Thursday, December 04, 2008

Christmas Tree!!!

The Philippines has the longest Christmas season of anywhere in the world. One can start to see decorations and hear the music as early as August although the official kickoff is the "ber" months (i.e., SeptemBER). This year it started later or I am just getting better about ADDing it.

We started decorating for Christmas late (again, relative to where we live). Perfect example: when we were hanging spiderwebs and positioning a headless man in our window for Halloween (our village participates in Trick or Treating woo hoo!!), our neighbor up the street was hanging up his Christmas lights. We started our decorating the day after Thanksgiving because that was the day we picked up our tree from S&R.

S&R ships in Douglas firs from Oregon for the Christmas season which rocks my world because I hate plastic trees. They are just not my thing. I have to have the nice pine smell for Christmas. For P3799 (about $75) I bought a real tree. It smells fantastic!! Admittedly, I am not 100% positive it will stay green until new years but I am optimistic. I went with a friend of mine and we picked out the best tree (read greenest) we could find and I think it looks great. Please note I am not one of those people that decorates trees beautifully. In fact, I have a friend coming over this week to redo the tree because she says it looks cruddy with my hastily bought decorations. In my defense, I impulse bought sale balls, random candy canes, and was assisted in my decorating by my creative team (a 5-year-old and a 4-year-old).

We bought a plain wreath and had a niece decorate it with berries and pine cones for the front door.

The staircase garland looks way cooler in real life because the little presents are lights that light up. Each 9' garland costs P150 (about $3) so life is good there!

Ah, this is my Santa Claus that we have dangling from the lights. It is paper-mache and we got him for the bargain price of P200 (about $4) in Paete, Laguna.

For some reason, people kept warning me against putting lights on my tree. I am not sure why. I am feeding it lots of sugar water and bought the overpriced lights that do not heat up too much. Although everyone told me that if I do not put lights on it, the tree will last longer, I find that akin to the people who put plastic on their couches. Sure, your couch will last forever, but who the fuck wants to sit on it????

**Side note--Mike at S&R Congressional is the coolest guy ever!! Not only did he not let us steal a tree that someone had reserved, he tolerated us picking a tree all the way in the back. Best employee ever!!!**

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Coolest Bathrooms in the Philippines

After talking so badly about the bathrooms in the Philippines, I thought it only right that I give some notice to the cool bathrooms in the Philippines.

First we have a wood themed bathroom. This is at a restaurant in Laguna whose name escapes me....

Anyone that can turn ugly stalls into something cool is awesome!

Altered toilet...

This was the shower at one of the bathrooms in the B&B at Sonia's Garden (in Tagaytay). I loved the full window next to the shower.

Quite possibly the coolest bathroom I have seen. Lest you think that is just a fountain, it is actually a jacuzzi tub (private residence).

Thanksgiving in the Philippines

This year I will be attempting the prepare a Thanksgiving dinner here. This will be the first time that I have done this by myself (usually I get to play second fiddle to my mother with my father stepping in to carve and my grandmother making the gravy). I am sticking to very traditional with a few exceptions:

1. I am not making cranberry sauce. I don't eat it, most invited to my dinner do not eat it (I will be the only American--the rest are Filipino with a few that have lived in the states). Also I am not sure how easy it would be to even find cranberries here.

2. I am not making sweet potatoes. I don't eat them. Therefore, everyone must suffer.

3. Instead of spinach or green beans, I may do corn. People here like corn.

I am a little worried about the pumpkin pie. I was easily able to find canned pumpkin here (woo hoo!) but I think that pumpkin pie might be something one has to grow up eating. If I had never eaten it and someone presented me with an orange pie and told me, "it's a pie made of squash and it is really yummy", I would not want it. So we'll see how many takers there are. I am also thinking about buying canned whipped cream (the shame!!) only because with the humidity here I have found that when I make it fresh it falls quickly. Never mind. I cannot bring myself to buy canned whipped cream.

I also am using a simpler version of the stuffing with pretty much just sausage, bread cubes, onions, and celery all seasoned. I got the recipe from a friend's mom. There is no sage or the like so I am hoping it will appeal to a wider palate.

