Expat

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Tough Being Poor

One of the first things I noticed upon arrival in the Philippines was the proliferation of motel sized goods for sale. All the single serve sachets of general household goods ranging from shampoo to the ubiquitous 3 in 1 coffee, sugar and whitener. The staple goods of trade for the Sari Sari stores, of which there are thousands.

Within 20 yards of our front door there are 3 Sari Sari stores all selling essentially the same things and all with a steady stream of customers. The supermarket we patronize the most also caters to the Sari Sari stores and on weekends getting through the checkouts takes considerably longer than filling the cart. It is not uncommon to see shoppers with 2 or 3 carts full of a dozen items of this and a dozen items of that and all of them individual servings.

Being affluent enough to buy my coffee by the jar, milk by the carton and sugar by the 2kg bag a cup of coffee costs me 2.8 pesos. A 3 in 1 sachet from the Sari Sari store costs 6 pesos. For so many Filipinos the concept of a weekly or fortnightly shop is not an option, spending 500 pesos for a months supply of coffee just isn’t in the budget. Consequently the least able to afford to do so pay the top dollar for their purchases.

Sari Sari Store

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Revenge & A Butchers Stall

It’s tough living up to expectations when one is a national of the world’s only super power. Ensuring that the degree of respect one feels is ones due through association is a heavy burden for the individual. This pride makes it very hard for the said individual to admit that there own actions were their undoing while the collateral damage done to others is just their tough luck.

An American associate was the manager of a Korean business employing Filipinos. His knowledge of Korean and Tagalong was to say the best limited and his understanding of the cultural differences was superficial if not hackneyed. The American approach to running the business was the only way he knew and fitting these Korean and Filipino round pegs into the American square hole was increasingly becoming a big ask.

So much so that after five months in the job his most often quoted throw away line was a request for ideas to get himself fired. That this became a self fulfilling prophesy was another home run for positive thought. As so often happens when this homer makes it into the bleachers the prospect of no more monthly pay checks quickly takes the gloss off a recently acquired life style. That the actual dismissal was a messy affair was not surprising although his actions at the time indicated he jumped rather than being pushed and his dropping of an unfair dismissal complaint just reinforced this impression.

When an appeal for his old job fell on deaf ears, revenge was all that was left. In that long stereotyped Kentucky hills pastime he made it his mission to put the business out of business. That his inside knowledge has aided his cause does call into question his managerial expertise by allowing the business to be vulnerable under his watch. If he succeeds the collateral damage will be the Pinoy employees, the Korean owner will just pack up and go home.

To misquote an old saying, you can take the boy out of the trailer but you can’t take trailer out of the boy. Funny but it reminds me of another good ol’ American boy, must be something in the water.

The following pic has nothing to do with any of the above; it is a new style I am working on.

Butchers Stall Guadalupe Market

If you would like to see more from this series pop over to The Expats sister site pissedpoet pics.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Food & Wine Italian Style

I am a great fan of Italian food, always have been, well for as long as I can remember. I also have a great fondness for Italian wines with Bolo Bordalino Classico being up there with Brown Brothers Shiraz in my top wine stakes.

Back in the 70’s, whilst living in Melbourne, Australia, my regular dining haunt was the Neopolatano Restaurant in that Italian of Melbourne burb’s Carlton. On a weekly basis over a 2 year period I worked my way through their menu more than once and experienced the delights of their extensive wine cellar.

Whilst traveling around since then I have looked for its equal without a lot of success. I came close in New York at a small restaurant in Greenwich Village, the name of which escapes me at the moment, but not quite. Well dear reader I think my search has been rewarded here in down town Santiago Village if last night’s repast is anything to go by.

I had been intrigued by this restaurant for some time, I suspect that it was the bottles of wine in the window that caught my attention. So last night with the best beloved in tow I ventured inside Caffé Maestro to sample their wares.

There is very little about Caffé Maestro that is café orientated, it is a restaurant with fine dining in mind. From the cloth table cloths and napkins to the attentive service of the staff that hit just the right note in the delightfully cozy brick surroundings with original art works on the walls. The expectation created by this décor flowed over to the food which is very much in the Italian home cooking style.

First to arrive was a basket of warmed pita bread with the choice of pate, butter or finely diced tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and garlic to nibble on whilst we perused the extensive menu. Pasta and pizza variations abounded along with a good selection of antipasti, a hand full of soups, meat and fish entrees, a couple of risotto and joy of joys a selection of fresh pasta.

It was from this latter selection that I chose the potato gnocchi with 4 cheese sauce which was definitely home made and one of the best gnocchi’s I have had and the sauce was perfection. My best beloved had the spaghetti with bacon, tuna, and porcini mushroom sauce which she found to be exceptionally tasty with the spaghetti being al dente to an agreeable firmness. For afters we had a tiramisu, which unfortunately had seen the inside of the chiller for too long and a panna cotta, a full cream custard with walnuts and caramel sauce which was to die for.

We washed this lot down with a bottle of Chianti Placido, which although a pleasant enough wine was in no way deserving of its price tag. A $AU65 wine it was not, even allowing for a restaurant mark up. The food prices at Caffé Maestro, with pastas in the 300 to 400 peso range and the meat and seafood dishes in the 600 to 700 peso range, are value for money. But the wine list is outrageously expensive especially if the wine we had is any indication. That being said we were advised that bringing one own’s wine is acceptable and with corkage at 300 pesos should definitely be considered.

