Snipets from our Latest Trip to the Philippines

We’ve been back less than a week from our 3-week vacation to the Philippines. Our itinerary was: 1 week in Alcoy, Cebu; 1 week in Dumaguete; 1 week in Palawan. It all went by too quickly. Here are some impressions.

I need to work on my drinking:

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I had the opportunity to meet three expats for lunch while in Dumaguete. They were guys I knew online from a Philippines forum I frequent. Good guys, not an American among them, and it seems clear that when we move to Dumaguete, that if I want some expat friends, at least a few good ones live there.

But when it comes to drinking San Miguel I am woefully lacking. Had my standard 1 beer while two of my new friends were plowing through a 6-pack each. The waitress was running full speed to and from our table to take and then deliver the next beer run. Somehow the guys had the energy to flirt with her every time she arrived – which might have been the purpose. Finally I ordered a 2nd San Mig just to keep from looking like the lightweight that I am.

Afterwards Janet took one look at me and asked how many beers I’d had.

Is the Philippines the noisiest or most romantic place on earth:

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Janet and I were in El Nido, Palawan – a beautiful place. We’d just had dinner and were walking back to our hotel. Janet spotted a cart with her fave grilled chicken intestines on a stick; and no I did not partake. I like Filipino food but there’s a limit. She is waiting with baited breath for the grilling to finish when suddenly we hear a dog yelping in extreme pain. Like most places in the Philippines the streets of El Nido are narrow, trikes, motorcycles, and cars rush along with little concern, and we assumed the dog got hit by something. Everyone was looking in the direction of the cries of pain, which did not stop and if anything intensified. Janet and I feared the worst and approached the dog. I was expecting to see massive injuries. Instead we witnessed two dogs humping happily. “Must be a virgin,” Janet remarked. Only in the Philippines!

Janet takes on the trike drivers:

One of the gripes for most expats is with the taxi and trike drivers trying to overcharge. In many cities trikes are regulated and there’s a flat rate wherever you want to go. For example in Dumaguete the rate is 6.5p/person. In Puerto Princesa, Palawan it’s 8p. During our stay in Puerto Princesa we went out to dinner and had no problem with a trike driver taking us from our hotel to the restaurant for the 8p x2 plus a small tip. On the way back we flagged a trike. Janet told the driver in Tagalog the name of our hotel. “40 pesos,” he said. “No way!” responded Janet and we didn’t get into the trike. She flagged the next one. “50 pesos,” he immediately told her. Now she’s pissed. Traveling in the Philippines, knowledge is power. We knew what the rates were and she would not pay more. Finally the 3rd driver took us home and we paid him the correct amount plus tip.

I am lazy enough that I probably would have overpaid, but do not mess with Janet!

Palawan really is that beautiful:

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Palawan has been on the list of the most beautiful islands in the world many times and finally we decided to go. As a cynic I know that such lists are exaggerated. For example, despite the hype, Boracay, which I do like, is far from the best place to vacation in the Philippines.

But Palawan is beautiful. El Nido has to be seen to be believed and we just scratched the surface. Even the 5+ hour drive from Puerto Pricessa to El Nido was extraordinarily beautiful.

There are so many mountains on Palawan that they haven’t bothered to name them all.

We will be returning!

Yes, sometimes there is progress in the Philippines:

The Philippines is not known as a place where change happens quickly. We spent a week at our favorite resort in Alcoy, the BBB (Bodos Bamboo Bar). Ok, truth be told there aren’t a lot of options in Alcoy so every year it’s the BBB. The 1st time we stayed there some years back, we had a very nice cottage. The cottage had a fan, but no aircon, which was doable. The cottage had no hot water in the shower, which was not doable to my standards. I don’t need luxury but even in  a  place like Alcoy in the summer, I want hot water. But worst is that while the hotel advertised free wifi, the wifi only worked in public areas, not the cottages.

