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Bramovich: Expat all-sorts, and the decapitation of the Virgin Mary

Over the past few years in the Philippines, I’ve come across a truly staggering array of foreigners who call the country home. There is more than enough material for a very interesting book. Perhaps that’s not a bad idea? Anyone who wants to assist with the research let me know in the comments. We’re going to have to spend a few years getting drunk in weird places.

Jokes aside, there have been some real characters. Not just the drunk old womanisers, with whose brush the entire expatriate community is often tarred.

There was the 70-something American businessman who, apart from seeming to possess a need to own every property he saw, also imported solar panels into the Philippines before they were cool.

He’d discovered the country, like so many Americans did, while stationed here as a member of the American military. In his case that introduction to the region resulted in business interests everywhere from Manila to Macao, as well as a pretty impressive manufacturing set-up in the Chinese city of Shenzhen.

From Subic to Shenzhen, one of the vets who built an incredible life off the back of his time in the Philippines

He was always an interesting bloke to grab a pint with. I don’t count a great many Americans among my close friends, I have to say (that said, as many of us do when we head to this particular part of South East Asia my exposure to people from that part of the world has increased significantly). Another bloke that I spent some time with was a guy from California, Los Angeles specifically.

I have to say that, if one is learning how to associate with Americans, my advice would be not to start with an Angeleno. I’m not sure if there’s something in the water (having never been there myself) but they are a breed unto their own. That aside, this guy was good fun and we spent a lot of very enjoyable time together while I was living up in the Cordilleras.

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When our paths crossed he was living in a very exclusive sub-division just outside of Baguio. His three-storey house (with a four-storey rent bill) overlooked some absolutely stunning countryside.

He was much younger than many of the people you meet here, only in his late 30s.




He was one of those naturally successful people and eventually set up quite an impressive call centre operation here. He was also a bit of a hippy who ate a raw-food diet and often spoke of the benefits of meditation.

Me and this crazy Angeleno had a great time up in the hills near Baguio City  Picture: Ramon FVelasquez – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

The exception to this clean living person was his evil inner twin, who’d come out quite regularly around me (I’m not sure why I have that effect on people). When he was off the wagon he was pretty partial to a tipple of anything that was going and a cigarette or 20, I suppose you can’t be virtuous all the time huh?

Fortunately not all of the expatriate residents of the Philippines have their roots Stateside. There are a staggering number of Australians here too. I’m not entirely sure if that is a good thing, on second thoughts, I’m one myself so at least I feel like I’m communicating with my own species when in their company. A lot of them are old, washed up, arrogant drunks with a sense of entitlement and a definite air of past glory chasing them about the place (not to mention a chip on their shoulder). Even in the midst of this quagmire of misfortune and poor judgement though, there is the odd one who shines through.




Sitting on a beach up north one day, supping on a cold San Miguel, I saw a wild-haired, lanky six-footer come ambling up the sand. I heard him say something and, having been in the house for several days working on a writing project – starved of human company – when I detected the familiar Aussie twang I figured I may as well introduce myself. He was in his sixties and, while I originally picked him as probably being from Nimbin (Australia’s capital of recreational psychedelic drug use) it ended up he was a farmer near Byron Bay on the northern New South Wales Border – which is just up the road so I wasn’t too far off the mark. What was it that he farmed? Marijuana. Why was he in the Philippines? He’d just sold a harvest and felt like taking a year off.

This wild-haired Aussie sure wasn’t farming tomatoes up near Byron Bay

We sat around drinking beer for a couple of days and talking about his various close calls with law enforcement over the course of his career and life on the fringe. I still catch up with him whenever we find ourselves in the same part of the country. I’ve always found myself preferring to associate with people who do interesting things. To any American reading this, our Marijuana laws in Australia are as draconian as yours were in 1962. So for people to talk about stuff like this so freely is quite unusual.

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Another guy I spent some time with a few years ago hails from Blighty. He had been an expat since very early in his career and was in his late 70s during our eight-month period of living next-door to each other. Before his work brought him to the Philippines, where he eventually settled down, he had worked on major civil engineering projects in places like Nigeria, India and China. He was responsible for a large highway project in Luzon as well as a really great guy to sit back and pass the time with. Some of the stories he told me about his time in Africa make Southeast Asia look like a bastion of transparent governance.




This story would not be complete without giving mention to the single German woman in her 50s who lived next door to me at a beach resort for a while. Her poison was Tanduay (the more the better and mixers be damned), her dog a huge Rottweiler and she always drove herself. She had two vehicles, a car and a private tricycle.

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It was on the tricycle late one morning, after spending the period between sunrise and morning tea enjoying a drink or 20, that she got a case of the wobbles while on the way home for a nap and crashed sideways into the grotto that had pride of place at the entrance to the resort. This resulted in the decapitation of the Virgin Mary, a twisted trike and a broken collar bone.

Not even the Virgin Mary was safe from a drunk, middle aged German woman atop a tricycle

She had originally moved to the Philippines with her husband, who later died and she elected to stay on. Shortly after her accident we left that resort and moved on. I’ve not seen her since. I did get the chance to sink a few with her before her mishap, although my sense of self preservation always saw me refusing a lift home.

So many people have a stereotypical view of what an expatriate is. I’m sure you can see him now. The overweight, seedy throwback. Too old to work and too broke to live on his pension. A bargirl on each finger and a drink clutched tightly in his sweaty fist. A cigarette hanging from the side of his mouth. While there are plenty of those types out here, and in other parts of Asia that I’ve lived in, there are also many other types of people. They tend not to be found in the usual haunts. Many of them don’t associate much with each other or other foreigners in the country. It’s not because they feel superior, it’s simply because they don’t have much in common.




5 Comments on "Bramovich: Expat all-sorts, and the decapitation of the Virgin Mary"

  1. There’s some real characters here, but it only feeds the fire when you post a thinly veiled anti-American rant such as this one. Yeah, It’s more popular now than ever to hate America and Americans…we get it. But it looks poorly on your character to jump on the “I hate America” bandwagon at this time, and explains how you relate so well to the Filipinos here.

    • Larry, to suggest that this is thinly veiled hate-speech directed at Americans is a bit of a reach, mate. I gave the Australians (as in my own countrypeople) far more stick than I did the yanks. Not sure what you mean by the “I hate America” bandwagon. Nor how it is that you know if I do or don’t relate well to the locals? I work 14 hour days and occasionally interact with locals if there’s a family event for my wife’s family or something, or if I need to wander over to the store. I think you might want to have another quick read through and point out the hatred. I did say I don’t understand Americans, I don’t. They are culturally more foreign to me than just about anyone on planet earth. That said, I mean no malice.

    • Heck I even gave the Americans some credit, at least the US is sorting out Marijuana law reform. Doing far better than the Australians, has to be said.

  2. I enjoy your posts, Dave. But in an era where the president hates Americans, there’s been significant residual trickle-down hatred. Most expats (not you) live a delusional care-free life here and don’t notice it, but for those of us who actually interact with the locals daily and try our best to make a good impression, things have changed.

    I apologize for that inflammatory post, but many of us decent expats here are making plans to leave. Not easy to uproot and move your life and family.

    • Thank you for your compliment, Larry. I agree with everything you’ve said. I’ve also got an exit plan in the offing. As you know from my posts I also have a life and family here and I totally agree with you that it aint that easy to pack things up and start again.

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