• 10 Not-So-Obvious Things I Love About Panama

    I missed you guys. Really, I did. I’ve been thinking a lot about Panama For Real and wishing I had more time to dive back into the pool of milky white virtual paper and Verdana font. The truth is, I’ve been incredibly busy putting food on the table. I’ve said before that Panama isn’t an easy place to live if you need to earn a living. It’s super chill if you have a reliable, steady flow of income, but having to deal with the daily grind can be a menace. And that’s where I find myself now. PFR, being a 100% free website definitely doesn’t pay the bills, but that’s my burden, not yours. I promise to keep this going if you promise to hang in there whenever I’m plagued with random bouts of holy-cow-I’m-too-freakin’-busy-to-focus-on-a-Panama post. Deal?

    That said, what better way to get back into motion than to talk about some of the completely random things I love about Panama? You’re probably groaning right now, thinking, “Come on, Chris. Everyone writes the 10 things you’ll love about Panama stuff.” True enough. Fair enough. But I promise to try and do this a little different from the pay-for-info sites. Let me break it down to show you what I mean.

    I love seeing Estefania and Victoria getting involved in their new country’s celebrations

    Everyone writes about the convenience of our time zone (no daylight savings time changes here), banking, the use of the U.S. dollar, the ability (kind of) to get by speaking very little Spanish, and of course the raw beauty you find in Panama. I’ve written about these things too. But what else is there to love about Panama?

    1. Bananas

    I freakin’ love bananas. And they’re incredibly cheap here. This is the banana capital of the world. At the supermarket closest to my house, bananas right now cost about $.30 a pound.

    I love bananas. Nico does too.

    I participated in a book-promotion interview recently and was asked to list some things people didn’t already know about me. Bananas. The fruit was on the list. I told the story about how, when I was in high school, our football coach insisted that everyone on the team join an alternate sport in the off-season. The idea was that none of us would get lazy. I, and my good buddy Brian, joined track. Brian was a 300-pound lineman and wanted to throw discus. I had no serious athletic ability. I was a pretty good football player, but I wasn’t great. I wasn’t fast that’s for sure.

    So what did I do on the track team? I ate bananas. Yep, I sat in the bleachers, with Brian, and munched on bananas out of a big plastic grocery bag the track coach brought to each track meet. When it was time to run my 100-yard dash, I’d get up, run the race, lose the race, and then sit back down. As I listened to people whisper jokes like, “Damn, that white boy’s shadow was faster than he was,” I’d eat more bananas while flippin’ them the bird.

    I love seeing unintentionally raunchy traffic signs (seriously, I took this photo in the El Doroado area)

    I think I’ve told you guys this story already, but the funny thing about Panama, is even with the oversupply of bananas, it can be incredibly difficult getting a banana split sometimes. I used to go the Baskin Robbins 31 Flavors in Costa del Este, or what I like to call the 10 flavors over and over again. Every single time I tried to order a banana split, I was told they were out of bananas. I’m not kidding. They were out of bananas all the time. So one day, I kid you not, I took my own bananas. I put one in each of my front pockets and drove to Baskin Robins. I ordered a banana split.

    Lo siento, Señor. No hay bananas.” I was told (Ok, that’s my crappy Spanish at work, but it went something like that).

    “Ah,” I said as I acted like I had an amazing idea. “No hay problema.”

    I pulled the two bananas out of my pockets and placed them on the counter. The girl looked shocked and then started laughing with her coworker. I’m sure I was the joke of the place for a while, but I got my banana split that’s for sure.

    2. Boxing on regular TV

    I remember living in the U.S. and wanting to see the big fight. If you didn’t have HBO or Showtime you’d have to find a buddy who did or head to a local bar. Some of the big fights were on pay-per-view right?

    I love sitting behind video-game-loving truck drivers in traffic

    You don’t have to worry about that here in Panama. The fights are always on basic cable. The Pacquiao VS Algieri fight the other night was playing on my father-in-law’s TV—free. The UFC fights used to play free on basic cable too, but I think that’s changed. I haven’t seen the fights live lately. I could be wrong about that though. Still, if you want to watch a UFC fight or a WWE event, you just find a website that allows you to either stream it live or watch post-premier, or like back home, just head out to Hooters or one of the sports bars in town.

    I’d love to hear back from readers already living in Panama. What are some of the ways you watch live events that aren’t on basic cable?

    3. Bootlegged stuff

    I’ve seen the short videos that play at the beginning of the DVDs you rent out of the Redbox. Pirated videos are wrong because they support terrorism and don’t support the companies that charge $24.99 per DVD. Ok, I’m not saying that I don’t believe in the whole “pirating is stealing” idea. I get it. But I also remember going to a record store and spending an absurd amount of money on a CD that probably had one, maybe two songs I liked. The rest were filler songs. Likewise, I remember going into a popular DVD store, like um…what’s it called…FYE I think, and spending over $30 on a DVD. That’s close to robbery.

    I love hanging out with baby Brad, the newest Kidpat in the family

    So, I have to admit that I kind of like that you can buy cheap DVDs on the sidewalk in front of the supermarkets and that you can go to one of the shopping centers and pick up an R4 chip to stick in your kids’ Nintendo DS, pre-loaded with up to 100 games (rather than pay $50 per game).

