By David Haldane
Jan. 3, 2019
The thing about our house is that it has an echo. More of a rumble, really. If you’re on the second floor and need someone whose whereabouts is unknown, you simply stand in the middle of the room and yell their name out as loud as you can. Your voice will reverberate through the building, literally bouncing off the walls and ceilings until, more often than not, you’ll hear a distant response such as “I’m upstairs,” “I’m downstairs” or, “I’m in the bathroom, leave me alone.”
For a long time, I didn’t notice it, at least not enough to comment. Then yesterday, a visiting friend got a call from her son. “Are you in the big house?” he asked, “because I can hear the echo.”
The fact that our friends and relatives insist on calling it a mansion should have given us a clue. For a long time, we objected, insisting that a mansion was decidedly not the thing in which we lived. But they persisted until finally, we stopped arguing.
For the record, we never intended to build a mansion. Our plans called for a simple house, but then we found Punta Bilar and our modest intentions crumbled like so much sand. The thing is that you can’t build a small house at an iconic location such as this; no, next to the Punta Bilar Lighthouse you’ve got to build something worthy of the spot.
And so our plans expanded. Not all at once, mind you. We hired an architect and gave him a basic outline that we’d found online. Obviously influenced by the same factors that had already twisted our view, he added a few flares of his own including a driver’s room, maid’s quarters and music room, whatever the heck that is. And, of course, our engineer tweaked the plan even further by adding a spiral staircase leading to an observation tower as high as the lighthouse, several more windows, three balconies, and a large walk-in closet and CR. The result: about 500 square meters (5,382 square feet) of living space on four levels including six bedrooms, three CRs, office, music room, balconies, indoor and outdoor kitchens, and a large wrap-around veranda.
The price tag, of course, expanded as well; to the equivalent, we expect, of around $250,000 including the 1,000-square-meter lot overlooking the ocean on which the house stands. That sounds like a lot, but here’s the thing; in California probably the land alone, assuming one could find it, would cost millions; considerably more than we – or anyone we know – could afford. And after that, who could even begin to build a foundation?
Despite what our new neighbors may think, however, we have never considered ourselves rich. But here’s a little secret that few truly realize until they get old; in America, if you work steadily for thirty-plus years depositing 5-6% of your salary into a 401K, well, you can end up with a fair amount of money in your retirement fund. Then one day you turn 59 ½ and, voila! you can withdraw it without penalty. Add that to the proceeds from selling a California condo that literally doubled in value, move to the Philippines and, well, you have your mini-mansion by the sea.
Despite outward appearances, the thing is far from finished. Currently, we are staying in one of the guest rooms on the second floor, while the construction crew works on the level above. Oh, and prepares to finish the indoor kitchen while we rely on the “dirty” one outside.
One day it will all be finished, of course, and the sounds of hammers and saws will become a distant memory. For now, I content myself with sitting on the veranda overlooking the glistening sea with my arm around my sweetheart’s shoulder as we listen to the soothing strains of a very old song recorded by Crosby, Stills, and Nash:
I’ll light the fire, while you place the flowers
In the vase that you bought today
Come to me now, and rest your head for just five minutes
Such a cozy room, the windows are illuminated
By the evening sunshine
Fiery gems for you, only for you
These days it is those fiery gems that fuel my soul.
A former Los Angeles Times staff writer and winner of a 2018 Golden Mike award in radio broadcast journalism, David Haldane fell in love with the Philippines on his first visit there in 2003. A few visits later, he also fell in love with the beautiful young Filipina to whom he is now married and, with whom, he has returned many times. David has written extensively about his experiences in the Philippines for several publications including Orange Coast and Islands Magazine. Today he and Ivy, along with their eight-year-old son, Isaac, divide their time between homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Surigao City, Philippines. His award-winning memoir, Nazis & Nudists, recounts, among other things, the courtship of Ivy and finding a place to call home. For David that turned out to be at the tip of a peninsula marking the gateway to Mindanao where he and Ivy are building their dream home next to a lighthouse overlooking the sea. This blog is the ongoing chronicle of that adventure.