This is the original copy of an article I wrote for the Manila Standard a few months ago.
21 REASONS WHY I LOVE LIVING ABROAD
I consider it a privilege to have lived abroad for the past 25 years despite the difficulty of moving and the pain of adjusting to different cultures, languages and people (who without a doubt make a country great…if they weren’t there!). Two husbands, four dogs, six cities over three continents have certainly taught me, “There is no place like (not being) home.” Right now I live between three places I consider home—Hong Kong, Megeve (in the French Alps) and London. I have also lived in Manhattan, Los Angeles and Taipei. People often ask me where I consider home or where I would like to live permanently. I have learned to give the answer, ‘Wherever the taxes are lowest.”
So how much do I love living abroad? Let me count the ways:
1) “Ay! Out-of-i-stack” sounds so much more glamorous abroad. Along with “Bahala na si Batman,” “Ay, out of i-stack” has become so much a part of Tagalog conversation that my British husband claims this (together with the former) was one of the first Tagalog phrases he learned. However, get a load of how the phrase would sound in the following places:
London: “We have sold out of it madam, but there is a waitlist. Would you like to be on it?”
Hong Kong: ”No stock. Come next week. I call you when arrive. But you must pay now!”
Taiwan: “You are not a VVIP? Then we have no stock.”
France: Silence then a shrug half way between I-don’t-know and I’m-adjusting-my-jacket, then the shopkeeper turns his back on you.
2) If Greenhills were a country, it would be Taiwan. I didn’t exactly grow up living in Greenhills but I went to school there. Where else in the Philippines can you have clean streets, good roads, houses ranging from tasteful to diabolical and a great tiangge that unites the whole town? It also has the fortune (or misfortune) of being the Chinoy neighbourhood of choice. Thus the contrast of expensive homes of highly questionable taste (and occasionally provenance), expensive cars and right smack in the middle, the cheapest market in the world selling tat you couldn’t even give away in the free world! Taiwan is a WHOLE country of these contrasts and that’s why I love it. Taiwanese embrace overseas Chinese so you know why I gladly called it home.
LOST IN TRANSLATION
Because I would rather be with animals than people, my human communication skills do not come remotely close to those of Bill Clinton’s but in living abroad, I have used the language barrier and my being Chinese Filipino to great advantage.
3) I block off the chatter of foreign languages—Chinese, French and in London, every other language. As any visitor to London would notice, no one speaks English there except the Queen and that’s because she only talks to the Corgis.
4) Since no one speaks English anyway, I can conveniently pretend that I don’t speak English. Conveniently pretending is different from blocking in the sense that I assume an uneducated peasant’s persona when approached by someone (usually American) who wants to make conversation. In English. This trick is certainly not advisable while holding The New Yorker or worse, The Economist or the Financial Times. Well, you can always claim to be looking at New Yorker cartoons.
5) I find it funny that Filipinos abroad always speak Tagalog thinking that no one will understand them. Take this exchange between me and two maids on a dog trail in Hong Kong.Yaya #1 to #2: Ay Ate, tingnan mo yung mga aso niya..(complete with eyes dilated to saucer size and pursed pointing lips) Ang pa-pangit! Siguro galing sa atin yan.
Me: Ah, ganoon, ha. E—kayo rin!
Yayas: Ay ma’am sorry, akala namin Chinese kayo…
Which brings me to my next point….
6) The good part of being Chinoy is you can choose to be anyone except Indian or African for obvious reasons. It ain’t only the eyes, okay?
7) Filipinos are always nicer to fellow Filipinos abroad than when they are at home. You’ll also get extra pieces of chocolate at hotels when they see you with a Caucasian who can say, “Siyempre,” “Ano ba ‘yan” and of course the ultimate clincher, “Oks na oks sa konting Xonrox.”
DOGS IN DA ‘HOOD
8) Taiwan is a great place to raise dogs. They are not only allowed in food markets, groceries, bakeries, some restaurants and malls, the post office and stock exchange but they have a government health plan for animals and a five-level hospital that rivals the best hospitals in third world countries. Plus, animal medicine costs the same as human medicine—one US dollar a prescription. You also get a choice of Chinese or Western medicine. Clearly, Taiwan is a country with too much money. Like one of my friends said, “Sana sa dog hospital nalang nang-anak ang misis ko!”
9) In France, dogs and children are treated equally. When they enter a restaurant, the first to get his drink (a bowl of water even if there is a drought) is the dog. Then les enfants are served their boissons. Their food comes faster than a 35-hour work week and everyone is happy. When I dine anywhere else in the world, I wish I could fire an AK 47 but I have yet to decide whether to use it on myself, the kids or their parents.
SA IKAUUNLAD NG BAYAN, TELEPONO ANG KAILANGAN
10) Except in the United Kingdom which is practically a third world country, landlines are installed very quickly and painlessly. In Hong Kong, our cable TV and internet are connected to our phones. Can you imagine if we had this in the Philippines? Your party line will not only have stolen your phone line but also your cable TV line AND they will also be able to hack into your computer!
11) Except in London and New York where you have to pray for a bus to come (in LA you have to sleep with a casting agent), efficient public transportation is available for very little money. In Taiwan, it is subsidized by the government. In Hong Kong, a price hike of 25 US cents starts a revolution.
12) Except in Europe and America where they steal everything including a broken pencil, no one steals your mobile phone. That’s because your manicurist has not only a nicer phone but also better jewellery that you have.
13) Their airports are nicer. In fairness to Heathrow which is known as the world’s worst airport, the shopping is great! Espeically T5!!!
14) As an eco-police, I feel my efforts to preserve the environment are appreciated. Except in Hong Kong where shopping bags are hefty enough to patch a roof and a laser light show goes on every night.
15) I love being in freezing temperatures. If the air-conditioning is not cryogenically preserving me in Hong Kong in the summer, then my face becomes as tight as Michael Jackson’s when I ski in the winter.
16) International gossip is always better. A gossip like me is more interested in stories than personalities. Gossip in rich countries can’t be beat because people are dressed better and the monetary stakes are higher (Manny Pacquiao’s 1 million peso party hardly buys you a fur at Fendi and certainly doesn’t get you a discount at Chanel. Or Fendi.).
17) There is comfort in living in places where no one knows your name. The only time they’ll know your name is if you are on a criminal watch list and have your picture in the post office. If you are going to be robbed (again, of course only in Europe and in the US), they might still not know your name but of course they’ll know your address.
18) If you stare at a movie star, you can still get out alive. Maybe. In the Philippines, where everyone is armed, you risk your life by giving a fly the wrong look.
19) There is a level of professionalism in the international workplace that is alien to Filipinos at home. And there is the topic of salaries or lack of….
20) Holidays are frequent and consistent. That means holidays are officially printed on calendars and not based on company memos on holidays suddenly declared to increase a president’s chance of getting re-elected.
21) I do not have to face the request, “ID niyo ma’am…” In the free world, asking for ID happens only in two instances: immigration and arrest. In the Philippines, even if you just have to use an ATM you’ll need an ID.
But wait till the bank gets robbed and the thieves would in no way be identified.
Baka kasi walang ID.
and..in the context of archaic Pinoy libel laws: 22 ) There is truth to saying that I live in the free world. Not the free of freebies (well, that too, to a certain extent) but I live in places that recognize public figures as such, where the rule of law exists and not mob rule which is practically the rule by which the government and elite create as they so require.