Well, a belated Happy New Year to everyone and my apologies for the long hiatus.
I came here to the Philippines in early December after three months of flat-out work, to the point of exhaustion. I achieved a lot but I think regular readers would have noticed that my focus was not on the blog here but on other things, notably my new books — of which, more later.
I left my home in France at 5 am on the 7th of December. It was a chilly -5 degrees and my neighbour, Florent, who drove me to the station, had to scrape the ice off his car. I’ll tell you about the journey later, but it’s enough now to say I am happy not to be in Europe today; my house is worryingly close a point on the weather map that says -7. Way too cold for me, these days, what with the Type II Reynaud’s.
I spend each winter here in the Philippines. I first came in 2012 and have been every year since, so this is the my fifth visit. I am coming to love the place. Sure, it has faults, but so does everywhere…and there is something about Filipinos that really charms me. Yesterday, for example, I was walking back to my apartment when I passed a fairly nondescript bod sitting on a bridge, passing the time. They do that a lot here. I said ‘Good afternoon’ and he immediately began chatting, despite a noticeable lack of teeth and fairly basic English. We spent five minutes talking, during which he told me about his family, I told him about mine, and we parted friends. That sort of thing happens most every day here.
It’s hard not to like people who make you feel so welcome, who will shout across a street, ‘Hey Joe! Welcome to the Philippines!’ Or where women, if they catch your eye, will smile broadly — and then burst into giggles, if they’re young. They don’t feel intimidated, they’re just nice. This is a cool place.
Putting down roots
I suspect that the cultural overlays here are the cause: Malay overlaid with Spanish Catholicism and then American influence on top. (Yesterday I tried to buy a metric Allen key, to no avail. ‘Only inches, sir.’ US habits die hard.) Anyway, the combination is heady. Filipinos are quick to be friends and are loyal too.
Why did I need an Allen key? Well, I bought a guitar. It’s a Samick acoustic-electric. I got it for $100, which is fair. It requires some setting up so I need a key to adjust the truss rod. Nice little guitar with a solid top, not in the league of my Guilds, but still a useful, well made instrument.
Buying it, of course, is a gesture of commitment. It should tell you that I want to be here longer. I’m still swithering about my house in France; the Brexit fiasco has really made things confused. We have to wait and see what the crop of arses in Westmonster hash out, but my ability to live in a home I have owned for 23 years is presently in question. On the other hand, at the moment I suspect selling my ancient pile might be as easy as re-homing orphan black babies in Kensington.
Nevertheless, I do want to establish something permanent here in the Phils, so this time I’m not staying in Manila. By happenstance, I’m in a place called Plaridel in Bulacan, about an hour north of the city. It’s nice, if a little remote, and not close enough to the sea. But it affords me the chance to find a town about the same distance that does tick my boxes. And then we shall see.
I’m always going to want to go back to Europe — at least Scotland — for a month or so each year, maybe as long as four or five. I miss the children very much and I need to see them on a regular basis. And if I end up keeping the house in France, well, it’s not so onerous, and it’s a nice place. But I can’t take the cold of European winter any more; that old Reynauld’s is a curse indeed. So I’d like, perhaps, to do May to September, but not more.
I keep seeing beautiful old Spanish colonial houses here, all made of exquisite mahogany. These are amazing places, even if many are pretty much run-down and need work (but then, so does my place in France). I was invited inside one at New Year’s and was amazed — door panels 30 inches wide cut from a single plank of lumber. Amazing. That house is 200 years old and I must admit I have a hankering. We shall see if one comes up.
Romance in the New Year?
Romantically, of course, everything is up in the air again. We shall gloss over the details for now, though I am sure they’ll get a mention soon. But I am pretty happy. It does the soul good to know that one is considered desirable, after all.
Also published on Medium.