Sunday, June 14, 2015

Still in the Philippines

Yup, still here. You didn't think I was going to travel 26 hours to just turn around and go back? I'm here for 10 days. Every day is a mini-adventure as I gain courage to try different things.

Yesterday I intended to head down to the mall again and maybe find some presents for folks back home. I had breakfast at 7am to try and get my eating schedule more on schedule. That turned out to be a mistake on Sunday the malls don't open until 10am. I also found that my feet still aren't up to snuff. I wore my boots with socks but it wasn't long before my feet were sore again. I also didn't take long for me to be overheated. First thing in the morning temps might be as low as 80 but they quickly get over 90 when the sun comes up. The humidity sits somewhere around 75-80% which makes me just miserable double quick.

So after a little wandering I needed to take a break. The first place I found was Starbucks and inside it was just like every other Starbucks I'd ever been to. I wish I'd gotten a picture of the bananas though. Every Starbucks has bananas for sale but this one had each one individually packaged in a paper bag with a plastic window. The other fun thing I found was my ice coffee:

Yup, paper cup. I'd actually noticed this Saturday at the public market and I'd chalked it up to being from the public market but since then I've noticed that all iced coffees come in paper cups. Not sure what thats all about...

This is the day my appetite caught up with me, I'd had scrambled eggs, toast and bacon for breakfast but by 10 or 11am I was getting pretty hungry. Not wanting to eat somewhere I could eat at back home I headed over to Jollibee. Jollibee is kind of weird, a bit like KFC mixed with a low end hamburger place. I don't know if its just this Jollibee or all of them but the restaurant was kind of worn out, there was a video monitor not playing anything, the signs were all dirty, it was slow and they were out of a whole bunch of stuff. I snagged a 6 piece chicken bucket intending that it could cover me for 2 meals. I end up pretty hungry around midnight when I'm first getting up but I hate going out at night.

The chicken was nice, especially during the first meal since it was real hot and juicy. The really fun part was what it came with:

Thats gravy! Pour some of that into your chicken and its the tastiest thing ever.

I also tried some of my passion fruit/tamarind juice from the market. That I think turned out to be a bad idea. I don't want to be gross but lets call it the Filipino revenge. Fortunately I've got my essential oils with me and I've got an oil specifically to save me from this sort of thing.

Okay now as I sit here and write this I'm starting to get "the revenge" again but I haven't had the juice or any problems in around 12 hours. I'm wondering now if its the chicken thats messing with my digestion. The juice might actually be okay, good thing I didn't throw it out yet.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

A good day in the Philippines

You'll remember that one of my biggest problems here in Makati City was money, it suddenly occurs to me that this trip is kid of an allegory for life but lets leave that there. Saturday (I'm writing this a day later, I really needed some sleep) I got up determined to fix my money problem, public holiday over, banks supposedly open at 9am, I had breakfast at 8:30 and immediately headed to Citibank. I figured an American bank would be a good choice. There I found that contrary to the information I'd found online BANKS ARE CLOSED ON SATURDAY. The guard at the bank (there are private guards all over) gave me directions to a private money changer that started with him pointing down the street and continued with "go down that way to the stop light then turn left." Okay easy right? Except the street t'd into another street with no stoplight. ARRRGHH!

I should also mention I managed to get blisters on my feet on Friday. I was wearing Teva sandals for the first time this year and my feet aren't used to them. Combine that with it being hot and humid and my feet must have sweat so although I've switched to boots and socks (ahh, socks!) my feet hurt and walking is kind of painful.

Anyway I wandered around a little and managed, totally by accident to find a currency exchange in a place where nobody suggested I look. If you're in Makati City and need it look on Tordesillas just west of Jaime C. Velasquez, just off Jaime Velasquez park.

Filipino money is pretty. Thats about 4200 php or just under $100.

The park I mentioned above has a big market day on Saturday so since I was there anyway I wandered around some.

From left to right, front row: dried mangos, chocolate croissant and dark roast coffee beans supposedly roasted on Friday. Back row: Passion fruit/tamerind juice and water I got a 7-11.

The passion fruit juice will probably kill me, its not sealed, probably not pasteurized and sketchy as hell but they gave me a sample and I liked it. The chocolate croissant was fantastic and I'm glad I bought 2. The mangoes are the first thing I bought and it was kind of an interesting experience. People kind of ignored me up until I bought something at which point I became EVERYBODY's friend. Its very different from the Caribbean where you're everybody's friend all the time and there they touch you, Filipinos don't seem to be very touchy with strangers. I appreciate that, I'm not very touchy either.

Sadly I'd just had breakfast before I got to the market, there were many things I'd have tried if I could have fit them in my stomach:

This is gelato, I don't know if I'd have gotten the candied bacon but I'd have for sure tried the dark coffee.