But sometimes, if rarely, things change in the Philippines. This year the cottages were equipment with aircon. Modern hot water was plentiful. And what’s best is that the wifi worked everywhere and the connection was reasonably fast. At the end of our stay I approached the owner, told her we’d been coming for several years and appreciated the improvements, particularly to the wifi.

Of course the rate for the cottages was increased 50%.

Everything is crispy in the Philippines:

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In the Philippines “crispy” is king. Lechon must be crispy. Anything grilled is only good if the skin is crack in your mouth crispy. The first time Janet had KFC in the US I ordered Original Recipe. She tasted it and crinkled her nose. After that we always ordered Extra Crispy.

There is no such thing as rare meats in the Philippines, Most meats are cooked to death – probably for health purposes. But that’s the taste that people are used to.

But it seems that this crispy thing was taken to an extreme when I saw that all the cigarette ads advertised the flavor of the cancer stick in question as “crispy.”

Guitarmaking in the Philippines

One of the questions I get often is, “What the hell are you going to do when you retire?” Of the many things that concern me getting ready to retire (when, where, how much cash will we need) this is one that I don’t worry about too much.

For one thing I am very good at being lazy. Spend an entire Sunday watching movies or surfing the Net – no problem. Spend three weeks on vacation in the Philippines hitting every beach, drinking San Miguels, trying to understand Filipinos, having fun with Janet and her family –  why can’t it be four weeks.

I work hard but don’t live to work!

But I am unusual in that not only do I have a lazy character but I also have an obsessive one. I set up and began this blog 1 1/2 years ago while on my 8-week sabbatical from work, intending for it to be one of my obsessions when I retire.

In short, when I get interested in something I get obsessive. Find a writer I like; next thing you know I have read all his books. Discover the Philippines; next thing you know I’ve visited 8 times and gotten married to my lovely Janet. This seems to be my pattern. Between being lazy and being obsessive I rarely suffer from boredom.

Twenty years ago when my son was a newborn, I got the wild idea to make a guitar. You would think that between running a business and caring for a baby I would have had enough to do but apparently I didn’t. I bought the one book in existence on how to build a jazz archtop guitar and told my then wife that I was going to do it.

She rolled her eyes and said, “Well, no loud power tools and nasty wood dust. We have a baby, you know.”

“No problem. The book tells you how to do it with hand tools.”

So as insane as it sounds, looking back on it, I began. I hit garage sales to buy old, cheap hand tools, obtained the materials and followed along with the book. Of course I had a baby and a nursing wife so any work I did in my 90 year old, bug infested basement, I did after the baby and mother were asleep. The obsession bit quickly and I was often up until past 1:00 AM happily working on the guitar and cleaning up any blood from the frequent self-inflicted injuries. Then up in the middle of the night for baby feeding, and up again around 6:00 to begin the day.

A year later I had a finished archtop. When I showed it around people would compliment me and ask, “Why did you choose the most difficult type of guitar to make as your first guitar?”

The answer? “Because I was too stupid to know it was the most difficult type of guitar to make.”

For the next seven years I spent nearly every night (early morning really) working in my shop building guitars and accumulating tools. Finally between a change in work, divorce, moving, caring for two kids and trying to make money, the guitarmaking came to an end. The tools and materials sat in my new basement, along with a 3/4 completed archtop. Other obsessions had taken over but when friends asked I told them I intended to get back to it in retirement.

Yes, you're right - I'm younger here :)
Yes, you’re right – I’m younger here 🙂

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Over the past 6 months, downsizing in preparation for retirement, I have gone through my shop and sold off some of my tools. As an obsessive it was not unusual for me to buy 5 of a tool I only needed 1 of. So I sold the excess off on ebay, taking the money and putting it into my retirement war chest. But as I brought the tools out of the basement, prepared them for sale, showed them to Janet and explained what they were for or reminisced about the great deal I had gotten, I realized how much I had missed guitarmaking.

Chris Laarman finger planes on rough archtop top.
Chris Laarman finger planes on rough archtop top.
2 finger and 1 palm plane by Legendary English plane maker, Bill Carter.
2 finger and 1 palm plane by Legendary English plane maker, Bill Carter.

