Ok, so from now on this blog will be the chronicle of my attempt at settling in, and somehow find a way to survive, here in Port Barton, Palawan, Philippines. I have decided to write it in English, even though it’s not even my second language – it’s the language I will be speaking here and the lingua franca of the internet, wether we like it or not, so to hell with French.
A few preliminary words about me – I’m 47 (sigh), born and raised in Switzerland, where I’ve worked as a journalist for most of my life. By 2007, I had lost all my illusions about the realities of the job, particularly in the post 9/11 world where “journalist” has become a very dirty word indeed. Following a merger between the newspaper that employed me in Lausanne and its counterpart in Geneva, I got offered some incentive money if I agreed to quit so they wouldn’t have to fire me. Having no family, mortgage, obligations or any sense of responsibilities, I jumped on that opportunity, took the money and run, basically turning my old dream of travelling round the world into reality. I did just that for about a year, the best of my life up to that point, came back with a million memories, hepatitis (I’m fine now, thanks) and the realization that I would never again find work in my old field (who buys newspapers nowadays), and that traveling was everything.
After doing one Summer as a lifeguard at my local public swimming pool, I found an office job in a legal insurance company in Geneva. Though my colleagues were some of the best people I ever met, the job itself was nothing short of horrible – at times stressful, at times boring, always disheartening and repetitive, badly paid, with no possibilities of evolution of any kind. The ultimate dead end. I held on there for seven years, then decided this was not the life I wanted. I had to leave, or midlife crisis and depression would get me for real.
Switzerland sucks, mostly. Everything is insanely expensive. Rents (if you manage to find a flat, that is), mandatory insurances, taxes, transportations, even the most basic necessities like food and clothes are prohibitively priced and getting higher every year, while the salaries are not. The Swiss – now a minority in their own country – have to compete (and the majority voted for it) with people in from all over the crumbling EU, for whom Swiss wages still seem attractive, comparatively – and it can be if you manage to actually live in one of the neighbour country and work in Switzerland, which is what hundreds of thousands are doing, pulling the salaries further down. The Swiss middle class is dying. For me and my colleagues, once we had paid the bills and filled the fridge, there was nothing left and only 25 more days till next check. But the Swiss shut up and consider themselves lucky because it’s actually worse everywhere else, or so we are told. But is it really?
It’s not all bad, though. Switzerland has a few comparative advantages. One is that, even if you’re dirt poor, you’re probably not going to end up dying of hunger and untreated diseases in the street. Admittedly it might even be better to be unemployed than to be working for minimum wage. The other one being that even if you’re a working poor within Switzerland, you’re quite well off with the same amount just about anywhere else in the world. Basically, being Swiss is great – as soon as you get get the hell out of Switzerland.
By Swiss law, if you are employed, a percentage of your salary goes to your retirement savings, called AVS. This is far from enough to live half decently once you retire nowadays though, so they doubled the amount taken off your payroll, calling it the 2e Pilier – but it’s still impossible to keep even your modest standards of living once retired if you had an average salary. So as an employee, basically the only options you have is 1° make enough to be able to save voluntarily a lot more and invest your capital wisely (basically: be among the top 20% earners); 2° Get out of the country as soon as you are too old to slave away and go die on some distant, cheap shores, we don’t need you anymore, thank you very much.
The sweet thing is – if you decide to call it a day and leave Switzerland for good today, the money saved under the 2e Pilier column can be yours, now. Not for long, they are planning to legally block that option, but it’s still possible. At the beginning of 2016, I decided I was going to do just that. What did I have to lose?
So here I am, one year later, in Port-Barton, Palawan, Philippines, with all my savings on a Thai bank account, looking for something, some place to rent, or even buy maybe someday somehow (though as a foreigner you can’t own a land or any kind of business on your own), some way to make enough so that I won’t ever have to go back (though as a foreigner you can’t work on a tourist visa). The idea is to open a beer microbrewery that would double as a bar, here in Port-Barton. But honestly, apart from a general picture of what my dream place would be, I feel a bit lost sometimes. What am I doing here? Do I have any clues? Answers in the next instalment of this blog (or not).