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My wife and I have made our move to the Philippines. We have spent several months in Cebu City over the last three years and two weeks in Dumaguete. We are trying to be systematic about looking at various places before we settle down. While we have found much to like in Cebu City, I think, for us, the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. Despite friendly people, top-notch medical care, shopping, pretty subdivisions in the surrounding hills and an active arts and entertainment scene, we find the worsening air pollution, traffic congestion and escalating prices hard to live with. So, we decided to look at some of the smaller Visayan cities; in particular Bacolod and Iloilo and to spend more time in Dumaguete.
We started with Iloilo because the late Chuck James (Senior in Paradise) had made arrangements with his landlady for us to rent the upstairs of his house in Molo, a westerly section of the city. It is a wonderful place to stay and the owners treat us like royalty. We have no lease, no damage deposit, full furnishings including large and small appliances, dishes, cookware and linens. The house is located in a green, leafy and secure private compound fifteen minutes walk from Molo plaza which has most of what we need; banks, small but good supermarket, post office, Mercury drugstore, Andok's and so forth. I love having such things within walking distance. The usual huge malls (SM City, Robinson's, Gaisano) are available elsewhere in Iloilo.
We realize that having a great place to live colors our impressions of the city generally. With that in mind, here are a few impressions. The city has a new provincial capitol building and quite a good provincial museum. The city seems to make an effort to keep the main thoroughfares attractive with trees and flowers planted in the median of the main drag, General Luna. Transportation is mainly by jeepney but there are also plenty of cabs. Thankfully, the swarms of trikes you find in smaller cities are absent. I spend most of my time in Molo so I cannot speak for the rest of the city, but here there is a very visible police presence. Molo Plaza, a busy park, is very free of scary people -- drunks, shabu dealers etc.
There are traffic problems but the city is quite compact so the scale of congested and polluted area is less. I like to walk and find it easier to walk here. In Banilad it was near-suicidal to do so. Here, there is less traffic and more sidewalks and road shoulders for pedestrians. It's certainly not perfect, but is better. There's not much industry. Air quality seems considerably better than Cebu City. Real estate prices in the top subdivisions are about half of what they are in Cebu City. Since the terrain is flat, you don't get the pretty "overlooking" properties that you do in Cebu. Because the city in low-lying, flooding is a problem in some areas. Iloilo does not seem to be growing and expanding the way Cebu is.
While we had some favorite affordable restaurants in Cebu City such as the Golden Cowrie on Salinas and Spice Fusion in the Banilad Town Center, we were never over impressed with the restaurant scene there. There may be great restaurants at the big hotels but they are beyond our budget. The dining situation in Iloilo seems at least comparable to Cebu City but with prices lower here, especially for seafood. One prominent Ilonga restaurateur attended the Culinary Institute of America in New York and is now running some trendy restaurants in Manila as well as Iloilo.
There are no Shangri-la or Waterfront type luxury accommodations in Iloilo. The supply of mid-range accommodations seems good. The Sarabia Manor reminds us, in some ways, of Montebello Villa. I've taken a membership at Sarabia which allows us to use the fitness center and pool. Showers, lockers and towels are included. I try to go there three times a week for exercise.
There are lots of Koreans here learning English but there seems to be fewer foreigners here, or at least those from the US and Europe. Many locals seem shyer and not so attuned to seeing foreigners as an opportunity. My wife (who keeps an eye on such things) tells me the girls here don't look at me the way they would in Cebu; not sure if that's good or bad! The focus seems more on seeking overseas employment than a foreigner husband. There don't seem to be many guys coming here to find lady friends. Many of the Fil-Am couples I meet are older, long-time residents. There's an expat group, which holds regular meetings. The one I went to was very well attended. While I don't partake, I'm told the girlie bar scene is limited, nothing like that in Cebu City.
There are a couple of medium-sized hospitals, Iloilo Doctors and St.Paul's. I can't really report on them except that I found a cardiologist at St. Paul's who did an internship at NYU and seemed very capable. His fee was P400 for an extensive consult and EKG. The same cost me P700 at Chong Hua. We also had occasion to visit the St. Paul's emergency room and found the process a near endless series of waits for cashier, lab work, doctor and so forth. We've been through this before at Chong Hua, but this was much worse. Maybe it was just a bad day or my wife's malady (Dengue) was just not enough of an emergency. On the positive side I got a chance to stroll in St. Paul's landscaped grounds. The hospital is older but quite attractive. The doctor visit fee was P250, the lowest so far. For something serious, I would prefer to get to Cebu or Manila, if I could.
As a Citibank customer, I was pleased that there is a new Citibank Saving Bank branch with ATM not far from our residence, but no HSBC or other foreign banks except maybe a Standard Chartered. They are in the process of building a new airport but I'm not sure if that's such a great thing. The existing airport in Mandurriao is very convenient to the city -- maybe 15 minutes from where we live. The terminal is pretty basic but adequate. If you have friends arriving, you can hear the plane come in, wait 15 minutes and drive to the airport know that by the time you get there they will have collected their luggage and be ready to be picked up! The new airport will be much further out of town. The safety/security situation seems good. Our fenced, gated compound has a guard, lots of dogs and many young men who work here for our landlord but also watch over things, so our security situation is fantastic. We don't need to lock the door when we leave. I have walked, taken taxis and ridden jeepneys almost daily and have never felt threatened. I'm told that some areas downtown, by the port area are unsafe at night.
If you want to leave the city for the mountains or beaches, they are close at hand; beaches on Guimaras, and the mountains of Antique and of course Boracay, about a four hour drive. Overall, based on our first two months here, we are pleased with Iloilo City. There's lots of fresh fruit and seafood. There are some surprisingly decent restaurants, and you seem to be able to find and buy whatever you might need at the numerous malls or the downtown commercial area. The city is compact, easy to get around and just feels comfortable to me. Overall, it seems to have what I need to live comfortably, but with fewer of the urban negatives of Manila or Cebu.
Bob and Carol Hammerslag
Molo, Iloilo City