Monday, April 27, 2009

In Perspective

I woke up this morning and found that I have lots of company - I have red ants, black ants, small ants, big ants. No wonder I have all these red bites on my legs and in my arms. It got me to thinking: And I want to live here? No, I don't want to live anywhere, I just want to zoom through town and be lost until I get to the next town.

The sum total of my crib, isolation cell of an apartment here in Cebu. Bathroom, kitchen and a bed. The plus of it all, is I can clean it in nano seconds.

In Dallas, I don't have the fun of watching my walking balut run around or gather around me.

In Dallas I don't have the vegetable lady knocking on my door. I always asked her to come by even when I don't buy anything from her because she's a very happy person. She tells me that her husband is half her age, and he really loves her - they hold hands all the time. Oh yeah? But also she reminds me of how good I was too at balancing anything on my head trying to sell anything to make a living back in my younger days. Also she humbles me because I am again reminded that only because of the grace of God, that He gave Chat and I a better life now.

As I listen to my walking balut (chicks) chirping outside, I think about my quiet and efficient apartment in Dallas. I miss the quiet and serenity there but sometimes the silence deafens me.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

How Now

Before I left Dallas to come to Cebu, a friend of mine who is the CEO of one of the technology supplier in Dallas asked me if I could help arrange for a preacher to marry one of his clients here in Cebu. Sure, why not. That's all I was asked to do and his wedding went well while I was off vagabonding.

Now I came back and am suddenly with a title - Director of Operations for a call center here in Cebu? This man I was helping is the Founder and CEO of one of the companies in Dallas and he wants me to work for him in his start up company here in the Philippines. (No wonder he doesn't have the look of a backpacker. ) He explained to me what this company is going to do, the technology that is involved and what my part will be in it. I countered his offer: Can I be paid instead? I want something that I can deposit in the bank and withdraw. And spend. A title normally means less pay or no pay at all. You know, like Mcdonalds or Walmart? If they want you to work 24 hours a day 8 days a week, they will put "Manager" on your name tag.

But seriously, this guy is so cool to work for. He compliments me all the time and gives praise to God for everything. And because he doesn't sleep but works all the time, I have to keep pace with him which I find that physically and mentally, I am so over the hill before I even climbed it. I was upfront with him, I told him that my memory is so bad nowadays, I don't retain anything except water. He smiled and said: me too. Well, I just hope that he still remembers that he wants to hire me.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Changi Budget Terminal

Well, Cebu Pacific brought me back to Cebu after being delayed 2 hours. My flight was supposed to leave at midnite, but we didn't take off the ground til 2 a.m. I started to fret but if anyone is to get stuck at an airport, there's no better airport to get stuck in but Changi airport in Singapore.

When the taxi driver asked me what terminal, I told him terminal B. He said it's supposed to be in numbers like T1 or T2. I told him B means "budget" terminal - where Tiger and Cebu Pacific lands and takes off. "Oooh, Budget doesn't sound good, it means cheap, ok we call it B."

The "budget" terminal not only has wi-fi, it has 6 computers, has a 7-11 store, 3 restaurant that stayed open and 2 shops that sells reasonably priced souvenir items plus a well-stocked bookstore. Not to mention the comfortable couches to plop your tired behind while watching tv. All of the above I can do without as long as the rest rooms are clean. The rest rooms were not only clean, it flushed and swished like 2-3 different times, I had to stare at it in disbelief. What? I don't have to use a bucket like in Cebu airport.?

So instead of fretting because of the delay, I ate one more time - doesn't matter if I needed food or not. I had to have roasted duck at 1 a.m. Then I went to the rest room again, not that I needed to but just so I can stare at the toilet one more time. Imagine if I was at the real terminal- the one with numbers and not at B.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


I ate too much laksa and curried dishes, I only ate cereals for breakfast while waiting for Harold, the taxi driver to take me to the ferry to Butterworth. This is at the restaurant downstairs at my hotel.
On my last night in Penang, Chandra and Frank came to my hotel and we walked over to a hawkers stall. Chandra is US educated and now lives back in Penang and works as a tennis coach. He will be going to Spain to get into a program so he can get his European licence . Frank will be going to Spain this year and I keep saying I want to go to Spain.