On a random note, turkey is REALLY easy to find here. Just about every grocery has frozen turkeys. Although I know there are fresh in some places, I want a few things to be simple. That and my oven is kinda small.

Friday, August 15, 2008


So everybody told me that hiring house help here would be a little bit of a pain. At first I resisted the idea of even hiring help because it seems so unnecessary for me. I do not have a job that takes me out of the house, I do not have kids, why would I be unable to care for my house when I used to do it in the states in addition to working psycho 14 hour days? Well, I found it is necessary to hire household helpers for a couple of reasons. First of all, the house gets really dusty really quickly!! Some of it is like due to the construction taking place at my neighbor's house next to us, but in general, daily dusting is needed all the time. I never thought dust could collect quicker than San Francisco (Edwardians, although really cute in style, are evil for collecting dust) but it does! Everyday the furniture has to be dusted and the floors swept and mopped. Second reason is I guess burglary can be a concern here so it is always suggested that there is someone home at all times.

So we went ahead and hired a houseboy. His job is to feed the dogs, water the garden, use the vacuum thing in the pool, and wash all the windows. We hired a boy from a province about 10 hours (by bus) from here and he sucked. He was 16, and there are two types of 16 year olds--ones who want to work and ones that act like petulant teenagers. We had the latter. He was a frickin pain. He was lazy. He also had a seemingly huge adversity to wearing a shirt. Everyday we would have to tell him to put on a shirt. He made it with us 5 weeks. We sent him back to the province.

We also hired a maid. She is a godsend. She is actually the sister of my mother-in-laws houseboy and she is everything the evil teenager is not. She is efficient, does a perfect job, and is the sweetest person. I am hoping she works out and stays for the long haul. I also like that she is not scared of the rott and feeds him and can walk him with no problem (he probably weighs about as much as her). Although she is also from Bicol (a province surrounded by water), she cannot swim so I tried to teach her the other day. I am a bad swim instructor. I will have Ado do it. Since we have a pool here that is 7' deep in the far end, I will feel a lot better if she can swim. She came here because after working for four years for a family in Bicol, she was still only making P1,500 a month (about $35). That is lower than ANYONE in Manila pays. You would not even start someone out that low. It is REALLY, REALLY low.

It was weird. When hiring help, everyone had these weird opinions about which province was best to hire from and whether agencies had the best workers or if the workers from the agencies knew too many "tricks". I even listened to a conversation about a province to avoid because if they get mad, they will kill you. This was an actual conversation! The weirdest part of it, was when my friend brought up the province having angry people, my other friend agreed immediately! What a weird conception to have. There were also theories I heard about if someone should be from a nearby province or far, how old was best, if they had kids, etc. I guess in the end none of it mattered because we hired from the same province that everyone in Ado's family hires from.

So now we have to hire one more person. I am keen on someone who can drive because right now we have no driver and I only drive if I am with someone who can translate for me in the case of an accident. I never drive by myself. This means that Ado always has to come with me or I have to drag someone with me. Life would be a lot easier for me with a driver.....

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Random Thoughts

A few weeks ago we went to a championship basketball game. All is normal, but the guys play on a half-court instead of a full. Our team won. Woo-hoo!

We finally set up our grill. We shipped it here from the states when we first moved. One thing we did not consider was the size of the LPG tank. On the right side of the grill, there is a cabinet that the tank should fit into. The sizes here are different from the states, and therefore we have to have our tank outside. All of the ones here are too tall to fit!

We threw our first party here. Great thing about having a covered lanai is we have lots of places for the caterers to put tables. Everybody told me to lock up my good knives because the caterers would steal them, so I did. I still have all my knives.

We finally set up the furniture in our cabana......

...which turned into a nice drinking spot for my father-in-law and his friends. (Note, although I brought out wine glasses, they are drinking wine out of shot glasses.)

No party is complete without an uncle chopping the lechon.

Or a picture of the pig head (I have no idea who stuck the fruit there or why).

