Home is where the house is

Every dream has an inspiration, and mine was simply ambition and anger: a fiery desire to stay anywhere but the Philippines and an overwhelming sense of loss and frustration over what the Philippines had become. This was fueled by an inter-generational thread of betrayal by the home country. One of things my mum had said to me: don’t make the same mistake of having loyalty and love of country. She had wasted her opportunity to work and move overseas because due to living through the promising 60’s and 70’s, fought and won against against the dictator Marcos, she thought she was contributing to the country’s prosperity. That things will get better with time.

It didn’t.

Home is where my friends are

At the fresh semi-adult age of 20, I went on a plane for the first time. I was staying for only a semester as an exchange student and it was the first time I felt I was manifesting the saying, “the world is my oyster.” I arrived on the 4th of January and 14 days later, I already wanted to stay. Living and breathing in a country with reliable public transport, good public services, efficiency and safety that made it so easy to live independently even as a naive twenty-year-old — the day-to-day experience sparked an ambition I didn’t know I had. Something clicked and before I knew it, I have decided that I will one day leave the Philippines and stay overseas.

View from the plane, en route to Singapore, back in 2010

I didn’t have everything figured out. At one point there was a toss-up between a career as a flight attendant, writer, or production designer. But hey, somehow life worked out. I kicked off a career in Manila by getting involved with all kinds of startups, funding myself to attend overseas conferences to up skill and network (even if it’s the same one every year in Hong Kong). This paid off and spiraled into a lucky happenstance of events which led to my first job in Singapore. It was an amazing time when the world was still singing accolades for Facebook’s success, VC’s were pumping billions into startups, and Singapore was a rich intersection of expats, Asian hubs for companies from the west, and diverse talent from various parts of Asia. It was the most accessible place to learn, meet amazing people, and earn money at that point in my 20’s and all it took was a little luck and lots of grit (and I will be brutally honest here, it was more realistic for me to afford to find a job and move to Singapore than it was to do the same in New York).

So as it is, I am the kind of dreamer who will find a way to still realistically achieve my goals. There’s probably a proverb that says something like, all roads lead to Rome and there wasn’t just one way for me to give myself a path to permanently leave my home country.

But like some of the other twenty-somethings (or older) that I’ve been working with, they too had dreams that brought them from their hometowns to other international cities before they landed their job in Singapore. Whether it was studying university in the USA, a job they worked hard to get in Japan, or living in a van across Australia — suddenly I felt that my “world” was still too small. I’ve traveled across Asia and had a short Christmas holiday in Europe but it was nothing compared to where everyone else had worked and lived. The close friends I made in Singapore had similar ambitions, and we were all keen to chase something bigger or further.

So when I got laid off by the Singapore branch of an overleveraged Brooklyn-based design agency, I took it as a chance to find the next city to move to. There was honestly no plan. I had taken the risk of turning down an offer from another Singapore-based company after I was made redundant and with my work visa canceled, I flew back to Manila. I applied for companies in the UK, Japan, Ireland, Hong Kong and was ready to go to the next city that offered me a job. Again, as long as it wasn’t back in the Philippines.

It just so happened to be Melbourne.

For all intents, Singapore was still home for me at that point. I’d just moved to Australia with no friends and family. No one had offered to show me around a city I’ve never been to my whole life. I had no car, can’t drive, and had to figure out navigating new suburbs and getting furniture to a share house by myself.

I missed the culture of after-work drinks. At my new job, everyone has already clocked off by 5pm (a new experience) but it also meant I’m not making any connections with anybody. Everyone was just a work colleague; I wasn’t making any friends. There was no weekend activity with anyone I knew from work. It was too early for me to find a consistent group of people in tech meetups like I had already done in Singapore. I literally knew nobody, and didn’t know how to spend my weekends apart from eating out alone and going to events by myself. 2018 was the only Christmas where I was genuinely homesick, messaging old friends back in Singapore to greet them throughout the holidays to the new year while feeling close to tears, alone, and miserable in Melbourne.

If anything, at least I wasn’t back in Manila.

Home is where love is

2019 now feels like a millenium ago.

