The longer I stay in the Philippines – and I have been here nearly six years now – the clearer it is that the happiest expats are the ones who started their visits slowly.
Living in a generation that is used to instant gratification, it is easy for visitors to come to the country and become fixated by the easiest options. This tack is okay if you are only coming for a few weeks. When time is short, you have no choice but to take the obvious bright spots. This is true of any holiday. In a mere week or two, you can not do more than scratch the surface of a foreign destination.
But fault lies with those who arrive in a new place with a long stay in mind but still never get beyond the initial offerings. Here I am talking not only about accepting the first girl they meet but retirees who choose where to live because they have been told about this or that island or town or village as being very good.  Then they settle on an area in town without pausing a few months to check out the lay of the land.
The reality is that the Philippines is a much harder nut to crack than appears at first glance. There are so many expats out here apparently living happily in various parts of the country that it is hard for a newcomer not to accept the advice of the first barroom expert he encounters and seal the deal – get a girl; rent, buy or build a house; and settle back.
But beware: despite the warm welcome that the Philippines lays out to every newcomer, much of the best in the land remains hard to spot at the beginning.
For one thing, this is a country that is made up of many parts that are far more different from each other than our states and provinces and boroughs back home. Each part is more isolated, independent and different from the various regions we are used to, where people move from one to the other without blinking an eye.
Here places that look similar in size and shape – whether they are islands, cities or villages – are more likely to have no more in common than chalk and cheese.
And along with taking time to know one place from another, it takes even longer to know any one place in detail. There is in fact very little ready information to hand beyond the skimpy details on websites and, again, a few tips from passing expats.
I have now been based on the small island of Siquijor for almost two years and constantly realise that I still know almost nothing about it. I am still learning the roads; still finding out about hidden shops that do wonderful bread. fresh meat or a rare wine; still of hearing of beaches that are better than the ones I thought from the beginning were the best. It is a humbling process but it certainly leads to happier days.
The situation is even more complicated when it comes to housing. Rare is any part of the Philippines where a single agency will be able to offer you a reasonably comprehensive selection of what is available. The problem is that many properties change hands only by word of month. If you are not on the ground and patient, it is impossible to learn much of interest about places for sale.
And all of these arguments for going slowly apply a hundred times over when it comes to the matter of love. The problem is that at first glance, finding love is the easiest of choices to make. Certainly it is the matter in which newcomers are immediately offered the widest number of possibilities, so that it can seem churlish to hesitate instead of picking one.
But be cautious. Good things definitely come to those who wait. Yes, you can hit the ground running, even get married in a day and set up shop and in time you may even do alright with your lot. But it is unlikely you will have chosen the best home let alone the right girl.
Far better to go slowly, taking some time to solve the mysteries of the country. Every time I meet a happy man in the Philippines, it is clear that he has done that. Problem solved.
Before Terence settled in the Philippines, he lived and wrote about his experiences living in Thailand. Just out his previous works at