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Isleidyll | all galleries >> Iloilo City, Philippines > A foreigner's life in Iloilo City
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A foreigner's life in Iloilo City

Iloilo City, Panay Island, Philippines

Iloilo does not get nearly so many foreign tourists as places such as Boracay, Cebu, Manila and even Dumaguete and Bohol. Often, I can spend the day in the city and not see another foreigner. Of course, there is a community of resident expats, many who have been in Iloilo many years. Expats hold meetings twice monthly. On the first Wednesday of the month at the Balkonahe Restaurant in Jaro and on the third Wednesday at the Marina on Diversion Road. As elsewhere in the Philippines, there are many Koreans here studying English.

Based my first year and a half in and Iloilo and several months in Cebu City, I find Ilonggos, male and female, to have a reserve and seriousness which differentiates them from the more outgoing Cebuanos and even Tagalogs. They seem serious, proud, industrious, honest, and pious compared the more fun-loving Cebuanos or Tagalogs. Beyond the reserve, I find Ilonggos to be honest, kind, and courteous but don't expect them to fawn over you because you're a foreigner.

There's certainly nothing unusual about young Cebuanas dating foreigners but this does not seem common here. While Iloilo has a few "girlie bars" it does not have the kind of pervasive sex tourism/bar scene found in Angeles or Cebu City. Casual dating of a "white" guy would not be considered proper by many Ilonggas. I rarely see young Filipinas with older foreigners, a very common sight in Cebu. Many of the Filipina-foreigner couples appear to be married couples who have grown plump together over the years.

The upside of this is that the foreigner is more a curiosity than an opportunity and is generally left in peace and treated with respect. It's unusual for me to be overcharged or otherwise taken solicited or taken advantage of because I'm a foreigner. There are not so many beggars. Sometimes when I do see children begging money, they will approach other Filipinos or my wife but not me. I have never been approached by prostitutes or other hustlers. "Hey Joe give me money" is rare here. I relate the relative lack of begging and prostitution to Ilonggo pride.

I ride jeepneys almost every day. I walk the streets downtown. So far, I have never had even a hint of a problem with crime or pickpockets, although friends have. On the contrary, I left a bag with cellphone and digital camera behind when getting off the jeepney. Fellow riders stopped me to be sure I did not forget the bag. If I drop something, multiple people rush to make sure I get it back. There is a robust police presence in many parts of Iloilo City. I do not wander the streets at night. If you do your mileage may vary.

John30-Dec-2009 07:25
Yes I do find Iloilo as one of the most fantastic cities I have been to in the Philippines. My wife is from there and even though I was there only a month I had the best time of my life was there. We live in the Jaro area and the markets and everything there is so great. I would not want to live anywhere else but in there. I know when we go to the bigger malls it is strange for me to be swarmed by sales people in the stores but they do their best to help a person of my stature being over 6'6" and big is kinda funny to climb into a jeepney which we use everyday there because it is a cheap way of getting around.
jun 19-Nov-2009 21:06
Bob , we ilonggos should give you a" plaque of appreciation" of the wonderful works,efforts and comments regarding our beloved iloilo,i was amazed that a foreigner like you has so much understanding and interested of our culture ,i can sum it up to you ..we ilonggos respect people and be respected,simple but elegant,proud of our past...and we intend to keep it that way
Ryan 14-Jul-2009 21:46
Thank you so much for all the photos and information. Iloilo is the best place to retire. I kept on telling my husband that we are going to retire in Iloilo one day. We are looking a property in Miag-ao closed to the UP Campus and build a house one day. We still have long years to retire but it’s a good investment. It's a very nice place to live no more snow to shovel and no cold winter.

You did a fantastic job on your site. Very detailed and the photos are great.

