Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas in Tondo

Well, another Christmas has come and gone.

In the days leading up, we made Christmas cookies....

On Christmas Day, we had good food....

Yummy lechon....

The best mechado (a Philippine version of beef stew)...

The adults were drinking....

The kids were dressed up to greet and collect their holiday gifts.....

And a good time was had by all the visitors, friends and family alike...

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Christmas-I Am My Mother's Daughter

Christmas season is well upon us and we just realized that we have little time to buy all the gifts we need to buy. Besides parents and my family in the states, we have some professional gifts (i.e., bank manager, village security guards), god children, and the neighborhood kids.

Christmas in this neighborhood is kinda like Halloween in the states. All the neighborhood kids come to a few houses here with their parents and they receive gifts. It is actually really cute, all the kids you see 364 days a year barefoot in their play clothes are all dressed up in their Christmas best. People here usually give away money (about P10-20) or candy. We give away toothbrushes and toothpaste. This is exactly like my mom who used to put toothbrushes in our Easter baskets as well as Christmas stockings. Lest you think the kids hate the toothbrushes, I actually had a couple of kids ask me when they get their toothpaste. Also, this is not as boring a gift as it sounds. We currently live in Tondo and the kids that come on Christmas have very, very little money. When a family has little money, dental hygiene does not usually rank high on the list of items to spend money for. Even if they cannot buy more toothpaste once they use up what we gave them, our thought is it is better to brush with just water or salt than nothing at all. Okay, so maybe the gift is boring but it helps them in the long run. Better than candy. Or money (the firecracker vendors show up starting Christmas so the second a kid gets money it goes straight to firecrackers). By the way, last year we bought (I think) around 120 pieces and we ran out.

The god kids do not fare much better in terms of "fun" gifts. I went to the St. James Bazaar this past weekend and bought most of the god kids age appropriate books (another of my mother's trademarks....I cannot tell you how many books we received as kids. It works through, as adults we are all ardent readers). We also bought a pair of sneakers for one of the god kids who is always running around but is either a) in a pair of slippers too big for him or b)barefoot. We bought sneakers that can be slipped on so hopefully he will put them on before going out to play.

And finally, some of the younger god kids (as well as some nieces/nephews/etc) are receiving play dough. Not the cute Play Doh that one buys at a toy store but nice bright homemade play dough just like my mom used to make us as kids.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Head of the Pigs

Here at almost any major celebration one will get to eat yummy pig (here called lechon). I like to take pictures of the head.

Lest you think I am lazy, these are three separate pigs from three separate parties.

Philippines and the F-Bomb

People do not swear too much here. Or at least not in public. This is tough for me. I used to be able to swear a lot and in the states (or perhaps just San Francisco where hella is still used frequently, much to the confusion and disdain of outsiders) it is not all that odd to drop some f-bombs in normal conversation. When I do it here, I feel like a freak. A dirty freak. A godless heathen freak (which everybody already thinks I am. I could write a book about the number of people trying to sell me god on a daily basis. This is why I read my copy of "God is Not Great" at home only. I was scared people in public would stone me).

I miss being able to say fuck in everyday conversation.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Bureau of Quarantine

Continuing my tour of Philippines governmental organizations I hit up the Bureau of Quarantine. I knew they wanted (amongst other tests) a blood test. I HATE having blood drawn with a passion. It is the worst medical procedure one can do to me. It is not the prick of the needle as much as the length of time the needle spends in my vein.

Knowing they would want blood, I optimistically brought copies of my blood chemistry from St. Luke's hoping they could use that and would not need a fresh sample. Unfortunately, it did not cover what they wanted. The requirement is a blood test for.....syphilis. Now I am not very hip on syphilis but I kind of thought this was not really around much any more and certainly not prolific enough to require a special test but apparently I am wrong. Luckily my veins did not behave so the doctor wound up pricking my finger instead and squeezing the blood out. Much much better. I love that doctor.

For a government office, the Bureau of Quarantine was really well organized. There was very little wait and everybody we encountered was very pleasant and knew what they were doing. Both of the physicians that were on staff were very nice and knowledgeable.

On a side note, randomly one of the restrictions for most extended visas here is epilepsy. Very bizarre to me because epilepsy is easily controlled with medication and not contagious. I cannot imagine why that is listed as one of the banned diseases unless it is a throwback to 50 years ago when people thought it was a sign of being possessed. I understand HIV/AIDS and even the syphilis (which can be passed on) but epilepsy?!?!? That is like banning diabetes or some other medical condition equally non contagious or dangerous to the general public.....

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Lines, Fixers, and the NBI

Here there are very few (actually I do not think any) government institutions that we go to without a friend who works there or knows someone who does. Anytime we need a document from a governement authority, we find a friend or a friend of a friend that works there to expedite the process as well allowing us to skip all lines.

This remained true when we visited the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation). The NBI seem like it is the same as the FBI, the exception being that any security clearance that is needed for an individual, including employment, requires a trip to the NBI. Apparently once you are on the blacklist of the NBI, there is little you can do to get off of it. For example, our architect team has a painter that they love and use on all of their homes but they can't get him clearance into our subdivision because he cannot get NBI clearance. Everyone told me once you get arrested (regardless for how minor the infraction), it is difficult to work anywhere.

We went to the NBI and were happily breezing through the process. Then we came to the fingerprinting portion. We got into line and were contentedly waiting for our turn until a lady cut in line and about six people decided to follow her. We (along with two ladies behind us), started to make a stink and were telling the lady to get back to her spot, etc. At this point, our friend comes up to me, asks me to follow him and takes me to the front of the line.

This was quite embarrassing. Here I am making a ruckus over someone cutting and then I proceed to cut the ENTIRE line! It is also worth noting that not only am I quite tall, but I was the only foreigner in the entire NBI that day. This means my cutting was VERY evident to the people I had only moments before been figuratively cussing out.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


Lice is everywhere. I think every school girl in the world had lice at one point in their lives. The Philippines is no exception to this rule. It happens. What is different here is the means of treating it. While I am sure 90% of the population do the lice shampoo/comb, I see a lot of kids in our neighborhood with permanent lice. No one seems bothered by it and the kids just have eggs in their hair. I sometimes see moms picking the lice from the hair.