    I like that you can take a Playstation system to El Dorado and have it altered so it can play bootlegged games that cost $5 rather than the real games that cost $70. I like that you can honk your horn and buy crazy Latin music mixes for an upcoming party from the guy in the street median. I like that you can buy cheap wannabe Samsung cell phone chargers for your car and fake Oakley sunglasses for your face. Sorry, had to add the “for your face” ending to that sentence because it just flowed so smoothly (and it made me laugh). Realistically, the people who can afford it are still going to buy the name brands. A fake Rolex is a fake Rolex. It’s probably not going to keep time like the real thing, but it can look cool at a cocktail party.

    I love seeing my kids so happy with baby Brad around (family is everything here)  

    Is it wrong? I guess. I don’t know. I’m a writer and someone asked me the other day how I’d feel if he picked up my book for free online at one of the pirate sites. I said, “Dude, if you can find my book for free, I’d be honored if you stole it.” Shoot, I’ve given my books away so many times for free on Amazon and Smashwords that it doesn’t make much of a difference. Two of my novels are free right now on Wattpad. Publicity is publicity. If someone reads my book for free, likes it, and either tells someone about it or writes a review on Amazon, that’s helpful to me. So I’m cool with it.

    Plus, I’m not making many dimes writing. It’s not the reason I’m writing. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to make a living on my books, but I write to entertain. It’s what I love to do. If I can hit Stephen King status at some point in my future, I’ll probably pass out from excitement, but in the meantime I’ll stick with being an underground, street writer. Does that even exist? Sounds like a new novel idea. The shoddy world of underground novel writing, ha! Where we sell our bodies for the chance at publication!

    4. Fireworks

    Yes, fireworks have been mentioned on other websites. Panamanians celebrate everything by shooting bright flowery rockets into the night sky. Don’t believe me? Check out the video I shot from my brother-in-law’s condo last Christmas Eve HERE

    But what I love about Panama is the fact that everyone can buy fireworks. In the U.S., it’s getting ridiculous. When I left, the only fireworks that were legal to buy were the freakin’ white popit things kids throw at the ground and sparklers. Oh and those little volcano shaped things that spew colorful sparks from their tops. Those are exciting.

    I love clownin’ around on Halloween (yep, that’s me, the clown)

    I’m sure out in the country somewhere, probably back where my dad’s living in the prairie lands, on the outskirts of Tulsa, Oklahoma, the fields are alive with the real deal fireworks, but in most places they’re illegal.

    In Panama, every day of the year you’ll find fireworks stores, or little roadside stands, selling everything from bottle rockets to mortars. And if you happen to get lucky enough to move into a predominantly Chinese neighborhood here in Panama, you’re in for a treat—especially during the Chinese New Year. I lived in a neighborhood called Los Laureles, and my Chinese neighbors were fireworks fanatics. I think they even shot off fireworks on their wedding anniversaries or their kids’ birthdays or maybe even each time their kids got a 5 (equal to an A here) on a school test. It was nuts. What did I, the gringo with no fireworks on hand do to show my support? I banged pots and pans of course. That’s what we do! I clanged metal lids against aluminum pots and shouted, “Happy New Year, Happy Anniversary, and good job on that 5, kid!” 

    5. The 13th month and lots of holidays

    I was off work the other day, and I don’t even know why. That’s awesome. Back home, I’d be lucky to get Veterans Day off and I’m a freakin’ veteran. Mother’s Day was no big deal in the U.S. Sure, you’d get your wife flowers and chocolates and jewelry and probably maker her dinner or breakfast in bed. Then both of you would head off to work while the kids went to school. Not in Panama. Mother’s Day is a national holiday here. The government shuts down, the kids are out of school…it’s a big deal.

    I love my wife and the mother of my children!

    A free Disney musical was live on stage at the Cinta Costera, and it was packed. My wife was invited to my kids’ school Mother’s Day celebration where gifts were raffled off and my kids did everything from singing to dancing to reading poetry with their classmates. At my school, the guys got together and bought lunch for the moms, gave roses to each mom, and put on a crazy sketch show with singing, dancing, lip syncing, and even a comedy skit.

    I’m sure fireworks were going off somewhere in town that day. Father’s Day? A pretty big deal, but not nearly as big as Mother’s Day.

    Independence Days are a big deal here too. And it seems like there are a hundred of ‘em. Ok, before I get the ridiculous comments and emails from Panamanians schooling me on exactly how many days there are and on what each one of them means…I know already. I’m just goofing around. However, there are several independence days here and each is taken quite seriously.

    So, as I told a reader recently who was considering coming down to Panama in November to take care of his immigration paperwork. Don’t plan anything during the month of November. Don’t do it! Just don’t. November is holiday month here. And when there are two or three holidays during the week, it’s customary to shut everything down for the whole week. So don’t set yourself up for that kind of frustration. Instead, enjoy the days off and have fun like everyone else. Head to Casco Viejo (Casco Antiguo as it’s now referred) and watch the desfiles (parades).

    I loved seeing Vica (the only girl on drums) hang with the boys all day at the parade. She was a trooper.

    Oh, and another great thing about working in Panama is the 13th month. Panamanian employees earn an extra 1/3rd of their salary in April, August, and December. It’s called the decimo. I love it because it’s kind of a way of making sure that Panamanians receive some sort of Christmas bonus.

