Dumaguete Trike Drivers

I have tremendous respect for Dumaguete’s trike drivers… these men work very hard, 12-15+ hours per day, driving all over the city.  I can go out as early as 5:00am and find a trike on the street and a driver happy to take me wherever I need to go.

Trikes downtown

The fare from my house to the heart of the city costs P8 (about $0.20), and the driver will take me door to door.  If I’m going to the ATM and ask the driver to wait and bring me back home, I have never had a driver said “no.”  They are happy to take a break while I wait in line, knowing they have earned a higher fare.  Being a chatty person, I always strike up a conversation with my driver as soon as I get in the trike.  It never ceases to amaze me how well we can communicate — English is so widely spoken here, and I throw in what little Visayan (the local dialect) I have learned, which makes the drivers smile.  “Oh, you speak Visayan?”  I respond with “gamay” (which means “little”), and they love it!  From there the standard “where are you from,” and “how long have you been here” questions come, along with “are you married,” “where is your husband,” and “do you have children?”  I recall reading — before we moved here — that Filipinos love to talk and learn about people, and this is absolutely true.  “How old are you,” a question that most would find offensive in the United States, seems to be commonplace here, and I never mind answering.

Often I ask my driver if he will make a few stops for me, and the answer is always sure!  We might stop at the ATM, the pet store and then a sari-sari before returning to my house.  Or it’s evening, and I take a trike to pick up (incredibly delicious) chicken for dinner at Jo’s Chicken.  I always bag up an extra piece of chicken and a drink for my driver.   If we stop at the sari-sari, I will grab an extra bottle of cold water for him.  Small tokens like this go a long way here, and the drivers are always so appreciative (and quite honestly surprised).

Sadly, many foreigners here have earned a reputation for being cheap when it comes to service, which absolutely appalls me.  We have been welcomed into this beautiful country with open arms, yet I have heard foreigners complain that a trike driver “ripped me off for P10.”  (Really?  Your driver, who works 12-15 hours per day to support his family, is ripping you off for a whole P10?   Have you taken a taxi in New York lately?)  I will proudly admit that my husband and I consistently over-tip trike drivers, servers at restaurants and anyone we have hired to do yardwork or a job inside the house.  We’ll buy them drinks and food – because we appreciate them, their hard work, their genuine smiles and the long hours they keep.

As a result, we have numerous drivers’ names and numbers stored in our cellphones.  If we send a text, asking if the driver is available (even as early as 4:30am the next morning) to take us to the pier to meet a ferry to Cebu, you know what?  They say yes.  I think they enjoy our company as much as we enjoy theirs — sure, they know they will be paid well, but my husband and I also know we will have wonderful, friendly service, so it’s a win-win for everyone.

Earthquake! July 12, 2011

We experienced the earthquake that hit the Visayas region of the Philippines today at 4:47am.  The United States Geological Survey measured the quake at 6.2 on the Richter Scale.  I’m certainly no earthquake expert, but that number seemed a bit high to me.  [I have sinced learned that the quake measured around 4.2 here in Dumaguete.]

I had risen early and was already downstairs; my husband was upstairs still asleep.  Seated on the sofa, I suddenly noticed very light vibrations underneath my feet.  This feeling increased in intensity, and the sofa began swaying from left to right. I stood up and could feel the entire room moving, gently rocking back and forth.  Earlier I had opened our wooden front door (which opens inwards), and I watched as it also shifted back and forth.  I would guess the earthquake lasted for about :30 seconds.  (My dog, meanwhile, had freaked out and hidden himself under the table.)

Curious if the earthquake had woken up my husband, I was about to call to him when I saw he was already making his way down the stairs.  We couldn’t stop talking about it — he said the bed was moving, and his glass of water on the floor next to the bed actually tipped over.  We turned on the television hoping to hear reports and checked online for any news about the quake.  It took awhile for the news to come out – here is a link to the first report I found  on MSN.com:

http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/dyfi/events/us/c0004u5w/us/index.html

You can see where our hometown of Dumaguete is located at the bottom of the island.  Effects of the earthquake were felt on the nearby islands of Cebu and Mindanao.   While we did experience two very small “aftershocks” shortly after 5:00am, all is now quiet again.

If you have never experienced a minor earthquake, it’s an incredibly odd sensation… kind of exciting, actually — provided there are no injuries, of course.  I am relieved to add that there were no reports of injury or damage of any kind on the island of Negros.

Generating an Income in the Philippines

One of our biggest obstacles while contemplating our move to the Philippines was how we would generate a consistent income once we’d arrived.  We’re not old enough yet to collect a pension, and we knew our severance packages would carry us for only so long.  Years ago, this uncertainty would have been more than enough for us to put our dream on the proverbial “back burner,” where it would have disappeared into the black hole of unrealized  goals.  But not this time…

Avid followers of both Tony Robbins and Timothy Ferriss,  we decided now was the time to do whatever it takes to attain our life-changing goal.  As often noted by Tony Robbins, the literal definition of decide is “to cut off from,” meaning elimination of all other possibilities.  We decided to move to the Philippines; now it was time to act on this decision.  We joined online Boards, asked questions, and learned as much as we could learn.  We removed everything that did not support our goal, a technique learned from Timothy Ferriss, author of The Four-Hour Work Week.  We cut off access to anything that could be used as an excuse, leaving us no option but to actually do what had we decided to do — we now had no choice.

We got rid of our house, cars, furniture and winter clothes.  Accounts were settled and closed, and we made proper arrangements to maintain a U.S. mailing address.   Calendar out, we set our departure date and purchased plane tickets.  There was no turning back now.  An incredible feeling, really.  In essence, it took any potential “safety net” away from our decision, and there was nothing left to do but physically get on the plane, and address any new challenge as it arose.  We planned appropriately and had enough in the bank to allow us time to relax for bit and then find our home.  A few months passed, and it was now time to address the issue of income.

Without work visas we were not eligible for employment (but frankly, we didn’t want “jobs”).  Our aim was to earn enough money for monthly expenses, plus occasional travel, etc.  We had basic knowledge of the popular online freelancing options and knew that each of us possessed skills that would lend themselves well to work that appeared to be in demand.  After researching a number of sites, we decided upon oDesk and created very detailed profiles.  We took their free, skills-related tests to further bolster our profiles.  In a short period of time we each had our first client, and then another.  We now both have regular clients and work on continuing projects.  Talk about “flex time” — we work a few hours each day around our own schedule (nothing remotely close to the 9:00-5:00 routine), and with a little advance notice, we can inform our clients when we will not be available.

If you are wondering if these online freelancing sites actually work, the answer is a resounding “yes!”  You must be prepared to set aside significant time to perfect your profile and showcase your skills.  Spellcheck, spellcheck, spellcheck… there is no greater turnoff than reading a profile filled with typos (especially if a contractor is promoting themself as a Virtual Assistant, Writer or Editor!).

We receive payment from oDesk every Wednesday in U.S. Dollars and then make a direct transfer to our local, Philippines bank for only $0.99 cents per transaction.  Between the two of us, a “slow” week is $900 USD ($3,600 USD/month) or P160,000/month… not too bad, considering our two-bedroom, two-bathroom house is only P10,000/month.

For those of you considering relocation to the Philippines (or any other country, for that matter), I highly recommend you take a look at www.oDesk.com  (alternatively www.guru.com, where I also have a profile).  Enter search terms relative to your skills and expertise; I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the number of opportunities available. Good luck!