The Simple Life…or is it?

In previous articles prior to our coming to live here permanently in the Philippines, I can recall saying how I was looking forward to retiring here and enjoying the simple life. July 3rd, 2014 marks our first anniversay of living in Samar as full time residents. Over the course of this last year, I’ve been able to observe and reflect, and to view and compare our lifestyle against the standard of living we enjoyed (or didn’t enjoy) back in the U.S. One thing is for certain, well…two things are for certain. First, we definitely have much less stress and we do enjoy more carefree living. Secondly, we have much less money (or cash flow) than we were used to. I do now affirm that having less money contributes to more carefree living and therefore, less stress. Since arriving, I’ve made one really critical and emperical observation – there is a difference between living the “Simple Life” and that of just “Simple Living”. The ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus taught that an “untroubled life was the paradigm of happiness” and was made possible by “carefully considered choices.” He also warned “troubles that followed an extravagent lifestyle outweighed the pleasure of partaking in it.” His teachings concluded “what is necessary for happiness, bodily comfort, and life itself should be maintained at minimal cost, while all things beyond what is necessary for these should either be tempered by moderation or completely avoided.” In this modern era, life is never totally without stress, but when stress levels can be kept at a minimum and properly managed (by exercise, diet, and a regular and proper consumption of San Miguel products), the negative effects of stress can be easily combated and even nullified.

A Simple Pleasure
A Simple Pleasure

While I’m not the first person to ever  make a reference to the enjoyment of  life here  in the Philippines as that of  the “simple life,” I believe that  simplicity encompasses  a number of  different voluntary practices that  contribute to that perceived lifestyle.  For example, reducing one’s  possessions or increasing self-  sufficiency. Simple living can easily  be characterized by some people as  being satisfied by meeting their  needs, and by reducing expectations  and desires (wants). While wants and  needs are technically two different categories, they can many times be synonomous with each other. Take food for example: it is both a want and a need.  A good “Chicago Style” pizza in my neck of the woods would be a want but listen to some expats and all you hear is “NEED.”  Family security is both want and a need. A fancy sportscar, well that’s simply a want. I believe many of the personal  finance issues that people face today are due to their own stubborn confusion of  being able to identify and differentiate between their own wants and needs. If you want to come here to live but need a western lifestyle, well then you will have a conflict (unless you have a boatload of money coming with you). If you are going to live here, then plan on altering your lifestyle…it’s that simple!

While a change in lifestyle will be required to achieve a more relaxed mode of living, there are several practices that can lead to a more simple life. Take religion; The Philippines is a predominantly Catholic society and almost the entire country is of some religious faith. That strong faith certainly plays a dominant role in guiding the masses to easily meet many of their daily basic needs. Religious and spiritual traditions encourage simple living. In other parts of the world, more secular approachs to simplicity can be observed.

Preparing Lunch!
Preparing Lunch without a kitchen!

A reduction in consumption of goods is the result of reducing the actual outlay and expenditures on goods or services and as such, the time spent earning that money is reduced. I can honestly say that much of my free time these days is used to improve my own quality of life. It hasn’t been easy but developing a detachment from money has been necessary for me to enjoy a richer and more fulfilling life. While detachment from money is typically easier for men, in reality, women tend to have a more difficult time with this (trust me on this one). Some people will never grasp this concept and to those people I say, you’d be better off staying right where you are. One of the benefits of retiring to the Philippines, or another developing low cost of living country is well, just that…a lower cost of living. When relocating from a western society, there is usually a resulting and substantial loss of income but the tradeoff between loss of income and increased purchasing power will be helpful in supporting a standard of living that is comfortable. The key here is that you must have an income!  Little or no income is not a good thing.

Increasing self-sufficiency is a developed skill that will lead to a greater appreciation and one’s overall enjoyment of life (simply living). This does not necessarily relate to a “simple-life” lifestyle as becoming and sustaining a level of self-sufficiency can require a substantial amount of work. My grandparents along with that generation of the early to mid 1900’s were a much more self-sufficient society. That culture of having the reliance of family to help out was a key in family survival, not to mention they also worked from before sunup to sundown. Reared as a Baby Boomer and growing up looking at their lifestyle, it was clear to me – this was not my idea of a simple life. To me, “simple” was never in the same context as being free from stuff and being a consumer. I know now that increased self-sufficiency reduces dependency on money and the economy to survive. This is readily apparent throughout society in the Philippines. Tom Hodgkinson, British writer and socialist, states that the richest countries in the world, in terms of economic output, are the ones where people work the hardest. I somewhat disagree. They may work longer hours and may be more productive, but they do not necessarily work any harder, in the literal sense. I do agree with him about his belief that the key to a free and simple life is to stop consuming and start producing.

