Doing two months in Cambodia, two months in various parts of the Philippines, and now back to Bali, has filled me clarity about certain things.
The clear, unmistakeable takeaway is that living in both Siem Reap and Bali is vastly easier than living in the Philippines. Lodgings are much cheaper, nicer, and more in tune with western needs. The food…no contest there, plus it’s much harder and more expensive to find healthy food in the Philippines. Infrastructure in the Phils has its pluses but generally the surroundings – architecture, etc. are also uninspiring. There are nice parts of the Phils to be sure, but they’re not so nice that they make up for the deficiencies.
And yet I keep going back to the Philippines. Why?
I think I finally have an answer to this question, and it’s a great one for understanding the things that are really important to me.
I loved Siem Reap, really did. But like Bali before it, after two months there I was ready to go. The basic reason? I was bored. Life was a little too comfortable, and I was surrounded by people who were drawn to that comfort, and had static lives and interests. This is not meant as a criticism. I wish I could be that way, but restlessness is in my nature. I ignore it at my peril.
The Philippines is many things, but boring is not one of them. It’s a wacky, upside-down, tumultuous culture, full of people that are desperate to advance, ready to try anything, full of enthusiasm for undertakings that don’t really seem to warrant it, in love with their families and Air Supply and possessed of a relentless optimism that totally flies in the face of reality. It’s so un-geared to western tourists that people are basically shocked you showed up and toughed it out…and you’re welcomed with open arms to the madness. If you’re willing to dive in and take it, the Philippines will make you feel like coming home any time. It’s like the wild west. It’s bracing.
All that said, wow, coming back to Bali is like landing in heaven. A sumptuous villa for less than half what I was paying for a condo in Makati’s red light district, 200 meters from the beach, delectable food everywhere. It manages to somehow be even hottier and muggier than the Phils was, so that’s a minus, but the change in atmosphere is hard to ignore. There’s less pressure on my health and on my budget.
Bouncing back and forth from Indonesia to the Philippines was my M.O. on my first run here and with Cambodia pleasantly in the mix (and being much similar to Bali in many ways), it’s the best of both worlds, right?
Well, yeah, except there’s a problem. The projected European tour with various Beach Boys related folks that I had counted on for income this year has gone a-glimmering, and I’ve now taken a flyer on a new YouTube series that, while fulfilling, basically is taking up any time that I might have to figure out how to make some kind of living.
For now, it’s fine. It feels like what I should be doing and I can see various ways how down the road it will help my overall goals to financial self-sufficiency over here. But in the near term, it’s preventing me from making any money other than the still-meagre (though growing noticeably) amount I make from that and this blog, and the last remnants of my studio work from the U.S.
At some point later in the year, probably by late summer, I’m going to have to get serious about figuring out how to make a living. There’s a lot of ways to do this but they all require one thing: commit to one place and stay there, either here or by returning to the U.S. for an extended period of time. I actually wouldn’t be averse to being in the States over the winter and resuming some old activities there except that it really seems, from this distant remove, that things are falling apart now in a big way. In terms of positioning myself for the future I’m not sure if it makes much sense to dive back into that environment just as it’s getting dicey when I’ve already done the hard work to blaze my path elsewhere.
The basic problem since I got here is: I like everywhere I go for different reasons, but there’s noplace I like so much that I want to be there all the time. Even if I come up with a location independent living, I still need a period of stability to do all the leg work that comes with assembling that living – whether it’s a stable recording workstation or laptop desk or some other thing – and to not have the financial pressure that comes from jumping on a plane after month or two and re-acclimating to a new place and paying tourist prices while I get settled.
After two months in the Philippines I feel like I’m closer to solving this problem without actually knowing what the answer is yet. Having access to that culture and the things it does offer is something I’m loath to give up…but on the other hand, it’s hard to ignore that life is cheaper and the food options healthier just about anywhere else. Even if I decide I want to tough it out in the Phils, I’m not sure at this point if I can afford it.
But I left the U.S., first and foremost, because I was lonely and bored. And for me, the Phils is the least lonely and least boring place I’ve found to be. So it’s hard to ignore that. It might turn out to be the whole ball game for me.
My answer for now? Punt. The show is going to give me an excuse to open up my wallet and see some places I’ve wanted to go but have so far not wanted to shell out for. I’ve already seen new parts of the Phils. I plan to go to other parts of Indonesia, then hit Australia for the first time. I’m also determined to finally get back to Japan, and maybe give Vietnam another shot.
I’m hoping that by the time that’s done, and I’m under financial pressure, something will have clicked to point me in an obvious direction. Until then, I’m just going to take it day by day, and enjoy every moment.