Now, I thought this a little odd just because it was so different than what I was used to. When I was a kid, my mom would shampoo us and then comb out the lice. Sheets were changed and lice was gone. Same day.

Today on the news there was a story about lice. I missed most of it since it was in Tagalog but they showed a mom who was using a chalk insecticide (for the home) on her child's head! The news obviously went on to state that this was NOT a good method to use. I guess if those are the options then it is better to let the lice chill than to put poison on your kids head.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Real Christmas Trees

Ha! I found a place here that sells real Christmas trees from Oregon. The Philippines being a tropical country has a distinct lack of pine trees so everybody has plastic which I abhor. Although we are not getting a tree this year (due to the timing of the house turnover), I will definitely buy a real one next year.

All Saints Day

All Saints Day is a holiday I never celebrated in the fact I had never heard of it. Here, All Saints Day is celebrated by going to the cemetery and spending the day with your deceased relatives. All the family is there with food and drinks (non-alcoholic...ours were hot chocolate and coke). Some people leave out food and drink for their dead relatives whereas we do not.

We spent the holiday at Manila North Cemetery which is a HUGE cemetary (over 50 hectares). Although I have no idea the actual number of people who go there on Nov 1, it has to be in the hundreds of thousands.

I remember the first year I went, I was picturing us all sitting around a grave stone. Nope. Here there are gigantic tombs. Above is the picture of the second floor of ours. The first floor (which I bizarrely did not take a photo of) has the tombs (as well as restroom and small kitchen) and the second floor is where everyone can gather.

On the days around All Saints Day, no cars are allowed in the cemetery and the road in front of the cemetery is closed. Luckily our tomb is not too far from the entrance (maybe a walk equivalent to five or six blocks) so it makes it an easy trek. There are so many people! You are walking like sardines squished against one another. Even with the masses, it was very well organized. A quick walk through the security and you are headed out with a divider set up in the road to keep the pedestrian traffic all headed the same way on each side.

After lunch we took a walk around the cemetery to visit a couple of friends and see some of the famous grave sites. There are some AWESOME tombs here. We stopped by a family friend's tomb and she had not only a generator for fans and lights (we had no generator this year because somebody stole all the wires from the tomb) but a waterfall and two armed security guards outside as well. In addition, she had someone spraying the flowers outside so they would not wilt too quickly. A pretty cool tomb.

It is a very interesting holiday and I enjoy it each year.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Josh Groban Concert

This was an awesome, awesome concert. The theatre it was in sat only 3,000 people so even a bad seat was a good seat. We had seats in the second to cheapest section and we still had an awesome view. Since we were in the very last row we could also stand when we wanted to without worrying about blocking anyone's view.

People were quite dressed up for the concert, in fact I think we were some of the only people in jeans. Most people were in dresses, slacks, suits, not much denim to be seen. Apparently this is somewhat common here.

If he comes back to Manila again, we would go in a second.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Starting to Look Like a House

We have windows!!! This, for me, is starting to make the house look more completed. I still have trouble believing that the home will be completed in just over a month but that is the time line I was given (if it is not completed, I am making the designer buy me dinner). There is so much dirt and debris around the house and I think once a lot of that is removed, it will be looking even better. We have picked out (but not purchased) most of our appliances including a humongous four door fridge which I love. I refrigerate a lot more things here because the heat makes items mold quickly (i.e., bread).

There are still vast areas of concrete (such as the entrance to the kitchen above) but all the walls are in. Next step is selecting tiles and paint. Thank god we have a design team because they will give us a few options as opposed to the giant wall of paint samples and tiles available at the local home improvement center. We tend to get overwhelmed with too many choices. We can't even decide if we want the floors: bleached, lightly stained, or darkly stained (the dark stain is more typical of an older home here).

I am still digging all the brickwork! This is outside on the lanai and the niche will have a light inside which can will look fantastic at night.

This week (likely tomorrow) we will start the arduous task of going through the items that have we brought from the states and determine:

1. What needs to be repacked and brought to the new house
2. What needs to be given to my in-laws (namely dinnerware)
3. What needs to be given away to people in the neighborhood/donated

All the items are in storage in a room that is very, very hot and smells like mothballs (used to deter cockroaches). Very unpleasant due not only to the task, but the fact that it will be a battle. There are a lot of items that I will want to get rid of and Ado will want to keep for reasons known only to her.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Furniture Shopping

We been looking for furniture for the new house now for a month or so. This is the first time in our lives that we have had more rooms than: bedroom, office, living room, and kitchen. Furniture shopping here is amazing and frustrating at the same time. Prices vary drastically from store to store for very similar items. In addition, as far as quality furniture goes, we have found the prices to be as high (and in some cases higher) than the states. The good part is there is some awesome furniture to be had here. We have gone everywhere from tiny roadside shops to a slew of the major mall shops and we are not any closer to coming to a decision on anything. The curse is also that some stores will look like crap from the outside and have great items inside and vice versa.

We went to Ethan Allen and while it had fantastic items, the prices were on par with what they charge in the states (which is not even close to cheap). We have had the best luck at Market Market when they had a Vigan furniture sale as well as Tiendisitas as we are looking for an older style of furniture. Many stores sell the item on the floor (the idea of a display model does not seem to be very popular here) which mean that not only do you have to hunt for an item you like, you have to inspect it as that will be the item residing in your home. I am hoping since Christmas is coming (it is already almost full blast here) there will be some good sales.

What we may end up doing is having some furnishings custom made. While this is in many cases the most expensive option, the work is unbelievable. For major pieces (our bench/couch/daybed thing) I think it will be worth it.

