Thursday, October 22, 2009


Ok, so I haven't actually started working yet. But I do have the job and start on Monday. I'll write more about that when I actually get around to doing it first. I left Iloilo and went back to Bianca's place in the countryside of Antique for a few days. Wow. I know it's totally unfair to trash other countries and like this one so much. Especially considering that this country is so full of problems (which I am NOT overlooking, I'm just focusing on other things. One day in Antique we looked at the news briefs for the Philippines and it had 4 main stories. 1. An ex-president was getting accused of involvement in a murder [probably true but they always get away with it here], 2. An earthquake had struck near and was felt in Manila, 3. Another typhoon was about to hit the north of the country, and 4. There was a police shootout, killing one thief in Greenbelts mall, one of the main fancy modern malls in Makati, the business district of Manila.) and Manila is not one of the world's great cities by any stretch of the imagination. It has character and history, but most people would not be immediately impressed I think. There is definitely a seediness to the place too.
Anyway, I got a kick out of being back in the countryside again. After touristville Thailand and Super city Singapore, to be in real rural with no foreigners and back to poverty is somehow.....nice? Well, that's probably not the right word but you know what I mean right? I like the quieter places. It's somehow more authentic.
It's getting to the end of typhoon season so there are still days of rain, but that means that it is very green everywhere. Nothing like going for a bike ride and being blown away by the beauty all around. I'm a sucker for rice fields, palm trees, thatch-roofing and pot-holed roads I guess. There are just so many different greens everywhere. It would be awesome to bike all over the country and just take photos..... Well, I suppose I'm too lazy so someone else should do it for me. We had brought our dive gear hoping to get out in the water one day but the weather did not cooperate so we canceled that idea and I'll have to find a way to corrupt my school into going later :)
It's also kind of weird how fast the body switches schedules too. In Singapore I slept at 3am, but being out on the deck with a mosquito net was just too much like camping so I was usually crawling into bed at 8:30pm! What else is new? Hmmm.... I don't want to repeat anything I said before about the country but it's the first time since leaving here that we're back to driving on the right side again. I thought that would be strange but actually, I'm so confused anyway at this point that it doesn't really matter anymore.... Not thrilled about the mosquitoes. I strongly suspect that to really make the most of my time in this country I will have to learn to dunk a basketball. It won't matter if I can't do anything else. If I could dunk I would achieve god-like status with all young males. It's the national sport and I pass a court and they want me to try to dunk..... The last time I played basketball was 3 years ago in Greece, and I got a bloody nose!
I'm back in Manila again for a couple of days. My last few days of freedom :( I was in a mall today (didn't get shot at fortunately :P) and was looking down the hall and for a moment actually thought I was looking downhill. Yes, the people are that much shorter than me that it actually created an optical illusion....
Ok, I'm just rambling at this point so I'm going to run away now. Lots of people to see and things to do here. I'm excited again. This is good :)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Triumphant Return to the Philippines

After a flight that I almost managed to not freak out on (I think I'm getting a little better) I arrived at Clark airport at the ungodly hour of 4am. Clark is the budget airport a couple hours north of Manila, that used to be part of the US air force base here until destroyed by the volcano Pinatubo. I think I mentioned this all before as we flew out of the Philippines from here back in Feb.
In a way I was lucky to have even arrived. I had to argue with the airline check-in staff about letting me on the plane in the first place. The Philippines requires all visitors to have onward tickets before entering, and of course I was flying one-way. We had the same problem leaving Australia as well (on a different airline)and much the same thing happened in this case as well. I argued a while and eventually they either got bored or confused. Possibly the later because my strategy was to show them how I knew more about these things than them by pointing to all the stamps in my passport :). The fact that there was a Philippines extension in there from the first trip, combined with my mentioning the word "school" finally broke them. I was a little worried though about getting through immigration since I was asked for my onward ticket the last time I arrived (we did have one before actually so I didn't have to worry) but this time I wasn't asked a single thing. Whew! But they do seem a lot more strict here. Filipinos have to show a lot of paperwork to be allowed to leave the country, even as tourists, so it might be better to come prepared.