Yashamaru 23-Oct-2008 14:54
wow! Cool site!...Im originally from Iloilo. It has been 3 years since I left to work here in Manila Bob. I really can tell the difference of cultures leaving there in Iloilo and here in Manila. I agree that Ilonggos are more reserve than other minorities that I know so far. The right term to describe Ilonggos are not "mayabang" but humble. We don't boast if there is nothing to boast to. Even we gain much success, we dont forget where we came from. What I love most of the Ilonggos is that, we live a practical way of life. We dont complicate things...we do things in a simple manner that everyone could jive in. It really made an adjustment for me when I work here in Manila, where dozens of cultures flocked together in this congested city. I missed Iloilo! theres no place like home. I really liked the pictures that you posted. It reminded me of the stuffs that I do when I was there. Much more that I missed, is the way of life by the Ilonggos. Pressured, but still graceful. Mad, but still manage to be sweet in a way. Simple, and doesnt complicate things....Any way, good luck to your stay there. I hope that you will post more pictures when I visit your site next time. Thanks for giving us the updates there. God bless!
Judgenut 04-Aug-2008 04:23
Great site! I think "mayabang" is not the word your trying to describe the Bacolod Ilonggos its more like "Tikalon" haha. I'm a third generation Araneta from Bacolod and most of the comments are pretty accurate about my ancestors. Too bad the thousands of hectares of sugar cane plantation are all divided between cousins and relatives. Thank you for the website I spent almost an hour looking at your beautiful pictures!!
Bisita_lang 21-Jul-2008 10:10
Hi, Bob! Thank you for capturing the beauty that the Philippine Islands could offer especially Iloilo and Guimaras. I hope that you are not regretting your decision in lieu of the unfortunate natural disaster. Most of all I hope that you and Carol are safe and adjusting well on the aftermath of the typhoon. This is my prayer for all the Visayans for having to go through such a horrific devastation. I am an Ilongga who grew up both in Guimaras and Iloilo City. I married a Michiganian and it is interesting that you have ties in Grand Rapids and Ada. My husband and I visited the historic towns and churches so we have almost the same pictures you have but dated 35 years ago. Thank you for keeping up site and the opportunity to be updated. God's blessings to you both on your adventure.
Rene Mosquera 19-Jun-2008 07:04
Hi, what a great decision you made and you found a great city, Iloilo City. I'm originally from Villa Beach, my parent still live there and my brothers and sisters. Right now I'm living in L.A. CA with my family. By June 23, 2008, my wife, my two daughters and I will go for vacation to the Philippines. We're going to stay in Bacolod City and Iloilo City. It's been awhile that we did not have vacation to our place, Bacolod City and Iloilo City. My kids were grown up now and it's time for them to know and experience our beloved city. I'm sure they will enjoy and appreciate the uniqueness of Iloilo City and Bacolod City. Hopefully, you'll enjoy living there. GOOD LUCK... and don't forget... you have to learn to speak Ilonggo.
anzuhalten 12-May-2008 04:31
Hi Bob, it really is a noble effort on your part to dig into the reasons for ilonggo pride and i would have to agree with you that this stems from, as what you said, the relative lack of beggars and streetchildren in the streets. There is however more to that and it arises from our past. Ilonggo pride comes from the fact that in our history, way back in the middle 1800s to the early 20th century, Iloilo was already engaging in trade with Europe. This was even before the term 'globalization' was coined. We exported fabric, sugar and other raw materials directly from our city and not through manila because our deep water port in the iloilo river can accomodate ocean going vessels plus it is protected from stormy winds by Guimaras island - these ocean going vessels then can seek safe harbor in the river where there are no waves that can violently toss the vessels to the sides of the port and consequently damage their hulls, the cargo then is secured. Thus, trade prospered early on.
anzuhalten 12-May-2008 04:31
This explains the abundance of elegant mansions in Iloilo city that date back into the spanish and american eras because the ilonggo elite (usually hacienderos who owns thousands of hectares of land devoted to sugar) would copy european architecture in their business trips to europe. The sugar magnates grew so rich they can afford to travel to europe - and we are talking about the 1800s when other filipinos from other provinces don't have the means to travel even within asia. You can only imagine how it was then. All the raw materials and agricultural products from the provinces of Aklan, Capiz, Antique, interior towns of Iloilo province and Negros Occidental (where bacolod city is located), Negros Oriental and even Cebu (at that time) all get transported to iloilo city to be shipped abroad for export. As a result, Iloilo became a city in the late 1800s.
anzuhalten 12-May-2008 04:30
At that time, other places cannot be considered as a city because they are not that developed as compared to Iloilo. Thus, multinational banks set up shop early in the 20th century to facilatate and fast track trade. So, we already had HSBC, standard chartered and Citibank at about the time that other cities were starting to have their first volts of electricity. Aside from this, the moniker "Queen City of the South" stuck and so we felt that it was just right. However, this resulted not from the fact that we were the most developed and progressive city outside of manila at that time but rather because we were bestowed the title of "La Muy Leal Y Noble de Cuidad de Iloilo" or "The Most Loyal and Noble City Iloilo" by royal decree promulgated at the urging of the Queen of Spain.
anzuhalten 12-May-2008 04:30