On other random notes:

-S&R now sells tampons!!!!!!!!!! This is the best news. I was so excited when I saw the boxes on the shelf. Tampons are impossible to find here. Seriously.

-We got a trainer for our Rott. This guy is the Caesar Milan of the Philippines. He makes my dog behave like never before.

-Our other dog (actually of mother-in-laws) is in heat and has her stupid period. Gross. I have to make sure there is always her blanket under her. People! FIX YOUR PETS. My mother-in-law refuses to get this dog fixed so until it ends, I am on blanket patrol.

-I am addicted to Five Cows (an ice cream place here) ice cream cake that is blueberry cheesecake. The blueberries are a little sour which balances out the sweetness of the cheesecake ice cream perfectly.

-Our new next door neighbor is a psychiatrist. I asked, and he told me there are approximately 500 psychiatrists in the entire Philippines. 80,000,000+ people and 500 psychiatrists does not sound sufficient.... I actually read on a message board for expats that the reason there is so little focus on mental health is because Filipinos do not get depressed. Yeah. Right. It has nothing to do with the fact that if one is having trouble putting food on the table or putting the kids in school, your depression or anything else is not likely to be a high priority.

-Hospitals here often have people selling cashews either inside the hall or outside. Best thing about going with my mother-in-law to the doctor is eating garlic cashews while waiting. My favorite seller is on the second floor or the Medical Arts building at Cardinal Santos.

-This is the coolest thing I have heard in a while (post dated July 27). As most of my family & friends know, the family planning situation here really upsets me.

-A few people here (many of them Fil-ams) when talking to me about the upcoming US elections, have asked me (when hearing I support Obama) if I am worried that when he is elected, "the blacks will take over." For real, what am I supposed to do with that statement?? There are so many bases to cover. I just don't know where to begin. Take over what? Who are these "blacks that might take over"? If there was more equality, wouldn't this be a good thing? If there were more people of color getting high government jobs, wouldn't this be a good thing? I just don't get it. And then there are the people (same people who pose the taking over query) that ask me if I am worried because he is a Muslim. 1) I really don't care the president's religion. I am still waiting for an agnostic president. 2) He is not Muslim. 3) If he was, who cares??? Final note on all this, as we can see by the current situation here is the Philippines (see above), a president does not necessarily support the groups they are a part of. If so, I do not think Arroyo would be figuratively fucking the women of her country.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Way Too Busy.....

So, if blogging was a job, I would be fired. I suck. Life has been psychotically busy. We had three apartments in San Francisco coincidentally vacant at the same time. I posted one on Craiglist and received 379 emails from people interested. Not only did I have to respond to the emails but I was trying to do so in a way that they would not be receiving my response at 3am. Bonus was all three units are now rented with only one open house. Gotta love the tight rental market in SF.

We have done more shopping for the house. I am still getting used to where to shop as prices for the exact same item can vary HUGELY from store to store. Items here that are bizarrely expensive include sheets, ziplock bags, mop & glow, furniture polish, and Tupperware type containers. Items that are surprisingly inexpensive are tiki torches, native material place mats, dishes, baskets with lids, and glasses. We also bought a random serving platter for P150. It is branded the Cellar for Macy's. Gotta love the export overruns/rejects. We bought most of our dish items at a place next to Suki Market in QC (about 20 minutes from our house). I still wish there was a Target here so I could stock up on cleaning supplies and wall clocks.

I am closer to grocery stores that sell items I usually eat now. Bizarrely, I can no longer find refried beans at any of the stores (which used to be a fairly easy item to find) which bums me out. Mexican food is not popular here. Even the Taco Bell (the most McDonalized version of Mexican food in the world) near our house closed down after one year. I miss Mexican food (which is a staple in San Francisco). I made enchiladas a couple of weeks ago. Since I have not been able to find soft corn tortillas, I made them with flour tortillas (which are pretty easy to find here). Randomly, I can easily find Enchilada sauce at Unimart (grocery store here).