It also just so happened that I ended my last relationship a few months after moving to Australia. You can say that after breaking up with my ex of seven years, my next relationship was a bit of a whirlwind romance. After about three months of dating, we moved in together because rent was cheaper that way. I’m not sure if I would’ve done this with anyone else because I’m sure it takes far longer than three months to unmask psychos and serial killers. I don’t think I would even recommend it to anyone but let’s just say, I waited way too long before ending my last relationship that I was over-compensating in my next one :P

I remember watching this show on local tv many, many years ago back when I was as teen. They were interviewing different couples who got together in different timeframes and one of them was a celebrity couple who met and got married in three months. Back then I thought, okay that’s cool and fast and probably not me.

Dylan and I only moved in together in a similar time frame but that wasn’t something I could confidently say was “like me”. It was very much not like me, but Dylan and I probably had some kind of level-headed risk-taking attitude. In that honeymoon phase where we’re staying over each other’s place every other week, we’re just burning money renting separately so might as well do the sensible thing and move in together.

The silver lining for this was that timeline-wise, we were able to apply to be de-facto (in Australia it’s like you’ve got the rights and responsibilities of being married but without the marriage certificate, just by living together for 2 years) right before we applied for our Permanent Residency. This was a certificate we needed to cement our relationship and have strong proof we were a legitimate couple in our application. Obviously this wasn’t planned that early on in the relationship but hey, it was one of those ducks that coincidentally line up perfectly right when you need them to.

I was lucky enough that the next guy I dated after my ex was the one:

  • the one guy who also knew what he wanted and did what he can to achieve it
  • the one guy who also played Guild Wars 2 (which is the MMORPG that defined my adult life), and plays it (plus other games) with me
  • the one guy who laughs at me when I’m angry, which effectively stops me from staying angry
  • the one guy who has endless patience to deal with my bad days
  • the one guy who complements all my fears so he deals with things that I can’t
  • the one guy who respects me when I say I want or don’t want to do things
  • the one guy who I can rely on and trust completely
  • the one guy who I genuinely find funny, so there is never a dully day in our life
  • the one guy who helped me overcome homesickness, so I stopped wishing to go back to Singapore
  • the one guy who shares the same dream as me — neither of us want to go back to our home country to raise a family (for retirement, we can reconsider)

That one guy is Dylan.

I don’t write enough about our story (I should), but for this specific story that I want to tell today I will skip over a lot of time and many details by jumping straight to:

We bought a house.

We were so decided on what we both wanted in life that our story that led to the house had no bells an whistles. It’s so straightforward, our story can be completed in ten bullet points:

  1. We met through a mutual friend.
  2. We dated for a few months.
  3. We moved in together.
  4. We established that we were both staying in Australia by getting and/or keeping our jobs. We talked to each other and agreed that we love the work-life-balance and lifestyle here more than any other Asian city.
  5. Lockdowns in Melbourne during the height of COVID-19 didn’t make us sick of each other; instead we had a lot of fun running a villager trafficking ring on Animal Crossing.
  6. We talked to an immigration lawyer to ask about the best way for us to stay in Australia permanently together. Turned out, I can put Dylan on my application as my ‘dependent’ because he is my partner, which means we can apply together at the same time when my employer sponsors my permanent residency visa application. (I highly recommend everyone to please consult an immigration lawyer, not agent, if you need advice on a pathway to residency. Good advice is worth their weight in gold.)
  7. We’ve traveled together without any fights or dramas, which is all I need to say when it comes to traveling with other people.
  8. We’ve met each other’s families and have approval from our parents. No ancestors will be offended by our being together.
  9. We got engaged.
  10. We were granted our Permanent Residency, which meant we can take a home loan, apply for home ownership grants, and buy a house with a little bit of discount through the first-home-buyer concessions.

