Bramovich: Expat all-sorts, and the decapitation of the Virgin Mary

Over the past few years in the Philippines, I’ve come across a truly staggering array of foreigners who call the country home. There is more than enough material for a very interesting book. Perhaps that’s not a bad idea? Anyone who wants to assist with the research let me know in the comments. We’re going to have to spend a few years getting drunk in weird places.

Jokes aside, there have been some real characters. Not just the drunk old womanisers, with whose brush the entire expatriate community is often tarred.


There was the 70-something American businessman who, apart from seeming to possess a need to own every property he saw, also imported solar panels into the Philippines before they were cool.

He’d discovered the country, like so many Americans did, while stationed here as a member of the American military. In his case that introduction to the region resulted in business interests everywhere from Manila to Macao, as well as a pretty impressive manufacturing set-up in the Chinese city of Shenzhen.

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From Subic to Shenzhen, one of the vets who built an incredible life off the back of his time in the Philippines

He was always an interesting bloke to grab a pint with. I don’t count a great many Americans among my close friends, I have to say (that said, as many of us do when we head to this particular part of South East Asia my exposure to people from that part of the world has increased significantly). Another bloke that I spent some time with was a guy from California, Los Angeles specifically.


I have to say that, if one is learning how to associate with Americans, my advice would be not to start with an Angeleno. I’m not sure if there’s something in the water (having never been there myself) but they are a breed unto their own. That aside, this guy was good fun and we spent a lot of very enjoyable time together while I was living up in the Cordilleras.

When our paths crossed he was living in a very exclusive sub-division just outside of Baguio. His three-storey house (with a four-storey rent bill) overlooked some absolutely stunning countryside.

He was much younger than many of the people you meet here, only in his late 30s.


He was one of those naturally successful people and eventually set up quite an impressive call centre operation here. He was also a bit of a hippy who ate a raw-food diet and often spoke of the benefits of meditation.

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Me and this crazy Angeleno had a great time up in the hills near Baguio City  Picture: Ramon FVelasquez – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

The exception to this clean living person was his evil inner twin, who’d come out quite regularly around me (I’m not sure why I have that effect on people). When he was off the wagon he was pretty partial to a tipple of anything that was going and a cigarette or 20, I suppose you can’t be virtuous all the time huh?

Fortunately not all of the expatriate residents of the Philippines have their roots Stateside. There are a staggering number of Australians here too. I’m not entirely sure if that is a good thing, on second thoughts, I’m one myself so at least I feel like I’m communicating with my own species when in their company. A lot of them are old, washed up, arrogant drunks with a sense of entitlement and a definite air of past glory chasing them about the place (not to mention a chip on their shoulder). Even in the midst of this quagmire of misfortune and poor judgement though, there is the odd one who shines through.

Sitting on a beach up north one day, supping on a cold San Miguel, I saw a wild-haired, lanky six-footer come ambling up the sand. I heard him say something and, having been in the house for several days working on a writing project – starved of human company – when I detected the familiar Aussie twang I figured I may as well introduce myself. He was in his sixties and, while I originally picked him as probably being from Nimbin (Australia’s capital of recreational psychedelic drug use) it ended up he was a farmer near Byron Bay on the northern New South Wales Border – which is just up the road so I wasn’t too far off the mark. What was it that he farmed? Marijuana. Why was he in the Philippines? He’d just sold a harvest and felt like taking a year off.

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This wild-haired Aussie sure wasn’t farming tomatoes up near Byron Bay

We sat around drinking beer for a couple of days and talking about his various close calls with law enforcement over the course of his career and life on the fringe. I still catch up with him whenever we find ourselves in the same part of the country. I’ve always found myself preferring to associate with people who do interesting things. To any American reading this, our Marijuana laws in Australia are as draconian as yours were in 1962. So for people to talk about stuff like this so freely is quite unusual.

Another guy I spent some time with a few years ago hails from Blighty. He had been an expat since very early in his career and was in his late 70s during our eight-month period of living next-door to each other. Before his brought him to the Philippines, where he eventually settled down, he had worked on major civil engineering projects in places like Nigeria, India and China. He was responsible for a large highway project in Luzon as well as a really great guy to sit back and pass the time with. Some of the stories he told me about his time in Africa make Southeast Asia like a bastion of transparent governance.

This story would not be complete without giving mention to the single German woman in her 50s who lived next door to me at a beach resort for a while. Her poison was Tanduay (the more the better and mixers be damned), her dog a huge Rottweiler and she always drove herself. She had two vehicles, a car and a private tricycle.

It was on the tricycle late one morning, after spending the period between sunrise and morning tea enjoying a drink or 20, that she got a case of the wobbles while on the way home for a nap and crashed sideways into the grotto that had pride of place at the entrance to the resort. This resulted in the decapitation of the Virgin Mary, a twisted trike and a broken collar bone.

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Not even the Virgin Mary was safe from a drunk, middle aged German woman atop a tricycle

She had originally moved to the Philippines with her husband, who later died and she elected to stay on. Shortly after her accident we left that resort and moved on. I’ve not seen her since. I did get the chance to sink a few with her before her mishap, although my sense of self preservation always saw me refusing a lift home.

So many people have a stereotypical view of what an expatriate is. I’m sure you can see him now. The overweight, seedy throwback. Too old to and too broke to live on his pension. A bargirl on each finger and a drink clutched tightly in his sweaty fist. A cigarette hanging from the side of his mouth. While there are plenty of those types out here, and in other parts of Asia that I’ve lived in, there are also many other types of people. They tend not to be found in the usual haunts. Many of them don’t associate much with each other or other foreigners in the country. It’s not because they feel superior, it’s simply because they don’t have much in common.