I wish delivered here. Not for the furniture so much, but for all the housewares & linens.

Disgusting S&R Bakery!

So, I realize that this is my billionth post about S&R. Well, remember how I referred to the bakery as "cruddy"? I will have to revise my opinion and say it is disgusting. Rancid. Gross. Possibly holds the cure for strep throat. Some family came by today with a cake for a small birthday celebration. They made the unfortunate choice of purchasing it at the S&R Bakery (Congressional Branch). Does this not make you sick to your stomach?

"Honeycrunch Cake"

Purchased today (about $8.50)

Expiration date is five days from now....

....but it is rotted and moldy!!!

UPDATE: We went back to S&R this week and showed the bakery manager the pictures and the original receipt. She was very sweet and offered us a new cake free of charge (which we declined) so she instead gave us a store credit. Way more than we were expecting--we only went back to let them know they had rotten merchandise on display. Although I still will not buy from the bakery, their service was top notch. We went back over two weeks later with a digital camera and receipt and they went above and beyond.

Moral of the story: S&R = Great Service, Scary Baked Goods

Thursday, October 11, 2007

More Reasons to Love S&R

We went to S&R yesterday for groceries as well as looking to price vitamins because they 1. sell the huge Costco size bottles and 2) have better prices than Mercury Drugs (the local drugstore here). There were no vitamins to be seen yesterday which was completely random as their selection is usually really good. I asked a girl stocking the shelves and she told me there were no more vitamins in any branches. At checkout we asked one of the supervisors who informed us that the vitamins were only temporarily not being sold and they expected to have them back on the shelves soon (it was over some random paperwork with the Food & Drug Bureau). Not only was she helpful, she even offered to take our number so she could call us when they are back on the shelves! How nice is that!!!

Another side reason I love S&R is the uniforms their checkers wear. An odd thing to me about the Philippines is all the check-out girls (always women--never men) at grocery stores are in a uniform that includes a skirt, stockings, and heels. I think for a job that requires you to stand on your feet all day, it is insane to wear heels! Even low ones are insane! My feet used to ache at the end of the work day and I spent 8-9 hours of it at a desk! I cannot imagine working retail in heels! I love that the checkers at S&R are in: jeans, polos, and sneakers. That to me is an appropriate and comfortable uniform for standing on your feet all day. I love it.

Only reasons for me not to love S&R are the cruddy bakery (I wouldn't want to buy anything from it--soft baguettes and dried up pies are the better of the offerings) and the way I can get excited about an item to then find it slightly off the mark. For example, yesterday they had Triscuits which I love and hadn't been able to find for months and months (I blame Mom for my love of Triscuits. Growing up, this was our junk food). Unfortunately they were cheddar flavor. I did not even know Triscuit made a cheddar flavor. Blech. Once I find plain triscuits again and parmesan flavored goldfish crackers, I will be set for junk food.

On a random aside, while I cannot find tricuits here, I have found some great olive tapenade and tahini paste (two items I used to bring back from the states) as well as a very decent Indian restaurant. Life is looking up.

The Rest of the Story...........

I finally found out the rest of the story. N was trying to stab R because he thought R was spreading a rumor that he was giving away cement from a project that my mother-in-law hired him to do.

That's it. Cement here is same as the states--a fairly cheap item. Life is back to normal I guess because N was back on the site yesterday working. R filed a police report so that way if she appears dead the police will have an easy time solving the crime.

All this over a rumor about cement!!!!!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Curse of Not Speaking Tagalog (Yeah right, like this would happen to anyone else)

To truly appreciate the bizarreness of tonight, I will have to start with dinner. My father-in-law was going ballroom dancing so he was dressing up and headed down first for dinner.

When I go downstairs, to the living room I see him arguing with one of the guys in the neighborhood (N). My father-in-law keeps grabbing (as it appears to me) at his crotch. A random guy (R) who I have never seen is sitting on the ottoman so I ask him what my father-in-law is doing. He tells me the neighborhood guy has a knife. I am already confused at this point. My father in law gets the big scary knife from N's pants and that is when N decides it would be a good time to take a swing at R. They start fighting with my father-in-law (who will be 79 next month) trying to keep them apart.

I decide to be of some use and hold back N (who is too nice to hit a woman) until R gets away from my father-in-law and starts coming forward to attack N at which time I decide I will get a big man from outside. (While the fighting is happening, Ado is nicely tucking away the knife and the maid is taking my mother-in-law to the courtyard to make sure she doesn't get hurt). The only guy I can find outside (the streets are randomly very empty tonight) is the maid's son who is 21 years old and stands at about 6'. Unfortunately he can't weigh more that 160 or 170 pounds, but pickings were slim.

When I get back (10 seconds later), the mini fight is over and a third guy is bleeding under the eye (he may have been here the whole time...I am not sure). We get N out of the house. R is still sitting downstairs with the bleeding man. I make the bleeding man put Neosporin on his cut.

Everybody is talking and during this time, N comes back for round 2. They get N out and the Barangay chairman comes and everybody talks to him. Barangay chairman leaves. R is still here. Actually, at this very moment R is still here with bleeding man. I assume he is here because if he tries to go home then N will kill him. Also, I was given the knife which was disgustingly sharpened to a psycho point and is now residing safely in my nightstand. (Thank god that most people here do not have guns!!!)

Now, what is the purpose of this entry? Since I do not speak Tagalog, I have NO IDEA what this is about. I have no idea why these guys are fighting, why they are doing it in our house, and why they seem intent on killing each other. The people that speak tagalog well enough to translate for me at too involved with talking to people right now so I have no clue what is happening. R who hasn't spoken much since round 1 speaks great english but I figure he is a little busy right now with the man who is trying to kill him and likely does not want to be a translator.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

There are Good Things About the Groceries

Maybe I shouldn't be so hard on the grocery situation here. I think it may still be part of the missing Trader Joes/Whole Foods that is getting to me. There are some bonuses of shopping here. One block away from us is a wet market. Here I can find most cuts of pork as well as some beef. There is an abundance of fish (which I never buy or look at but there is a ton). There is also a slew of fresh local vegetables and whatever fruit may be in season here. In addition you can but some staples: oil, rice, soy sauce, margarine (butter is not sold there), some spices, etc.

