Ned Kelly has lived in the Philippines for three and a half years. While there, he co-authored a book on living in the Philippines for those thinking of retiring, working or studying in that distant archipelago. Here’s an excerpt on how he met his fiancé, Michell.
Five years ago, I suddenly decided that I was going to move to the Philippines. I was pretty free at the time and didn’t have any real commitments - after living and thriving for 45 years in the good old US of A, I had never been married, never had children, was a bit burnt out on my career path and was looking for a change. And not some pedestrian midlife crisis sports car type of change– something really significant. Something like moving outside of the United States and my usual comfort zone. Towards that end, I had been researching inexpensive foreign countries to move to. No matter what site I visited, the Philippines was invariably mentioned. Photos from Google painted the country as a sun-swept, tropical paradise full of white sand beaches and gently swaying palm trees. Peering outside my window at yet another crippling winterscape of towering snowbanks dwarfing passing cars, that sunny tropical weather held more than a little appeal.
So, being the studious internet geek I was (and am), I joined a Philippines expatriate forum and learned all I could. Most of the guys there (the vast majority were male) were married to and/or had Filipina significant others. Along the way, one of the forum members recommended joining one of the may free dating websites in order to meet someone. Although I wasn’t really interested in a relationship, I was keen to learn more about the Philippines, so I took up that advice and ended up the free Date in Asia website. And for those of you in the know, yes, I am referring to that Date in Asia – the nefarious hangout of underhanded Filipina scammers with no shortage of sick grandmothers and pretty gals with prominent Adam’s apples and suspiciously large hands.
Not knowing this at the time and eager to talk to a bonafide Filipina, I set my account up and hopped headlong into the vicious foray that is just about any online dating site. Shortly thereafter, I was chatting with two women, both of whom seemed to be genuinely nice souls. One was a business manager in Manila and the other was studying for her nursing exam after completing university. It was all platonic, and it was all very nice – I let them know that I was just looking to learn more about the Philippines and wasn’t really looking for any in-depth relationship. For their part, they were apparently fine with that.
And then I ran into Michell’s profile, and all those reservations flew right out the proverbial window.
First off, her photo was amazing. Michell is a very attractive woman, and she has yet to meet a camera yet that doesn’t clearly adore her. Secondly, unlike many others on Date in Asia, she had actually taken the time to write a very nicely worded profile, talking about her love of reading, travel and a very real appreciation of the great outdoors (known locally as “the jungle”). Finally, even though she was 26 at the time (I was 45) she was a college graduate (business finance) and seemed very down to earth. Being possessed of such a nice profile, I sent her a rather lame private message “Hey, I really like your profile. Don’t get married until I get there!!”
Michell’s response was lukewarm at best. Neither of us can remember her exact words (and our DiA accounts have been deleted), but it was something along the lines of “Thanks for the message. I am actually heading to my family’s home in the province (country). There is no internet signal there, so I will talk with you when I return.”
Sigh…. So much for my expectations of immediate gratification.
Michell visited her family home in the country for four or five days and - true to her word - replied to me when she got back. This made for a very happy me. After messaging back and forth on Date in Asia, we switched over to Yahoo Messenger. Yahoo was great as we could simply chat back and forth as we pleased. Then came the day for our first Skype video call and my initial introduction to Philippines internet.
Now, keep in mind that Michell was living in Pagadian at the time, a small city located on the southern edge of Mindanao. Renowned for redolent dried fish, the city’s internet stability couldn’t claim the same amount of fame.
Skype ring….Skype ring......Skype ring….
A fuzzy indistinct blob formed on my monitor, “Hello?”
“Hello, Michell!” I blurted, whacking the edge of my monitor and wiggling the cable, all to no avail.
“Blurble wazzle are you?
“Am I what?” I asked, a bit baffled.
The blob shifted about the screen. Given the fuzzy black strands topping the blurry mess, I figured it for Michell.
“No,” she clarified, “I asked how you are?”
“Oh, I am fine. How are you?”
“Buzzle crapple bling bop shoosh”
Oh, this wasn’t going well at all.
“Michell, it is a bad connection. Let’s hang up and try again.”
My fantastic future fiancé garbled a reply and hung up. After a few moments, we reconnected. This time, the signal was much improved and her image filled my screen.
“Hi!” she chirped, blasting me with a fierce Filipina smile.
“Hi yourself, Michell,” I replied, staring into the most beautiful eyes I had ever seen. “How are you?”
“Oh, I’m…..” Her response was drowned out by what sounded like a 747 passing overhead.
“Jiminy Cricket. What was that??”
“I said I was fine, how are you?”
“No, I was asking what that noise was.”
A gentle roll of the shoulders, “Oh, it’s just a tricycle. They have loud exhausts.”
Michell was Skyping from a small internet café owned by her family. Her computer station was set up amidst a sea of young Filipinos engaged in raucous horseplay. Added to this cacophony of background chatter was the intermittent roar of those mysterious passing trikes.
“Sheesh, it’s really loud over there.”
Another blazing smile, “It’s always loud here. My family runs a boarding house for local university students. There’s an internet café in our compound and it’s always filled up. That’s where I am right now.”
“Oh,” I replied, not seeing any baristas running around with mugs of steaming coffee. “What’s an internet café.”
I can remember Michell giving me an odd look, as though trying to fathom my ignorance - five years on, it’s a look I’ve simply had to get used to.
“Internet cafes are where people go to rent computer time. A lot of Filipinos can’t afford their own, so there are internet cafes all over the place.”
“They don’t serve coffee?”
Roll of the eyes, “No, Ned. They don’t serve coffee.”
Already trying to absorb this cultural oddity, I discerned a familiar sound.
“Is that a rooster?” I asked.
Michell looked off to her left, “Yep. That’s a rooster.”
“But it’s like 3 o’clock in the afternoon there. I thought they only crowed at sunrise.”
A slight rise of the eyebrows, “No, Ned. Roosters crow all the time. They like showing off.”
The rooster stepped up his local battle cry. I wanted to ask if the rooster was actually in the internet cafe but didn’t want to come across as rude.
This was all a bit much for my city dwelling self.
And then, just when I thought things couldn’t get any stranger, she hit me with something even more unexpected.
“Oh,” she said, those big brown eyes staring out from my monitor with great gravitas. “And just so you know, Ned - just so there’s no misunderstandings. I’m not a virgin.”
Talk about icebreakers…..
OK, that’s the end of part one on how I met Michell. Stay tuned for the next installment in which we explore why she was so quick to declare her virginity status, unique cultural challenges, the uncertainty of long distance relationships and where we’re at five years later.
This is a guest post by Ned Kelly.
Ned Kelly’s ebook, Chasing Your Philippine Dream: An Expat’s Guide to the Philippines is 400+ pages of information for anyone thinking of retiring, working or studying in the Philippines. Covering the good, the bad and the occasional ugly of life in the island republic, the book comes with a 100 percent money back guarantee.
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Chasing Your Philippine Dream: An Expat’s Guide to the Philippines