Who are you?
My name is Gary McMurrain and I currently live in Bacolod City Philippines. I have a 27 year connection with the Philippines, with annual visits and now living here year round. Before moving to the Philippines full time, I was a Mental Health Counselor and a Law Enforcement Officer in the USA and in China, I was an English teacher. In the Philippines, I am a writer and Agriculture Specialist. I enjoy writing about the Philippines and sharing with others about the grandeur of the country. I do not see writing as a job and I always look forward to writing 2-3 articles weekly on Retiring to the Philippines. I have also written several eBooks about the Philippines and I am still working on my complete series of eBooks to help others when they retire to the Philippines.Where, when and why did you move abroad?
Since I have lived abroad several times during my lifetime in several different Asian countries, I will focus on my permanent move to the Philippines. My wife, our son and I moved to the Bacolod City Area in 2009 and we have lived here year round ever since. My wife is from the Bacolod Area and since I also love this part of the Philippines, this is the reason we moved here. The Bacolod Area has a robust economy and it is a great location for engaging in the Agribusiness, so these aspects were also important to us. My move to the Philippines on a permanent basis fulfilled my dream that I had chased since 1986! It is now a dream come true!
How did you find somewhere to live?
We built our first house, south of Bacolod City, on property that my wife owns. The property is actually her family farm and residential compound, so this part was easy for us. We also own a house in the Bacolod City Limits. The housing market is booming in Bacolod City and we decided upon the location we would enjoy living. This location is in the city but it is also rural in many aspects, which is what we wanted. We have the great life of country living in a mid-sized capital city. We have many Filipino friends and personal contacts, so we put the word out where we wanted to build our house in the city. We discovered a new subdivision being developed and we were one of the first families to build a house here. There is a fabulous scenic park with hundreds of eucalyptus trees just right outside our door! There is very fresh air in this part of our city and it is a fabulous area to raise a child.
Are there many other expats in your area?
Metro Bacolod and the surrounding area have one of the largest growing expat communities in the entire Philippines. There are well over 1,000 expats living here and while the official statistics have never been published, there very well could be several thousand expats living in the area. Many of the expats enjoy getting together for lunch and talking to one another. I helped organise a group which meets the second Saturday monthly in one of the fine Bacolod Restaurants. We also bring our Filipino family members and Filipino friends, which is much better than an all expat meet up! You can’t go out in public on any given day of the week that you will not see a number of expats almost everywhere you go in the city!
What is your relationship like with the locals?
I have many more Filipino friends than I have expat friends in the Bacolod Area. Communicating with them is not a problem, as many Filipinos can speak English very well. In the business community, I have many personal contacts among Filipinos and we have a great relationship. This is not only convenient for my family and me but I can also help other expats make their transitional move to the Bacolod Area more smoothly. I can direct them to the best places to shop, the best deals on new and second hand vehicles, where to buy and rent residential and business property with the very best possible value, which doctors and dentists are great, which schools provide quality education and pretty much everything one needs to live here comfortably.
I have long ago accepted and embraced the Filipino Culture. I did not move to the Philippines looking for the USA! This is a great part of my personal life adventure. In the Philippines, every day unfolds a new adventure and having friends among locals will enhance your adventure, if you have the right attitude.
What do you like about life where you are?
I don’t know another location anywhere which would meet our needs any better than in Bacolod City! There is a very low crime rate, there isn’t a problem with air pollution, traffic is not a major problem, there is high quality education, there are excellent medical facilities, food items that expats enjoy are readily available, there are many diverse restaurants that are not only Filipino Cuisine and the cost of living in very affordable, even to those on a smaller retirement pension. I don’t know any other location where one can rent a nice house in a subdivision for only $125 per month!
Some expats do not want to live near their wife’s family but I enjoy being around a large family since I am from a small family in the States. My wife’s family members welcomed me with open arms and they have been very helpful to us here. No man is an island and we all need a little help sometimes. It is always great having someone nearby who is not only willing but also able to lend a helping hand!
