Recently I’ve had the privilege of adding a fellow expat as a new facebook friend and as a guest writer to my Retired in Samar blog. I’ve never really solicited the public at large for material for this blog but in Bill Levines’s case, and because he is so passionate about enjoying life here in the Philippines, he became a good fit for a first “guest” article with another perspective on what attracted them to “Land of Smiles.” Bill sent me his following “abridged” version of how he come to reside on the island of Cebu.
PHASE THREE IN CEBU
I hate the word “retired!”
To me, the word “retired” conjures up the image of endless rounds of golf while wearing white loafers and sipping cocktails while engaging in meaningless chatter with other old farts…..this is not me!!
How did I get here in the Philippines ? It’s a convoluted journey, but to understand better, I’ll give you a quick look at my previous life. I view my existence in three phases.
One – you grow up, school and train for a career.
Two – get married, raise a family, and make a living to support and nurture them.
Three – it’s time for yourself…kids are grown, divorce is final! Time to have fun and do whatever Pleases you !
I grew up in Brooklyn NY and followed a fairly conventional path of college and law school. Somewhere along the line, I developed an intense interest in music…first guitar, then bass. I became so obsessed with it that I left my job as a criminal lawyer and went to Berklee College of Music at age 35 with the dream of becoming a professional musician. A second marriage and kids derailed that idea, and for the next 30 years I climbed the legal ladder to make a decent living, playing some music on the side along the way . I managed to develop a taste for travel to exotic places…Greek Islands, Istanbul, Cartagena, Costa Rica, and Belize to name a few places.
As I approached the 40 year mark as a lawyer, I began suffering from terminal burnout and the need to change-up. But with no pension, and only a modest savings and Social Security, I began looking abroad for a place to land with a lower cost of living. My plan was to teach English to supplement my meager income. I found a language school on Boracay, and the Philippines seemed perfect.
Next thing I knew I found myself on Emirates Air, heading to Dubai and then on to Manila. I got a cheap hotel in Las Piñas and a guide (Joel) to show me around. After seeing the spectacular Bamboo Organ at the St. Joseph Parish Church in Las Piñas City, and after attempting to navigate the unbelievable mass of jeepneys, motorbikes and assorted vehicles, Joel invited me to his house for dinner. I became an instant celebrity with the neighbors, who never before had a “foreigner ” in their midst. Joel’s dad Tony was a former guitarist and singer back in the day at the clubs around Subic Bay. He had no guitar, so I bought him an inexpensive Instrument at the nearby SM mall and made a friend for life. This was my first experience with the warmth, kindness, and hospitality of the simple and unpretentious Filipino people….and I loved it!
I moved on to Cebu, thinking I would travel to Boracay Island, but wanted first to see the famed Chocolate Hills of Bohol and Alona beach on Panglao. I had hours to kill waiting for the ferry so I headed for the beach on Mactan Island. And….there she was! The most beautiful young woman I’d ever seen, playing with her kids.
We began a conversation, and I was immediately charmed by her shy but friendly demeanor, her intelligence, and her sense of humor. Her name was Bebe and I knew then she would someday be my wife. We exchanged email addresses and Facebook info and I caught the ferry to Bohol.
After arriving, my taxi driver asked if I wanted a guide, and sent me his “niece” in the morning. She was a lovely thing, about 19, a student at a college in Manila, with excellent English and a quick wit. We negotiated her fee (P500) and she turned to me as we left, and said…”I hope you don’t mind, but I must tell you, I’m a ladyboy.” OMG…was I fooled ! But we proceeded to have a great time touring the island. At day’s end, I asked “when people see me with you…do they think I’m gay?” “No, lots of ladyboys have straight boyfriends,” she replied. My first lesson in the accepting the non-judgmental Philippines!
After returning to the states, my communication with Bebe continued and culminated in a return flight and a fabulous time including, finally, that trip to Boracay Island. Several years of traveling back and forth resulted in a fiancé visa for Bebe and our eventual wedding in New Jersey. My fears of non acceptance by family and friends proved nonexistent. Everyone loves Bebe and her natural, down to earth self shines through, My daughters, both a few years older, call her their “step-mom.”
Bebe was the biggest factor in my decision to relocate to Cebu Island in the Philippines. Catmon is lovely, with a beautiful
Winding coastline and only 50km from Cebu City. I have a brand new family, there are music clubs and a Jazz Society in Cebu, and I am living my dream at last.
Brgy Macaas, Catmon, Cebu
Thanks Bill for your story and I wish you peace, joy, and much happiness in your “Phase Three” and your new home.