Generator make life easier!
Generator make life easier!

So as I approach the one  year mark living here in  the Philippines full time,  I  I ask myself the question  whether life here really is  simple?  Looking all  around – at how hard  family members might  work to raise and  educate their children and  what they must do in  order to survive every  day, and also in observing  the day to day activities  and lives of our immediate neighbors and friends – I have to say life here is not easy…if it takes work and worry to survive, then that’s not simple. The majority of folks here live day by day or, hand-to-mouth as my wife says. Fisherman fish early in the morning for today’s meals. Women and children carry containers of water daily from public wells to be used for that days bathing, cooking, or washing of clothes. I’ve seen children fetching water as an early morning chore before heading off to school. Also before school, young children may walk the village streets peddling their father’s morning catch just to earn a few pesos for today’s rice.

Selling Fish in the Rain!
Selling Fish in the Rain!

People gather up firewood for cooking their rice and meals. Clothes are washed by hand and hung out to dry – a perpetual daily chore – which becomes even more challenging during the rainy season. Many homes here have no running water and some still have no electricity. There are few houses with glass paned windows or screens and most deal with the heat, humidity, insects, and elements every day. When it rains and the roof leaks, it may not be looked at as a problem so much as it is an opportunity to catch fresh clean water. People tend to their mostly small gardens to help feed their families or generate a little income. Other families work the rice fields and farmlands. I’ve watched kids use long sticks and throw their shoes at high hanging fruit in hopes of a reward for their skill and accuracy. Many will climb trees for this food. A good majority of folks here rely on cheap public transportation and methods to meet their local transport needs. Manual labor here takes on an entirely different meaning for example, when mixing concrete, there are no cement mixing machines – it’s mostly mixed with shovels by hand – on the street. Living here is about as close as one can get to living in a true hunters/gatherer society.

So you might be thinking as a westerner, I’m not going to live like that so how could all this affect my lifestyle? Basically, many a westerner’s life’s experiences and all accquired technical knowledge can be a moot point in everday life here. Things here just don’t operate in the greasy-smooth efficient fashion that you may be accustomed to. Quite the contrary. While many things here are accomplished by totally foreign methods, things sometimes seem way more complicated than they need to be –  and it can bothersome to some expats. If one has a hard time accepting the status-quo, your “simple life” here can be, well…more complex. If you are the easy going type and can go with the flow and let things happen how they may, adjustment to life here will be easier for you. Generally speaking, your lifestyle here is what you make of it. Some will adust, some will have difficulties. Some will not be able to make the adjustment. Even when one becomes acclimated to life here, the system will break down, and when it does, you had better have some toughness to you. It will be good also if you brought some of that good-ole fashioned, turn-of-the-last-century work ethic along with you. Know this: any part of any system can and will at times fail…the power grid or the water delivery system, internet and cable TV services, interruptions to food stuff/supply deliveries, and logistics.

And then there will be storm related problems or natural disasters. Throw any bamboo stick in the fan here, and you will likely experience a major inconvenience of some sort. A westerner’s life can be easily disrrupted..that will always be a given…and events here can can turn life around 180 degrees. How well one can handle it is about as complicated as defining the term “simple life”. For example when Super Typhoon Haiyan hit last year, just the indirect problems we encountered lasted significantly longer than the initial problems we experienced from the storm itself. However, to the local residents of our village, the only real inconvenience was the lack of electricity. Other than that, life was almost normal for them with the exception of having no fans or lights. Did they adapt easily to that? Absolutely…and much better than any westerner could or did. We literally found ourselves living like the rest of the population as we “camped out” for nearly 30 days before purchasing a generator. Even then, we only restored part-time comfort and some conveniences as we could only run the generator for about 8-9 hours per day. At least we had ice and a return to cold drinks! That in itself became a “simple” luxury.

Moving right along, there will always be negative connotations to the simple life. And while this topic is in it’s own category, it never gets related in most discussion groups as to how it negatively impacts the quality of the “simple life” here. That category is Communications. When it takes a full dissertation in three-part harmony to purchase something (with a non-English speaker), life immediately becomes rather un-simplified and frustrating…for both parties. If you don’t believe me, go out to a local provincial market and try shopping for a “Fly Swatter” or a “Bungee Cord” and you will quickly discover somebody is going to get a nosebleed (filipino expression) caused by excessive thinking and or frustration. Of course, one could always send their significant other/interpreter to do all the shopping, thereby avoiding all the un-simplified consequences of not achieving their shopping goals. But how is that simple? Microwave popcorn is simple – manually making a pot of popped corn, not so much. Having a refrigerator full of food and frozen goods is simple enough, but having an extended power outage with that freezer full of frozen stuff – not so simple. Lack of communications and inconveniences can put significant strains on your simple life, especially if you are not prepared for it or if you allow it.