    Let’s face it, many (not all) employers here are foreigners and cheapskate foreigners at that. People move to Panama and open businesses because they want to save some money. More often than not it’s at the expense of the Panamanian worker. I’ve seen people forced to work 6 (or 7) days a week, with no vacation, no holidays off, no decimo, and at pay far below minimum wage…it’s horrible. And this is really common when employers hire illegal immigrants here (like Venezuelans trying to escape the situation in their home country). I’ve known many Venezuelan people, skilled workers, making sad amounts of money while working ridiculous hours.

    I can’t tell you how to handle illegal immigrants working for you, but a fair shake would be really cool. When it comes to Panamanian workers, if you own a business here, or if you plan to, please abide by the rules. Don’t try to rip Panamanians off and force them to work on their holidays (without holiday overtime pay). Or for the bare minimum salary. And if you do, don’t complain later that the quality of work here is lousy. You get what you pay for.

    If someone were paying me $300 per month, I’d turn in shit work too. It’s just a fact of life. You can pay workers less than you would in the U.S. or in Canada or in the U.K., and still pay well over Panama’s minimum wage.

    6. Buying cheap stuff

    Yes, I know the difference between cheap and affordable, but remember, I’m from Oklahoma and we use the two interchangeably for the most part. When I say cheap, I don’t mean it’s falling apart. I mean it’s not spendy. It’s not pricey. Rent in Panama isn’t cheap, at least not in Panama City. I’ve been over that before. Food can be if you buy local brands. But life in Panama can still be incredibly affordable in many aspects. Please, Chris, do explain. Sure I will.

    Cheap Clothes:  Ha, this can go both ways as in cheap (the ironed-on mighty Avengers patch in the front of your kids’ pajamas peels off the first time you wash it) and as in cheap (you won’t break your bank buying a pack of panties).

    I’m a fan of the Silver Jack jeans. They’re like Silver Tab in my opinion. I can’t bring myself to spend $50 on a pair of blue jeans. Instead, I’ll head to Saks (not 5th avenue, but Juan Diaz or El Dorado, big difference) or Dorians and pick up a pair of Silver Jacks for $10-$15. I’ve gotten lucky and found a $7 sale going on once. As I’ve mentioned before, just check your pockets and make sure your hands fit in them. And do try them on before purchasing as the crotches on jeans can be tight (narrow? short? non-existent? How do you accurately describe minimal crotch space?) and sewn-in, instant wedgies happen often.

    I love when my kids work together on school projects

    Women can find nice looking shoes and high heels for like $3 a pop. Let’s be honest, ladies, most of you have a closet full of shoes and only wear each pair a couple of times. So why spend a fortune on a pair when you can pick up one for every occasion for crazy affordable prices? If you’re dainty, or skinny I should say, T-shirts can cost as low as $1.99. Chubby fellows like me, or broad-shouldered chaps aren’t going to slip into these threads. We need to find the American brands, but even those can be found for $5 to $7 a T-shirt at the same places I mentioned before.

    Cheap beer: If you’re not able to fit into the $1.99 T-shirts it might be because you’ve already discovered the cheap beer. A can of local beer costs less than $.70. The price of a six pack hovers right around $4.00, usually less. Click HERE to check out this article I wrote awhile back about buying drinks in Panama for more info on the subject (be advised this was written about a year ago so prices have gone up a few cents).

    I love quick trips to the mountains, like this one to Altos del Maria

    A word of advice, watch out for some of the bars on Calle Uruguay, the hot party spot in Panama’s downtown area. At one of the karaoke places, I went to the bar to buy a couple of bottles of Balboa beer (local brand that would cost about $.79 each in the supermarket) and was quoted $8. That’s EIGHT. As in 1…2…3…4…5…6…7…8…for two Panamanian beers. That’s ridiculous. That’s how much I paid for a Budweiser in Alaska. Now, if you go to a more down-to-earth, local bar here in Panama, you’ll pay a dollar (or less) for the same bottle of Balboa beer. So just watch out.

    Cheap haircuts: I’ve had the same military-like do for a long time, and I cut my own hair. It all started when I lived in Boynton Beach, Florida, and the local barber shop charged me $17 for this haircut. I paid it a few times and it always bothered me knowing I was shelling out $20 (with the tip) for such a quick and easy job. That’s when I went to Walmart, picked up a $14 clipper and started doing my own hair. Turns out I have an odd shaped head that makes it nearly impossible for me to mess up.

    I love $.35 bus and train rides

    I said nearly because it just so happens that I did mess up, years ago on the day before my daughter’s birthday, when I shaved the front of my hair clean off and ended up having to shave my whole head bald. Not fun. Funny, not fun.

    In Panama, you won’t have to worry about that $17 do. I got my hair cut for $4. My wife can get hers cut for probably about $8. Now, don’t get me wrong, if you go to one of the fancy salons in Multiplaza Mall or in the San Francisco or Paitilla areas, you’ll pay top dollar, just like back home. But if you go to a Factory Fashion or a local salon, men and women can expect to pay much less. The trick, just like with any salon, is to find someone you trust and keep going back to them. 

    Cheap movies: I’ve mentioned this a few times, but I’m a movie fanatic, so it’s something I love about Panama. The last time I took my daughters to see a movie in the U.S. was in Chicago, Illinois. I paid $17 for parking at the theater, $10 for my ticket, $8 for each of my daughters’ tickets, and by the time I paid for snacks, I’d spent about $60.

    Fast forward a couple of years to the first time I took them to see a movie at the Cinemark in Los Pueblos. It was a Wednesday night, which happens to be cheap movie day here in Panama. For the three of us I paid just over $6 total for tickets. Add $10 at the most for snacks and I spent  about $16 at the movies.