More importantly my wonderful Janet realized it too. “We still have plenty of time. Why don’t you finish that guitar in the basement?”

I knew myself too well and knew I couldn’t just spend a little time on the hobby; that like the old “bet you can’t eat just one” chip commercials, I would be unable to hold back the obsession. So I resisted.

Now, I own a couple of my own guitars including that first one. I’ve seen it daily for 19 years and never liked the finish on it and could see some of the woodworking imperfections.

After building that one I developed a co-obsession: French Polishing. It’s a very old form of wood finishing and perfect for my obsessive nature: time consuming, hand done and with natural materials. I studied and learned everything I could about it and from then on it became my guitar finishing method.

So I thought, ‘It won’t be too hard to sand the finish off guitar #1, fix most of the woodworking imperfections and French Polish it.” Janet was all for it and as a Filipina with a business administration degree said, “then you can sell it and take the money and buy supplies for more guitars.”

Ready for French Polishing.
Ready for French Polishing.

I began and of course it was like I had never left. The older hands, eyes and muscles quickly remembered. Immediately I began to think of the type of shop I might have in retirement. A nipa hut in the backyard?

BTW, guitarmaking is a growing concern in the Philippines. There are several well known builders in Mactan, Cebu. I’ve been there and watched them a couple times and the methods are fascinating. For one thing, their work bench is often the ground.

At least he's not standing like I do.
At least he’s not standing like I do.
I can't understand how they let it bake in the hot sun.
I can’t understand how they let it bake in the hot sun.

I was speaking to a guitar playing friend who’d visited the Philippines a couple times. “Why not teach classes on guitarmaking?” he asked. I thought that might be impractical (too long a class) but thought that a day class on French Polishing or other traditional woodworking methods might be fun to do. So that will be part of the obsession. Janet immediately volunteered to provide lunch to the students!

 

 

 

 

 

Tell Us Where to Go (Again)

Last year, at just about this exact time, I posted, Tell Us Where to Go, a request for input on your favorite places to visit in the Philippines. We ended up traveling to Boracay, Camiguin, and did a couple days in Moalboal, in addition to our standard week in Alcoy, Cebu.

Well, it’s Back to the Future, folks and I am looking for more recommendations.

First the good news. We booked 3 weeks in April. The flight prices from Portland to Cebu were substantially less than last year and any of the other 7 or 8 times I have gone to the Philippines. Whether this was the luck of the draw, because of the decreasing oil prices, or my brilliant shopping skills, I don’t know. But if you were thinking of visiting the Philippines this is a great time to check out the flights. A $300/per ticket savings was a pretty compelling argument for us to book our next trip.

As always, we will spend a week in Alcoy, Cebu. Janet will get to see her family, as will I, but I also look forward to Tingko Beach, Dalaguete, Oslob and the whale sharks we didn’t see last year.

I also look forward to not cutting my damn hand like I did last year.

We will also spend a  week in the Dumaguete area. Since there is a good chance that Dumaguete will be our retirement destination, it’s time to check it out further. We will again see the city and Valencia. If anyone has any recommendations about other towns in the vicinity, please let us know!

Well that leaves another week open. We could just hit another wonderful beach, look at other retirement destinations, or some combo. We’ve never been to Palawan, so that’s an option. Malapascua, off of Cebu, sounds nice. And last night, for the first time in three years, Janet expressed an interest in returning to Leyte.

Now, Janet worked and went to school in Leyte for five years, and every time I have asked if she would like to return and show me the place she spent these important years, I get – the look!

We have a friend, who I suspect will weigh in on this posting, who owns a small resort in Maasin, Leyte. He asks every year if we are coming and I reply not to count on it. So Janet even hinting she’s interested in going to Leyte is a big step.

Here’s a link to an article on Kalanggaman – supposed to be a great island off Leyte: http://www.thetravelingnomad.com/2016/01/better-leyte-than-never-kalanggaman.html

Me? I am interested in any place fun, off the beaten track. And if it’s cheap, all the better.

