Expat

Thursday, March 30, 2006

On the Box

Television stations in the Philippines must be awash with hand held microphones. Never have I seen so many. Every presenter seems to have one along with performers and guests. I have the lingering memory of seeing the 6 presenters of a local free to air breakfast show seated on 2 sofas each with their own hand held mic. Thankfully they were radio mics otherwise the studio floor would have been spaghetti junction.

The majority of local programs are presented in Taglish, a mixture of Tagalog and English. The majority is Tagalog and my command of Tagalog is such that to get the full meaning of the dialogue would require a lot more than the odd English being word thrown in. Still it is fun to watch the antics of the family’s favourite show, Eat Bulaga which translates as peek-a-boo.

If longevity is any determining factor in popularity, Eat Bulaga has to be stellar. It has been going to air for 25 years, presenting 6 shows a week, 52 weeks a year. It is essentially a 2 game shows where contestants can win up to 1 million pesos and indeed some do, played either side of a half hour comic relief segment.

The comic relief segment is a show to behold in itself. Set in a quasi school room it is based on knock, knock jokes, parodies of pop songs, a chocolate wheel with a jail waiting for those who score zero and usually ends with custard pie fight.

Its main competition in the game show stakes is Wowowee which goes to air on a rival station after Eat Bulaga has finished. Its producers are currently being investigated after 74 people were crushed to death and over 300 injured when a crowd 30,000 people surged forward for tickets for their first anniversary show at the 10,000 seat PhilSports Arena in Pasig.

Fortunately for this Tagalog challenged Aussie there is also cable to compliment the free to air stations. All the usual suspects, HBO, ABC Asia, Discovery, Hallmark, Nickelodeon, et al are amongst the 60 channels on offer for 500 pesos a month.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Visiting da Provinces

Over the past fortnight we have made a couple of visits to friends and relatives who live outside of Manila in Da Provinces, a term that conjures up the prospect of sleepy hollows taking life at a slower place.

Couldn’t be more wrong, the towns of Silang in Cavite and Malolos in Bulacan are bustling metropolises that vie with Metro Manila for noise and action. Cavite is the first province outside of National Capital Region to the south whilst Bulacan is in the north. Except for passing the odd rice paddy and grazing carabow on the journey, you could be excused for thinking you were still in Metro Manila.

Both journeys were of about two hours by public transport, jeep, bus, bus to Silang and jeep, train, FX taxi and jeep to Malolos. Taking into account the amount of traffic on the roads, I doubt that much time would have been saved driving oneself.

The best beloved’s sister, Ate Linda, lives in Silang with her husband Kuya Rudy and their three children. They have a banana shop in the Silang market where apart from bananas they sell eggs, rice and assorted fruits that are in season. Sundays is the best day to visit as they close up shop around one pm, the other six days of the week it is a twelve hour a day operation.

They have recently purchased a second hand computer to assist with their children’s education. Their daughter, Bianca, is studying engineering, Michael is studying nursing and RP their other son is studying business administration. We installed the latest version of AVG anti virus software for them, the anti virus software on board was 3 years old and even though not on the internet 45 virus were found with the new software.

The Malolos journey was to visit my stepson’s paternal grandmother, Nanay. A delightful woman in her 80’s who lives in the dignified splendor of a bygone era. Her house with its high ceilings, open plan and filigree tops to the interior walls is relatively cool without the assistance of aircon even during the heat of midday. With the assistance of her two servants, known colloquially as house helps, she insists on feeding her guests every 3 hours.

Both were day trips with the boredom of the Silang bus trips being broken by the hawkers who regularly ride a bus for a short distance offering drinks and snacks to the passengers. When finished on one bus, they catch the next bus heading back to their start point, to restock and repeat their short journeys many times throughout the day and night.

Footnote: Ate & Kuya are terms of respect for intimates be they elder siblings, family friends or house help’s employers.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Bayads & Telecos

Yesterday we did the monthly ritual of paying the bills, the telephone, electricity, cable and the water (which comes in monthly). This is a relatively painless process (apart from forking over the cash) as the majority can be paid at the one stop shop, the Bayad Centre.

Throughout the barangays, there are these small dedicated bill paying centers which accept payments for the range of companies that exist on monthly payments in arrears. After a trip to the bank to get the cash, cross the road and you can hand it over at the Bayad Center. In this essentially cash society they are the most convenient way to make these ongoing regular payments. There are alternatives such as the internet and direct deposit through various banks and mail but 5 minutes in a Bayad Center and it’s all done.