    I love buying fresh pipa (coconut water) from this guy under the bridge in San Miguelito

    The trick is to make sure you go on a Wednesday. I think right now Cinemark is still running their Thursday special where you can show your Pricesmart membership card (like Costco or Sam’s Club here) and get 2 for 1 movie tickets.

    And if you happen to go to the movies any other day of the week, it’s usually only about $4 a person. 3D is a little bit more and VIP (the reclining leather seats) is somewhere around $10 each ticket.

    Here are the websites for the two main theaters here if you want to check pricing and show times. Cinemark and Cinepolis. Or for a quick look at what’s playing at all the Panama cinemas try Cinespanama. Just remember SUB or SUBITULADA means the movie is in English with Spanish subtitles. DOB or DOBLADA means the movie will be dubbed in Spanish.

    7. Mini Supers, often referred to as Chinos

    Before I’m pounced on, I’m not a fan of calling them chinos, but that’s what people know them as. In fact, I know the name of the Chinese owner of the store near my house, Erica, and I suggest you get to know the owners of your closest mini-super too. You might make a good friend.

    I almost put this section up there with the cheap items list because what I love most about these mini-supers is the ability to buy exactly what you need, the actual amount you need, for affordable prices. If I need 2 eggs because I’m baking a cake, I can run to the store and purchase 2 eggs. I don’t have to buy a dozen like at a normal supermarket.

    I love fishing mangos out of the tree in our front yard

    If I need one trash bag for some reason, I can buy one trash bag. If my daughter has an art project for school and needs one pair of wobbly eyes for a sock puppet, I can buy one pair of eyes instead of an entire package. I love it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve rushed to the mini-super in a pinch. I’ve gone to pick up oil, a banana, half a chicken, one stick of butter…you name it. The place closest to my house has stacks of eggs right at the cash register. So, if you need 1 Snickers bar, 1 box of matches, 1 razor for shaving, 3 pieces of gum, 1 razor blade, 3 trash bags, and 2 eggs, you’re in luck. I don’t know why you’d need all that stuff, in that denomination, unless you’re MacGyver, but you never know.

    8. Ability to Negotiate

    In the U.S., we’ve lost the ability to negotiate. Unless you’re at a used car dealership or trying to buy a house, negotiation has almost become a thing of the past. In Panama, if you know what you’re doing, and if you speak Spanish, it’s a handy tool.

    I love ceviche, one of my new favorite snacks

    When I first moved to Panama, I needed to buy appliances. I’d left the house back home up for sale, and figured it would be best to leave the appliances in it, rather than trying to sell a gutted home. This meant I needed to buy a stove, a fridge, a washer, and a dryer. I made sure I took my mother-in-law with me. Gloria, my wife’s mother, is awesome. She’s a good friend, but also super handy to have around too. She knows how to negotiate and isn’t afraid to give people a piece of her mind when they’re full of it. I had no idea I could negotiate here, but when I went to buy a stove, she immediately started talking down the price.

    I love street performers

    This wasn’t at a garage sale or a Salvation Army or some mom and pop store. This was Rodelag, a major appliance store here. She asked the sales person for a discount. He went to ask his boss and we ended up paying less. I’m not sure how much, but less. At a Do-It-Center (kind of like a Home Depot here), I wanted to buy an exercise bike. I think the price was $150 or something like that. It was the only one available though and I know my wife hates buying the floor model. Plus, this one had a scratch on it. I negotiated with the sales person and he talked to his boss. I ended up getting it for like $20 less.

    I’m not the kind of person who likes to talk his way into a sweeter deal. I just don’t like the hassle of it. I’m more likely to just pay the regular price than to try and negotiate every time I walk into a store, but if you’re able to, and you like that kind of thing, give it a try.

    9. Barcelona vs. Madrid days

    I love American football, but I’ve come to appreciate futbol (or soccer). I’ll never forget my first Barcelona vs. Madrid game. I was with my Finnish friend, Juha. We went to a local bar to drink beer, eat greasy appetizers, and see these two teams battle it out. I had no idea the importance of this rivalry. I’d seen the red jerseys worn by half the city’s population whenever the Panama team was set to play a game, but why would Panamanians care so much about two teams from Spain? I wouldn’t think it would be a big deal. Wrong.

    I love push buttons. They’re just so cool, cheap, and convenient, ha!

    There are two types of people in Panama. Barcelona fans and Real Madrid fans. It’s almost like the Capulets and the Montagues. I’m not even sure if a Barcelona fan and a Madrid fan can marry. Their kids may be shunned by society.

    This is a rivalry taken seriously. On our way to that bar to see my first ever Barcelona vs. Madrid game, the guy driving the car got pulled over. He was going the wrong way on a one-way street, just for a second, trying to find the bar. The cop knocked on his window, the guy rolled it down, and as soon as the cop peered in and saw he was wearing a Real Madrid jersey, he just smiled and said something like, “You’re lucky you’re wearing the right team’s jersey. If you’d been wearing a Barcelona shirt I would’ve given you a ticket.” That was it. We were on our way. Not even a warning. Just a laugh and a “the bar’s thataway.”

    When I got our car, a used one, it had a Barcelona license plate on the front of it. I took it off. Not because I don’t like Barcelona. I don’t really have a preference between the two teams. I just didn’t want to get pulled over someday and happen to meet a cop who favors the opposing team.

