Monday, August 31, 2015

Second Thoughts About Retiring in the Philippines

A few years ago, with hopes of retiring early, I started to explore the possibilities of doing so in the Philippines due to the lower cost of living in that country. There were townhomes with two bedrooms in good areas that were selling for as little as $15,000, with three bedrooms costing not too much more. Fast forward about five years later and those same townhomes are now selling at more than double the original prices.

One of the places I considered was Zamboanga City to be close to my mother, however she has passed away since. I also wanted to live there to have closer access to SATTI, hahaha! I still have plenty of relatives and friends in that city but there are problems with electricity and an ongoing turmoil with certain groups trying to take over the area.

Another place I checked out was Cagayan de Oro city, but I hardly know anyone there other than a cousin and an elementary school classmate who said that area was much more peaceful than Zamboanga. Other property values I’ve looked into were in Davao and Cebu.

Currently, a main consideration is to live close to my brother in Quezon City since he is my only immediate family left. Checking properties for sale near his location showed prices ranging from 1.4 million Philippine pesos for a tiny bachelor’s pad condominium all the way to 3 million to combine 2 bachelor’s pads into one, or a one bedroom place. There’s no way I could afford those prices if I wanted to pay for the whole amount all at once. I just paid off my mortgage in the U.S. and I’m not ready to start another one in another country. The only way I could afford to buy a decent home in the Philippines is if I sell my condo here in the U.S., then move to the Philippines. Mentally and financially, I’m not ready to do that. By the way, I am qualified to buy property in the Philippines because I have dual citizenship.

It has often been suggested that before packing everything up and moving, one should try living in the area you want to move to for a couple of months or more to see if you would like it. It would not be possible for me to be off work for a couple of months but it may be possible to visit a week or two every couple of years. In fact instead of retiring in the Philippines as a backup plan, staying where I am now will be the backup plan since my mortgage is already paid off. That takes early retirement off the table though since I won’t qualify for Medicare until I’m 65 (I’m currently 58). If medical insurance was not a consideration, I would be able to retire when I’m 60 and use my retirement plans until I need to collect from Social Security. Medicaid (Medi-Cal in California) could be a possibility except when I die, California has to be reimbursed for whatever expenses they used on me from my assets, before any heirs get to collect their share.

There remain other options or sacrifices if I still want to retire in the Philippines, and that is to buy a home in the suburbs, if you can call it that. Two to three bedroom townhomes in Bulacan and some parts of Cavite remain affordable but they are much farther away from my relatives in the Metro Manila area. However, I may have to buy it now or else they may no longer be affordable in a couple of years.

Another consideration with moving is having to buy a vehicle and getting a driver’s license. It would also be a major adjustment in learning how to drive in the Philippines which I hear has a lot more traffic jams nowadays and driving techniques are way more different than what I’m used to in California.

Let’s also not forget that if I buy a home there, there are start up costs of new furniture, appliances, and utilities.

As far as health insurance, since I’m a dual citizen, I will be able to avail of Philhealth, the universal health insurance of the country, although I will have to pay a certain amount up front to catch up since I have never contributed to the system.

Yet another possibility would be to rent out my condo if I decide to move to the Philippines, become a remote landlord, and use the money to pay for the new mortgage, but that would entail hiring a property management company to maintain the condo, which would decrease my proceeds.

It is due to the recent economic successes in the Philippines that property values and the cost of living have spiked, even though the poorer Filipinos have not seemed to have fared better due to this.

And then there's the politics of the country…

Oh my goodness, how can I neglect to say that one of the most positive things I can say about possibly retiring in the Philippines is the hospitality of the people. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Videos of My Daycation in L.A., Hollywood, and Beverly Hills

Well I finally uploaded these videos of my daycation to You Tube. They are rough and shaky since they are taken from a cell phone camera and I make no claims on knowing how to make videos. It is what it is and I hope you might like them (or not).