Also, within a 15 second walk of our current house, I can visit one of four sari-sari stores at which I can buy everything from cigarettes (by the stick or pack), gum or candy, rice, an egg or two, oil, vinegar, coke, beer, milo, shampoo, soap (body, laundry, or dish), etc. The list goes on and on.

I guess most of my frustration is comes from the fact that most of the items I eat are not available locally and even if they were I would be the only buyer. Case in point, Ado stopped by Taco Bell to grab me a taco. The lady asked her is she wanted crunchy or soft. Ado told her she didn't know what kind and the lady said, "Ma'am, you usually order crunchy." How sad is that? I am known at Taco Bell!!!! I can attribute some of it to the fact that since I am a funky foreigner I stand out, but the sad part is I am probably their best customer. Ugh, that is so embarrassing! Taco Bell!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

More Grocery Woes

Grocery shopping is just flat ticking me off lately (and by lately, I mean since I have moved here). No store ever has a constant stock of certain items (i.e., peanut butter with no sugar, powdered sugar) and it always seems like a crap shoot. For example, sometimes Shopwise & Unimart have great looking produce during one visit, and the following time, there is nothing to be seen. I wish there was one fantastic grocery store that stocked everything I wanted. Part of the problem is many of the groceries I look to buy are not staples in a kitchen here so they fall more under specialty items. Mushrooms in good condition are always a pisser for me to find as well as sour cream that is not in a liquid form.

I think the hardest thing for me to get used to is the amount of sugar in many items. Peanut butter is my big one but a lot of sliced bread tastes sweet as well as canned corn. We were looking for one can of corn and ended up buying an imported brand because that was the only one without sugar added. In addition, I miss bread. Besides sourdough bread and bagels, I have yet to see any rye bread. I also miss Kosher beef hot dogs (here they are all pork or pork/beef blends) and beef bologna (German style from a deli....not fat oscar meyer type).

Final evilness of the groceries here is expired food. It is unfortunately very common to see expired or just old (in terms of produce) still on shelves. I learned the hard way and now know to look and EVERY label to see when the expiration is. I do not know why they do not discount the items right before they go bad instead of letting them fester. The first time I saw this (it was about 20 pieces of bagged lettuce mix that had all rotted down to a small fist size amount) I thought it was a fluke and mentioned it to the produce guy. He looked at me like I was crazy so I left it and went away. I no longer shop there. Funnily enough, the store is Waltermart which reminds me of the evil chain in the states so it is just as well.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Cultural Differences with Pets

I was talking to a friend here about my Rottweiler and the large amount of dandruff he has. Since he had a Rottweiler also, I was getting tips about diet, grooming, etc and trying to figure out how to cut down on the flaking. I mentioned to him that the dandruff had started to occur sometime after neutering and that this may be a factor. He stared and me in shock and told me I was cruel to neuter the dog and if I didn't want him to have sex with other dogs I should just keep him in his cage more.

1. I think caging is mean
2. My friend thinks caging is normal
3. I think neutering is normal
4. My friend thinks neutering is mean

I still do not own a cage for my dog. My dog still has no testicles. The dandruff is still there but improving slightly now that we have switched to the food recommended by my friend.

Public School in Manila

Today was my first trip to a public elementary school here. I was not optimistic going in due to all the stories I had heard about public school here. Paying for a lunch tray (regardless of whether you brought your lunch or not), classes of 50+ kids per teacher, and cleaning the classroom during school hours were some of the less disturbing stories I heard. Most disturbing was a story about a fifth grade math teacher who hits the kids when they misbehave or do not do their homework. Obviously corporal punishment is illegal here but the kids told me it happens a lot. Other common punishments include grabbing kids by the hair and making them squat. While these are likely isolated cases of a few psycho teachers, the fact that it was anywhere was disturbing. The two kids we know in the class have been instructed by us and their parents to tell us immediately if she raises a hand to them and we will go to the police.

The school we visited today was actually fantastic! We were there to talk to the teacher of our godson (who had contacted his mom about him misbehaving in class). The school was clean, the classrooms were brightly painted, murals decorated the hallways, plants filled the front, and most of the classrooms we passed by had teachers actively engaging their students in learning. It was way, way better than I had expected.

We spoke to two teachers, both who seemed very happy with teaching and seemed to care a lot for their students. One of the teachers when we came in was selling food to the students but this is apparently quite common here (teacher salaries are horrible--even worse than the states). The only disappointment with the school (besides the abusive teacher who we did not meet) was the restrooms. Although we did not go inside, you could smell urine from about three classrooms away. All in all I was quite impressed. We had been to a local catholic school for a couple of events and this public school blew it out of the water in terms of facilities and staff.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Yet Another House Update

The front window was put in (above the foyer) as well as some of the tile in the pool. In addition, the brickwork inside the house is started (but not completed). I still cannot figure out if we will make the optimistic turnover time (somewhere between November and Christmas) or end up with the contract turnover. All in all, I am still in love with the design team for our house.

We found our designers by looking at open houses in different areas. We found a house that we LOVED the style of in Ayala Alabang and after some hunting got the name of the design team. We called and they agreed to do our home (usually they stay in Ayala Alabang where there is more than enough work to keep them busy). Thank God they agreed because I am still in love with the style the do. The brickwork is awesome as well as the ceiling in the foyer. The popular style now in the Philippines is a modern zen house (lots of slate, metal, huge windows) so it was great to find a team that specialized in "antique" (as my mother-in-law calls it) homes. I also like that there is a lot of recycled bricks and old wood which appeals to me both ascetically and environmentally.

My only fantasy is that I will win the lotto prior to turnover so I can hire them to do the interior design as well.