I made tacos the other night for some of the kids that were over at the house and it was cute how they had never eaten them before. The younger ones were not eating at first and it was because they were nervous about how to put them together. All loved the tacos though.

Random side note, I was slicing olives for a taco topping (I know, a little odd) and while I was slicing, I would occasionally eat an olive out of the can. The kids (ranging from elementary to college) were appalled. They had never seen black olives before. They were really grossed out. At that point, I realized had someone never eaten an olive before, it would look disgusting. It is a black slimy thing that comes in a can filled with briny water. I have been eating them since I was a little kid (we used to stick one on each finger and eat them off). More olives for me!

I still have no clue where my camera is. I also, disturbingly, lost my makeup bag. I do not want to buy makeup here (insanely expensive compared to US, even for cheap drugstore brand) and I do not relish having to buy it all in the states and shipping it here. I am hoping it will turn up.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Finally Moved

So we finally have moved into our new home (hence the lack of new posts). It has been absolutely crazy--dealing with cable, phone, and internet installation (Bayantel, which is our DSL company, installed a party line which means every time my neighbor gets a call, the internet drops), appliance/furniture delivery, and training the house staff. Everything with the actual house, however, is awesome. I don't have any pictures because I am not sure where I stashed my camera.

There was a fatty typhoon that came through Manila a couple of weeks ago and our house was fine--no hidden leaks or anything so that was great! We lost our electricity for the day and although we did buy a generator, instead of turning it on we headed over to Tondo where they still had lights (but tons and tons of floods).

We went ahead and hired a boy for the house (in actuality, we received a call from my in-laws telling us they had brought a boy here from Bicol for us). Nice kid. Only speaks Bicol and a little Tagalog so he gives me a lot of odd looks when I talk to him. Training him is a pain in the ass and best left to Ado. I get the feeling he did not do a lot of housework/gardening back home. This is his first job and also his first time in Manila so everything is a learning experience for him. Ado keeps buying him underpants. I am not sure why. It sucks that a 16 year-old kid is here in a weird city with weird people (me and Ado) so he can send money to his family back home.

Life otherwise in Manila is the same. I went to Greenhills to do shopping and rented a wheelchair for my mother-in-law. When I returned it, the lady tried to charge me P500 for a two hour rental. I told her to give me a receipt then and the price changed to P100. Ugh. I hate having to constantly deal with things like this. Usually I notice because they get too greedy. Had she said P200, I would not have tripped, but P500 in crazy. For all I know, the real price is P20 an hour. Whatever. Such is life for a funky foreigner here.

We got a new puppy. Prior to going on our last trip to the states, a friend mentioned that her dog had just given birth and did we want a puppy. I told her, "yes" and then promptly forgot about it until we got back and she brought us an 8 week-old puppy. Dachshund. I named him Oscar (I know; not very original). He looks sweet (as seen above with the neighborhood manicurist) but he is the devil. He does not like ANY of the dog toys we bought and prefers to eat shoes, curtains, hanging clothes, etc. We have left him in Tondo for now until we are home more at the new house so we can watch him and discourage him from chewing up everything we just bought. Love, love, love the new puppy.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Appliance Shopping

We finally bought one of the major appliances we need--a fridge (or as called here, a ref). It will not be delivered until this weekend but I am already loving it.

I never knew Sharp made fridges (I do not think they have a refrigerator line in the states) but I loved the idea of a freezer on the bottom combined with no center panel in the top. I also am loving the fact that the drawers for the freezer are plastic versus the wire baskets that are so common in the states.

We ended up buying our appliances at one store. Shopping for appliances is a process when it comes to pricing. There really is no last price--you can keep going. We got this fridge for P15,000 (about $350) below the marked price. The marked price is just the starting point. We also got a free blender and hairdryer as well. Catch? This is the cash price. We never carry lots of cash, so for us it meant a check which in the Philippines means three days clearing. No big deal for us.

Lest you think the fridge is too big, the tropical air kills food really quickly so items that are not normally refrigerated or frozen are here (i.e., bread, 72oz bags of chocolate chips from Costco).

