

You remind me of a time when after a couple weeks there, I was laying in bed morning marveling at the silence and then realizing that a hundred roosters were all crowing outside. I had gotten used to them for a few seconds that I blocked them out. Filipinos must just have a heightened ability to do this cause when I joke about all the noise in the Philippines they always look like I'm crazy.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Nope, just the opposite. They don't understand why we don't like bedlam as mucha as they do. They revel in it. In class here, I've taken to carrying earplugs for when the teacher leaves momentarily. If there are 20 students, 10 lively conversations immediately erupt, with all of them talking over each other louder and louder. It gets as painfully loud as any Air Force flightline where one can not hear a person screaming into your ear over the running engines. At times its so painful that I just get up and wait outside in the hall for the intructor to return and save my sanity. Incredible! I tell you. Filipinos love noise, and the louder the better.

KA said...

ok... i'm going to post about my winter, and you'll realize paradise is probably worth every cent.

Oh - btw, u realize the picture on my letter to my 13 year old self was me and Guile, not me and J :-p. Twas definitely not in the stars for me and Guile.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Yup, the balmy weather is about all that's left of paradise, unless you're into young ladies who love you looooong time.

...and thanks for the clarification on the Gulie pic.

Amadeo said...

Very valid points you raised, Phil. Somehow my mind was focused on the Filipino OFWs and their plight with the improving peso value. Your group of expats in PI is another that has been also gravely affected.

And no good news in sight. Many serious economists are convinced that the dollar will continue to have adjustments, since believe it or not it still appears strong vis-a-vis most currencies that count, save for the Euro, and among a few others, the Philippine peso.

Hang in there.