Why they are coming home and retiring in good old Pinas | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

As if it’s the most natural thing, Filipinos who have spent their most productive years abroad come home not only to retire but also to share both wealth and know-how.

Not a few of them could resist the nostalgic call of the islands, the tug of family ties, the long-missed feeling of belonging, or the challenge that a young growing country offers and, yet for some, the lure of wanting to give back.

To be sure, as many as there are who have come home, there are those who for some reason cannot. But that’s another story.

Hedy Taylor-Toolen

“I look at it not as retirement but as a return to the place where I was born and raised, where I lived happily during my first 20 years. I am half-Filipino, half-American, seeking a kind of cosmic balance, and I had this wild idea that if fate was kind I would live half my life in each country and reconcile the ‘separate sides’ of my head. With the first 20 years in the Philippines, the next 40 in the US and, fingers crossed, the last 20 back in the Philippines, I will have made it.

“I also hoped that 20 years would allow me sufficient time to fulfill a simmering sense of obligation to the country, unclear though the form it would take, and I’m not certain after nine years that I’ve come close to it.

“After an absence of 40 years, I could also look at the Philippines as a travel adventure to a new exotic destination. My American husband viewed it similarly, even if it meant leaving his family, although today, leaving family does not have the same dire permanence as in the past. We have had to make many adjustments, he more than I, but on the whole, it has been positive…”

Jim Toolen

“Consider this: Born a month after my uncle, a US Army doctor had been liberated from internment camp during the Battle of Manila. I grew up enthralled by stories of his heroism and his admiration for his Filipino comrades. Later in life I was hired as an onstage escort for the Miss International beauty pageant—and got randomly chosen to escort Miss Philippines. She was surely the most beautiful woman I had ever seen—and she won!

“We were reunited after 48 years, and Gemma Cruz-Araneta and I have since become wonderful friends.

“After college, my teaching career took me to a seaside community near Los Angeles, where many of my students were Fil-Am youngsters whose parents had migrated to the region seeking employment in the fishing industry. That’s when I first learned to love Filipinos and their cuisine. This path seemed preordained to lead me to the love of my life, my beautiful wife. So, is there any doubt why I felt instantly at home here? My new Filipino friends are like family. True, I will always love America, but it is the Philippines I now proudly call home.”

Bobby Jimenez

“I was brought back by one of the visionaries of local business. I didn’t care much for his emissary, but he was somebody I knew from Harvard days; he knew which buttons to press. It was a new challenge when everyday life in Manhattan had become routinely boring. The project didn’t happen, but it reintroduced me to Philippine life.

“The depth and range of the country’s problems came into focus, and they were awesome. The country was at the top of the heap regionally when I left, and in just 30 years it had sunk to the bottom.

“I returned, rather disillusioned, to New York City, but family considerations got into the picture and I’m back in Manila. Retirement was premature and unplanned, but my dad’s death and the circumstances around it forced the issue, and I realized family matters meant so much more to me now as well as my other health advocacies for which I’ve all but given up my medical practice.

Aurora Noriega, MD

“Six months before my retirement, I started having back problems and feeling homesick at the same time. I had lived in the US from 1966 to 2000. I did a yearlong internship in Philadelphia, another year in Ohio, another four years back in Philadelphia before settling down to OB-GYN practice in New Jersey.

“Mostly I missed family, my sister’s grandchildren, old friends, and the good old Filipino ways. I missed the food, too. It’s also cheaper to live here in retirement. After living more than half of my life in the US, I realized I had left my heart in the Philippines. I’ve been back and never had second thoughts about it. But I have also left many friends, as well as a part of me, in the States. But, again, I brought home with me lots of good memories.”

Annabelle Wisniewski

“Destiny—that’s what brought us, my Polish-American husband Tom and I, back to the Philippines. Nothing was clear in the beginning. Tom and I had met in Cornell University and settled in San Francisco after living in Subic, where Tom managed the Officers Club. All our three sons were born in Makati Medical Center.

“One day in 1994 I got an offer to be a consultant to the Ascott group in Singapore, an offer I could not refuse. Singapore was close enough for me to visit the Philippines—my mom was still very much around—otherwise I’d be constantly calling Tom in tears from the then boring and unexciting Singapore. We opened Ascott Jakarta, Ascott Mayfair London, Ascott KL, and, finally in 1996, Ascott Manila.

“From being employed and being made partners, no matter how big our partners were or how well-compensated we were, Tom and I decided in the long run that we’d be better off setting up our own business here. Thus Raintree, our family corporation, was born. Tom came home in 1998. One by one our children, all schooled and gainfully employed and on their own in the US and Europe, started coming home.

“It was only in the year 2000, after we had set up Ascott Manila, Discovery Suites, Enterprise Center and Food Park, that I was able to tell myself that we had done the right thing.”

Tom Wisniewski

“More than Annabelle, it was I who wanted to live, work and grow old here. She could have settled anywhere. We had lived here in the early part of our marriage when I managed the Officers Club in Subic. And I was hooked. I loved the lifestyle and the close family ties.

“It’s hard to believe how things worked out for us. I thought the US would be our permanent home. We now live in the house of my late mother-in-law, the same house my three boys stayed in as children and where Annabelle hosted classmates and friends since even before my time. But such is life here—ties run deep.

“My wife is not bothered by politics, the only negative side of living here, which seems to consume everybody else, although now and then she can still feel aghast at some of the shenanigans. But it won’t get in the way of what she has set out to do for the day. She’d say, instead of complaining about the darkness, people should light a candle. I’d like to think we’ve come home to do just that—light as many candles in as many places as we can.”

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