Wednesday, June 10, 2015

5 Pros and Cons of Living in the US

self check out | Pros and Cons of Living in the US
One of the self check-out counters at Lowe's.
We write…

Convenient, fast-paced and automated is how many things in everyday life in the States is usually described. It was how Ray described laundry in the States the first time he and I rinsed and wrung out four to five loads of clothes at our building rooftop in Quezon City.

Things in everyday lifefrom laundry and shopping to transportation and diningwill differ between countries in terms of convenience and accessibility, and they usually become quickly apparent early in the adjustment period.

It’s natural to compare and contrast when you’ve lived in one side of the world all your life, and experience another. Some things will seem to have advantages over the other, and it’s those variances that can make things interesting.

As a foreigner who has yet to completely assimilate, life in the US is different, not convenient. Even if things don’t work in the Philippines, from politics to the public transportation system, I have been accustomed to that way of life and for that, it is convenient for me.

Out here, I have wildcat-in-the-concrete-jungle periods as well as spurts of excitement because of the seemingly wider array of opportunities to grow. I have yet to make up my mind but here are some of the pros and cons so far that Ray and I have worked together to put out.

1.    Transportation

In Los Angeles, a majority of drivers have been driving since age 16 due to limited public transportation and distance between destinations. Having a car is a basic need in LA County, so much so that some jobs actually require that you drive and own a car.

Pros: The upside of owning and driving a car is being able to take control of your time and where you want to be especially in suburb areas that do not have bus stops. Being able to drive to places like work and school frees up what would have been long travel times for other important things, like moments with family and friends.

Having a car also means mobility on our own timetable and not someone else’s.

PI transportation | Pros and Cons of Living in the US
Although car ownership is not common in the Philippines, there are more than enough public transportation options.

Cons: The costs of insurance, gas, and maintenance lower the allure of owning a car. A car is an added responsibility and driving may not appeal to those on a fixed budget. The peace of mind of not having to set aside money for regular service intervals, or for the “rainy day” of unexpected repairs, is priceless; auto mechanics can charge around $65-90/hour for labor.

2.   Specialized Stores

Specialty food stores like Sprouts, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s are in abundance in LA, thus we can be particular with the food we eat because they have everything from gluten-free to high fructose corn syrup-free cereals.

Likewise, we can find huge arrays of gadgets and electronics at stores like Best Buy or Fry’s Electronics; sporting goods at Sport Chalet and Sports Authority; appliances, both large and small, also at Best Buy, Home Depot, or Sears; discount clothing at Kohl’s, Target, and Ross; hardware at Lowes, Home Depot, or Orchard Supply Hardware.

Pros: Comparative shopping is a significant advantage that all consumers in the States have. The consumer base is large enough to allow numerous vendors and options to flourish in the same market.

diabetic toiletries | Pros and Cons of Living in the US
US drugstores even offer specialized toiletries for the diabetic.
If for instance you have diabetes or celiac disease, there are products specifically for you. The variety of stores and products also give us a sense of power and control in our product choices, quantity, and source.

In addition to this, coupons give us an edge to stretch that hard-earned dollar.

Cons: Having such an array of options can be daunting compared to the one-stop-shops in Manila like Landmark and SM. Options and choices can also be a disadvantage if we need specific items or food ingredients. For example, we once had to go to different stores just to get the ingredients for a homemade ginger cake. We probably could have gone to Ralphs or Vons for generic ingredients, but like other product categories, the more specific or particular an item is, the more trips we may have to 

SM MOA | Pros and Cons of Living in the US
Philippine malls are one-stop shops where you can purchase gadgets, clothes, medicines and grocery items in one trip.
3.   Technology

In LA, you don’t need to travel far to get a wi-fi connection or enough 3G signal on your smartphone to stream YouTube videos or Pandora playlists, or easily post on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Unless you’re in a canyon in Malibu, you can stay connected to your technological world wherever you are.

Pros: Gadget enthusiasts are exposed to much of the latest and the greatest here in the general LA area. Apple techies, for example, are blessed with at least five Apple stores, from Valencia to The Grove. Other gadgets are readily available at any mobile phone dealer of any of the three major providers. One wouldn’t need to go far to touch, feel, and push buttons on the latest and newer releases.

(As far as fast internet speed is for people of different countries, here’s a fun but sobering article about how countries and their internet speeds compare to each other: If the Internet speeds of Asian countries were cars, they would look like these.)

It is believed that the gadgets and electronics that are offered here are usually better quality, cost less, have more variety, and (other than at special events like first release dates) are more accessible and available.

handwashing | Pros and Cons of Living in the US
Washing clothes by hand along the Abra River, Philippines.
Technology also influences many areas of everyday life. No-wring laundry, clothes dryers, instant hot water, and direct natural gas connections to the stove or oven (in lieu of the monthly purchase of liquefied petroleum gas) all are examples of common apparatuses of convenience.