There was a bus there to meet us and take us into town and I must say that by 6:30am, totally exhausted, I knew I had made the right choice. They were so friendly and helpful in the 7/11 just to get me a new SIM card working in my phone that I'm excited to go out an meet new people again. Couldn't say the same about the other countries recently. I took off in a taxi (ok, I'm not going to comment on them, because they are all the same but if you make them use the meter they are quite affordable. You didn't just read that from me....) to get to Bianca's house where I would be staying. She's a friend we had stayed with before in Manila. Different place this time but the great friend is still the same :) She is with her friend Jone and seeing as he is a devout diver, we immediately hit it off.
After a brief catching up and nap, she told me that they were going to her home in Antique 2 days later so I bought a return flight to join them there. The flight is seriously the same price as taking the bus. 1 hour flight or 17 hour bus ride. Which do you prefer? Well, I wasn't too thrilled about the flight to be honest, but at least this time I had someone to hold my hand. Cebu Pacific flights are interesting in that they play games on the flight. For example, the first one to show a particular object will win a prize. I've never seen something like that, and yet somehow, of all places it would be in the Philippines.
On my one full day in Manila I met up with Flager, whom we had stayed and travelled with around Naga. She's in Manila now having just written the bar exam. We spent the day together catching up and hanging out hiding from the rain. It's still raining pretty hard now and the typhoon season doesn't end for another month so they expect a few more still. I really can't believe the city was totally flooded but everything does seem very wet and soggy still. Dirty, chaotic, run-down, broken streets and crowded. But it is these things at the best of times too.
My original plan was to come here, stay in Manila and do the TESL course so that I could easily get a job teaching English while waiting for more interesting work to show up. Instead, I got an email from another friend in Iloilo, Lera, who works with a Korean school there teaching English. They are desperately looking for a native-speaker and the manager wanted to talk to me. Well, since I was flying to Iloilo the next day on my way to Antique (yes, sometimes my life really does fall into place this easily) I stopped by the school and checked it out, leaving with a job offer to boot. Sweet!
So here I am back in Antique hanging out for a few days. From here I have a flight to Manila on the 21st, I'll pick up my stuff and then fly back to Iloilo on the 25th to start work on the 26th. Should be interesting. The pay is terrible really, but it is so cheap here and relaxed at the school that I think I can handle it for a while. Should be interesting anyway.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Pulau Ubin

So it has finally happened..... I must admit that I was a little surprised when one of the blog readers, Julie, commented about meeting up recently. I mean, the blog is the blog right? Nobody is actually reading it.... When I sit down to write, really I just think "it's time to write something on the blog" without really thinking too much about the readership or what happens after I am done. I suppose that is why some of what I write is pretty spastic at times and at others is not really holding back on the punches.
But hey, travelling is all about meeting new people and if she was interested in meeting me and turning words into life, so too am I interested in discovering who out there is interested in our amazing journey :) We had a chat one night on the phone and arranged to meet yesterday for a bike ride on Pulau Ubin. "Pulau" just means island and so we met up early on Sunday, and with 3 more of her friends took a little boat from Changi village to Pulau Ubin. It's just a little island off the northeast coast of Singapore that is still undeveloped and is considered to be more like a traditional Singapore before the concrete and skyscrapers appeared. That could be true and for sure it felt like we were not in the same country anymore, but we were there to ride bikes, and so was a good portion of the local population. It's busy on the weekends and there are lots of bike rental shops when you arrive so it also has more of a tourist attraction feel to it than a lot of other places around town too. Actually, maybe it is like a different country. We even had to pass through a baggage check when we got back to the "mainland".
I'd originally been thinking a little bike ride around a little island was going to be a nice easy ride on some flat paths. Oh no, not at all. Instead, there is a bike park, with trails. Damp, narrow trails up and down little hills between the trees and through some bumpy fields. I hadn't been on a bike since Feb in the Philippines, and this was starting to feel like work.... Actually I know this sounds a little strange but somehow the trails kind of reminded me of home. Maybe it's just being in nature again, or looking at mud, or I've really been gone for too long, because the vegetation is totally different of course. But I did enjoy it. We took it easy and I had a good visit with Julie and her friends but now my hands and legs are sore.
