Monday, April 30, 2007

Subic Trip

We left Manila first thing on Friday morning to head up to Subic for the weekend. We went with two friends of ours, their two kids, and their two yayas. Subic is about two hours north of Manila and was formerly a US Military base. The housing that remains there looks just like every other military base housing. We stopped in the city proper to visit some friends and then headed to our hotel, Mountain Woods Resort ( . This hotel was not on the beach but up on a hill (as the name suggests). It was an okay hotel. The rooms were nicely appointed and they had insect repellent in the bathrooms next to the shampoo which was a nice touch. My only issue with the room was the lack of working air conditioning. Simply put, it sucked. We actually pulled the bed out from the wall to move it closer to the under-producing air conditioning unit. Otherwise, the hotel was clean, piano player in the lobby, fresh tarragon springs in the water carafe, staff was great, management was inept, pool was clean enough (even if it was under filled which was only a bummer because you do not get the infinity effect).
Since Mountain Rock Resort is a sister property of White Rock Beach Resort we got 50% off the beach entrance rates (not free like the website states). After visiting friends, we went to White Rock Beach, arriving there around 4pm and let them know we would be there until 8pm (they have a nice attendant bring your stuff to the beach). We rented a cabana and relaxed and swam a bit. At about 6:30, we requested they turn on the lights. They wanted PHP500 for this (about $10). After much arguing, we received an emergency light (kinda like a stand-up flashlight) so we could at least pack up our items.

Saturday morning we woke up early to head over to Zoobic which is a zoo there. Great place to go with kids. They had some neat animals and when it is time to see the tigers for PHP200 you can buy some chicken that they will feed to the tigers which is very cool. The guide flings the chicken around on a string and tosses it up to the roof as well so the tiger will climb on the roof of the vehicle which was very cool.
You also visit Aeta Trail where you watch a dance done by some Aetas. This part I was not too into. The Aeta's are the indigenous people of the Philippines and this display seemed less like cultural education and more along the lines of "let's take pictures and gawk". Something about they way they had it set up didn't sit right with me.
Final stop at Zoobic was the CrocoLoco pen which had a slew of crocodiles. Here for PHP50 you can buy yet some more chicken and feed the crocodiles. The chicken is attached to a string on a stick (like a fishing pole) which meant instead of feeding time, it was "Let's Taunt the Crocodiles and Make Them Jump Repetitively for Food Which I Will Yank Back Before They can Reach It" time. This was my favorite part of Zoobic.

Next we headed to Camayan Beach which was reccomened to us. They had no remaining space at the beach (not surprising considering it was a Saturday in the height of summer) so we headed back to the hotel for swimming. That night we hit a bar, watched a bikini show, and saw some live bands.

Sunday we headed back to Camayan Beach first thing in the morning. For non hotel guests there are no reservations; it is first come, first served. You know the lines you see outside of nightclubs with everyone trying to get in? This was the scene at Camayan but instead of people dressed to the nines, it was families loaded down with coolers and kids. We went back to the wretched White Rock (our aircon in the car had died---long story but since the car is still under warrenty and there was no dealer in the area, we just dealt with the hot car) since we knew there was space. We spent the day there and enjoyed it. When it got too hot during the peak of the afternoon we went over to the pool and hung out in the shady end of the pool.

We left for Manila directly from White Rock around 7pm (we wanted to avoid the heat so we drove at night) which would have been uneventful except for two things. (1) NLEX (North Luzon Expressway) was having work done so a 15-minute strech of road turned into two hours and (2) contrary to the painted signs on the ground reading "NO OVERTAKING", the shoulder can apparently be used as an additional lane.


This past weekend we went to Subic Bay. One of the best things about the Philippines is taking a road trip and seeing monkeys on the side of the road. For some reason this is way cooler to me than the deer we would see on the way to Yosemite back home (although I must admit, I do like the deer as well).

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Shopping Philippine Style

Since our house is getting slightly nearer to completion, we went out yesterday to start pricing major appliances, specifically air conditioners (eight total), ceiling fans (10 total), refrigerator (one), stove top (built-in, one piece), oven (again built in, no range), and television (okay, not a necessity as we were looking at the LCD flat screens).

Back home, I would have gone online to check out the major appliance stores, read some consumer reports articles, hit Costco, and made a list from that. Here, I go to store X (not many stores here are online and the ones that are are full of dead links, outdated information, and never any prices). At store X, I talk to multiple sales people since each person is in charge of a different brand. They give me the prices, the EER, and explain to me that kj/h is the same as BTU. I am looking for different HP and types (some rooms in our house get more use, versus the guest room aircons will not be run very often). Then after they give me the prices, we discuss what the discounted price would be. That's right, even in a major store the listed price is not the final price. Easy example, a 40" Samsung "Bordeaux plus" LCD television is marked at PHP179,000. They can give it on sale for PHP149,900 and it includes a free 29" television. We tell them we do not want the free item so they tell us 132,000. Then we tell them we were talking to a woman in the store who bought the exact television (I had huge TV envy there) and she informed us she bought it for PHP117,000. They agree that they could give it for that price. Picture this situation happening 1,000 times.

So, one might assume that since we have already been to store X we do not need to hit up another branch of the exact same store. Ha! We hit it up when passing it in another mall and get different prices. This happens everywhere. At an oven store, we went to two different stores (selling exclusively this brand) and got prices of PHP4,000 difference on the same item.

Combine this time-consuming process with my ignorance of many of the specialty brands here (I am not too hip on European brands) and you can see why shopping here is a whole other animal.

Don't even get me started about the ceiling fan portion of this mission. Let's just say that I have now determined I will likely buy these overseas and ship them here because (1) the selection sucks and (2) the prices suck even more.