Except for our teleco, Globe Communications, they don’t use Bayad Centers, their main competitor PLDT does but for some reason best known to them they don’t. Cash payments can be made at their payments centers or via the bank. The bank is the way to go. Last time we tried to make a payment at their payment centre, we walked out in disgust. They were taking 7 to10 minutes to process each payment, there were 30 people in front of us and they closed in 2 hours. Do the math. For a company obsessed with speed, you should see their broadband advertising which screams from the walls of their payment center, perhaps someone should tell their accounts department.

Their competitor PLDT is just as weird. When we decided to upgrade our account with them from an existing prepaid landline to a monthly account to facilitate our internet connection, we discovered that our address was on their black list. It seems a previous resident had skipped owing them 6000 pesos. Pay the 6000 and the upgrade would go ahead, non payment and we could rot in hell for all they cared. Explanations that it was a previous resident who owed them not us (I wasn’t even in the country at that time) fell on deaf ears. The address was black listed, end of story.

Consequently, Globe got our business and apart from their oh so slow payment centers they have provided an excellent service with technical back up second to none. They conducted a house call to swap a modem that had gone to silicon heaven within 3 hours of being advised of the fault.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Retail Therapy VI

The mall is the Filipinos’ home away from home. So popular is going to the mall that “malling” is almost considered a national sport. Not only can you shop in these retail therapy temples you can eat, be entertained or just hang out and all in air conditioned comfort.

Ranging in size from the older small malls like that atop the Guadalupe market and the Star Mall in Shaw Boulevard to small cities like the SM Mega Mall which is so big it had to be split in two, malls in the Philippines are a growth industry. As new malls are built, of which I know two that are nearing completion, they will be bigger and better than those that have come before.

Malls are as safe as they are comfortable. Upon entry to a mall your bags will be inspected and the small of your back will be patted down by the armed security guards that control each entrance. Exits also have guards but their presence is more to stop unauthorized entry than to detect un-purchased goods leaving.

Once inside, you can stroll the broad avenues past the glass and plastic store fronts of the up market boutiques. Stop for a snack or a meal at a coffee shop, a franchised fast food outlet or a specialty restaurant. Sit a while and watch the passing parade, enjoy the free entertainment of a photographic exhibition or the choral renditions on the atrium’s main stage. Catch the latest movie in one of the several cinemas or check out the eye catching trinkets at the small stalls scattered down the centre of the broad walks.

So popular have malls become that larger department stores are redesigning themselves along their lines. Like the SM department store in Makati’s Ayala district with a broad walk running its length and the various departments located on either side. Small eateries fill the corners and stalls with this week’s specials are set up to gain maximum exposure in the broad walk.

Sparkling clean, the malls are a direct contrast to the traditional markets. With a changing theme each couple of weeks, the malls entice and entertain, linger awhile especially if you have some pesos in your pocket or at least look like you do.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Walking the Streets

Outside of the Makati central business district, sidewalks in Manila where they exist are very much dual purpose. Pedestrian traffic, more often than not, takes to the actual road way to get round the vehicles parked across the sidewalk or by pass goods on display and the street vendors.

On the side streets sidewalks are non existent and pedestrians and vehicles are mixed in together. The numerous speed humps fortunately keep vehicular traffic speeds only marginally above walking speed. Quite often these streets are impassable to vehicles when residents decide to set up a marquee for a celebration that is too large for the house.

Motorists must also navigate the numerous games of basketball where the street is the court of the back board set up on its side or the portable skateboarder’s pipe and its attendant riders. Pedestrians tend to walk down the centre of these streets, leisurely moving to one side to let the vehicles pass.

On the main drags where sidewalks are provided, they are about a meter in width and often obstructed by telegraph poles or the specials on display by the stores they pass. When a building is set back from the road and the pavement widens. this space is quickly devoured by parked cars or street vendors or both. Pedestrians have little option than to walk on the road way.

When the time comes to do the chicken thing, you can walk up to a controlled intersection, which may be a lot further than you think or wait for a break in the traffic and cross where you are. On one way streets this is a relatively simple procedure, wait for the lull and move off quickly. If a vehicle looks like it’s bearing down on you too quickly an outstretched arm with the hand raised vertically in the direction of the approaching threat to body and limb along with eye contact with the driver should slow them down until you're out of the way.

The crossing of dual carriageways is a little trickier. The childhood mantra of look to the left, look to the right, look to the left again and cross when clear is of little use. This crossing is best down in stages. When a break in the traffic on your side of the road comes along, use it to cross to the middle of the road then repeat the procedure for the traffic in the other direction to complete your crossing. With multi lane roads you may have to do it a lane at a time, it is doable but not for the faint-hearted and remember to look at the drivers of the oncoming traffic.