The reason is that while the rest of the Philippines were up in arms against the Spaniards, we Ilonggos sent our forces and troops to aid the Spanish forces fighting in Cavite. Ilonggo troops fought against the forces of Emilio Aguinaldo and the tagalogs in Cavite in the late 1890s and we won a string of battles. In gratitude, the Queen of Spain bestowed the title above mentioned and became her favorite city because of our loyalty to Spain. Therefore, we became the Queen's city of the South. Bob, if you wonder why we fought against Philippine independence, it is because Iloilo was the last Capital city of the Spanish empire in the East. In the late 1890s when the whole island of luzon was all but lost to the combined strength of Filipino and American forces, the Spanish officials decided to transfer the seat of government of the Spanish empire to iloilo city because of our deep water port, developed infrastructure and fortress - Fort San Pedro.
anzuhalten 12-May-2008 04:29
So, it is only natural that, being the last capital city and seat of government of the Spanish empire in Asia, we were compelled to send reinforcements and troops under spanish command to defeat Philippine independence forces. In due time however, the moniker 'Queen's City of the South' mutated into 'Queen City of the South' - notice that the letter s and apostrophe were dropped. The change was a reflection of Iloilo city's preeminence in trade, industry and education second only to manila in the early 20th century. As a result, so many foriegners opened shop in the city in the 1920s. That explains why the old business district buildings date from the era of american occupation and have art deco architecture. So, since the elite had so much money, they invested in manila, that explains the wealth of the Aranetas, Lopezes, Roxases, so on and so forth. In comparison, other cities were not as developed as iloilo in the 1920s. All of them, Bacolod, Cebu, Davao, Cagayan de Oro, Baguio, they lagged behind iloilo in terms of development AT THAT TIME. Obviously, things have changed a lot since then.
anzuhalten 12-May-2008 04:29
Thus, in the ilonggo psyche, in our subconscious, we are very much aware of our economic preeminence and that this era which occured before, can happen again and we really think that it can be regained. That is why there is a veritable ilonggo pride that is exuded when we travel to other places.
anzuhalten 12-May-2008 04:29
On the other hand, the other Filipinos' connotation that we are mayabng is precise but not accurate. This accurately refers to the ilonggos of Bacolod and Negros and unfortunately, the ilonggos of Iloilo were dragged into this connotation because we are kin, cousins, kindred and blood relatives through and through. Bob, this came about when most of the available land in Iloilo province were already in use or owned by someone else in the late 1890s. In order to increase trade volume, the sugar trade was expanded into neighboring Negros province and Bacolod city by the Ilonggo elite, early 1900s. That time, there was just so much new land available waiting to be cultivated with sugracane and yet so few tillers or farm workers. Thus, in order to have their land tilled first ahead of the others, these newly settled ilonggo landowners in early 20th century would usually brag and show off to compete for the services of the tillers. Like, they would tell tales that they own several mansions in bacolod, manila and even europe, that they own vast tracks of land, that they own fleets of the finest luxury cars or even yachts and the like.
anzuhalten 12-May-2008 04:28
These newly settled ilonggos in bacolod and negros would do that, brag out loud and show off. There is however a reason. By showing off all their wealth and opulence, these lowly farm workers would notice them and therefore think that becuase these braggart and showy landowners have wealth, they will work for them becuase they will probably be more well paid and their wages will be given on time. So Bob, just imagine scores of landowners talking loudly bragging about their wealth, trying to tell taller tales than the next landowner and competing with each other to secure the most number of laborers to till their land and what you get is a new mindset revolving in the belief that to show off, to brag, to be so full of pride and flaunt it, is just a natural thing. The middle class however who are usually salaried professionals thought that the bragging of the landowners was just their nature. As i have said before, it is not. It was just a way to attract more workers. Of course, generations after generations being exposed to all this bragging and showing and pride, they adopt this without even knowing why. So that is why, the tagalogs and cebuanos look at ilonggos both of negros and panay island with disdain. That we are so mayabang. I think that this should only be confined to ilonggos in Negros (though it is hard to tell because we speak the same language). While on the other hand, dignified, conservative pride more accurately reflects the ilonggos of Panay. The cultures of both bacolod and iloilo are just different that even the ilonggos of iloilo have a tendency, but only in certain occasions to look at the ilonggos of negros with a bit of disdain because the show of wealth is just a bit shocking.
anzuhalten 12-May-2008 04:27
By the way, if you look more closely at the faces of the ilonggos of bacolod, you can tell that they have faint castillian or european feautures. That's because their elite also travelled to europe and brought with them european husbands or wives. These couples then would have mixed race children with prevalent caucasian feautures. Being rich and all, these spoiled kids grow up always having their way and thus would sometimes fornicate with their househelp producing more mixed race kids and that's why even the janitors, waitresses and ordinary people in bacolod have faint european features. Just look more closely. That also occured in iloilo but i don't know why there are just more good looking people in bacolod. Also note that when it comes to wealth, the ilonggos of Iloilo are discreet while those in bacolod openly flaunt it, the reason is already mentioned above. Anyways, i hope this comment helped you out Bob.
Jhett Tolentino 02-Apr-2008 13:51
First off, thank you for choosing the City of Love as your retirement home. I was born (in Molo as well, my family still lives there), raised and educated here until I left 6 years ago for the United States (Long Island, NY). Your decision has truly brought proud and dignity to me. I have shared your link to my American friends who have been thinking of retiring in the Philippines as well.