(Sorry for the cruddy pic--I grabbed it from the Sharp website so the resolution is lacking)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

House Update

Every time I look back at a post talking about how close we are to moving in to our new home, I want to laugh. So now I will take the stance that it will NEVER be done, and maybe that will change my luck. We are (in theory) getting closer to moving. I am starting to write the number of the cable and internet companies down and we will buy our fridge this week. I have been sick for the past couple of days so I have not been to the house, but the rumor is the pool actually has water in it now (and not the sludge that has been living in it). The pool construction ended up being a clusterfuck and in fact our pool supply company told us later, had they known who we hired, they would have stopped us. Hopefully all the pipes/pump/filter were installed correctly. We will find out this week. Live and learn. Honestly, if this is the only problem we have, I can live with it. Moral of story=NEVER hire friends...ever. Everybody says it, but I guess I had to live through it to learn.

We installed an outdoor shower. When we spent time in Hawaii this past January, the house we rented had an outdoor shower and it was the best thing. I don't think I ever showered in the house...maybe once. After that, the sisters and I were always in that shower. In fact my sister Jonnifer didn't ever shower inside either. It was that good. Something about being in a shower outside is fantastic. I am planning on putting a teak panel in the bottom with some river stones underneath. Being naked outdoors is very cool. But not too cool, hence our bamboo privacy wall.

We tried to use a lot of color in the house which we both like (I think it is growing up in San Francisco and being surrounded by multicolored Victorian homes). Our foyer has a bright teal floor (and a bright red ceiling with woodwork over it).

The color is apparent in the kitchen also, not only the blue but the malaga tiles behind the stove. Also, please note we have no oven in our main kitchen. Very Pinoy (although we put one in the dirty kitchen).

Our landscaping has turned out awesome. I couldn't be happier with the work he did. The grass also filled in very well.


AFTER:If I do not start weeding soon, it really will be a jungle. Gotta get on that soon!!!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Cathay Pacific

So we arrived back safe and sound. For our flights to and from SFO, we took Cathay Pacific which was awesome.

Great things about our flights:
1. Cathay Pacific gives you (in economy): socks, toothbrush/toothpaste, two mints, and eye masks upon request. They are one of the few airlines to still give amenity kits to economy passengers.

2. Ice cream, sandwiches, and cup noodles upon request. Love it!!!

3. They upgraded both of us to business class for the MNL-HKG leg. Yes, I realize it is only a little over an hour flight, but man! It was an awesome hour. On the way back (HKG-MNL), they only upgraded me (I think because I have ruby status with One World...albeit the lowest status one can have). Ado took the business class seat on the way home because she appreciates the nicer airline food more than me. I was so tired, I slept and skipped the meal.

4. The flight attendants will give you lots of ginger ale upon request (I drank four cans on the SFO-HKG leg).

5. The flight attendants are really, really, really nice.

Bad things about out flight:
1. On the way back, the man sitting next to me had the worst body odor and breath you can imagine. This was not normal bad breath, but dental emergency bad breath. I spent the whole flight with a blanket over my mouth. Ado wanted to say something to him in Manila (thankfully he was not next to me on the second leg) but I stopped her because I did not want his feelings hurt. She didn't think he realized how bad he smelled, but I think he had to of. We will never see him again, and he was a really nice guy.

One the way back, we had one of the newly configured airplanes. The video on demand was awesome but I am not loving the seats. Instead of reclining, they slide forward which leaves you feeling like you are slouching the entire time.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Still in San Francisco.....

I am horrible about blogging when vacationing. I figure I will catch up when we get home this week. All I have been doing here (besides seeing family and friends and working) is shopping.

Wal Mart is my new favorite store. We do not have them in San Francisco (likely because they are evil in every way, shape, and form) but we spent three weeks in a tiny, tiny town in central Texas and after 9pm the only thing to do is go to Wal Mart. I felt guilty shopping there but was quite happy that I could buy a box of Triscuits for P100 less per box than in the Philippines (I bought a few boxes). Yes, I realize that purchasing my discounted Triscuits helps Wal Mart continue their world domination at the expense of everyone and I will not be surprised if when I get back and open my crackers, they are stained with the blood of all the people in the world who are raped by Wal Mart and their socially evil practices.