I have a Philippine Driving License and I enjoy driving several times every week in our family vehicle. I am not dependent on public transportation and can take off whenever I like!
A foreigner is not considered an oddity here, so you will not be stared at unless you bring attention to yourself in appearance or behavior. The local people are friendly, helpful and always smiling. Bacolod, the City of Smiles, you will love it!
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
One of the things I really love about living in a mid-size city and in the countryside of the Philippines is that the pace is so much slower compared to the USA. There is never any urgency to get anything done unless it is an emergency, of course. Some expats can never adjust to this type lifestyle or this type management because when they want something, they want it now! I fit right in here because all my adult life, I have been laid back. Worry is not in my vocabulary and I like to enjoy life at a slow pace. I do not have any stressors in Bacolod, as I did back in the States. Too many foreigners rush through life back home at breakneck speed and never seem to have time to really enjoy themselves. In Bacolod and in other areas of the Philippines, you can really have rest and relaxation every day! If you allow yourself to do so.
We can all learn about life from Filipinos! I have never met happier people anywhere in the world than here in the Philippines. Most every Filipino I have ever met knows how to enjoy life today instead of spending years saving, planning and doing things not necessary, while waiting to enjoy life years from now! This was one of my attractions to the Philippines, Filipinos and the vibrant Culture many years ago when I first visited the Philippines. If you spend one full day with a Filipino, you will learn how to enjoy life, even with only the simple things!
How does shopping differ from back home?
The availability of food items that many expats enjoy are not located in one supermarket only. To buy everything one needs or desires involves going to at least 4 different supermarkets, however, I enjoy shopping and seeing what is new in stock. I refer to this personal activity as “hunting and gathering” and it is something I look forward to once per week! I can’t think of any food items I enjoy that I cannot buy in Bacolod.
Another difference is that in Bacolod, one can bargain the price, even in appliance and department stores, on big ticket items. I was never able to do that back home!
Concerning buying clothing, one can have garments tailor-made and it is very affordable. I never had tailor-made clothing in the USA because it was very expensive but in our area of the Philippines, it is often cheaper than buying off the rack. Yet, excellent quality if you buy good material.
What do you think of the food in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?
I enjoy Filipino Cuisine very much but I do not eat it every meal or even every day for that matter. I have always enjoyed variety in my food dishes. With the fresh fruit, vegetables and seafood, all of which are very affordable, expats can add years to their lives while living in the Philippines. Filipino Cuisine is Spanish, Chinese, Malay and American influenced and there are so many excellent dishes available. Local snack foods are among my favorite and these are not bags of potato chips or candy bars!
There are various BBQ meats, seafood, vegetables and fruit available, all served on skewers, at afternoon or early evening snack times. Hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza and fried chicken are now common street food in the Philippines! The steamed buns with pork or chicken filling, known as sio pao, are one of the local dishes I really enjoy. Batchoy is a local noddle dish with pork liver and pork crackling, garnished with boiled egg slices and scallions. Wow! A great treat.
Over the past years, I have tried about every Filipino dish under the sun but there is one I have never eaten fully. Balut! It is a specially processed egg with the duck embryo inside. I enjoy the yolk of the balut and have eaten it many times; however, I have never eaten the embryo.
Filipino Cuisine Rocks! For the expats, like me, who still enjoy food from back home, it is not a problem finding what you like in many locations around the islands. A chef from Spain opened a Spanish Bistro, a chef from France opened a pastry shop, a Chinese lady from the mainland owns the best Chinese Restaurant in Bacolod, there are several excellent Korean restaurants, Tex-Mex South Western Restaurants are here, as well as Thai and Asian Fusion.
You will never go hungry in the Philippines, as an expat!
To discover more about life in the Philippines you may contact Gary through his website retiringtothephilippines.com