Metro Manila · Love at second sight – a Parisian in the Philippines

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French national and long-time Metro Manila resident Jean-Marc Freihuber, founder of City Kart Racing in Circuit Makati, tells how upset he was the first time he saw Boracay, the moment he fell in love with Bohol, the time he found the love of his life, and when he decided the Philippines felt home, and will always feel home, to him.

Here's our interview:

Where are you from?

Nancy, France.

What brought you to the Philippines?

The very first time was in 2001. I came here for vacation. My brother, who used to come here, brought me here. We went to Boracay. When we arrived, I was not very happy. I saw white sand beach, coconuts, bars and hotels –nothing different than what you'll see in the coasts of France. I tell my brother, 'We traveled 24 hours to end up in a beach that could very well be a French coast. Seriously?!' My brother was so upset. So we stayed there three days and finally, I told my brother that it was not the type of holiday I wanted. We packed, went back to Manila and went to Bohol.

And then I shut up. I fell in love with Bohol. Big time. I rented a motorbike, went all around the islands, extending our initially planned 5-day stay. Then we flew back to Manila, went straight to El Nido, Palawan and I found it too commercialized again. We shortened our stay, came back to Manila, and went back to Bohol. Then I was back in France.

After two or three months, I was back here to spend three weeks in Bohol. The ambience is so beautiful, the people are so nice. For me that was the dream vacation. I'd come here, two or three times since, bringing my friends. Then I met Lee [Bumgarner] in 2003 or 2004. His daughter was racing. We talked about how I could help them. Then we started talking about doing the City Kart business, which we put up 2004 and opened 2005.

Your name is Jean-Marc. How did you come to be called Jeff?

When I arrived in the country I didn't know how to speak English. And Jean is a girl's name. Marc is a boy's name. In France, it's very common to have two names. Jean is a male's name. It's a saint. When you see a name in France with a dash in between, it's one name only. If there's no dash, it's two names so you can call me Jean or Marc, for example. So when I arrived here, with my English so bad, it took me forever to explain Jean-Marc. So I had to spell it. I was just so embarrassed. It's worse during meetings. First, I have to explain my name and we haven't gotten to the meeting yet. And I have another meeting. Then I remembered, my mother sometimes called me Jeff when I was a kid. When you say Jeff here, everybody knows it. No need to explain. And I had no patience. I have more patience now than before. So people call me Jeff.

What's it like to be a Megacitizen in Manila?

When we closed down City Kart in Paranaque, I really asked myself very clearly, 'What should I do?' You know you sit down, in front of a white page, and you have to make a decision: 'Am I gonna stay here or go somewhere else?' I have also been dreaming of living in South America –Mexico or Brazil. Actually, before I came here I was more scheduled to go there. I've been living in Paris and I really wanted to take off Paris. I wrote on the white page lots of good reasons to stay and lots of good reasons to leave. Among the good reasons for leaving, I wrote that the pace of the people when it comes to work are slower than I like. I like things to move faster. The pollution in Manila is not really good. But in Mexico and Brazil are the same. Even worse. The thing that really made me decide to stay here was that I wrote there, 'I feel home.'

I lived 12 years in Paris. I never felt home. In Paris, you live in a building, you would not even know your two neighbors. You've lived there for five years. You've met them on the elevator, you know they live on the same floor, you meet them in the mailbox room. Sometimes you meet them when taking out the garbage. But you don't know them. Here, we live in a village, you know your neighbor of that house there or that corner. I feel home. Future-wise, it's very easy. Food-wise it's very easy. Filipino food is very easy for us. Amazing thing also is I learned a lot about myself here. Just because you have to cope with the pace. I was a lot more impatient. I'm still impatient. I was a lot more intolerant before. At the end of the day, I feel more happy here. I love Italy, Greece, London. But here, the level of happiness is higher than I would feel in other cities.

And when you look at the people around you. People here are happy. They can have no money, no food, no work. But they're happy. I feel good.

Of course, I'm with Sharon. We just celebrated our five years of being together. We have three kids, including the twins.

Where did you two meet?

At an event. She was modeling. I also organized events. So I woud find ways to hire her and see her more often. When I opened Park Square, I was looking for someone who's into entertaining guests: expats, class A, B. She just came back from managing a facility, a water sports in Dubai. Perfect. It was hard to convince her, at first.

Tips for expats in surviving this Megacity?

The first thing to do is to understand that your culture is not the only culture. You grew up with certain values, certain understanding of life, and you go somewhere, you have to adapt yourself. Tips would be to try to enjoy traveling here. It's something unique. As for the traffic, I completely disagree with people that traffic here is nuts. Just go live in Paris for one year and we'll talk about it again. Rome has crazy traffic. But here, there might be a lot of traffic, but people drive slow and quite safe. I have been driving here for 10 years. Recently, while parking, we kissed the car in front of us. That's the first problem I had in 10 years. In Paris, not bumping your car four times a year is not possible. Just try to be smart like everywhere else when it comes to traffic here. Avoid peak hours like 5 to 8pm. Meet a lot of people. That's what's cool in Manila. For me, the big difference between living in Paris and living in Manila is that the communities are open. In Paris are small groups, unfriendly groups.

Where do you go to relax or eat out in Metro Manila?

We love Sofitel, because it's close to the sea. The place is beautiful. For restaurants, we like Izakaya Nihonbashitei, Le Café Curieux on Polaris, Carpaccio, and Caffe Caruso.