Side note, it is sooo good to be back in San Francisco. I really love it here. Although I am very happy in the Philippines, home is always home and home for me is a city that has banned plastic bags, encourages recycling everything, hates smokers (I am a freak here), has open space and parks everywhere, and has some of the best restaurants in the world.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Bathrooms in the Philippines

Bathrooms in the Philippines are a unique experience. Most times, an unpleasant one. Public toilets (i.e., malls, parks, entertainment venues) are probably the worst. They are severely lacking in some basics. There are some pay lounges (usually about P10 or about $.25) which are fine. The secret of a perfect bathroom here for me is it must have the following:

1. Toilet Seat. You may assume that a toilet would have a toilet seat but trust me, this is a luxury. Most have no toilet seat which means you get to do the half squat.

2. Toilet Paper. Most public bathrooms do not have toilet paper. There is a machine in the front of most bathrooms that one can buy tissue for...I have no idea. I carry it with me now.

3. Flusher. Yup. Many bathrooms still have no flusher which means that you must take a bucket of water and pour it at the correct angle and gravity will take care of the rest. I suck at this and usually end up with a toilet of diluted pee. Luckily this is becoming less common in malls but still very prevalent in private homes and small businesses.

4. Soap. Soap is really hard to find and often when you do find it, it is so diluted, it is mostly water. I guess a money saving measure. At a restaurant, you will often see the signs for the employees outlining hand washing. Better not to think too much about how the chef is washing his hands without soap.

5. Paper towels. This is the gold star of bathrooms. Hard to find. Always makes me happy.

Most bathrooms will have signs stating please throw tissue in the trash. Tissue is usually not supposed to be flushed.

The sign at the top of the post reads, "Do not step on the toilet seat". I was completely confused by this until recently. A little girl in our family went to go use the restroom while we were visiting at the hospital and completely stripped off her jeans and underpants. She then went into the bathroom and squatted on the toilet like a frog. It turns out that this is how most kids here are potty trained. I was told otherwise they would fall into the toilet which confused me because I have never seen a kid in the US do this nor have I seen a kid fall into a toilet. I think I have to chalk it up to the lack of toilet seats. Without a toilet seat, a kid can definitely fall in and they are too short to do the lovely half-squat.

The picture above is a bathroom in a restaurant. People here always use a bidet or a little bucket (tabo) as pictured above. This was the first bathroom I saw that provided soap with the tabo.

Many, many, many people do not have overhead showers. This has been explained to me as either an issue with water pressure (without a pump, the pressure with not bring the water up to the shower head or there is no pump) or in more remote areas, lack of indoor plumbing. The way to bathe without a shower is pictured above. It is a large bucket filled with water and a little bucket is used to pour water over the body. This is what I have been using for the past 18 months (we fall into the water pressure camp). It sucks washing your hair because it takes forever to get the shampoo and conditioner out. Water comes out at a tepid temperature. A scary water heater can be used which is a small cylinder attached to a cord which is then dropped in the bucket. I am not sure why it does not electrocute more people, but apparently it does not because they are sold everywhere.

So, knowing all this, I of course have gone opposite route. In our new home, we have installed toilets with a flusher...

showers with shower heads (we have awesome water pressure in our new neighborhood so no water pump or tank is needed)...

little bidet faucet things by every toilet...

and of course, hot water heaters in each bathroom (as well as the kitchen....I like washing dishes in hot water)...

The final items to remember about bathrooms here:

1. When lining up in a crowded bathroom you do not form one line, rather you select a stall and stand outside of that one. It is a gamble and often I always pick the slowest one for no reason.

2. If there are people in uniforms outside of a bathroom, you likely have to pay

3. Bathrooms here are often referred to as "CR" (Comfort Room)

4. Tampons will never be found anywhere. Not in a machine, not in the drugstore down the street, and not in the purse of another restroom patron. ALWAYS have a spare.