When you come to the major multi lane through ways, discretion is the better part of valour. In the majority of cases the only place you can cross is at the controlled intersections or at the pedestrian over passes. Although you may well find yourself walking on the road as the sidewalks are clogged with vendors, store displays parked vehicles and other obstructions.

Monday, March 13, 2006

What's your Poison

My alcoholic beverage of choice is red wine, preferably a full bodied Shiraz. A couple of glasses after the sun sinks below the horizon, helps wash down dinner and sets up a relaxed evening apart from the fact that it is good for one’s heart.

My mate Michael, a Kiwi, who has made his home in the dry brown land, is a beer drinker who when offered a glass of red insists on adding ice. When he visited the Philippines a few months ago, the look of horror on his face when served a beer with ice in the glass was a sight to behold. His reaction to this desecration of his beer was payment in full for all the times he had abused those glasses of red. There must be some truth to revenge being a dish best served cold.

The Filipino habit of adding ice to their beer to my palate does it no harm, but I am not a connoisseur of the amber fluid. San Miguel, the largest brewer here, has a range of brews from the flagship Pale Pilsen through to their full strength Red Horse brand both of which can be purchased from your local sari sari store.

San Miguel is a Philippines’ success story; started in 1890 the company has grown into an operation with 100 facilities throughout South East Asia including China and Australia. Apart from beer it produces gin, brandy, vodka and rum, is the local coca cola bottler and has a range of food interests.

Brandy and rum are popular alternatives to beer with flask bottles being readily available from the ubiquitous sari sari stores. For the wine drinker there is a wide variety of the full spectrum that the grape can provide readily available from supermarkets and specialty wine stores.

Being a tropical country with an unfriendly grape growing climate, the available wines come from all corners of the world, from Spain, Italy, France, Chile, America and Australia. Aussie wines for the most part are priced at a similar rate to their home prices but for the others there is a considerable price advantage. A few days ago I had a very decent 6 year old Spanish Cab Sav for 350 pesos (AU$9.70).

Consequently, your humble scribe is having an enjoyable time discovering the range of red wines from around the world and saving a few pesos in the process. Especially if considered in the light of the cost of the same in the dry brown land.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Walang Sayang

I have a good friend in Australia who is technical director for a theatre, he is also a magpie. His workshop is a veritable cornucopia of equipment that may become useful one day. He has hung onto some it for so long that it looks like it came out of the ark. He also has in daily use equipment that his colleagues have discarded several years, if not eons, ago.

One of my first impressions of Manila was that this particular workshop had taken on a national significance. From jeepneys that have seen better days, wooden hand carts with patches on their patches, street vendors who repair umbrellas, market stalls that repair cell phones, to the payment of a 2.50 peso deposit for the bottle of beer or lolly water, recycling is an ingrained way of life.

My best beloved will not discard an object until it has very truly reached the end of its useful life. Even then she will hang onto it and sell it to the junk man who comes round every few weeks. He buys clear glass bottles, medicine bottles, cardboard, old electrical goods, scrap steel, anything that has a potential recyclable use.

Even what makes it into the trash, which is collected daily, is given a final sort by the scavengers who make a frugal living scouring the cities’ rubbish dumps.

As the first world promotes recycling to its throw away consumer communities, the Filipino’s frugal nature encourages this ideal as a normal way of life.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

DIY

One of the joys of living in a 50 plus year old house is the opportunity to do some serious DIY projects. Over the weekend another power point gave up the ghost and a check of some of the wiring indicated that time had taken its toll. Never one to give up the chance for some serious play, it was determined that major surgery was required.

My best beloved was a tad concerned about the size of the undertaking but agreed that it was necessary. So bright and early Monday morning, the power was disconnected and a temporary power supply to drive assorted implements of destruction connected.

Fortunately, the style of construction of the house meant that the wiring was in wooden conduits attached to ceiling beams, these just had to go. By 9am they had gone. The light fittings were relatively new having been replaced in the last few years but the switches often made buzzing noises and the power outlets grip on plugs was of the very limp wrist variety.

The trip to the hardware store was where things got interesting. The first shop was just around the corner and I had been there for odds and ends over the past months. But this particular Monday morning, the guy I usually dealt with was off and his mom and uncle were at the helm. His mom is the cashier and conduit, junction boxes, terminal strips and the like are not her forte. The uncle’s command of English is less than my command of Tagalog, which is konti lang (not much). Their best advice was to try Divisoria.