Monday, September 17, 2007


We have always been big wine drinkers. I do not have a very sophisticated palate (I am not the person to talk to about the age of a grape or the subtle currant or cherry flavor that exists in a wine) but I have always enjoyed trying new wines and drinking a fair amount of it. In San Francisco we kept our wine in a bar that was located in our kitchen (much to the chagrin of my father who groaned that the temperature was too high in a kitchen and it should be moved to the basement). Philippines has created a whole different situation for wine.

Here it is hot. Not just a little warm but HOT. We have been keeping our red the fridge. When we drink wine, it is poured out cold from the fridge. It got to the point that we had too much wine to fit in the fridge(my father who has connections at wineries sent us home with a case of fantastic wines) and keeping it on a shelf in a hot room seemed like a horrible thing to do to a nice bottle. We broke down and today bought a wine cooler. I am in love. It holds 34 bottles, has the temperature in both Celsius and Fahrenheit (I am bad with conversions), and can be locked. All in all my perfect wine fridge. We were going to wait until we moved to the new house but decided to get it now. We had thought about buying one in the states but it always seemed like a frivolous luxury for our $7 bottle of wine from Trader Joes. Here, while still a luxury, it has definitely moved into a slightly more necessary purchase.

Again, since my palate sucks, I have no qualms about keeping white and sparkling wines in the fridge.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Josh Groban!

I am excited....we got tickets today to see Josh Groban next month for his Manila concert. We have close to the worst seats in the house as the good seats were Php20,000-25,000 (about $400-500) per ticket. I am really, really excited!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

More S&R Shopping!!

Today we went to S&R (the Philippine's answer to Costco) for their three day sale and for the first time it really felt like Costco. It was crowded beyond belief and the lines were 10 people deep. Ah, reminded me of home.

Their stock was awesome! There were maybe 15-20 different types of ice cream (pints as well as ice cream bars), tons of vitamins, shampoo that comes in large bottles, lotions, chicken taquitos, Kirkland brand cranberry juice (which I love and drink like water), Snapple, Starbucks iced coffee drinks, refried beans, I could go on and on. Disappointingly, they still do not carry tampons so I will continue to be the freak that brings a bunch back from my trips to the states. I was really happy. I wish their dairy section would improve a bit but that is minor compared to what they have. Price wise, most imported items are within a couple of dollars of US prices which is nice. We also needed to buy two new tires as we had a flat last week and they had a killer selection. (On a side note, bonus of the Philippines is there is always someone hanging out on the street that is down to change your tire for a couple bucks tip).

Most of the times we have shopped here the lot was empty and there were no lines so the crowds excited me a lot. Most of the Costco type stores opened in the past apparently closed down so it is great that this one looks very successful.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

House is Getting Closer!

The house is still coming and we are hopefully still looking at a Nov/Dec turnover date.

We actually have a roof now which is great and from the second floor there is an awesome breeze.

The pool is coming and tiles will be put in sooner than later.

Today we will continue on our quest for good furniture. I think we are heading over to Ortigas today to look. There is a specific piece of furniture for outside that I am looking for (this giant round rattan chair that can seat two to three people) but have not yet found it. We went to Union Sqaure yesterday (a furniture store off T. Morato) that can make it based off photos so I will bring that in. The only photo I have is:

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Just Perfect

The last few days in Manila have been that perfect blend of clear blue skies and fluffy white clouds. Just fantastic to wake up to!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Signs in Singapore

Singapore has the coolest signs.

At the Zoo

At the Zoo

At a Park

At Sentosa Island

In the MRT Station

The Secret to Avoiding Traffic in Manila

I have finally learned how to avoid traffic in Manila--leave the house at 7:30am on a Sunday! We had an early appointment today and then wanted to do some furniture shopping. There was absolutely no one on the road! I think Sunday will be our new shopping day (although Ethan Allan was closed but it is just as well as we can not really afford that anyways).

We got lost on the way to Tiendesitas so we stopped to buy chicharon (because that is what to do when one gets lost) and asked directions from a nice family stopped there. Not only did they give us directions but had us follow them there!!! What a nice family! I cannot get over how sweet that was.

At Tiendesitas I found my dream dining room table...dark wood & light woods, weighed a billion pounds, no seams. Unfortunately the table was Php40,000 (about $850). This table will have to remain a dream a bit longer.

Friday, August 31, 2007


Today is August 31. We went to SM San Lazaro today (SM is a huge brand of malls & department stores) to hit up their 50% off sale. We came home with some bowls (randomly branded for JC Penny...yeah I am a classy babe but for P100 ~$2 for five ceramic cereal bowls who cares), some books, yummy Gonuts donuts, and Christmas music. In the states, everybody is having their last picnic of the summer and here they are playing Christmas music. Now as much as I love Christmas, this is waaaay too early for me. I am not even remotely in the mood for Christmas. I am hoping it is just this mall, otherwise I will try to avoid all shopping until mid-November.

Ugh! Christmas music is August! I won't even get into the Christmas tree that was also on display...

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Singapore: The Antithesis of Manila

I just got back from a week in Singapore. Singapore was awesome. It was fantastic to get away from traffic and pollution. Greatest thing about Singapore was the walking. In Manila, I never walk anywhere. There are no sidewalks and the air quality leaves much to be desired. It was a fantastic change to just get out and be able to walk everywhere.

Singapore was also a lot more green than I had expected. I was picturing a concrete jungle and instead there was greenery all around. Trees, parks, you name it. We did every touristy thing known to man: Sentosa Island, Clark Quay, shopping at a slew of malls, Holland Village, the Merlion (this lion/mermaid statue that spits water).

The best attraction for me was the zoo. The zoo was unbelievable. We went to both the regular daytime zoo as well as the night safari and both were brilliant. I have never been to such a fantastic zoo. The animals actually seemed very well cared for.

There is also some great art all over. Cool statues and such. Just a really enjoyable city.