Friday, August 7, 2015

My Daycation in L.A., Hollywood, and Beverly Hills

Muscle Beach in Venice, California
Well, I unexpectedly got a few days off in a row from work and decided to become a tourist for a day. I had bookmarked a website a few months ago which offered a tour of Los Angeles, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica Pier, and Venice Beach. What was convenient  for me was that the operator picked up tourists from Long Beach hotels, instead of me having to drive to La Palma or Anaheim where most tour buses do their business. Of course, I had to pay a few extra bucks more for the convenience.
Being basically a stay at home person nowadays who doesn't like leaving my comfort zone due to underlying mild anxiety issues, I liked being guided in a tour where I didn't have to make decisions on where to go and what to do next.

I contacted the tour operator by email to ask if he knew of any free or low priced parking near one of the downtown Long Beach hotels where they pick up clients from. He suggested one across the street from the Renaissance Hotel on Ocean Boulevard and street parking around the Holiday Inn on Atlantic Avenue and 10th Street. Before I made a reservation, I drove to the Holiday Inn to check out parking areas. The concierge said the if I signed up for the tour through their hotel, I may use their parking space for a $10 fee. I looked at the parking signs at a Smart & Final store across the street and the surrounding streets and they all indicated a 2 hour parking limit. That wouldn’t work out too well for an 8 hour tour. To combine checking out parking places with my workout, I started doing a very brisk walk from the Holiday Inn towards the Renaissance Hotel which took 25 minutes. I found the parking lot that the tour operator suggested which only charged $5 for the whole day. Perfect! I then asked one of the bellpersons in the hotel where the pick up location was and he indicated that it was exactly where I was. So I walked back to the Holiday Inn to my car, drove back home, then made my reservation for the day tour.

When Monday came, I woke up early to do my requisite workout, took a shower, drove to the parking lot, paid the fee, then went to the Renaissance Hotel. I arrived earlier than the 8:30 pick up time so it gave me time to explore a couple of blocks around the area. Soon enough the tour bus came and I was greeted by our tour guide John. Seeing the front seat vacant, I rode shot gun with him. With us was a couple from Mesa, Arizona who were visiting their son in Signal Hill, two ladies from Maryland who were family members of a special Olympian in the sport of kayaking, and a mom with her two daughters who were from Cleveland, Ohio.
Sunseeker Tours bus

Tour mates

We headed towards the 110 Freeway via the Gerald Desmond and Vincent Thomas bridges while John talked about them. Otherwise, the only things between San Pedro and Los Angeles being pointed out by John were the cellular phone towers made to look like trees. Our first stop was the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum which was the current venue of the Special Olympics. For that reason, we couldn’t enter the coliseum but rather just drove around the parking lot. On the right side was the Air & Space Museum, while on the left was the Los Angeles Sports Arena, known as a boxing venue. Incidentally, the 1932 and 1984 Olympics were held in the Memorial Coliseum as well.
Next, we drove towards Los Angeles where we were shown the Convention Center (where I had my American Citizenship swearing in ceremony in the early 90’s), the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, the Microsoft Theater, the Disney Concert Hall, City Hall, the Superior Court where they had the O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson trials, and the Capitol Records building which is shaped like a stack of vinyl records.
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
L.A. Superior Court
Capitol Records Building

Our next destination was Hollyweird, I mean Hollywood. We were shown the famous Hollywood sign from afar. I mistakenly thought that we would be driven up the mountain and be at the sign itself. Oh well. Then we headed to the Hollywood Walk of Fame (Hollywood and Highland avenues)and were dropped off to explore around the Grauman’s Chinese Theater for half an hour and I took the opportunity to take a few photos and videos. The first two things that I encountered as soon as I got off the tour bus was a schizophrenic talking to himself and a guy on a wheelchair smoking pot, whose second hand smoke I took a deep whiff off. I felt right at home. By the way, our tour guide warned us not to take photos of the costumed characters because they will fight with you if you don't pay them. Spiderman saw me taking a video of the stars on the ground and tapped me in the back to ask me where I was from and I told him I was from Long Beach. I also complimented him that he looked good in his costume.
Elvis' car