    10. Old fashioned lifestyle

    Ok this one is rapidly changing, but I still feel like this place is kind of like the U.S. in the 50s. Ha, like Leave it to Beaver without the Beaver. More like Leave it to Manuel.

    I’ve mentioned the opportunity here a lot. Especially in places like Pedasi, these small beach towns that are constantly growing. If you move to one of these small places like Aguadulce or the farming area (not the resort side) of Rio Hato or even Penonome, and you notice something is missing, just bring it to the town yourself.

    Please, no more pizzerias in Coronado! Sorry, that had to be said.

    What I mean is, if you move to the town and you realize it would be really cool to have a super chill café where local talent can strum the guitar on Friday evenings, just do it. What’s stopping you? If you notice there’s not a good sandwich shop in town, and you happen to be a deli master, what are you waiting for? Bring your culinary karate to that town.

    I love butt naked piñatas. This photo cracks me up every time.

    And it’s not just the opportunity that reminds me of the 50s (not that I was alive in the 50s, but I’ve seen Back to the Future and it looks awesome). It’s the freedom and the way of life.

    You can still, at some gas stations, have your gas pumped for you and your windows washed and your oil and tire pressure checked. People still bag your groceries and carry them out to your car for you. Gardeners come to your house, stand outside, and call your name (or jefe or something like that) until you let them know whether you do or do not need their services. Shoe repair people ride around on bikes and solicit your business. A dude standing in the back of a pickup announces produce for sale through a megaphone as his team drives up and down the neighborhood streets.

    I love sweet deals like this gigantic bag of produce from Cerro Punta

    And if you’d rather head to a farmer market yourself, do it. Go. Find your fresh and affordable veggies. Don’t even clean your house if you don’t want to. Hire someone to do it, just like the gardener and pool cleaners. These are hardworking Panamanians. Just pay them a fair wage and relax, enjoy the services they provide.

    I love the uncorrupted freedom too. Let me explain as I’m sure someone just jumped off their computer chair, shook a fist in the air, and yelled, “WTF are you talking about, Chris, politicians are incredibly corrupt!” I don’t mean that. I mean the thought process in Panama isn’t corrupt. There’s still a naïve way about this place.

    The people are just so much more laid back. Stupid things don’t bother them. For example, I’m working at a school right now. To show their appreciation, the 12th graders set up a really nice lunch for the teachers. It was a beautiful ceremony with a video showing each of the kids thanking their teachers. It was touching. After the video, the teachers were led to a buffet-style table and there was even sangria. Sangria is wine, people. Now, this was at the end of the school day, and teachers took only one cup of wine to toast with. The students didn’t drink a drop. But I thought that was really cool. This would never happen in the U.S. Why? Because at some point in time, a parent wrote in (this was probably long before email, and it was probably the parent of a scorned child) and said they thought it was inappropriate for teachers to have wine in front of kids.

    For Teachers’ Day, which is also a big deal here in Panama, a lot of students bring gifts to the teachers. I received wonderful gifts: a Chinese teacup with candy, lots of chocolate and cookies, coffee cups, a really nice pen, and one student even brought me two gift-wrapped bottles of wine. I thought it was very sweet. And to any students or parents who happen to stumble upon this blog post, I want to say thank you. I really appreciate the gifts.

    My point is that in Panama, I feel that life is still livable, not only at a slower pace, but with a little more freedom. Not everything is looked at under a magnifying glass. Casual Fridays still exist here.

    Living here, I’d buy fresh baked bread or diced fruit or jars of fresh honey from people in the street medians. Would I do that in the U.S.? Hell no, that would be weird. Somehow we’ve lost that sense of trust back home. Everything is scrutinized.

    11. Sense of pride

    As always, a little something extra. Panamanians have fought long and hard for their freedom and they’re well aware of it. We just went through the November month’s celebrations and I got to watch my daughters march in the desfiles (parades). Victoria was chosen to play the drums during one parade and both of my daughters danced in their polleras during another parade. These are events that go on for several days, all day long, and people love them.

    As part of a school field trip, I got to go along with some of the classes to the movie theater to see the movie Historias del Canal. This was a Panama-made movie that focused on several stories, all having to do with the building of the Panama Canal and the history of the Canal Zone. Most of the movie was in English so I understood a good portion of it. Man, kind of like the old series Roots, this painted a horrible picture of how we treated Panamanians and everyone else involved in building the canal. It was tough to watch. I felt bad. And yes, for those who grew up in the Canal Zone, I know there are two sides to every story, but still, it’s an important story for not only Panamanians to understand, but for Americans living here.

    This is the movie I’m talking about

    Following the movie, I assigned students an essay, where they needed to either write about their thoughts on the film, write about their trip to the Canal Museum, or write about how Panama would be today if it hadn’t experienced its past. Almost every student wrote something about Martyrs’ Day.

    Without going too heavy into the past, this is basically about a group of high school students who got fed up with the fact that Americans were not allowing Panamanians access to the Canal Zone area, and more importantly, the fact that the Panamanian flag was not allowed to fly alongside the American flag in this U.S. occupied area of Panama. So, the students protested, marched into the Canal Zone, and demanded their flag be raised next to the U.S. flag. Things got heated when the Panamanian flag was torn by Canal Zone police officers. In the end, it’s said that 21 Panamanians and 4 American soldiers sadly lost their lives.