In the above timeline, by point 6 we were already planning staying in Australia together so we knew what we wanted to do next. Each time we crossed something off the list, we got ready for the next. We’ve been saving for a house deposit for some time now and while an unexpected car purchase pushed our funds back by a few months (the old Subaru was burning too much oil for our comfort), the FHSS got us back on track when we needed it. It was another case of ducks lining up perfectly right when we needed it because I was originally aggressively topping up personal contributions into my Super (AU version of a retirement fund) to catch up with other professionals my age :’) I wasn’t planning to use it for the house, but that’s okay. At the end of the day, having a house fully paid off by the time I retire is just another investment for a comfortable future anyway.

Now to immortalise this day in the blog.

We’ve both sacrificed some things to keep on track with our house goal. Staying at my job when I was getting a 50% pay cut for over a year during the height of COVID-19 and lockdowns was very painful, but I had to stay with the same employer for three years to be eligible for an employer-sponsored visa. Dylan’s always putting off fires metaphorically at his job so it gets very intense and stressful. We could be traveling overseas as soon as borders opened, but instead we’ve been enjoying exploring Victoria and outdoor activities to keep us happy and sane.

Dylan and I were driving home one day and going through some home loan things when Dylan said, “I thought we didn’t have money, but we did!”

“It probably because I’d sometimes ask you for some money because I’d already run out.”

“We lived like we had no money but we’re not actually poor!”

A huge chunk of our salaries go to the house fund every payday and what’s left over after the bills and food budget is like an allowance we can spend however we like. Compared to Dylan, I tend to overspend once in a while, like that one time I asked him for extra money so I can buy a Groupon voucher for a HIFU facial treatment. (You can say it’s a controlled over-spending because we never pull any money out of the house fund.) It’s a long game that eventually paid off. Someone out there have achieved bigger and greater things in a shorter amount of time, and it’s not like we’ve done things other people hadn’t done to save up for a house, but buying our own home is still the epitome of adulting and millenial dreams (as a friend had phrased it) and this new debt is still worth celebrating.

Which we did, the day we had our offer accepted by buying McDonald’s because we were too tired to cook dinner.

Home is where my dream is

Somewhere in Manila, 2014

My dream is not the house. My dream is to escape the limitations of the third-world passport I was born with. My dream is to offer my kids a life way better than they could have if I were to stay in Manila. Where my mum experienced regret staying back home, I decided to take advantage of every opportunity I received just to stay overseas. Pragmatically, the latest window to find a country to settle down for an average working class person like me is between late 20’s and early 30’s. After that, visa options in most countries become limited. I can’t take too long to find a country to settle in so my early 30’s is a crucial time for decision making. Going back home was never going to be Plan B.

Occasionally life had tossed me some lemons. Going through redundancy in my late 20’s was a direct hit to my pride in a culture where getting laid off brought me feelings of shame. Those roads were sometimes smooth, sometimes topsey-curvy and occasionally bumpy but they led me here where I’m very happy and content to settle down. There’s no perfect country but Australia is a beautiful country and holds more promise than the Philippines ever could. Melbourne is now home to me as Singapore once was. I’ve made new friends, found a partner, discovered new hobbies, enjoyed fresh outdoor experiences, and even branched off into a slightly different aspect of my career. I am living the best life that I can here.

I’m not quite done yet with chasing after dreams, but I’m happy to savour the next few months. The mental relief of not being tied to an employer (via a “work visa”) because I’m now a permanent resident is invaluable. Being in control of having my own shelter, the freedom to drill my own walls and keep my pets and the relief of staying in the same house as long as I want equally is, too.

I no longer feel stuck wondering, “how long can I stay here?” — whether it’s in this country, or in my home. No more sleepless nights worrying about what to do when things don’t work out, wracking my mind with options and a plan B (because I have gone through the experience of a revoked work visa back in Singapore — and I can go through it again with more calm and preparedness). Like, what happens to our wedding bookings if we didn’t get our PR?!

I’d gone through uncertainty before so I knew I can power through it by sheer will if necessary but it doesn’t mean I don’t want to get rid of these worries. I’m done with fear and uncertainty clawing at me at the back of my mind. Peace of mind is priceless. I’m now able to welcome some calmness and security in one of the world’s most liveable cities.

This is one dream ticked off, and after a while I’ll be ready to jump to the next one.


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