So. what do you all think? Tell us where to go – we can take it!

Fiery Disaster in Cebu City

My young brother in law works in Cebu City and we are very proud of him. At 19 he moved there almost a year ago and is now in the middle of his 2nd working contract. Lots of work in the Philippines is on a 5-month contract basis, no doubt so that the employers can avoid shelling out benefits that we Americans would consider essential to the basics of life. My BIL works in a mall, 6-days a week, for what is, by American standards, shockingly low pay. Apparently the Philippines needs Bernie Sanders 🙂

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Janet and I hear from him regularly but it is obvious that life in the big city is difficult, work is hard, and fame and fortune are far away. But this Christmas made it even harder.

Christmas Eve my BIL called home and told his mother he missed the family. Because of his work schedule he could not take the 3-hour bus ride home to the provinces in Alcoy and asked her whether she could send his father to come spend Christmas with him. Drama ensued but father was convinced and the next day he and his youngest son were on the bus heading for Cebu City.

Upon arrival, my BIL was working and encouraged his father and brother to stay in his tiny room, where he would join them later that night. His father turned down that suggestion, saying he would go see his brother who also lives in Cebu City. In all likelihood, even by provincial Philippines standards, my BIL’s room left something to be desired. As you will see this turned out to be literally a life and death decision.

The youngest son accompanying his father, was ecstatic to be in Cebu City. No matter what culture you live in, the big city offers kids delights and distractions that no small town, with its “take it for granted” vistas and beaches, can rival. But that night, from his brother’s home, my FIL noticed a large fire in Lahug, the area of Cebu City my BIL lives in.

My BIL’s rooming house, as well and between 60-100 other homes were burned to the ground. Janet and I got bits and pieces of details over the next couple of days. Here’s a few links to the news stories showing the extent of the disaster:

http://cebudailynews.inquirer.net/79510/lahug-fire-leaves-300-homeless

http://cebudailynews.inquirer.net/79622/theres-reason-everything-fire-victims-coping-loss

http://cebudailynews.inquirer.net/79623/fire-victims-assured-no-relocation-you-can-go-back-to-your-place

Because of the nature of the very poor Lahug neighborhood, where streets are just alleys and fire trucks cannot pass, the fire department was incapable of controlling, or even getting to, the inferno.

And how did the blaze begin? A lit candle unattended, used at night by a household with no working electricity. Interestingly, the newspaper literally named the offender.

My BIL was devastated. At 19 he had little, but all his clothes were gone, except for the work uniform he was wearing. His few possessions, such as a rice cooker and fan, were gone. And perhaps most importantly to him, his important documents were gone; documents such as his high school diploma, which in the Philippines are hard, if not impossible to replace – all gone. In addition, with what little money he earns he had bought Christmas presents for the kids which he intended to send home with his father; all gone. His loss was just as devastating to him as the loss of our homes (and all the stuff in them) would be to you and I.

Of course the good news, which was repeated over and over, is that he was safe. His father and brother had not gone to his room and so they too were safe. And in fact, despite the devastation to the neighborhood, apparently no one died in the fire.

SITO AVOCADO LAHUG FIRE AFTERMATH/DEC.27,2015:Acting Cebu City Mayor Edgar Labella talk to resident of sitio Avocado Barangay Lahug who were affected of fire the other day during his visit in the area.(CDN PHOTO/LITO TECSON)
SITO AVOCADO LAHUG FIRE AFTERMATH/DEC.27,2015:Acting Cebu City Mayor Edgar Labella talk to resident of sitio Avocado Barangay Lahug who were affected of fire the other day during his visit in the area.(CDN PHOTO/LITO TECSON)

Now the Cebu City government, which is just as effective as our own FEMA, set up temporary shelter and food at a school, and promised victims a small payout, which my BIL is hoping to be able to take advantage of – maybe. BTW, if you look at the article and see talk of 5000-10000 pesos to the victims, that’s the equivalent of between a little over $100-$200. And let’s face it, these folks aren’t calling State Farm or Allstate to make a claim.

