Why I stayed | Inquirer Opinion

Why I stayed | Inquirer Opinion

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I’ve been here in the Philippines for 46 years. I came here from Sydney on a three-year assignment to build a factory in Sucat for a multinational corporation. I stayed. Some of my friends suggested I tell you why. It’s my birthday today, so it’s a good day to tell you why.

As a little background, my Australian wife left me after a year here and we divorced. Both me and my former wife have lived happily, separately since, so I’m a supporter of divorce. Why suffer a miserable life when you can enjoy a happy one? I fell in love with a girl from Baguio that I met at the yacht club (we were both keen sailors), and married her. We have two successful kids, both excelling in their professions.

Anyway, I went from that job to running a conglomerate with a couple of factories in Davao and a number of other businesses. Then to CEO of the country’s biggest distributor at the time. But it was acquired by an American group who didn’t understand how to do business in Asia. I left. My wife and I considered going back to an executive career in Sydney or staying here. Business friends urged me to stay and help them. So I formed the Wallace Business Forum to do just that. It’s in its 38th successful year.

As to why I stayed, let me quote from what I wrote back in September 2015 (abbreviated for space):

The people. Overwhelmingly, this is it. Tied to the people is: The friendliness, the kindness. Wander into a party, even a family function by mistake, they’ll invite you to join. Slip and fall, they’ll rush to pick you up.

The Filipino is the Philippines’ best tourism asset, because Filipinos just make the visit wherever you go a joy.

The laughter. It’s everywhere, everyone is happy. The optimism charts are always way up there. Filipinos are among the happiest in the world.

The musicality. Filipinos can just sing. Karaoke is not the ear-shattering experience of elsewhere, it’s a delight to listen to.

And the talent (over)flows into the arts; the artistic talent is captivating. The imagination, the beauty of design rivals anything Italy can produce.

The caring, the sharing. Even the poorest will share a meal. While Filipino nurses and caregivers are deployed all over the world caring for other people, they do back home, too. Look at their wondrous performance with COVID-19. Employees, if they believe in you, work and work hard, and are loyal and dedicated. I’ve never had a problem with staff.

Then there’s the beauty. Not just of the people (I wish I had nice tanned skin) but of the countryside. But the inability to keep things clean, to look after their environment is a sad distraction. Manila was a magnificent city, once. Today, streets flood from the garbage in the drains. It’s definitely time for a clean-up. But go anywhere in the countryside and the sheer beauty just strikes you.

The excitement. Ride the rapids, surf the monster waves, or climb perilous cliffs, it’s all there. But it’s the day-to-day living, too. No day is a dull one. This leads to:

The unexpected. Things just aren’t boringly predictable (sorry, Singapore). You never know how things will turn out till they do. And generally in a fun way.

Vibrancy. There’s vibrancy behind it all that just stands out. It’s all around you, the air is full of it.

The adventure. Every trip is one. Nothing is easy to get to, you can’t just fly in. A two-hour jeepney ride is a given, it’s an adventure—if you are a tourist. You can swim with whales and dolphins, and dive some of the most beautiful reefs in the world.

The politics. The sheer absurdity of so much of it is thoroughly enjoyable. It’s fun to watch, to read, to wonder at the intricacies, even the foolishness of it all.

Then there’s the reverence for the elderly. They’re not just discarded, they’re acknowledged, respected, looked after (at 82, I like that). If you want a place to retire, this is it. It’s because of:

Weather that is 20-30°C all year round, sunshine 280 days out of the 365. A T-shirt and shorts are just fine. Maybe a light jacket for those ever-so-occasional cool nights, and the restaurant air-conditioning. And the range of restaurants is amazing, the world’s cuisine is here.

Commendable health services. The doctors have always been of the best, many overseas-trained in post-grad work.

Then there’s one missing: jai-alai. I’ll never forget the excitement and wonder of that ever so rapid game when I first saw it. Some misbegotten souls banned it because of the gambling. Well, the problem wasn’t jai-alai, it was gambling. Now gambling is legal. Let’s bring jai-alai back, rebuild the fronton as it once magnificently was.

I’m here to stay.

Email: [email protected]


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