I cannot figure out how this city can be so organized and Manila be so disorganized. It is only when I leave Manila that I really see how good it could be. I loved never having traffic and being able to rely on a clean, user-friendly MRT. I loved that there were trashcans everywhere and you could actually get rid of your garbage (in Manila I often have to carry cigarette butts with me....I often have trouble finding a trashcan even right outside of a mall). I loved that when the light was green for pedestrians you could actually walk without having to fear a car would take you down. Don't get me wrong, I love Manila but I just think the potential to improve is huge and I actually cannot figure out why it hasn't already.

That's Some Monkey.....

I have never seen such an anatomically correct statue of a monkey. This is from the Singapore Zoo which is by far the most amazing zoo I have ever been to.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


In a little less than four hours I will be flying over to Singapore to spend a week there with two friends from college. I am looking forward to: (1) the food--everybody tells me it is very clean, (2) the shopping, and (3) SEEING MY FRIENDS! One who lives in Singapore I haven't seen since she moved back there a couple of years ago so I am really, really excited to see her. I am not looking forward to: (1) cigarettes--apparently they cost about $8USD per pack. I know, I know, I need to quit.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Family Planning in the Philippines

Today the Philippine Inquirer published an article by Jaileen Jimeno (viewable here and here) that really opened my eyes to the reality of family planning in the Philippines. Up until now, I thought the lack of family planning was due to 1) lack of education and 2) lack of resources. It was not until I read this article that I realized the direct interference of the government to purposely block access to birth control.

For anybody, anywhere, to think that natural family planning is a solution is an idiot at best. For a top educated president like Arroyo to claim to believe this is asinine. When my grandma and I were talking about this subject when I visited SF earlier this year she told me, "Do you know what they call people who practice natural family planning? Parents."

Some of the stats in the article stunned me. 6 out of every 10 women have an unplanned pregnancy! That shocked me. I knew it was high but I never imagined it was that high. I can't tell you the number or family members/neighbors in our area that have multiple kids before the age of 25. My biggest issue is the fact that women are having more children than they want. If someone wants to have 15 kids, so be it. I am not part of the don't have kids if you can't afford it camp. My issue stems from women who want two or three and end up with six. The infrastructure cannot keep up with the population. It is all just very, very frustrating.

Nobody it seems is focusing on what happens to the kids once they are born. There is an orphanage in the area that we go by and visit every few weeks. There are usually about 50 kids there, many with disabilities and many siblings. If people want all these kids to be born, why are they not taking care of them.

Coming from a city where condoms were available free in high school and my pediatrician told me to call her immediately if I ever had unprotected sex (I was 13--not even close to having sex) to get an emergency high dose of birth control (old school morning after pill) I am stunned to now live in a place where sex education is not even taught in schools. I really fear for the future of the women here. Something has to change but I don't know if it will be soon enough.

Thursday, August 09, 2007


Well the rain finally came and man did it come! It has been raining straight for about two days. This is great because we are in drought situation here (water levels in the reservoirs way below what they should be). The bad news is EVERYTHING is flooded. We meant to go to Cubao yesterday to buy some tools and couldn't make it that far. Everything, everything was flooded. This did make us rethink our plans for the Prius.

Ever since our trip to the states (where we drove a Prius most of the time) we thought about bringing one here for our main car. We checked with Toyota in Quezon City and were informed they would not be sold here until early 2008. We cannot have one here (imported or otherwise) until they are sold here because there is no point in having a car that nobody knows how to fix. Looking at all the floods yesterday, we realized that a huge gas guzzling truck will be a necessity here during the rainy season. The floods in Manila and Makati can easily get above the knees with no problem. The Prius would not handle that very well at all.

I think we will spend the better part of the day at home. We wanted to hit a sale in Bulacan (up north) but after talking to a friend found out the city is flooded and not passable. Perhaps tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

House Update

Our house is coming along nicely! This week we started to have the pool in the back dug which is great and we are starting to think more about landscaping. Before this whole experience, I never realized what went into building a home. There are so many things to think about that never even crossed my mind before. Even minor items such as placement of electrical outlets and phone jacks are things I had never really though about before.

The roof insulation and tresses have all gone on and we should have the roof tiles up in the next week or two. I cannot watch that process happen. Seeing the guys walk around up there freaks me out too much! I was told they get the tiles up there by tossing them up.

Electrical rough-ins have been installed in most of the rooms and the aircon rough-in will be next week as well. We are now looking at an October/November turnover. Most of the walls are concreted over so you no longer see sets of CHB stacked up, they just look more like solid walls. In additions, the floors have been evened out and are starting to be prepped to lay the floor.

I am loving the brickwork that has been started and this will continue to the inside as well as the back lanai.
We are starting now what I consider the "fun" part. The selection of cabinets, tiles, bathroom fixtures, etc is the part I am looking forward to. My one concern is the inside of the house seems dark....hopefully once the walls are painted and all the scaffolding is removed this will change.

The entire process of construction is just different than anything I have seen. For example, when the workers arrive in the morning, they change out of their closed toed shoes (often sneakers) and pants and work the day in shorts and slippers. No boots. No gloves. Definitely no hard hats. There is a lunch break (signaled on our crew by a bell) and everybody goes and eats. Then everybody finds a place in the shade to nap. They bell dings again and they all go back to work. This is repeated once (sans sleep) in the afternoon. We are bringing them lunch today. Man, these guys can eat! When you walk around the site, there is the laundry of the guys hanging on clotheslines all over the site. These guys work their ASSES off. This is hard work and the weather lately has been muggy and hot with very little rain.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Medical Care

I went to St Luke's Medical Center for a general physical. Apparently, check-ups are not that common here (or called something else) because everyone there was confused that I was at the doctor and nothing was seriously wrong.

