The norm for most ex-pats is to gravitate to other ex-pats. If you are in a provincial area there are usually less ex-pats, but you’ll probably get to know very quickly the few that are there. In the larger communities, the ex-pats often have clubs, traditional weekly or even bi-weekly lunches, and sometimes break down their socialization according to nationality. In the several communities that I have lived in, there has been everything from French clubs to ex-pat women’s clubs, to military Veterans clubs, and others. Because of the American military’s presence until the mid 1990’s, there are still VFW posts and American Legion posts in every major city. In Manila, there is even an Elk’s Club!
Many ex-pats decide they want to get involved in projects to help the community and that is normally the common bond with other ex-pats. Also, there is everything from bridge clubs to golfing clubs and just about anything one might have an interest in considering there is a large ex-pat community in this country. It would be fair to say that most of the ex-pats would be around 50 years of age and above while the younger ex-pat population are mostly people that have employment or businesses here so the largest portion are seniors.
Befriending Filipinos is not hard in most major cities, but it is more difficult in the provinces where few foreigners are living. The reason it might be more difficult to make friends in the provinces is that economically you might be considered “wealthy” in certain areas so therefore, the friendships you make might tend to take advantage of your financial capability as much as your good nature . Take it slow when making friends if living in small provincial areas, and expect that you might, from time to time, be hit up for cash if friends with people from lower income brackets. Don’t take it personally if you find that your friends have manoeuvred you into the position of being the local lending institution. Just remember that in such situations, you can always smile politely when asked for a “loan” and very politely say that you have left your wallet at home..or you don’t have enough cash on hand…or you have not yet been paid…anything that politely rebuts the request for a loan without your friend loosing face. Eventually, people will get the message and stop asking to “borrow” money! In bigger cities, finding local friends is much easier as you would likely be on a more equal financial footing (no requests for “loans”!) and in many cases, friendships might be more rewarding from a cultural perspective as well.
Many ex-pats have been known to come to the Philippines to find companionship. We will put this aspect of life in the islands into a different category than ordinary friendship, and will address this issue in a different article at a later time.
Romance and companionship aside, if you come to the Philippines and are looking to make friends among ex-pats as well as Filipinos, to put down roots and get involved in communities, you are not going to have any problems accomplishing that goal!
We were in Makati for the day, in from the Great Republic of Alabang, and my husband turned to me and said, “I’m inviting you to lunch at the best prime rib place in town.”
“It’s DELICIOUS, and I guarantee you we will be one of only two or three tables there.”
We are both Makati-bred, and as far as I knew, the only really good prime rib in town since, well, forever, was at the Prince Albert Rotisserie at the Intercontinental Hotel.
“You’re going to LOVE this place!” he tells me as we pull off Makati Ave. into the driveway of a Chinese discount hotel on the seedy side of the street.
We went through the hotel’s front door and headed to the elevator. Up. Stop. Get off the elevator…and get on a different elevator. Apparently the first elevator only takes you so high, in order to get to this steak, you have to undergo a journey.
We stepped out of the elevator and…what can I say? We stepped into the 70’s. It was amazing! Gulliver’s of San Francisco is a classic, tacky-down-to-the-psuedo-eighteenth-century captain’s chairs around each dining table, and the waiters-and-waitresses-dressed-in-period- costume American steak house! The placed oooooozed oh-so-Olde-Worlde charm! It was liked being sucked back through the Time Tunnel to the steak houses of my Midwestern youth, and I LOVED it from the moment I stepped through the doors!
Sure enough, we were one of only two tables in the restaurant, and we claimed our table at the window with a spectacular view of Makati in all its grimy splendor. The menu was perfect—chicken parmesan, lobster tail, but we came for prime rib, and prime rib we would have.
The meat came in three sizes. I took the biggest one. So did my husband. I was salivating as I ordered, and so was he. The wait staff were efficient, spreading a huge, crisp, white linen napkin on each of our laps and bringing us a basket of fresh, hot bread and sweet butter. They smiled as they took our orders, repeated them correctly, and went off to advise the kitchen of our choices, returning but moments later with an icy, frothy brew.
Moments later, the BEST, bar none (sorry Prince Albert Rotisserie!) prime rib I have ever sunk my teeth into on this side of the puddle, thick, amazingly large, beautifully marbled with just the right ratio of fat to meat, crispy on the outer edge and soft, juicy, red, and delicious all the way to the bone, appeared before each of us. On the plate were a baked potato with ALL the fixings—butter, chives (yes REAL fresh chives), bacon, and sour cream; a delightfully stodgy Yorkshire pudding, spinach soufflé right out of Graham Kerr’s Galloping Gourmet cooking show, and the best home-made creamed corn ever! The waiter then appeared with what was essentially a decanter of hot meat juice that he poured over each slab of beef.
I ate everything. EVERYTHING.
The Master Chef at Gulliver’s trained in their San Francisco kitchen, and he has everything down to perfection. The whole experience—the meal, the restaurant itself—was delightful because not only was the food so good, it evoked memories of a bygone era that made the meal taste even better.