So now the big question presents itself like this: Is moving to the Philippines to live really a return to the simple life? The answer is not that simple and can be full of complexities. If you imagine the simple life as being able to sit back, relax, and watch TV all day or surf the internet in air conditioned comfort with popcorn and cold beer, or maybe having enough pesos (peso-nality) to throw around so that you can live like royalty, then you may be confusing the “simple life” with the “easy life,” which is an entirely different concept of living. I believe that is where all the confusion begins.

A Simple Game of Volleyball
A Simple Game of Volleyball

If anyone is seeking the easy life here, they will need plenty of money  or a  sizable income. If that someone can make the adjustment to live  a more relaxed and less materialistic lifestyle, non-dependent of  western-world conveniences and luxuries, life can still be good. And  with a little advance planning and a sufficient income, one will be able  to enjoy the good things in life when they present themselves, and  that will contribute to a more fulfilling lifestyle.

So I guess the real answer is easy: Life can be simple living here in  the Philippines…as long if you have a little money to buy some  convenience to go with it!

The following is a quote taken from renowned sales trainer, David  Knox, and modified to fit as follows:

“Some adjust, some don’t.
  Some will, some won’t.
  Those that do, do – Those that don’t, don’t.” 

14 thoughts on “The Simple Life…or is it?

  1. I sleep in my Air Conditioned Bedroom with my wife, we awake and decide if we really want to get out of bed or roll over (No appointments, no job, no chores). Once out of bed with the cup of coffee in my hands, I visually check the weather and determine what I might want to do for the rest of the day. .
    Sometimes this takes hours, while I view amazing scenery and listen to some easy listening music. We discuss food options, we enjoy each other’s company, we eat, we laugh, we love. We are RETIRED!
    We don’t need a car! We rent our house for $215. We eat Filipino and/or Western Dishes. I am good either way. I drink Brandy, Beer, or Rum when I want with who I want. We go to the Beach down the road often and enjoy life. I don’t need material objects, we have chosen to settle for peace of heart, and happiness. So far. . . . . Love it!

  2. Nice story about first year! Happy Anniversary! What will those much more years bring but I see you have already find out a lot of these! Enjoy! God bless!

  3. I just passed the 16 month mark on my calendar. For me, life is much simpler. No job, no worries. I wake when I want, eat what and when I want. Filipino food, western food, whatever we have. I will treat myself with some special dinner sometimes but no worries. Is life hard here for many of the locals – certainly. Does that affect me – nope! I have a great little wife who takes good care of me. And her family is self sufficient. But you are right about the “Western” lifestyle. but if I needed that I would still be in the US.

  4. Hey Tim, thanks for your comment. You are right about life being much more simple here….that is if you can afford it. I know guys that came here with no income and their life is not so simple. WIth a good and loving wife to share time with and with no worries – well, I could only wish that upon everbody. And I’m like you, filipino food or western food…it’s all good!

  5. This is now my second day living in the Philippines. You couldn’t pay me to go back and live in the US. I am exactly were I want to be.

    Randy the main thing that hit me after reading you article was the part were you say there is a difference between a simple life and an easy life. I had a very easy life in the US but I cant say I was happy. I would rather go for simple then easy any day. I feel that moving here has added 10 years to my life already.

  6. Very interesting observations. And very deep, reaching for a Greek`s Philosophy… Who knows here in Philippines names: Socrates, Archimedes or even Kopernik, Leonardo da Vinci…?
    All depends on our entire life story, expectations and as you rightly said – personal abilities to adapt to local life.
    My wife is proud of me that I don`t demand western food and eat whatever she cooks… She knows that my living is possible only trough HER, with HER and LOVE!
    Everyone of us, living in foreign country, has to adjust and there are thinks which can compensate little luxuries we miss.
    I don`t need a beach (I love mountains), I`m living near palms for nearly 14 years and I`ve tried various opportunities. I lived in UK for 21 years, 7 years in Thailand and 5 years in Philippines. Maybe that ads to confusions. I know and remember better Thai language than Tagalog. Not going into my head. I have basic of other 4 languages and my native – Polish.
    I cruised around the world on luxury passenger ships, where I performed. Did I come to a simple life… yes, but it was hard to reach here and it is not, definitively, easy life. However I live in relatively better conditions than you described. Electricity non stop (and high bills to pay), sharing what ever I have with large family. The pleasure of giving pays… (karma?)
    I only miss the attention of my audiences – I am an artist, musician, showman… well, awaiting for a new contract one has to accept the quickly oncoming 69 birthday and its consequences. Time to celebrate – with my wife. Nobody else is really interested what`s happening to me, even my grown up children in other countries. Time to await the baboy… maybe two in the shape of “69”!