    Of course, there’s much more to the story, but this is known as a major event that eventually helped lead to the Panamanians gaining possession of the Panama Canal from the U.S. and the U.S. military finally leaving Panamanian soil.

    I love Panamanian pride

    Reading these kids’ thoughts on Martyrs Day was eye opening. It made me think about U.S. history and how similar it is to the Panamanians’. It made me think about our sense of pride and how far we’ve come as a nation.

    You guys know me. You know I can get kind of preachy sometimes and I know you guys put me in my place when you don’t agree with me, but believe it or not, I think some of us here in Panama are forgetting where we come from. We might have some issues, ok some major issues in the U.S. right now, but we have to be careful about how we speak about our own country.

    Never, never ever, have I heard a Panamanian bad mouth his or her country. Sure, they might agree that customer service needs some fixing and that traffic is a major problem, but it’s very rare to have someone flat out say they hate their country or can’t stand their country and that’s why they left.

    Now, go read some of the Facebook group threads or just listen when expats gather. Guys, we don’t hate our country. We don’t. At least I hope we don’t. Some of us may hate the current president, we may hate the way the IRS is able to dip its hands into our pockets, and we may hate the way our veterans are treated. Sure, some things definitely need fixing. But let’s be careful about how we speak about our country, especially in the presence of other foreigners. It just dumbs us down. 

    I worry that some people don’t really understand what it means to be an expat. Expat is short for expatriate and expatriate means a person temporarily or permanently living in a country that is not of the person’s upbringing. To many people, living abroad is just an extension of their American dream. They just want to retire somewhere exotic, someplace different. It has nothing to do with hatred or abandonment. It doesn’t mean anti-patriot. At least not for most people.

    I do not hate my country. Not at all. In fact, whenever Toby Keith’s “Angry American” plays or Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” plays, I get a little bit teary eyed.  When that kid, Quintavious Johnson (age 12), sang the national anthem during the Lions game, I got chills and had to look it up on Youtube to show my kids. If you haven’t seen this kid sing, you need to check out this video. It’s amazing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNPc4oNkK04.

    Things have taken a bad turn in the States, but every time I hear someone say that the U.S. is no longer a feared and powerful country, I’d love to smack ’em upside the head. We’ve still got the most badass country around. We’ve just got a few scrapes and bruises. As Coach used to say, “Get up and put some ice on it.” 

    We can love America while living in Panama, we can go after that American dream while living in Panama, and we can be proud of our country while living in Panama—just like the Panamanians who are proud of their country.

    On that note, I’d just like to once again apologize for taking such a long break and thank you for hanging in there. Thanks for sticking around and as always, thanks for reading.

    Chris

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33 Responsesso far.

  1. Thanks for your blog, Chris! First time reading it.
    We are planning to move to Panama after visiting 3 or 4 times and it is very nice to have our feelings, observations echoed. Also thanks for the expat/pro country notes. I hope we can fix it!
    Mary

    • Chris says:

      Thank you, Mary! I know you commented a long time ago. By now you might already be here in Panama. Let me know how your journey is going.

  2. Peter Kim says:

    Hey!

    Thanks for all the information. I was wondering if you knew of any fireworks shops in Panama city where I could purchase some fireworks? I am headed to a remote lodge in Chiriqui where we would like to celebrate at night.

    Thnks

  3. Jim Quarles says:

    Chris, I’ve been working my way through PFR for a month or so now, and I’ve enjoyed and learned from everything I’ve read and watched. Your information seems fresh, accurate, you’ve answered several questions, before I even asked them! My wife and I are retired and considering a move to Panama, doing our research now. We’re looking at a couple of other Latin American countries, in addition to Panama, but Panama is the most interesting to us. Please add me to your mailing list, looking forward to more of your work…

  4. Capt. Bill Thornton says:

    Chris,

    First time reads. I like your stuff. I’ve been writing for a number of years as well, mostly fiction. Moving from Golfito, CR to Coon in a few days, and like the refreshing style, and information. We’ll be living on our boat near Colon for a while, and I’ll be following you. Thanks for a good write.

    Bill

  5. David and Melody Robinson says:

    Hi Chris,
    Melody and I enjoyed this post very much. We have been on a break from Panama visit planning but now we are back in full swing. Thanks for making our day….
    David

  6. peter l. sims & family says:

    Dear Sir,
    Thank you for such an informative blog. My wife and I lived in the pacific for about 11 years and reading your blog brings back many memories. I am considering another move outside the u,s, and Panama is on my list. As a retired aircraft mechanic I will be looking for opportunities in panama in the not so traveled areas of the country. Thanks again and I will email if and when we decide to visit panama.
    Peter l. Sims

  7. nelva leavitt says:

    Happy New Year Chris,
    It’s great to hear from you again. I’ve missed your writing and ideas, your fun loving perspective.
    I wish you and your family a 2015 filled with blessings of Peace, Love, Health and Prosperity.
    Keep the writing coming as soon as you can.

  8. John & Susan says:

    Hi Chris,
    glad you are doing well. We are signed up with your blog but have not received an update since October.
    Has our email been taken off your list?

    Thanks.