Then it was time for lunch at Mel’s Drive-in (next to a watch store where the lowest priced watch was $7500). I ordered what Mel’s was supposed to be famous for: the Mel’s Burger which was supposed to come from grass fed beef. I passed on their famous milk shake and opted for Diet Coke. What was so special about this burger? Other than being grass fed, having an extra large Vidalia onion and the $9.00 price (!), I couldn’t detect the difference in taste as compared to let’s say the Carl’s Jr. $1.39 burger. Hollywood is pretty expensive, I’d say! Well, at least I don’t have to eat there every day.
Mel's Drive-in with the $9 burger

After lunch, we made our way to Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive.  I was hoping we could have stopped and walked around Rodeo Drive but we just drove by instead. For some reason, the place reminded me of a shopping center in Manila called Escolta when I lived there in the 70’s. It was a place where high end and high priced clothes and jewelry were sold too. 
Beverly Hills entrance

We then drove along the edge of Griffith Park via the freeway and passed through Century City on our way to the Santa Monica Pier, we parked on the bluff for a few minutes to stretch our legs and take photos of the pier about a mile away. Sometimes celebrities exercise on that path but we didn't see any that day. Then we were shown a sign that said it was the western end of the famous Route 66, after which we headed to Venice Beach. We alit the tour bus again and were given the opportunity to explore around for 20 minutes. I took a walking video until I found myself at another famous location: Muscle Beach (photo at start of this post) where a couple of girls were nice enough to offer to take my picture with my cell phone without running away with it afterwards. I scurried back to the tour bus hoping they had not left me behind.

Santa Monica Pier in the background

Route 66 Western end

We drove by Marina del Rey, Westchester, underneath LAX, before hopping on the 405 freeway to head back to Long Beach. I took videos of the tour bus going up the two bridges before John dropped my off at the Renaissance Hotel where I bid goodbye to my tour mates and thanked them and John for the enjoyable day.

Although I enjoyed the tour immensely, my impression of the locations we visited was that they were underwhelming. Seeing those places on TV made them larger than life, overhyped, overcrowded with tourists bumping into each other with hawkers, vendors, and locals. This impression has nothing to do with the content of the tour or the guide who did a fairly outstanding job to keep the participants informed. Also, stopovers at Olvera Street, the Farmer's Market, and the La Brea Tar Pits would have been nice. The areas we visited where also full of other tour companies like Starline Tours and TMZ Tours among others. Flying solo, I had to take a lot of selfies because I was too wary to hand my cell phone to strangers and ask them to take my photo.

Having experienced all that in this tour, I have to disclose that this was not my first time being in most of those locations although the times I was there was not for sightseeing. I had been to these places a few times: Los Angeles, West Hollywood (nowhere close to Hollywood and Highland), Santa Monica, Marina del Rey, Venice Beach, Century City, Griffith Park and more locations between and farther north. In the days when I was still running a lot, I had been to those cities to run in road races, but it was difficult to enjoy the view when you were gasping for air as you were trying to run as hard as you can. I think I’ve run at least 3 L.A. Marathons that started and finished in 3 different locations in the past. The only place in the tour where I haven’t run through was Beverly Hills because I don’t think the folks who live there think a bunch of sweaty people running around in their underwear through their neighborhood was classy. This time I got to enjoy being in those locations breathing normally, fairly comfortable and not sweaty despite the rising humidity, and aboard a tour bus.

And last but not least, the photo I should have taken at Venice Muscle Beach, LOL!

Blogger limits the size of the videos one can upload but I'll try to upload them on You Tube and provide the links here at a later time. If you happened to have read this blog post, thank you for reading.