  7. Thanks for your comment Wish. As my article was never intended to teach anyone Greek Philosophy, I was just pointing out the correlation of his words. And while you agree with me that life here is not easy, everyone adapts to the simple life differently…some not so well and I think that’s the point I was really trying to make. My life here is extremely comfortable with many western styled accomodations – I didn’t intend to mislead anyone here. Living here is not for everybody, but with open mindedness and the required cultural adjustment, it can suit just about anybody that longs for an easier way. Like you, my life’s achievements have seemingly diminished and continue to fade over time, and the people that used to be important to me in my life seemed to all continue on their own journeys and never look back. These days, I have a lot to be thankful for, and a lot of time to look back…to reminisce…and catch nobody else looking.

  8. Carl, at my point in life, life was becoming more difficult everyday in the U.S. You are considerably younger than me and will now never know what myself and many others came to realize…once you hit the middle 50’s, almost nobody will consider you for hiring. It is at this point then that life becomes miserable, especially when you have bills and obligations. You should feel lucky to have arrived here at your age and with opportunities everywhere. Go get it my friend. See you on this side of the islands.

  9. Thank You for reply, it sooth my mind and is a proof that people need to exchange thoughts, compare own experience, talk sometime on different level than in daily life. Also knowing that others are going trough the same “discovery” as we grow up… ha ha ha… We are used to think that only women are going trough tough time in the middle of they life… Men too, but much later! I would still go to the mountains, even to climb them, but … would I come back in one piece? And that is my wife worry – I still believe in myself.
    Being happy when I wake up in the morning is the key point for me! Perhaps another vital ingredient of a day is being busy, creative, walking, exploring, discovering… another worry of my wife… as we all know the consequences of foreigners passing squatters areas or difficult districts of Manila of some other parts of this country.
    I am talking too much. Thank You for reading or “listening” to my thoughts…

  10. Wish, I’m with you on the waking up in the morning being happy. It’s nice to sit and relax with a cup of coffee for as long as you want, to decide on what you might want to do that day. Anything more than that is too complicated. I do stay busy most days, being creative or exporing and discovering like you, and it makes every minute worthwhile.

  11. I have now been here for five years. I love the Philippines and her people. It is not for everyone. If you are judgmental please stay away. I am seventy-one and am married to a young Filipina. In the US I was married for almost thirty years to an amazing woman All of my friends envied me. When she died I went from 175 lbs to 125 in less than a year. My credit went from perfect to hell in a handbag and then I was force to retire so my income went down as well. I had my Social Security and a small pension. I can assure you , I could survive in the US but not very well. My friend brought me to the Philippines. Like most Expats my first few weeks were like a poor kid in a candy store with a $100 bill. Like most expats I was taken advantage of by a young Filipina woman. It was my fault for being naïve. You cannot blame the women as they are just trying to survive, Once you learn and search for your soul mate in the right manner you can be blessed by a happiness unimaginable. There are a hell of a lot more wonderful girls here than there are wonderful expats. I am now married to a beautiful young woman and once again there are those that envy me and say how lucky I am to have found a GOOD ONE. Maybe I am just lucky again like I was with my wife in the US or maybe I am lucky because I treat them like they should be treated. It is simple if you lay down the ground rules from the beginning. I give my wife anything she needs. I DO NOT GIVE HER FAMILY OR FRIENDS WHAT THEY WANT. I GIVE HER AN ALLOWANCE AND OUT OF THAT ALLOWANCE SHE CAN GIVE SOME OF IT OR ALL OF IT TO HER FAMILY. My wife is very smart. She has learned that no matter what you give more will be expected. I give her a 5000 peso allowance and she sends 1000 to her family and keeps the rest or puts it in her bank account. Folks in the US think you are a dirty old man so accept it. What is hypocritical is if you asked any of them ” Would you let your twenty year old daughter marry Brad Pitt or Jack Nicholson they would say sure ” Why? well because he is rich! Like I said hypocritical! Remember THIS IS NOT YOUR COUNTRY. IT IS THEIR COUNTRY! I know expats who bitch and moan and I say GO HOME!!!

  12. Hi Jon, love your comment. Sorry for your first loss and congratulations on your new found gain. I can imagine it being tough enough to lose someone you love, but then to fall off the mountain? That’s unimaginable. I was lucky 30 years ago when I met my wife here in the Philippines and I was fortunate to spend 27 great years with her along side me in the U.S. But times change and as I’ve talked about the “work to live” syndrome in my blog, it was time for us to retire early. We did not want to “have to” work well into our retirement years. As you say early in your comment, the Philippines is not for everone and I agree that if expats that come here only to moan and complain, then the Philippines should never have been on their agenda in the first place. Enjoy your paradise Jon!

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