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The Chaos of Change

By David Haldane

Aug. 23, 2018

The surprising thing about it is that it’s never constant. It shows up at the most inopportune times, buzzing in your ear like an annoying fly. Then recedes, leaving a sense of peace and relief even in the wake of its imminent return.

Chaos. I have spent a lifetime battling it, avoiding it, creating a space in which it cannot and does not thrive. Yet, here it is; an old foe from long ago, once again popping up to say hello.

Including travel time, we are now entering week four of our new life in the Philippines. Though our seaside house in Surigao City is far from finished, our engineer promises to have one small bedroom and bathroom ready sometime this week, so we will at least have a place to stay.

In the meantime, we are hanging out at a modest pension house for 700 pesos (about $13 US) a night. It’s not bad; there’s air conditioning, a flushing toilet and a shower that actually gets hot. There’s even a parking space in the back for our car. And yet there’s something else here as well; the feeling that chaos is knocking at our door.

As I say, it’s not always there. At times everything seems perfectly in order and our situation exactly what it needs to be. Then something trips a hidden wire somewhere, and the beast within us roars. It’s usually something trivial; we have no Internet or forget to buy water and realize that we won’t have breakfast. We get lost on the way home, driving recklessly through the streets. Or, most often and with maximum effect, something we know we brought with us just ups and disappears. My slippers, for instance, or the shaver that perfectly contours my face.

That’s when the imagination goes into overdrive; What on God’s earth are we doing here, I ask myself, and what the hell were we thinking?

For Ivy, the feeling of encroaching chaos seems more tied up with work. It is she, after all, who gave up a blossoming and lucrative career in medical science to return to the place of her birth. The discovery, a few days ago, that she might have to go back to school to resume that career here in the Philippines sent her into an emotional tailspin.

For me, it’s more existential. I too, of course, am bothered by the sparse quarters and the paucity of order. What I have come to realize, however, is that those are only ripples on the surface of a deeper dark lagoon. At the heart of that body of water, trapped in the purple rocks that form its core, is the primordial ooze over which most of us spend the majority of our lives constructing bridges. It is the darkness of disorientation, the ooze of nothingness, the black hole of emptiness in which we fear getting lost. To prevent that from happening, we cover the jagged precipice with jobs, schedules, relationships, obligations, familiar surroundings, friends and beautifully constructed homes.

Moving to a foreign country rips all that away, at least for a time. And so, feeling the encroaching chaos, I am apt to think of the sunny, many-windowed house in which we soon will reside, and the darkness quickly recedes. I read an essay once about how we are all time travelers, transcending the barriers between the present and the future by envisioning the future to make it real in the now. Perhaps that’s the bridge that gets me across; I trust that the walk won’t be long.






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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.






  1. Mark Walkley says:

    I believe you get used to it after a while, If you plan your requirements in advance you generally wont have a problem. If you are unsure about something just ask around as the Philippine people are very hospitable. It’s more fun in the Philippines!

  2. Peter Devlin says:

    As someone who has always tended to be “obsessive-compulsive” by nature, your article rings very true for me David. On the one hand, I always craved adventure and travel, but there was always the restraint of needing to avoid chaos. As much as I enjoy travel and love new experiences, I easily become unsettled if things are not easily withing my control. I’ve noticed this even more as I get older. Whenever I move house, I cant just let things develop gradually, I have to work like a Trojan for the first days to unpack everything and get everything in reasonable order. I just feel unsettled if things are in a mess. I envy those people who are more laid back in such situations.

    Good luck with the move to your new sunny house!

    • David Haldane says:

      Thanks, Peter. I share you obsession. And also hour love of adventure. What a conundrim….(Hope I spelled that right…)

  3. Steven Matrix says:

    When I walked away from a very prosperous but stressful lifestyle in 2008, life in Cebu with just $500 in my pocket and a modest income of a few hundred dollars per month from an online business, I was in hog heaven. No cares in the world. Just streaming down the road on my rickety honda scooter (was a far cry from my daily driver Ferrari). Lived there in Cebu for five years… and some of the best time of my life… being poor and just enough to survive. Less is more for sure! Now, I am back in the US since 2013 and acquired all this crap again. I yearn for the simple life in the Philippines and would moved there in a heartbeat if it weren’t for the children’s education. Appreciate the simplicity of your life.

  4. Mary Gregory says:

    I’m rooting for you, David! You got really deep when you mentioned the “darkness of disorientation.” Good future book title, btw:) I know exactly what you mean. There is a lot of disorientation from the life you had here in the US, and besides your lovely wife and son, it’s all changed. When I was a kid and I moved away from Nashville, I went through the same thing, but I was a kid. It ultimately made me a more grounded person. You’ve opened up the lens of your life and there’s a lot more to take in. But you will find your footing and your sandals, and you’ll really get to fully enjoy your new life.

    • David Haldane says:

      Thanks for the encouragement, Mary, it means a lot to me. Yes, I have faith that everything will turn out fine in the end, and that’s already happening to some extent. But, as you probably know, it’s a bit uneven; still good moments and bad. Gradually more good ones than bad, though, and so it evolves…btw, I love what you said about up opening up the “lens of your life.” Totally relate to that…

  5. Rob Ashley says:

    Know that it will even out and things will calm down. You will impose your own order on your new life, but no one else is following your schedule and that’s just the way it is. You take your life with you wherever you go and you will find it here as well. The one piece of advise the guy I was replacing at work gave me about the Philippines is don’t get stressed out and complain at the way bureaucracies and people do things here. If you complain, they will just look at you as a crazy foreigner. Just keep asking politely and surprisingly, you will get things done. Breath, David and Ivy. Breath.

    • David Haldane says:

      Sounds like great advice, Rob, thanks! I will try to follow it.

      • Rob Ashley says:

        David: I read back what I wrote and think I meant to say “Breathe, Breathe,” not “Breath Breath”. Late at night and sometimes I’m a bit stupid. Either that or it’s my keyboard. -Rob