Since I am a woman I know little about men's restrooms. If you are a man, you can pretty much pee anywhere. Side of the road, in a pink government issued urinal on the street, really ANYWHERE. I don't think a single day has passed here that I have not seen a man urinating in public. In fact, we have had people who live in the states visit us, and the second they return here they start peeing outdoors again. I don't get it. They can control it in the states but not here?

Side note: In our current neighborhood, the water in turned off at 9pm. Every night. This means that I have to shower before nine or have extra water stored (see, the bucket/tabo combo has benefits) and that I always brush my teeth with water that we keep in a bottle in the bathroom. This is NOT common in Manila. I am not sure why the water to our neighborhood is turned off. If we do not turn off our pump at 9pm, the water that comes out smells like sewer. Again, not really sure why.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Philippine Debut

Here it is tradition at 18 to celebrate your birthday as your debut. This is nothing like the debutante ball in the states but is much more similar to a quinceanera. Last week I attended my first formal debut.It actually reminded me of the 8 trillion bar mitzvahs I attended in the 7th grade. Essentially the combination is: birthday girl, speeches (each given with one of 18 roses, flowers, symbolic gifts, and wine). A nice dinner is followed by dancing. This debut took place at one of the venues at Intramuros which is a historical area in Manila.

Monday, March 24, 2008


We ended up going with a landscaping company (after having short lived fantasies of doing the garden ourselves) and so far we are very happy. Neither of us know enough about the plants or trees here to put plants in the correct spot and furthermore, neither of us have any type of green thumb at all. We asked for "organized jungle" meaning that I wanted a lot of local plants and wanted them rather to be as thickly planted as possible while still staying in the area they should.

The grass is still looking sparse but this is normal for recent sod. Pretty jungle-y, eh?

In the front we have a lot of flowers like above. Since all these plants are in, they need to be watered like crazy (especially since summer just started here). Luckily a few of the workers are stay-overs (meaning they sleep on site) and they have agreed to water the plants each evening.

The bald tree above will bloom. We are also putting vines on the two trellises in the garden.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Hospitals in the Philippines: Cardinal Santos Medical Center

I always hear a lot about medical tourism and how the government thinks this could be the next big thing for the Philippines. While I have my doubts about the government making this happen, there is no doubt in my mind that the private sector can pull it off.

Doctors in the Philippines are GOOD. There are some really great medical schools here and some really fantastic hospitals. In addition, tons of the doctors have completed their residencies or fellowships at hospitals in the US. The neurosurgeon we have was actually recommended by an orthopedic surgeon from the US (a friend of our designer) that we met at an art exhibition. The nurses are kick ass as well and appear to be less overworked than the US which means if you need a nurse, one actually responds. They are fantastic! Every doctor and nurse that had come in both prior and post surgery was just amazing. I know I sound like a gushing teenager but it is such a switch from the states.

The prices compared to the states cannot even begin to compare. For an eight hour spinal surgery, we were quoted approximately P500,000 (a little over $12,000 before discounts). This includes the surgery, recovery, ICU, private room, medicine, doctors fee, etc. A private room at Cardinal Santos Medical Center (before discount, etc) is P2,200 (a little over $50) per night. The room is pictured above and is a VERY decent size. I realize that $12K sounds like a lot but if you tried to get the same procedure in the states without insurance, you would be declaring bankruptcy.

This is the view of Ortigas from the hospital room. I got a kick out of it because it seems like most of the time hospitals rooms have a view of either a) an air shaft or b) another building.

This photo does not really have to do with anything but I loved that instead of the laundry stamp that is on most hospital sheets, they had the hospital initials in the pattern instead.

Cool items about hospitals in the Philippines: a companion is expected to stay, therefore a comfy companion bed exists (pictured above by the windows), there are fridges in all the rooms, food deliveries are allowed so visitors can dine on just about any food known to man while visiting the patient.