Gulliver’s has been there for years, but nobody knows about it. My husband, a Makati native, found out about it because a friend dragged him there on the promise of the best and cheapest prime rib in town…and he was right! Each of our prime rib lunches, with all of the fixings, cost P1200.00, or roughly US$27.00. The restaurant has two branches, one in Makati, and the other in Quezon City, both at the Great Eastern Hotel. You can find out more by going to their web site, www.gulliverssf.com , but if you are a carnivore from the 70’s, Gulliver’s is an experience you won’t want to miss!
I’ve lived in the Philippines for a long time. In the old days, amenities such as the variety and quality of goods you could find in the grocery store, clothes that fit you, a nice restaurant to eat in, books to read, movies to watch, were pretty limited. Manila had the best selection of amenities available, and as you went out into the provincial cities the amenities became less and less amenable. I remember in those days every trip home to the US meant a few suitcases full of goods of every kind that my family and I would bring back to the Philippines since there was really not much available here.
Now, every time I go out the door it seems like a new business offering some sort of new product or service has opened!
The major evolution in the quality and variety of amenities here in the Philippines– and we must give credit where credit is due—came about because of Mr. Henry Sy, the brilliant “Chinoy” (CHInese piNOY, meaning Chinese-Filipino) businessman who established major-league shopping malls in the Philippines. He started his career (after emigrating to the Philippines from China) by buying and selling overruns of shoes out of a small shoe store he called Shoe Mart, in Manila, which gradually became a department store, which then morphed into the SM malls.
SM malls are now all over the country.
They have put big-time entertainment, like movies and restaurants and shopping, into the cities as well as into the remote provincial areas, and they have established a “mall culture” which has changed the social dynamic of the Philippines.
Take into consideration the SM department store, the cornerstone of every SM mall.
Really, that store is just amazing! Although it caters to a mid-range customer base, it has a tremendous selection of goods in every department. It is the “go-to” store, not just for its targeted market, but for everyone!
The service and attention the customer gets from the store’s attendants is just impossible to find in the First World. Wherever you turn, there is a sales person waiting to attend to you, and they usually know the goods and products in their assigned area extremely well.
Big two thumbs up there!
To drive my point across about how the number and variety of amenities have changed here so radically over the years, let’s consult a list some of the stores in the SM malls. There are cellular phone stores in abundance. There are many stores where you can buy a good computer including the beloved brands like Apple (from an official reseller) and Sony. Of course, there are clothing stores galore selling both high-end and mid-end quality clothes, and brands that are familiar to the Western customer, like GAP, Forever 21, and Guess.
In addition to the stores, there is a huge selection of restaurants of every variety, from food-courts, to American fast food chains, to local favorites.
For active fun and entertainment, SM malls have ice skating rinks in selected locations. All of the malls have bowling alleys and arcades with lots of play places for kids. These play places have bouncy castles and thousands and thousands of Lego blocks to play with, and some of the malls even have Universal Studios 4D Max Rider, a state-of-the-art virtual reality simulation ride, on offer. There are movie theaters with highest quality technology; there are even a few SM malls with IMAX theaters.
For an idea of what amenities are available at a typical SM mall, just go through the store directory of my Baguio SM mall and see what is available: http://mallstoresdirectory.com/sm-city-baguio. Bear in mind that the Manila malls are more than twice the size of our provincial mall here.
The average Filipino regularly spends time in a mall, not just to be entertained, but also to escape the heat or the rainy weather. SM has 45 malls (and growing) all over the islands, followed by Robinson’s malls (http://www.robinsonsmalls.com/#) with 35 locations nationwide as of this writing. Ayala Malls (http://www.ayalamalls.com.ph/malls), can also be found nationwide, but with fewer locations. They are more upscale then SM or Robinson’s malls and they cater to a more elite clientele.
There are many small businesses owned by individuals or a small number of partners that have opened up as well, such as a local pizza place here in Baguio called Amare
(https://www.facebook.com/amarelacucina1). Wow! It’s amazing that we can get pizza from a wood burning pizza oven in Baguio! That’s something that you never would have found in the old days!
These new little businesses tend to have a real “local” flavor as well since in many cases they are owned and run by young entrepreneurs, and their businesses are beautifully micro-managed.
Now we have a new doughnut chain that is the Asian version of Krispy Kreme, called JCO Donuts (http://www.jcodonuts.com/) that are so delicious there is almost always a long line of customers that snakes out the door.
The variety and quality of restaurants has improved drastically also—even in the provincial cities. We all complained ten or fifteen years ago, especially those of us who live outside of Manila, about how much we missed being able to go to a restaurant that served the type of food we would go out for in our homeland. Now, even in the provincial cities like Baguio, we have a great choice of restaurants serving international food.
I personally am underwhelmed when I go to a restaurant back in America nowadays. I have become so spoiled in the Philippines, not just with the ability to enjoy going out to have a meal of my choice of food, but also with the fact that here, that meal is served with much more tender loving care by the restaurant staff, which to me is not the case back home.