Hospitals here are different than what I was used to in San Francisco. When I went to the doctor there, all the doctors were employed by the hospital (i.e., the doctor at Kaiser collects his/her paycheck from Kaiser). Here they are more like a mall in the sense that independent doctors appear to rent space from a hospital but are not necessarily affiliated with the hospital in any other way. There are however heads of departments and such so it must be more complex than I am making it sound but this is as much as I can figure out now.

The doctor had me go for blood tests, urinalysis, and chest x-ray (he is a cardiologist, hence his interest in the chest). Everything was soooo smooth and quick! I have spent longer in line waiting to pay at Kaiser than the whole three tests here. The staff (both administrative and medical) were incredibly nice. They even kept their sweet demeanor when I started to pass out during the blood test and then threw up in their garbage.

Cost is unbelievable. With no insurance here and to receive:
-EKG (I apparently have a premature heartbeat. No big deal, but random none the less)
-Blood (blood count and chemical testing)
-Chest X-Ray

I paid a total of PHP5,012 which in US is $111.38 (assuming a P45/$1) for awesome care the entire time. You can't beat that!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Sky Cable

I am continuing my quest to have Sky Cable installed at our current address. Once again, they will send some people out to see if we have a post near enough our house to install it. I am not optimistic. I have resigned myself to a lifetime of watching shows on my computer (downloaded off the internet) or watching fuzzy TV. Most neighborhoods have normal television with a clear signal. It is only in my neighborhood where it is so bad and likely caused by the 20+ houses that I am sure have tapped into our signal. If we ever wanted to piss the neighborhood off, we could not pay our bill and they would all lose cable.

The utilities are a big plus of moving. I am looking forward to:

1) 24-Hour Water (the water in our neighborhood is currently shut off at 9PM each night)

2) Better cable service (Sky is in our new neighborhood)

3) Better internet service (there are only two providers in our neighborhood and one was unable to connect it)

4) Garbage that is collected on a regular basis. Other than garbage day, we never see anyone's garbage can. Plus there is no garbage on the street.

Creepy, Creepy, Creepy

We went by the new house site to check on the progress today. On the way out we stopped at the gate to talk to the guard. While there, I noticed a large picture of two young women with a notice stating they were not allowed to leave the village without written permission. When I asked the guard about it, he explained that these two women were household help and their employers did not want them leaving the village.

This is honestly one of the creepiest things I have seen. If you are that distrustful of your staff, why not fire them and hire new ones? I cannot imagine being trapped in a subdivision and only allowed to leave it with express written permission from my employer!

Monday, July 23, 2007

In Case you Missed it......

This video has been EVERYWHERE on the internet, but in case you missed it here is a little glance of the country I call home. I cannot figure out if this is the most genius thing I have ever seen or the oddest. Either way, I love it!! This is at a prison in Cebu.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

More Dog Problems II

I forgot. The other dog (chiwawa) is pregnant. She almost died the last time she had puppies which means we have to look into a C-section for her. For a dog. I can't figure out when it happened because we were still here during her heat and I didn't let her out of the house.

Arrived Back Safe

Well we made it home from San Francisco. I loved being in SF. Not the weather--that sucks but I miss the city. I miss the great shops, restaurants, bars, neighborhoods. I also miss running into people. While in San Francisco, I ran into old friends, colleagues, etc which never happens in Manila. I don't know if it is just because there are 10 times the amount of people here (10mil versus San Francisco's under 1mil) or if I just know less people here. I also of course was very excited about the grocery shopping. Philippines cannot hold a candle to San Francisco especially when it comes to "gourmet" groceries. I also miss organic (yes, I prefer to buy organic when available) fruits, vegetables, meat, and milk.

Our flight back was uneventful. Most noteworthy event was seeing Martin Yan. He looks just like he does on TV. While I was looking at him to make than assesment, he gave me a rather dirty look. I guess he doesn't like people to stare at him. Can't imagine why not....

It is nice to be back in Manila. The rain is not too bad at all (only a few days) and the heat is nothing compared to when we left. Our house is coming along fantastically (I will take pictures tomorrow) and looks less like a concrete jail and more like a house. The bricklayer has started as well so it is starting to get some depth. We need to buy the air conditioners this week. Since we are doing split type (meaning the compressor is on the outside) we have to buy them now to complete the rough in.

In other news, I got my dog neutered yesterday. Man is he sad! I am assuming he is in a little pain so he is barely moving and gives me these pitiful looks.

Today we will go to S&R to get some groceries. I hope they are still in business because every time we go, the parking lot is empty.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

In San Francisco

Well, we made it to San Francisco now. I cannot figure out for the life of me how I can grow up here and yet when I return now for vacation I am FREEZING!! It is June and I actually turned on the heat for a little bit the day before yesterday.

Monday, May 28, 2007

New House Add'l

I just looked at the picture of our house in progress that I posted and I just want to mention that, yes, we will be tearing down that ugly, ugly wall.

Grocery Sucess

Shopping for groceries can be a chore here. When making a dish, my shopping lists are often read, "If I find ingredient A, buy ingrediant B". There is no point in having four out of five items needed for a meal. I have started to buy items if I may need them in the next 2-3 months because some things show up once, never to be seen again. We often will hit a few stores in one day of shopping to try to get everything needed. Soft corn torillas are the latest item I cannot find anywhere.

Last week we went to Unimart in Greenhills and found: enchilada sauce (both green & red), peanut butter without sugar (difficult for me to find--I bought three jars), and local free range eggs. I consider this, VERY successful shopping.

We leave in two days for a vacation in the states and I am quite excited to go grocery shopping (Trader Joes especially). My food plans include: eating burritos from La Cumbre a few times a week, going to Izzy's Steakhouse, drinking as much milk as humanly possible, ordering Round Table Pizza (I realize this is not the pinnacle of fine dining but it is very much comfort food to me), eating pounds of strawberries & cherries, and living off of sourdough bread. I am going to gain so much weight!! I can't wait!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

New House: Getting Closer

The house is coming along. The second floor had the slab poured a couple of weeks ago and walls are starting to go up on the second floor. The photos kinda stink because it is all just concrete hollow blocks and cement. I will be able to get better ones once the finishing starts. They are aiming to put the roof tresses up this week which will be good because rainy season is definitely just around the corner.