I find it interesting how many US companies are here. Again all I can compare it to is south of the US, in the Caribbean you see some US companies but more south American and European. Here most of the stores and chain restaurants are US companies. You might have noticed I bought water at 7-11 and it was just like every other 7-11 I've ever been to. Also right across the street from my hotel:

I'm referring to the Krispy Kreame, Mercury Drug seems to be a local chain and theres lots of them.

Also right by my hotel is a Starbucks and I saw many more of them walking around Friday. I also saw The Coffee Bean, KFC, actually I've seen lots of KFC, McDonalds, Burger King, and pretty much every other US chain you can name.

Today my plan is to breakfast earlier so I can try somewhere new for lunch. Thus far in country I've been only eating 2 meals a day. Interestingly my stomach seems okay with that. The meals are relatively small but filling and I don't seem to get hungry like I think I should. I'm not complaining, maybe I'll lose some weight on this trip.

Friday, June 12, 2015

More on Manila

Actually I'm in Makati City but being that its one of the cities that make up metro Manila its the same thing.

Anyway I got here Thursday night around 11pm, I had a car service deliver me to the hotel which was real nice considering I didn't spot the currency exchange in the airport and thus didn't have any local currency. The hotel Citadines Salcedo is a nice hotel in the european style. The room has a card reader by the door which turns on the electricity for the room, you leave your room key there when you come in and take it when you leave although I've already forgotten it once and locked myself out.

It took me awhile to get to sleep and then had a hard time sleeping. Even though I was exhausted my body knew it was daytime back home and just wouldn't let me sleep. I finally got a couple hours snoozing before I got up to have breakfast. I wussed out and didn't try the Chinese breakfast which has some kind of chicken and a century egg. I'm told century eggs are kind of like aged cheese. I don't like cheese and I'm not super excited about eggs either so it just doesn't seem like a good idea. On the other hand when am I going to get another chance? Instead I had the cinnamon bun french toast which came with some of the best bacon I've ever had.

After breakfast I slept some more and then headed out to try and get some money changed. It turns out that Friday was Independence day here in the Philippines so the banks weren't open. There are private money changers but I couldn't find any. Out of desperation I tried an ATM which then ate my card. I called my bank and got the card canceled so fortunately nothing was stolen but its even more uncomfortable not having that fall back. I also didn't want to use my Visa card since I've had bad luck with them shutting the card off when I'm out of the country. Turns out this was a good idea. I'd forgotten to tell them I was traveling until I was in Tokyo, fortunately my cell phone uses wifi so it was easy to tell my bank I'm traveling. Sadly when you do that they then call home and you have to talk to them again before its really okay. Angie texted me to tell me they had called so I could call again and finally get it straightened out so that PROBABLY won't be a problem...

I spent a couple hours walking around malls looking for money changers and not finding them. I went through three different malls the most interesting being the Greenbelt which is actually a series of normal indoor malls linked by outdoor sections which were mostly restaurants. There is some security in these areas like I told you about yesterday but they didn't really mind me much. In one of the outdoor sections I found some really cool koi ponds:

There appear to be feeding systems where the fish are clustered and they're just going crazy for it.

In the Glorietta mall I found this:

Its kind of a sad little place with a couple coolers, LED lights and strangely some stand mixers... I didn't even go in but maybe I'll go back and get some more pictures, the Coleman guys on Facebook thought the picture was pretty cool.

In the end I never found any place to change money and was too nervous to use my Visa card so I couldn't buy anything. Finally late last evening I got a room service pizza which was pretty terrible but held me over, the nice thing is that since I was up during a time I'd normally be sleeping I never really got hungry.

Today I did much better but I'll save that for my next post.

A couple random thoughts on the Philippines

I grew up in the US and as such I'm used to seeing lots of white folks around. I'm also not used to standing out in a crowd. Even in Argentina I didn't stand out, theres so much european influence there that big blond guys are common. Here in Makati City I'm an aberration, I stand out not only because of my whiteness but also my size. Actually the size thing isn't the big deal I expected it to be. Filipino men range in size up to guys bigger than me. As I've mentioned before the US owned the Philippines for a little while and I get the feeling there are many people here carrying American genes around. Still on average I'm extra large and I did notice that I got more attention and maybe even scrutiny than other people.

Walking around as a tourist I'm always on my guard, you never know whos going to target you. The thing I noticed today was that people seeing me also went on their guard and it quickly became apparent that they're maybe a little scared of me. I went into a couple malls and noticed that while the guards only gave most people a quick once over I got looked at thoroughly, nobody ever gave me any trouble but I was definitely inspected. The malls all have guards at the door which is mostly a perfunctory check. It got me wondering though, big white guy probably screams "American" although in the west I usually get picked out as a Canadian. Maybe when they label me as American they automatically think gun toting nut?