Cons: Wi-fi and 3G internet access may be widely
powernat | Pros and Cons of Living in the US
The gadget liberation movement continues.
available, but it’s far from perfect. There are still several areas where coverage is spotty, even in places one wouldn’t expect, and is often provider-dependent.

Additionally, gadgets are replacing humans. There might come a time that people will no longer be necessary in the labor force. Presently, several food markets and convenience stores offer self-service checkouts, and even hardware stores like Lowe’s have automated key duplication kiosks, which phase out the human element.

4.   Cashless transactions (Debit cards, credit cards, and digital wallets)

Rarely do people carry and engage in cash transactions anymore. The popularity of digital wallet options like Apple Pay is rapidly approaching, and, along with debit cards and other electronic payment methods, the convenience of cashless transactions for most needs appeals to consumers.

However, because of the fees behind credit and debit card transactions, some businesses like gas stations in the US offer slight price breaks if the transaction is paid in cash. Likewise in the Philippines, when purchasing something like a car or a condo unit, you get a five to 10 percent discount with cash transactions and pay the “full amount.”

Pros: Debit cards provide convenient purchasing Carrying little to no cash is also safer because it reduces the risk of getting robbed by thieves and pickpockets who are attracted to a quick lift of untraceable cash.

In the US, the importance of one’s credit score
Apple pay | Pros and Cons of Living in the US
Apple Pay of 2015 is the velcro wallet of the 1980s.
should never be overlooked. This score is a tool that all businesses use to determine a consumer’s credit worthiness for loans and large purchases.

Cons: More debt. As you spend more, credit card companies increase your credit limit, which stimulates more spending. More room on your credit card means you have a higher amount of money for purchases, even smaller insignificant ones. 

So if you’re not careful, that pack of Peanut M&Ms you put on your card for $1.59 can end up costing you $10.00 after 18 months if you don’t pay off your card balance.

As technology enhances convenience, the risk of theft from hackers increases as well. Companies like Target, Anthem Blue Cross, and recently even the Federal Government, have all been victims of data theft, and merchants continue to battle the annual (as of 2011) $190 Billion credit card fraud problem. US companies are issuing and using chip-encoded cards more often as of today. These types of cards, which have already been used for years in European and Asian countries, seem to offer a more secure solution.

5.   Entertainment and Recreation

Pantages | Pros and Cons of Living in the US
Pantages offers blockbuster shows and is one of several 
theaters in the Hollywood area.
As one of the meccas of arts, film, and music in the States, LA comprises countless ways to stay connected to the most current media and content in modern entertainment. Museums, theme parks, stadiums, theaters, and cinemas galore, there are few comparisons elsewhere.

For the recreationally-minded, LA has dozens of parks which offer a myriad of activities year-round. LA parks are conveniently located within every municipality, and each park offers different recreational options. Los Angeles and other cities close to the coast also offer many options for beachgoers and surfers.

Surfing is and always has been as much of a way of life for many in LA as it is for those in Hawaii, for instance. A company in the city of Ventura, which is located about 65 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, allows its corporate employees to leave the office early if the waves at the nearby beach are breaking at a certain height.

Pros: Entertainment options are abundant for almost every type of interest imaginable. Near the area where we live, we have close to two dozen cinemas, theaters, stadiums and auditoriums within 20 to 30 minute driving distances, including ArcLight Cinemas, Pantages Theatre, Staples Center, and Dodger Stadium.

Los Angeles Recreation and Parks offer a multitude of locations and opportunities to jog or swim, join a pick-up basketball game, play tennis, compete in organized softball and baseball leagues, or just lounge or stroll at one’s leisure. As the summer months approach, the parks will get busier.

Tying back to our earlier commentary on technology, for those inclined to stay at home, Netflix and Hulu provide hundreds of hours of movies and television shows. The number of cable and satellite channels can also run in the thousands, and that’s excluding the pay-per-view or On Demand channels.

Cons: There aren’t too many “cons” when it comes to the live entertainment, and just like everything else in life, activities can become expensive if not enjoyed in moderation.

Boracay | Pros and Cons of Living in the US
Boracay, one of the top beaches in the world is in the Philippines.
If you’ve lived in a tropical island like the Philippines your standard on outdoor recreation is really high. So the top beaches here don’t even make it.

Elements of convenience will always differ between countries, and the better amenities aren’t always determined by size and economic standard.

But then again, despite the “convenience” of life here, the cost of living is high. Also, you may be earning enough to be able to vacation overseas but may not have the luxury of time because of family, work and life demands.#

Related Entries:

The “First World” American Way of Life from a New Immigrant’s View

Easter or Wester: a Latitude of Holy Week Observations

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