We were lucky enough to have hot, sunny weather that day too as it seems that we get thunderstorms and rain every other day here in Singapore. They don't last long, but now I understand why every time I look at the international weather Singapore always seems to say 31C and thunderstorms. If you don't believe me, keep an eye out every time you're watching the news...
Tonight I am flying to Manila. I still think the Philippines is currently my favourite country in south east Asia so I'm going to put it through some more rigorous testing. I'm actually really looking forward to going and seeing so many friends again as we just seemed to meet great people after great people there. I expect to be there for the next 2 months anyway but mostly in Manila, but we'll see what happens... The biggest problem with flying out of here is that I am on a budget airline with a 15Kg baggage limit. Do you know how many things I've acquired in the last few months since I few last? All this dive gear and so many text books from the courses. We always barely scraped by with 15Kg at the airport and that was with having the rest of the family to rearrange stuff with. Trying to get this down to a manageable number is going to be very tricky.
After Singapore, Manila is probably going to feel like hell... It's much bigger, busier, noisier, dirtier, etc. I mean, I'm here in an apartment, surrounded by a bunch of other apartment buildings, so you know there are literally thousands of people all around you, and yet, I rarely ever see or hear anyone. The people around us even have pianos, but I don't hear them. Great soundproofing or something. Seriously though, it really seems dead despite the crowds, and I know I mentioned this before but I expect the contrast with Manila to be enormous. The culture here is to overwork like crazy, and because everyone does it, you can't really not work more than the 8 hour day. Clearly this is not the country for me, so it's time to move on.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Singapore life...

So I should probably say something about Singapore since I've been here so long. Not really too sure what to say. I think the thing that stands out the most when I go out into the city is how quiet it is. The metro is always full and yet there is no sound at all. I've been out a few times late in the city centre but apart from a couple of hot spots, it is totally dead at night. And early too....
I think my favourite domestic thing here is the laundry. Ya, so I'm strange. But in the variation of the usual hang your laundry out to dry, they take it to a new level here with half a dozen poles about 2 meters long that they hang out lengthwise from the window with the clothes. When it's raining they hang them from racks on the ceiling in the kitchen. Very efficient. Not sure how often people drop them but that could be very dangerous. I wonder if pedestrians ever get skewered?
Efficient I suppose is the best way to describe the city. The transit system is great, things are clean (more or less) and seems a little too organized. In fact the censorship is quite high here still as my hosts point out all the time. Mostly in terms of foreign media products, film, music, etc where the Singaporean version is often highly edited.
Of course to keep everything in order here there are some pretty strict rules. Locals joke that Singapore is a "fine" city. Yes, "fine" indeed. It's a fine of $500 to eat or drink in stations or on public transit, $1000 to smoke outside designated areas, something ridiculous for spitting, littering, jay walking, carrying durians around, etc. You still can't bring in commercial amounts of gum either. The worst part is that all the police are undercover so you end up a little paranoid and suspicious too. Maybe it's this paranoia or maybe because they are "wealthy", but the locals here really aren't the spontaneous conversation type at all. Seems a little too boring.... In all was surprised to learn that Singapore has the highest population density of any country in the world with something just over 1600/sq km (excluding Monaco and Macau, which are tiny) but it really doesn't feel like it. I suppose that's because the whole country has just under 5 million people so it seems more like a big city.
You've probably heard about the disasters striking south-east Asia recently with typhoons in the Philippines and Indochina and earthquakes in Indonesia (and Samoa). I was sitting here on the computer and felt the Indonesian earthquake even though it was a couple hundred km away. Rumble, shake. I started to get a little dizzy. It went on for a couple seconds and then came back a couple times. Very low grade shaking but definitely noticeable and the towel on a hook beside me was swinging. I didn't think too much of it, but the papers here said a lot of people fled other buildings. Hmmm....maybe my survival instinct isn't that good.
Yesterday was also the Chinese lantern festival. I don't really know, but something about eating mooncake (yummy) and coloured lanterns. I went to the Chinese Gardens for a late night walk and had a look see. Lots of groups having picnics in the dark and the park was lit up with coloured lanterns while others were walking around with theirs. Interesting, but, as with all things Singaporean, deathly silent...
My search for work here has been fruitless and they are quite strict in this country about that sort of thing so I've all but finalized my decision to go back to the Philippines sometime very soon.