    • Chris says:

      Hi John & Susan,

      Thanks so much. No, I’m sure you haven’t been taken off the list. The truth is, I haven’t sent one out since then. I started the newsletter as a way to let people know when I’d created a new location report or video. I don’t like to spam peoples’ inboxes. But since I’ve had so much downtime lately (as I mentioned in this article) I just haven’t had time to do new videos or articles. I’ll definitely get back to it though and should be able to complete a new article/video soon. As soon as I do, I’ll definitely send out a newsletter. Thanks so much for following along and for getting in touch. Sorry you had to do that. I’ll send something out soon.

      Chris

  9. Carl says:

    Worth the wait, Chris.
    Glad to hear that you’re staying busy, I can see you being a good teacher. Keep up the good work, and try and write more often!

    Carl

  10. Chick white says:

    Howdy Chris,

    I just stumbled on yourweb site/blog. I’ve spent half the morning browsing your musings. I pretty much agree with everything you say. I’m also a vet and love my country but how did we get so over-protected from ourselves? I loved the example of the machete on top of the vegetables at a local mercado. I’m 70 so I grew up in the fifties. I carried a pen knife to school everyday. My high school had a shooting club. We played pickup ball and our parents were not worried that we would be abducted orwhatever. I remember one summer when my dad was stationed at Ft. Belvoir, he took my brother and I with him and dropped us off at the Smithsonian and would pick us up after work. I think we got to explore all of the Smithsonian plus all the other museums and memorials in the area. I was 9 and my brother was 7. I think if that happened today, the parents would be charged with child endangerment and have their children taken away.

    I’m loving Panama and Boquete. You are so right about the people. They are gracious and kind and loving…and yes happy.

    I’ll look up your books. While I have a Kindle, I generally prefer to read my books on my iPad.

    Loved the article on the metro. I look forward to riding it the next time I am in Panama City.

    Ciao for now,
    Chick White

    • Chris says:

      Hey Chick,

      Thanks for spending so much time on the site. I appreciate it. Your story about the Smithsonian reminded me of my years in the Ft. Lauderdale, Florida area. I used to ride my bike all over town and I couldn’t have been any older than 10. I even got mugged and had my bike stolen. Those were the days, lol. I used to skateboard all over downtown Ft. Laud too. I’d hang out at the library a lot. I would never let my 10 or even my 12 year old do the things I did as a kid. No freakin’ way! Hey, my books should be in the iTunes store too if you prefer to check them out there. I published on Amazon and through Smashwords, which uploads your book onto Barnes and Noble, iTunes, and all those other websites. Thanks again for reading and for taking the time to comment.

      Chris

  11. Lisa Anderson says:

    As always, well said. I completely agree with just about all your points, about Panama, and the US, and how many people bad mouth. I agree 100%, I have never heard a Panamanian badmouth their country. As a veteran too, you know it actually pains me to hear this when it is said against the US. Believe me, I don’t like some things about the US, but you really hit home pointing out that we don’t HATE it!! And I like and dislike some things about Panama as well. Life is never greener on the other side.. you make it what you want wherever you are.

    Take care, and have a great holiday…

    Lisa

    • Chris says:

      Hey Lisa,

      Good to hear from you again. I hope you guys are doing well. Yes, the badmouthing about the U.S. is just nuts. We all have the right to complain, but bashing our country as a whole isn’t cool.

      Thanks again, Lisa.

      Chris

  12. All very true. Also there is a strong respect for the elderly, an emphasis on family unity and a culture of giving back and helping those less fortunate at all levels.

    • Chris says:

      Hey,

      Thanks for checking out the site. Yes, you’re absolutely right. There’s definitely a lot of respect for the elderly. As to what you said about helping those less fortunate, especially family, that’s why it’s rare to see a consignement store. When someone is finished with something here (clothes, appliances, etc.) they give it to family members.

      Thanks again,

      Chris

  13. Armand says:

    Chris,
    Glad to see you are back. Loved your comments, as always. We have been in La Tablas for a few months now and really love it. It’s like you said about so many things. Just rented a small house on the edge of town and got a car so we can explore the countryside. Look forward to your next post. I post on Facebook for family and friends; to chronicle our adventures here and provide information that I wish we had to people thinking about moving here. I know it is a challenge when you have other responsibilities. I’m retired and it is difficult to get to regularly.

    • Chris says:

      Hey Armand,

      Thanks, man! Glad to hear things are working out in Las Tablas. That’s a cool place. I need to visit again soon and do a report/video on it. What’s your Facebook link? Post it here in the comments so others can get to it, and I’ll mention it on FB (and like it and all that).

      Thanks again, brother.

      Chris

  14. Roger says:

    Hi Chris

    It has been long time that I wrote a comment here. Panamanians have been criticized because of our laid back attitude towards life. Yeah I have to admit that sometimes things goes to the limit but in general I think it is a good thing. We work to live not live to work. That is the difference we have from other first world countries. People are tied and stressed by their jobs.

    In Panama there is a popular phrase: “Limpio, pero content..” It is something like “Broke (no money) but happy”. You have notice while living here how hard some people work to make some money in this hard weather. At the end I tell myself that they deserve to enjoy the parties, the holydays, the weekends….

    It has been published that Panamanians are one the happiest people in the world. I am starting to think it is totally true. We enjoy those moments we have together with our friends, family, coworkers…. enjoying a good dinner, good and refreshing cold beer and a good conversation about the recent football game or the next box championship…. We will always have an excuse to party and drink some beers with our friends and family.

    I know that there are a lot of things we should improve. We are not perfect but as you said…. I love this little piece of land.