The other thing I noticed was that I'm not alone, I did see a fair number of white folks, mostly men. Interestingly I saw zero black people. The white guys I saw were almost always accompanied by a filipino woman with a baby stroller. I'd expected some kind of white guy fraternity where you'd see another guy and maybe nod. Riding a motorcycle back home just about everybody gives a little wave to the other bikers, theres even a brotherhood of sorts of old Mercedes owners, but here the white guys immediately look away.

Then it struck me, they're embarrassed, they're embarrassed because they've got a mail order bride. I know the idea of the mail order bride has reached legendary status but I know a guy who has one, she's even filipino. The deal is to take one of the women out of the country the guy has to make a couple trips over here and invest a fairly substantial amount of time. So these guys I'm seeing are over here putting in their time before they can take home their bride. The guy I know even got stuck with a kid that wasn't his. In talking to other folks it seems like everybody has a story of a friend who got a filipino  bride and got stuck with a kid that wasn't his.

If I were over here putting in time before I could take my filipino mail order bride and her bastard kid home I'd look away too...

Quasi political

I know I said my next post would be about Manila but I don't have any pictures and so I got distracted.

Walking through the airport parking lot the other day I saw a bumper sticker that said "I'm ready for Hillary" and I immediately thought of this:

Now don't get thinking I've gone all political on you, the truth is I'm pretty much anti-politician. I think our last election between a turd burger or a crap sandwich. I honestly think you can tell a politician is lying because his or her lips are moving. I think that if you had a thousand politicians at the bottom of the ocean you'd have a good start.

Anyway as the political season continues on and on maybe I'll make more of these. Who's sticker should I look at next?

I'm in Asia!

Thats right, Asia. Specifically the Philippines. Sometimes I sit back and think "Well how did this happen?" and this is one of those times. I'm here to teach a class in our office to new staff. It makes more sense to send me here than 8 folks to the US.

Thats the Boeing 787 Dreamliner I flew in from Boston to Tokyo. The picture is actually in Tokyo, I couldn't get a shot of the plane in Boston. The 787 is an amazing plane, its super quiet considering you're going through the air at .8 mach which is eight tenths of the speed of sound.

The windows are huge and dim electrically, notice that there is no shade, theres a 2 part button below each window. Push down and the window gets darker, push up and it gets clearer. The window never darkens completely but with it dimmed all the way it looks like night outside even when its bright and sunny. The flight from Boston to Tokyo chases the sun but with the shade dimmed I thought the sun was actually the moon...

I normally get a sandwich to carry on the plane with me. I screwed that up on this flight so I ate in the airport just before the flight. This turned out to be a mistake as a couple hours into the flight they served dinner. Pork tonkatsu with rice which was really good although I couldn't finish mine. It had a little salad, a little bowl of noodles, a dose of what I think was sweet potato, some coleslaw and a squishy green thing. Later on they brought Ben & Jerry's ice cream, Americone Dream which is one of my favorites.

The flight left at 1:30pm, dinner was around 3, at about 8pm they brought around pastries.

Normally this wouldn't be enough to warrant a picture (although it was a lot of food) but the pastry is a bit like a nissu back home with added lemon. Nissu is a Finnish coffee bread (the Swedes make it too but they use more sugar) with cardamon seeds that has a distinctive braided shape. In my family its not very sweet and is the perfect compliment to a cup of coffee. This pastry was similar in shape and texture although without cardamon and with lemon.

As much as I liked dinner I didn't care for breakfast. Canadian bacon and egg on an English muffin with onions. It was greasy and overly onion and I shouldn't have eaten it, I was re-tasting that for hours. Again with the coleslaw which apparently is a Japan Airlines thing, it came with every meal.

Tokyo is a nice airport that strangely reminds me of the '80s. Its kind of '80s brown with '80s blue carpet and kind of smells like I remember the '80s to smell like. I was pretty tired since I don't sleep well on planes and it was now around 1am for me. Interestingly I slept for an hour or two in the airport which I almost never do. When I awoke the plane was boarding which was a bit of a scare but it had only just started so no harm done.

From Tokyo to Manila I was in a daze. The 767 is a horrible plane with seats that are too small for me and my body was nearly at the edge of endurance. I'd gone running 2 days before after 9 months off and my body was sore. So poor life choices plus no legroom plus long travel makes Curt an unhappy traveler.  Dinner was "hamburger steak" which wasn't bad but lets face it its a hamburger. I did manage to get some sleep but not much and the seat was rock hard.

I got a second wind in time to get through customs which was almost shockingly easy. I wonder if thats because of the few years when the US owned the Philippines in the '40s.

I'll talk more about Manila and specifically Makati City where I'm staying in my next post.