If Cardinal Santos is indicative of medical care in the Philippines then there could be a real future for medical tourism.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Year of the Rat

I am a creature of habit. Everyday I wake up, brush my teeth, drink a cup of coffee, and take my dog for a walk. Once I leash him up, he always bolts out of the gate at full speed so he can pee at his favorite corner. The other morning there was a slight change of plan.

When my dog bolted out of the gate, at the corner he found a GIANT rat which he then proceeded to pick up in his mouth and kill. The rat was making horrible squealing noises. I, being the responsible pet owner I am, threw the leash down and ran. I could not even look at him because it was so disgusting (mind you, I am not scared of rodents but I am horrified watching my dog kill one). I buried my face into the shoulder of a random stranger and told him my dog was killing a rat. I went inside and got Jeff (hmmm, maybe there is a good reason to have household staff) and he nicely retrieved my dog and disposed of the rat. (I love Jeff).

I brought the dog to the vet for a tetanus shot (he already has the rest of his required injections) and besides a small cut in his mouth and leg, my dog is good to go.

No one here seems to understand my disgust at the dog killing a rat. In fact, a couple of people have jokingly asked me to borrow the dog to kill rats around their property.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Agno, Pangasinan

We spent a few days around Valentine's Day in Agno which was about five hours away from Manila. The last hour consisted of a very rocky dirt road so the distance actually is not that great. We probably could have done the final hour in 15-20 minutes had the road been paved. We have a friend whose family owns 60 hectares, some of it right along the coast.

We had never been up there before but it is really, really beautiful. Clean WARM water in the ocean and fantastic sand (albeit yellow and not the white sand you find in the islands to the south). It is also kinda cool to be in a place with no cell phone service and an hour drive away from any sort of civilization (unless you count the neighboring farms).

Our friend's cottage was well appointed and no air conditioning was needed since it was right on the water and the ocean provided a great breeze. Unfortunately the water was too rough for any snorkeling but we were still able to wade into the water a little.

This is a Carabo. Agno is mostly farmland and the carabo are very cute to me. They are cute in an ugly way.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

It is Really ALMOST Done!!

We are literally weeks away from the completion of our new house. I am getting really excited now. The landscapers have started as well so the outside looks less like a garbage dump and more like a garden (well at least a plantless garden. The dirt does add a little ambiance).

The banister is put in now on the staircase. I realize the photo looks fuzzy--something about the light I guess because this is as good as I could get it.

This is the grill that leads to the service area (it will be painted black). The service area is a phenomena here that consists of an area where washing would be and leads to maids quarters and the dirty kitchen. This is where the washing machine, sinks, and generator (shall we ever buy one) will be.

The dirty kitchen is another phenomena that exists here (pictured above). It is essentially a second kitchen but is the kitchen where most of the actual cooking and washing up is done. I am not quite sure why it is necessary, but we do have one. It looks to me like a regular kitchen. I am not sure why it is phrased as a "dirty" kitchen but I assume it is because it is the only one that gets dirty??

Above is part of our "regular" kitchen. This is the chimney that I previously tried to describe. The oven hood is hidden away. I love it! Also it is worth noting that there is no oven in our regular kitchen, just a range. A lot of homes here have no oven and just use the rain. At my in-laws where we currently reside, we have no oven, only a glorified toaster oven. It is so small that when I tried to bake a birthday cake, I ended up making cup cakes as that is all that would fit.

This is a photo of the one bathtub in our new home. Everybody I talked to who had the over sized jacuzzi tubs said they either never used them or used them on an annual basis. I never take baths--always showers. We put one bathtub in the room that we refer to as the kids room (for when they are too big for the sink but too little for the shower). Yes, I realize we have no kids and yes, I further realize that with the staircase and pool of death, our house is not exactly baby friendly but better to be prepared.

The above mentioned pool of death. It will not be completed until most of the landscaping is done but there is a rather nice cesspool in the deep end. The swimming pool we subcontracted and it turned into the biggest clusterfuck you can imagine. I am trying to reserve judgment until it is completed but I am not too optimistic about a positive completion but we shall see.

This is the back of the house with the upstairs railings installed. I am not quite sure why there is a plastic tube hanging down but it is awesome all the same.