Seafood in the Philippines is slightly different than in the First World, mainly because of the lack of “cold water” seafood and the abundance of “warm water” seafood, and the manner of cooking is more Asian than Western. That being said, though, with an open mind, you will find excellent seafood almost anywhere in the country. I really like the “ihaw” (on the grill) type of seafood at a popular chain called Gerry’s Grill (http://www.gerrysgrill.com/ph/ ) that serves a variety of different food in addition to their seafood, all cooked on the grill, Filipino style.
All over the country, even in some of the most out-of-the-way places, you will find small restaurants owned and managed by people who have been in the culinary industry internationally—former hotel chefs or chefs who have worked in restaurants under world-renowned cookery idols like Mario Batalli, Gordon Ramsay, or Heston Blumenthal. These folks have come to live in the Philippines, for a variety of reasons, and they have set up their own little restaurants that offer fabulous fare.
Another amenity that has absolutely blossomed all over the country are the spas and massage clinics. They are just everywhere, and they offer so many choices for relaxing and rejuvenating, not just massages which are great for the sore muscles. They have different treatments, like facials and body wraps, and they have atmosphere, with sprinkled
rose petals and candles. Some of the spas have saunas and jacuzzis. They use scented oils and offer a variety of massages which range from warm stone massage to Thai massage (which is very physical) to specialized foot massage, and on and on. And massage is so cheap here, usually less then US$10.00 for an hour and half from a well trained experienced masseuse. There are more basic spas that are clean, but not fancy, and in those a massage can run as low as US$3.00 to US$4.00 for the same hour and a half massage. The are associations of blind masseuses that give work to the disabled, and they offer massage services all over the place; even home service. You can have a massage every day, and live your life in a euphoric state!
To give you an idea of what typical spas are like, take a look at the website of a spa company called Bioessence
(http://bioessence.ph/branches.php) which is a popular chain of spas here in the islands. Between living with domestic help at home (who do all the laundry, cleaning, cooking, etc.) which makes life a breeze, and the massage clinic or spa, I live a life that is so happy and healthy, and feel great in this Disneyland of a country.
Another thing that has changed for the better are our gas stations. These days, we have modern gas stations where we can enjoy the convenience of a quick stop at a well stocked convenience store while the attendants fill up the tank! Even the whole convenience-store concept has evolved—there are 7/11’s on every other block so it seems.
Another amenity that has become commonplace even in the provincial cities during the last decade or so are first class gyms, including the world famous Gold’s Gym (http://www.goldsgym.com.ph/) which has branches nationwide.
If you are a gym rat you will find many to choose from.
My gym in Baguio, Fitness Edge, offers a variety of classes (http://www.fitnessedgebaguio.com/classes/), and the workout facility is all window with frontage toward the spectacular mountain views. It has the most modern machines and free weights, and any kind of aerobic classes that are available in the First World are available here.
Grocery stores and the goods they offer have evolved too, but you can still enjoy the mayhem of a neighborhood Chinese-style grocery that was the norm back in the day. They are well stocked with basic goods and cater to lower income folks. Usually there is only space for one cart at a time down their narrow aisles, and I have a lot of fun invariably bumping into other people’s carts while I try to do my shopping!
In any neighborhood, blue collar or elite, there is always the “sari-sari” store that is usually very small native-style nook where the customer goes to the storefront window to look over the goods on offer by peeking through the bars to see what is enticing. A sari-sari store is a place to get a bag of local chips (squid and shrimp chips being among the favorites), or a coke, or a beer, or cigarettes, sold either by the “stick” (an individual cigarette) or by the pack, as well as a variety of very basic canned goods, such as the poor man’s lunch, canned sardines.
These stores are usually not so nice looking, but they are the original “convenience store” of the Philippines.
Getting into the “new” trend in grocery shopping, I want to mention that Rustan’s (http://www.rustansfresh.com/our-stores/) in addition to being a department store, also has an upscale supermarket offering a wide variety of imported as well as local goods. They are rapidly branching out into the provincial cities, bringing those upscale goods with them to those markets. SM, of course, also has their supermarket in every one of their malls.
In the old days, it would have been completely unimaginable to be able to live in a provincial city, like Cebu or Davao, and run out to the store to buy, say, manchego cheese and air-dried beef along with a bottle of nice wine. These days there are specialty stores, such as Santi’s (http://www.santis-deli.com/ ) all over the country—even in small provincial cities—that make buying those sorts of luxuries a reality.
There are grocery shopping “clubs” such as S&R (http://www.snrshopping.com/ ) and Pure Gold (http://puregold.com.ph/store_locator.do), that specialize in bulk shopping, a new craze which has swept the country. Here at this link (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_supermarket_chains_in_the_Philippines) is a list of some of the grocery and convenience store chains in the Philippines.
In sum, amenities in the Philippines are pretty amenable! Just about any product or service that is available to make life more comfortable in the First World is now within arm’s reach in the Philippines, almost anywhere in the country! That concept may not be a big deal to people who come from developed nations, but for a developing country like ours, it is really amazing!