Some pipes for drainage have been installed. It is so different for me to see a house being built here of cement and plastic pipes versus the wood and copper/iron pipes of SF. Another difference here is the treatment of soil for termites. We have had a couple done so far. Apparently termites can become a major issue here.

Everyone's a Critic

One of our household staff was teaching her grandson to say my name. He couldn't do it (he is two years-old). She told him, "is Tita maganda (beautiful)?" He looked straight at me and said, "Dog."

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

More Dog Problems

The chiwawa mix is in heat. This is my first time seeing a dog in heat (most people I know have mutts that have been neutered/spayed) and it is not fun. She climbs into my lap and humps my arm. She bleed on a white dress I was wearing (this is actually how I learned she was in heat). She goes outside to the front yard and stands next to the rott so he can sniff/lick her. We are now keeping her away from the rott because if he tries to mount her, it will not be pretty.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Rottweiler

As we get ready for a month long trip to the states, I am getting concerned about my dog. He is just over one year old and a rottweiler.

Dogs in the Philippines are often treated a little differently than the states. Where many people in the states view a pet as an extra family member, a lot of people treat pets here as....pets. Many people keep their dogs in cages (something I had never seen before coming here and still have not fully gotten used to). This is not done to be mean, but people's houses are a lot smaller here and many people do not allow the dog in their house. Backyards are often nonexistent. Our current household has FIVE dogs. I treat my dog somewhere in the middle...he is not a member of the family but he is a beloved pet which means no cage and regular walks. Guess which one is not in a cage (well to be fair, the biting chiwawa is not in a cage either)? Herein lies the problem:

1. While we are gone, no one will walk him. He is only a year old and quite hyper. He needs walks. I talked to one of the household help and although he said he can walk the dog, short of me texting him everyday from the states means this won't happen. Nobody else wants to walk him because he is a rottweiler (with the disposition of a Labrador) and that alone makes people scared of him.

2. While we are gone, they will feed him crap food. I buy imported "natural" food and once I leave he will be on the Alpo with rice diet. It makes him stink.

3. He is not yet neutered. I wanted to wait until the one year mark (theory about letting the dog get to a certain stage in physical development). Do I neuter him in the week before we leave and hope he can heal in that time and won't have any complications or wait until we get back when he will be almost 14 months old?

See, I guess this is how you can tell I am an American. With all the problems in the world, I am spending time tripping about my dog.

Nothing to Do With Anything

Come on, watching cheese age? This is good stuff!! (Reminds me of mom watching the Yule Log late night on Christmas Eve).

Friday, May 18, 2007

Oreo Cookies......

I am not positive intellectual property exists here. I will ponder this while eating my Fibiso Hi-Ro.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


Once we were off the Boat of Death, we arrived in Boracay. Just a short boat ride to a short van ride and we were there!! Boracay is absolutely stunning. It is second (in my book) only to Palwan in beauty. Just perfect--the sand is the consistency of flour, the water is so clear you can be neck deep and still see your toes. It is just gorgeous.We stayed at Cez Manor which was not beach front but less than a minute walk to the beach. We paid PHP2,500 (about $50) per night. We selected this place based on our large group (14 people) consisting namely of teenagers which meant that one of the rooms had six people (two parents, four sons). Hotels here do not seem to be very bothered by large groups of people in one room which was good for our friends paying two college tuitions at the time. The hotel....well, you get what you pay for. For $50, you get two beds, a shower with hot water (trust me, this is an amenity here, not standard at all), air con, and satellite television (PHP300 deposit if you want the remote). The only thing to note about the Philippines is if you are staying at a no-name hotel, there are things you may find that would never fly in the states (holes in sheets, pillows that smell like feet/mildew, mildew so thick in the bathroom you can scrape it off with your finger, bathroom sink that leaks heavily but the housekeeper will at least switch the trash can for you, holes in the door, no window anywhere in the room).

We spent a day island hopping and snorkeling which was absolutely fantastic. There were some great fish and just mass quantities of them. I did not take any pictures as I am tired of coming home from vacation with half of my camera filled with blurry pictures of fish that look nowhere near as cool as they did in real life. Just wonderful snorkeling. We stopped on a little island that was stunning, had some of the bluest water I had ever seen, and had a man with a machine gun. I sidled up to one of the boys and before I could open up my mouth, he said, "no, this is not normal and I do not know." We gave the gunman pizza rolls. I assume he was an un-uniformed security guard of some sort but who knows. He seemed to like the pizza rolls. Everything was great with out boat. One of the boat guys threw an empty Vienna sausage can in the water and Ado made him go dive down and get it. Lucky for him we were only in about 12 feet of water.

At night in Boracay, the beach turns into a multitude of restaurants serving every type of cuisine imaginable. We selected Mongolian BBQ which was PHP220 per person (~$4.50) for all you can eat (or here as they say, Eat All You Can). Good food. They had mushrooms which was a big plus, albeit mushrooms from a can. We brought a couple of bottles of wine (no corkage) and proceeded to stuff ourselves. On the beach they had set up low tables with pillows on bamboo benches. Just spectacular. A live band was playing right next door and for me it just about creates the perfect dinner in paradise.

The following day all the kids got henna tattoos (PHP100 or $2) and we spent the day rotting on the main beach. Perfect weather. Lunch was at the Mandarin Spa (wood fire pizza) and dinner was Greek at Cyma in D'Mall which I quite enjoyed. Fantastic food. We had a tomato/cucumber/feta salad, fried cheese, and lamb ribs. I don't eat a lot of lamb here so it was a nice treat.

We took Cebu Pacific home. We had never flew them before but it was a nice flight. Made it to Manila in 45 minutes. Much better than the cruddy boat (can you tell I am still disturbed by the boat ride??).