    By the way your kids looks great with the Polleras and tipico dress. It has been told that a girl or women will look beautiful wearing our Pollera. It is great that your kids enjoy their two nationalities they have.

    I do love tropical fruits. I enjoy the Watermelon season at the Dry Season, specially February and March. I bought one watermelon at least weekly. My wife cuts it in dices and place it in the refrigerator. My boys makes them disappear in minutes. I also love the Mango season and Avocados.

    As I told you, looks like we are neighbors. I live in Altos del Romeral that is next to Chanis. Hope we could meet one day and exchange some words.

    Roger

    • Chris says:

      Hi Roger,

      Good to hear from you again. I actually took my son to the doctor in Plaza Carolina the other night, or tried to, but it was closed. I mentioned to my wife that you’d said something about it in one of the comments. Thanks so much for your comments. I love watermelon and mango too. It’s the same in my house. As soon as it’s cut, it disappears. Piña too. We should definitely meet up someday. We´re neighbors, man!

      Chris

  15. jim says:

    HAllooo

    CHRIS YOU ARE RIGHT ON

    WHEN YOU COME TO PANAMA ENJOY THE FREEDOM, THE PEOPLE, THE DIVERSITY

    LEAVE YOUR
    PROBLEMS At
    Where U CAME FROM

    DO NOT TRY TO CHANGE EVERYTHING
    INTO YOUR WAY

    PEOPLE SHOULD FEEL FORTUNATE
    THAT THEY ARE SO WELCOMED IN
    PANAMA

    GOOD LUCK AND
    GOD BLESS

  16. Kevin says:

    Hi Chris, Welcome back. I missed you. I thoroughly enjoy reading your views on Panama and USA. I’m not American but even I started to feel a little patriotic for the USA! I’m sure you could sell snow to the Eskimos. Also you might like to know that I have just been given a Kindle for my birthday and the first thing that I read on it was “Confinement”

    • Chris says:

      Hey Kevin,

      It’s so good to hear from you, brother. Sorry I was out of the game for so long. I’ll do my best to keep up from now on. Ha, I’ve never been a salesman. I wish I could sell my books. By the way, thanks so much for checking out Confinement. I’m going to email you directly in just a sec. Isn’t the Kindle great? I love that thing!

      Chris

  17. I especially enjoy number ten. I find that back in the states there is a paranoia about everything which becomes a stripping away of freedoms that make no sense. Cops shut down lemonaide stands and if you need some extra money you can’t sell something without a license. I really enjoyed your article 🙂

    • Chris says:

      Thank you so much. Yes, you’re absolutely right. You’d never be able to paint, “Sandra’s Cakes” on the front of your house and just start selling from the driveway, lol. But you can do that here!

      Chris

  18. Dorothy says:

    Damn. This is perfect. It totally describes how I feel about Panama and my home country.

    Yesterday as I walked through the grocery store, I looked down at the vegetable bin here in Boquete and there lay a machete on top of some kind of root veggie. I almost walked right on by (that stuff has become normal to me), then I stopped and thought omg, that would be a lawsuit in the States because some kid would chop their fingers off or an adult would get a boo boo. That kind of stuff is typical here! It has made me realize how overprotected we are in the States. We aren’t allowed to make decisions or take responsibility for our own selves. Here, the sidewalks are super uneven, I’ve ridden a bus in pouring rain with no wipers (how in hell could he see?), stop signs are optional, the local dollar store aisles are packed high and deep making it a challenge to walk through, and people play music and drums all night long. Yesterday I found out an EKG costs $15. What?? All things that would never be seen in the States yet the feeling of freedom to choose feels so good to me. I feel so free here. I hope this country never loses the “thing” that makes them who they are at heart. Beautiful, kind, and loving people. (And I hope they are never infected by the attitudes of some expats.)

    As for dissing the US, I don’t think I put down my home country in front of locals, but I will make sure I don’t now. I love my home country, we have a lot going for us, I just don’t want to live there right now. I may return at some point, who knows? All I know is, currently this is the place for me.

    Thanks, I absolutely love the way you write and this piece was right on the money for me.

    • Chris says:

      Hi Dorothy,

      Wow, I just got chills reading your comment because I felt like we made a connection. So I’m not the only one who feels this way about these things? That’s awesome. Thank you so much for your kind words. It really means a lot to me.

      Chris

      • Dorothy says:

        Nope, you’re not the only one. It is what it is here. Trade-off: stressed out, restricted life for happy, friendly people, warm weather, and a laid back attitude. Works for me.
        I only wish they recycled here lol. I miss that, knowing my garbage can be reused. I feel so weird throwing everything away! Which goes in line with stuff being thrown on the ground here, but hey, the US used to be like that, too, not so long ago. And when I was working, I drove all the backroads for my job, and people are still throwing garbage all over there, it’s just better hidden now. Every Spring after the snows melt, road crews are out picking up all the trash from the winter…where does that come from in our so-called advanced country hmmm? Careless people who are taught differently…and they still do it. Anyhow, I miss my recycling bins! That’s about it. But I do believe that will change eventually. 🙂

        • Chris says:

          Hi Dorothy,

          Yes, Panama is catching on to recycling programs. I’m starting to see the bins around and there have been a lot of recycling fairs lately. Littering drives me crazy. I was just complaining about that today as I saw a guy toss a chocolate milk container out of his car window in front of me. Argh! Cops should start fining people for littering.

          Thanks, Dorothy!

          Chris

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