We shall return and in the not too distant future to explore the Caffé Maestro’s menu further although it will be with one of our favourite wines tucked under one wing.

Monday, August 14, 2006

During the Wet

The rain here at this time of year can and often does make it seem like one is living in a water fall. Without warning a sluice gate opens and half the South Chins Sea is dumped on Manila with a deafening roar if you are inside and a soaking, even if armed with an umbrella, if outside. Thankfully it is still warm, if it was cold as I once associated with this type of weather it would be intolerable.

Consequently the opportunities to get out and about with my camera have become somewhat restricted, water and camera is not a good mix. This inactivity has given time for reflection and to go through the archives of images from dryer days looking for the gems hidden amongst the dross that were missed when first edited.

The reflection resulted in the following response to a forum discussion about Artistry vs Technology at the Passion for Pixels web site.

Enthusiasm - if I'm not interested/excited about what I am doing why would anyone else be?
Intuition/observation - you've gotta see or feel the pic before you can take it and often for me it is a fleeting moment that requires me to shoot fast without thinking about it. I also take a lot of pics because I am not always sure what it is that has attracted my attention, it might be the light or the composition or the colours or an expression or a situation whatever. Later I can look at the results of the day’s efforts when time is on my side and then decide what works and this maybe anything up to 6 months after the event.
Visual Literacy - Learning what makes a pic hang together and how great artists have broken all the perceived rules and understanding how and why they did. Kinda like training for your intuition and once learned can be forgotten and left up to your intuition to use what it sees fit.
Working knowledge of my tools - I am a PS junkie consequently my camera is a device for capturing initial images to work up with the software. When I was working with brushes, oil paint & canvas I had a camera which I used as an instant drawing device, I guess things haven't changed all that much. I have had a 2M, a 4M and currently have an 8M DSLR each had/has it limitations and its good points but I have been able to make salable works of "art" with all of them. What I like most about my DSLR is that it always tells me when the lens cap is on, the others didn't.

The trolling of the archives resulted in the “Are We having Fun Yet” pic a couple of posts ago and this one of the Café Society a la Greenbelt. Both were taken in much dryer times at the beginning of the year.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Of Hammers, Pots and Kettles

The political elites that oppose the President, Gloria Arroyo, are once again sharpening their knives and orchestrating a second attempt at impeachment. Again a very blunt instrument is being used for political purposes.

Expecting a partisan house of elected representatives to produce a verdict that is anything other than one which serves their own interests is like expecting the snake and the mongoose to become bosom buddies. Matters of fact are best left to an independent judiciary where the evidence for and against can be weighed without the necessity of pandering to the whims, both real and imagined, of an electorate.

Three of the four issues included in this current impeachment process fall into that category, the legality of executive order 464 and proclamation 1017, the President’s responsibility for the killing, arrests and detention of political dissenters, and whether illegal contracts were entered into. The seriousness of these issues surely requires they should be determined on facts rather than political grandstanding and emotion.

But if all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. Although one can’t help but speculate that these issues could raise the political temperature enough to precipitate a re-run of January 2001. When the then President, Joseph Estrada, escaped impeachment only to ousted by People Power II and be replaced by the current President.

The fourth issue of electoral fraud including the use of public funds for Arroyo’s campaign is the most appropriate for consideration by politicians. This issue stems from the highly publicized distribution of PhilHealth cards just prior to the election and the placement of elected officials mug shots on infrastructure construction billboards. Well, every serving politician in all the democracies I can think of is guilty of this one in one form or another.

My favourite is from the last election in Australia. The government of the day gave, for each child under 16 years of age whose parent was a welfare recipient a $1000 tax free gift. Not once, but twice, first in July, then again in September prior to an election in October. I wonder whose vote they were chasing?

It is one of the perks of being in office, reminding your electorate of your largess and the benefits you were able to bring to them through your hard work in the corridors of power. Something of value must be offered to even be considered as potentially worthy of a vote. Hence the popularity of the pork barrel much beloved by both Congress and the Senate.

Should these august chambers find the President guilty on this charge it would surely be a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Some Time on my Hands, Thank God.

My 2 Korean students have returned home and once more my time is my own. Well until another takes their place with the desire to learn English from a native speaker as we who happen to have been raised in this language are referred to.

It has been an interesting and rewarding experience. It had never previously occurred to me that being able to speak my mother tongue was a meal ticket. The revisiting of texts that I hadn’t visited for some 20 odd years was most enjoyable and instructive. At times I wondered if I didn’t get more from their study than my students.

Vicky and Michelle were 11 and 10 respectively and I was charged with instructing them in reading and pronunciation. The chosen books for their instruction were The Wonderful Wizard of OZ and Peter Pan. As an adult the imagery their authors brought to life through their use of the language was a delight. Reading them out loud and seeing the girls’ reactions inspired me to perfect a skill I hadn’t used since my own rug rats were toddlers.

True we did need to stop to investigate the meanings of many of the words. Elaborating the nuance of meaning between wonder and delight for youngsters for whom English is a second language was an interesting challenge. Though through pantomime, common references and the words context in the text something of their meaning was transmitted.

I wish both of them futures as bright as their eyes and their smiles on a summer’s day and hope that the exposure to the Aussie drawl isn’t too great a hindrance in an American accented Korea.