As I walked out of the store empty handed, nagging doubts of biting off more than I could chew settled upon my shoulders. I did recall another hardware store about a hundred meters up the road that had interesting toys in the window and was a lot closer than the 2 rides to Divisoria.

With the assistance of pantomime, their broken English, my limited Tagalog and their realization that the Kano was going to spent several thousand pesos, the required goodies were acquired. One of the staff even helped carry them back to the house.

By lunch time the intricacies of the conduit had been figured out and were starting to appear in the place of the old. Placement of the switches was next on the agenda only to discover that half of the cover plates didn’t match the switches.

In the Philippines lunch time is sacrosanct and small businesses along with government offices close for an hour at midday. It was going to be 45 minutes before the switches could be replaced. Once they were replaced, the installation continued at a good rate and by 6pm we had lights down stairs with power in the kitchen and temporary lights and power upstairs.

Tuesday saw lights and power in the bathroom with the upstairs temporary connection being replaced with a permanent one along with power in the lounge room. By 3pm the tools were put away, the job was done at a cost of 4300 pesos (AU$120.00) and only three or four moments of intense expletives.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Catching a Jet Plane

When the time comes to depart the Pearl of the Orient you will, at the time of writing, have to make use of Terminal 1 if you are flying with anyone other than PAL. The new Terminal 3 has yet to open and it is anybodies guess when that will be.

If you’re traveling to NAIA (Ninoy Aquino International Airport) from Makati, the central business district, taxi fare should be around 130 pesos and the trip will take about 40 minutes, depending upon the traffic. Whilst still in your taxi, when you get to the Airport you will encounter your first security check. As your taxi enters it will be searched, usually just the clove box and the trunk with a quick glance at the passengers.

It is a short drive from there to the upper level departure area. Only ticketed passengers can enter the departure hall, so have your passport and ticket handy. Your friends seeing you off won’t be allowed in, but once your formalities are done you can rejoin them.

After the security check of your paperwork you and your baggage will be subject to an x-ray inspection. You are then in the departure hall. Along the wall facing you on either side of the central entrance to immigration are the departure desks of the various airlines. Once you have found yours and completed seat allocation and baggage lodgment you can rejoin for friends waiting patiently outside.

Your passport and seat allocation will get you out and back in again. There is a cafeteria on the left hand side of the terminal that is open to passengers and non passengers where you can have one last merienda. You will need around 45 minutes to get through immigration so bidding your friends a final fond farewell you re-enter the departure hall. You and your hand luggage will be x-rayed again and you will need your paper work.

Once through you can proceed to the central immigration entry. A short way in and you will come to the departure tax booths where you pay 550 pesos and get a receipt stapled to your boarding pass. Then it’s off to immigration where you will need to present your passport, boarding pass with its attached departure tax receipt and your immigration declaration form. That was the one given you at seat allocation which you filled up whilst having your final merienda.

Once through immigration you can head off to your departure gate passing by a host of duty free shops. On the way to your gate lounge you and your luggage will be x-rayed yet again and you will receive a pat down search as well.

Then it is a quiet sit as you wait your turn to enter the tin can that is going to rush you through the sky at 800 kph.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A Bouquet for E-Commerce

Many people, or so the scuttlebutt goes, are weary of making purchases over the internet. I’m not one of them, although I do my homework before I type in the 16 digits. I have brought software, books, sent flowers and sold pictures over the net for some years now. All transactions have been a breeze until last month.

I order flowers for my valentine via the net for delivery on that day in February. They didn’t arrive, nor the next day or the day after that. I sent an email advising of the non delivery –

“I ordered Lotsa Love - 3 Red Rose Bouquet on the 13 Feb 2006 for delivery on 14 feb 2006. It is now the 17 Feb 2006 and although my CC has been charged the flowers have not been delivered.
Can you please cancel the order and reverse the credit card charge.”

They, www.flora2000.com , sent a delivery conformation which showed they had been delivered to the wrong address. When they were advised of this and after checking their records they sent the following –

Dear Henry, We regret that we failed to deliver your order on the requested date. Please be advised that USD 33.00 which was charged for this order is credited in your account as we are not charging you. It will take 3-4 business days for the credit to be posted in your account. Please note that your order has been delivered to the recipient on 23rd of february 2006 at no cost to you. For further clarifications or questions email us back OR call us at 1-212-655-3075 OR do Live Person chat by clicking at www.flora2000.com. We assure you of a better service in future. Thanks & Kind Regards, Imran Flora2000.com

And they did!

A happy ending and a bouquet to www.flora2000.com who demonstrated that the net can be safe purchase option even when things go wrong.