Bonus of the whole day, one of the sales guys, Reymond, at store X was A W E S O M E! He was so nice, knew his stuff, and when I had one question he did not know (did the aircon remote glow in the dark), he told me, "Sorry, I actually do not know." People who tell me they don't know instead of making it up score big with me. Hopefully these guys get commission because we will hook Reymond up.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Philippines Expat

It is weird for me to be here in the sense that there are very few people like me here. It seems like most Americans living here are either:
1. Men who have married much younger, prettier women
2. Men who are married to a normal Filipina woman and have moved/retired here.
3. Men who have retired here (often ex military)
4. Volunteers
5. Missionaries (lotta Mormons here....they look just like they do in the states, short sleeved shirts with ties and backpacks).
6. People who were placed here by their companies.

I haven't quite found my niche yet. There is a club for American Women but I fear they will be a lot older than me and if most are based here for employment, it means they have more money than God. Not sure if they will have a place for me.

Smart Kids

Tonight we were at yet another wake (these happen fairly often in our neighborhood) and a little girl was dressed up in a beautiful sun dress. I told her she looked beautiful and the boy next to me (who couldn't have been more than 10) responded, "She is dressed to kill." Where he learned that expression I have no idea but I was quite impressed!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Swimming Pool

Today we are meeting with two pool contractors--Aqua Pools & Bulacan Gardens. We originally had contacted Bulacan Gardens for our landscaping and had then decided against them as we found that a lot of our friends did their own landscaping and were willing to help us with ours. Our contact at Bulacan Gardens mentioned that they do pools also so we set up an appointment. Our second appointment is with Aqua Pools which is the company our designer uses. I am a big fan of word of mouth.

Catch is, we are not sure what we can do with our space. It is not a huge space and I want a swimming pool that is 6' deep (if we had more space we would make it deeper) at the deepest point. In addition, we want lots of lights inside as well as a mosaic style tile (we saw it at a resort and loved the way the water looked). We need space for our gigantic grill as well as a small covered structure (natural--teak or nipa) to be right next to the pool. We want it fun enough for adults but safe so that all the kids (billions of godchildren, nieces, cousins, etc) will not get out of sight and drown.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Lemon Curd

My brother-in-law just got back from London last night and brought me back TWO jars of lemon curd!!! I am in heaven. Tomorrow I will make scones so I have something to eat the lemon curd with as the spoon in the jar does not go over too well here.

(He also brought me a salami, Irish Cheese, and some handmade, love, love him!!)

There Goes the Neighborhood Part II

We passed by the section of C-3 that had the houses being torn down (I use the word "house" loosely). It appears they only tore down the ones that were blocking the sidewalk and have left the ones in the back. These they are putting a bright blue face on. Looks nice enough. I meant to get a picture but didn't have a camera and my phone takes very cruddy pictures.

On another note, Manila is a city with very few sidewalks. Some areas (Makati--the downtown/financial district) have them but most places we go there are none. Not the most walker friendly city. The places where there are sidewalks, I can often not walk because my height (5'8") means that I often get banged in the head with people eaves, banners, or hanging laundry. In addition, any scrap of sidewalk is taken over by vendors. Bonus is, when you do go walking, it is easy to get a bottled water or juice without having to stop.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Holy Week in Tondo

Yesterday (Sunday) was the official start of Holy Week. My whole life, Holy Week has meant nothing to me (except in college--we were released early on Wednesday and classes we cancelled on Holy Thursday & Good Friday). Over the past couple of weeks our neighborhood has had stations of cross set up. (I am still a little vague on stations of the cross. Essentially..I is each of the events leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus...but I would not swear to it). On Sunday they were once again set up but this time there were reenactments of each station.

The actors were good. The play was all in Tagalog but I think I got the basics. One of the kids told me which character was good and which was bad so that was something. The guy who played Jesus was great. He cried. Lest you think this was just spiritual (which it may have been), he was getting the crap kicked out of him. When people in the play got whipped, they got whipped in real life. HARD. With a leather whip. A little disturbing for me to say the least. Our house was station four (didn't get any good photos) and I did not continue on with the group to the rest of the stations as I feared it would only get worse.

This guy got whipped a lot. I wish I had a good picture of Judas. He was scary. He had an eye patch. And did most of the whipping.

This picture above is only a slice of the audience. I couldn't get the whole group in the shot but needless to say it was quite a crowd.

There goes the neighborhood

A few blocks from our new house site is a corner with a billion squatters on it. While this is not legally their land, the structures have been here for a while. When we passed last week, MMDA trucks were there and the structures were being demolished. According to a newspaper vendor we flagged down, the people were paid for 3 meters by the city.

I am conflicted. Half of me is happy about the improvement to the neighborhood (we shall see how long this lasts--this was the third time these have been torn down) and the other half feels really bad for the residents. Where will they go? Where will they live?

House Pictures

We now have some walls up on the first floor! There are a few changes we need to make. According to our floor plan, the dining room is supposed to be four meters wide. It is currently 3.5 meters. While this doesn't sound like a big deal, due to space constraints 4 meters was as small as we felt comfortable going. To have it even smaller means we are debating where a table could even fit as this is the main passage to the backyard (and eventual pool).

In addition, the picture above shows what is supposed to be a guest bathroom (half-bath--just sink & toilet). Currently it is .70 meters wide. I don't think we could fit a sink inside without people crashing into it. As a result we will have to tear down one of the walls and start new. We are meeting with the contractor, designed, and architect today to find out why some of the measurements seem off. Hopefully they just appear smaller than we thought and there is not an actual error in the post placement. We shall see.