I would like to clarify about the word "mayabang" coming from an Ilonggo. "Mayabang" actually means boastful or air-headed and it only has bad connotation. None of the native Ilonggos would prefer to be called as such. If you ask a native Ilonggo, like me, he will tell you that the "Mayabangs" are the Bacolenos (the ones from Bacolod City). Try to ask some native Ilonggos and you will hear it for yourself. I took the liberty of clarifying this for the rest of the native Ilonggos who might be offended reading the "mayabang" part. The rest is great.

Good luck to you and your wife. May the City of Love, my very own City, provide you the quality of life you and your wife deserve.
Boyette de los Reyes 25-Mar-2008 21:23
I am thrilled to read your impressions of Iloilo. I am currently living in San Francisco and had lived in other parts of the world at one point of my life or another but Iloilo still holds a very special spot in my heart. I spent the first twenty two years of my life there and went to school at San Agustin. Unfortunately my partner does not want to retire there. Perhaps showing him your write up might help me convince him to spend a few months a year in Iloilo once we stop working. Who knows he might change his mind. I still have properties both in Jaro and Calinog. Good luck, I hope that you will live a sunny, blessful life in Iloilo. I also hope that you will find yourself a lot of good friends. Cheers.
Susan 28-Jan-2008 05:58
Hi, Thanks for the beautiful pictures and insights of Iloilo City. As an Ilonga living in the States(my family is from Mandurriao), I've been looking for the pictures and stories of my hometown as long as I can remember. Other places have been feature in commercials, web sites and magazines alike most of the time, but Iloilo, whenever it was featured, only in passing. I even thought of taking pictures myself of every scenic spots and historic places of Panay, especially Iloilo everytime I go home for vacation and make a website to show to my friends, but I just didn't get a chance. Now, thanks to you, I can show my hometown to all my friends with pride. I love this site! More power to you and God bless.
Daryll Ward 25-Jan-2008 00:37
Great posting Bob, its lovely to read your thoughts about getting use to life in iloilo, this could be me if I eventually retire with my wife who's from near Otan. I'M from North London and been to the Phil twice, 2002 and 2006 and will be there next year. Filipinos are great family people and its so lovely to see all the kids with so much respect and I'm so proud of the way that even though many have alot of hardship with poverty and lack of funds they still smile and keep their faith,and although generally shy cant do enough for you! I'm a "big boy", the food especially the seafoods are out of this world,and even if you eat out its a) value for money and b) excellent quality. I love Tatoys and Breakthrough. We've been to Manila, Boracay, Cebu , Cavite , Angeles (WOW!) and I loved Mindoro! Bob keep on writing, all the best and one day we may meet for a lovely San Mig! Mabuhay!
charky101515-Jan-2008 22:07
Hi my name is Charlene and originally from Iloilo to be exact in (Lapuz) I am in manila right now studying as well as working and i really enjoy reading your experiences in our Lovely City. i left Iloilo after highschool (Iloilo National High School) because i got a scholarship from De La Salle University, living in manila for 7 years never change me at all as a ilongga. i agreed the ilonggas are very reserved person. thats why Im very proud to be one of them. i miss the food the people because i was not given much chance to spent my vacation in my place because of my hectic schedules. but even if, i still find ways to be connected to Ilonggos culture like eating batchoy, i dont know if you like it. theres this one mini resto here in manila near my school who serves very good batchoy than the ilonggo grill in here in manila. i miss living in a green place such iloilo and enjoying the good music of dinagyang dancing in the downtown with those warriors. there no place like home. thanks for considering our place your home.. Godbless and more power.. my email add..
Guest 25-Dec-2007 16:52
Great pictures and comments!My husband, kids and I are looking to move there. Your view as a foreigner about Iloilo is giving me and kids a better understanding of what to expect, since we are not Filipinos. Thank you for your great work and efforts..
angelo 13-Nov-2007 09:32
angelo here - you are the man ...loving ILOILO city is the best...congrats
dinggol a.divinagracia 01-Oct-2007 22:39
Salamat! Robert, that you like our humble city and enjoying your stay. Thank you for all your kind comments and positive remarks. Hoping you decide to stay permanently in Iloilo.

All the best...dinggol is the name..
mig 20-Jul-2007 20:43
glad to know you love the place thank you
mig 20-Jul-2007 20:42
glad to know yopu love tyhe place