Fortunately the family, as generally happens in the Philippines, has chipped in. Janet’s cousin, living in a nicer area of Cebu City offered a room, not only to my BIL but to his two roommates. Oh, did I forget to mention that BIL lived in that room with two friends, who also lost everything.

I have no funny or wry conclusions here. We are very sad for BIL, but like most Filipinos he will survive, the smile will return to his face, but he will have learned a life lesson no one should have to learn.

 

Green Card #2

Note:  We’d be so happy if you subscribe to this blog (on the left). Thanks!

No, the title of this blog entry doesn’t mean I am filing for another “foreign” wife, requiring yet another Green Card. I’m crazy but not that crazy. Besides, Janet might object and take the bolo to me – or her 🙂

What it means, for those not familiar with the Green Card process, is that the initial Green Card obtained after Janet arrived in the U.S. and more importantly, after we married, is considered by our friends at the USCIS and Homeland Security to be “conditional” and after two years we have to apply for the “conditions” to be removed. The “conditions” apparently being that you have to pay more money to remove the “conditions.”

So now, two years after we married and two years after we filed for Janet’s “conditional” Green Card, we are back at it, putting together a packet of papers large enough to bring down yet another rain-forest.

So now, two years after we married and two years after we filed for Janet’s “conditional” Green Card, we are back at it, putting together a packet of papers large enough to bring down yet another rain-forest.

Now I get it – really and truly. There are reasons to confirm that the woman approved “conditionally” as a US resident a couple years ago is still eligible to be an “unconditional” U.S. resident. Well, that and the $590 windfall Homeland Security is going to get from us.

They will take Janet’s bio-metrics, the fancy 21st Century word for what used to be called fingerprints. After all, I may have substituted a new Janet for the old Janet and they have to check. Either that or her fingers may have been altered by the whitening lotions many Filipinas love.

Other than the standard Federal Form, what kind of documentation do they require to prove that we are still happily married, living together, and spending money at the malls this holiday season? Anything and everything that has both of our names on it: tax returns, bank statements, statements from all our utilities (Homeland Security has to check out the garbage situation here in Casa Weisbord, right), medical statements, insurance statements, a beneficiary statement from my employer, airline tickets and itineraries for travel together. Plus of course, we’ve made Walgreens a bit richer  by printing every photo taken of us together over the course of the past two years. Considering the fact that the Philippines is the selfie capital of the world the number of pictures we are printing is decreasing the world’s silver content several percent.

If all that isn’t proof enough, the USCIS politely suggests that we obtain affidavits from friends verifying (upon penalty of death) that we are still married and living together. Unfortunately Facebook and blogging friends don’t count, otherwise I’d hit you all up for your signatures in blood.

What’s even crazier than the process I’m describing (and it’s frankly more Draconian than I am describing) is that because we are married, in just one year, Janet will be able to apply for U.S. citizenship, making her 10-year Green Card irrelevant. Well, irrelevant except for the $590 Homeland Security’s gonna pocket now and the $680 they get next year when we apply for the citizenship.

Note: Fortunately we all know that government bureaucracy and graft exist only in the Philippines and not the U.S.

Now despite my standard sarcastic tone I really do not object to all of this; well other than the $590. I think the country has a right to protect itself from people who are here illegally via immigration fraud.

And no, I am not stupid enough to get into the current brouhaha about refugees from a certain destabilized Middle Eastern country or who destabilized it. You can all argue among yourselves – I’ll wait.

What I will say is that the fiance and spousal visa process, as well as the Green Card process is made more difficult and lengthy by many of the people who try to apply, scam, and cut corners in the process. I will be talking (or bitching) more about that in my next blog piece – I promise!

For now Janet and I have one more essential piece of evidence to obtain to prove that Janet is ready to be an unconditional, no shit permanent resident of the United States – a trip to Walmart, with photographic evidence. But first Janet’s wondering where we put our noseplugs 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Humorous, irreverent, occasionally informative look at a newly wedded Fil-Am couple

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