If I live in this condo, I would put plants or whatever to distract me from the heights- I just could not live in a high rise. I know, I am ghetto. This is the view from his front door. Either way, I got seasick. I did not tell my friend Frank when I was coming to Penang or he would have insisted that I stayed at his condo. In 2006 when I freaked out in Kuala Lumpur because it was my first time backpacking, he rescued me and put me up at his family's house. Frank is Chinese but grew up in England and retired from the British government.Penang is now his home. This is the view from his bedroom and living room on the 11th floor. I thought I would die from dizziness, I was so dizzy I thought I was on stilt and about to fall.
Asam laksa- asam meaning sour. My last meal in Penang at the hawker's stall.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Why Not?

As I was looking out to the quiet and lush countryside of Malaysia then to the rushed and chaos of Kuala Lumpur and Georgetown, I ached for the Philippines. Why can't we pull ourselves up? We have the same manpower (if not the friendliest people in the world). This is my second time to Malaysia, but this is the first time I ached so bad for the Philippines - for my people.

And then someone sent me this:

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Where Am I

The Air Asia inflight magazine carried an article about this restaurant called Kapitan at Georgetown (downtown Penang) famous for this tandoori chicken and naan bread.I had to go there..I tell you...the best. But got to go now, my battery is losing power and my stomach is hollering to be fed now too. Tandoori chicken on top of the naan bread.
I was going to take another bus from Melaka on to Penang, instead I took the bus to Kuala Lumpur and went to the airport and got on the Air Asia flight to Penang- had enough of the bus ride.

This is the view outside my hotel room in Melaka. Sandwiched between the Rennaisance hotel -(the tall building) and my hotel -the Hotel Aldy is this chinese temple. The taxi driver took me here instead of the Hotel Aldy by the river. But it was ok, I was in the middle of China town.

Bus I took from Singapore to Melaka a 4 hour ride and costs 20.80 Singapore dollars.

They have a very efficient bus system here - they leave within 10 minutes after the scheduled departure time. I got stuck at the border immigration going in to Malaysia because I didn't have my immigration card ready. The driver came looking all over for me while the rest of the passengers were waiting at the bus.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Outsmarting Jack

I got out of my hotel early today so I can feast on chicken rice, but I ended up at the store of Jack and his sister Kusum. Because I don't speak Chinese or Malay or Indian, I have to speak English and of course the next question is "where are you from?" Ooh, Philippines?
Jack started giving me his pitch of why I should buy a pashmina. Since he told me upfront that he's an honest robber, I stayed around for some lessons on cashmere and pashmina shawls.
Jack said that real pashmina is made from the beards of mountain goats in Tibet while cashmere is made from the fur of the same goat. The back of the neck is very sensitive to feeling hot or cold. So if you're cold, and you don't wear a scarf, you will get colds. (Now, I am reminded why I started wearing a scarf even when it's very hot in Texas. Because Arnel Pineda did.)
Most pashmina or cashmere are faked by Chinese artisans, Jack continued. It's hard to come by real pashmina anymore because Tibetans are getting lazy, even monks started fighting now. Jack says this with authority. But of course his was real- remember he's an honest robber. "Ok" I said, "give me your best deal on this "real" pashmina, but I have to pay in US dollars and you just give me the change in Singapore dollars. I have this 100 US dollar bill with a very small tear in one of the corners that 3 money changers in Cebu and a 4th one at Changi airport refused to change. So I sighed a sigh of relief when Jack agreed. I left with my purchase and 1 block away, here comes Jack waving my Franklin. "Do you have another one, the money changer won't change this one." What the....
Well, I already fell in love with my purchase so I paid him without any fuzz. I learned a lot from Jack, but one thing for sure, next time, I will make sure and bring only crispy, newly minted Franklin's to Asia.

Cebu Pacific Air

Well, I took the 755pm flight last night from Cebu to Singapore. Cebu Pacific Air is owned by Lance Gokongwei the only son of John Gokongwei- one of the Chinese taipans in the Philippines. When Cebu Pacific had their maiden flight (Cebu/ Singapore) in 2006 I was on it and I had no complains. Then last year some writer from Cebu had devoted most of her newspaper columns complaining about Cebu Pacific's poor customer service- delayed schedule, lost baggages and that none from management had even tried to contact her to resolve her own bad experience with them.

So after I lost some money for a messed up booking to Australia because of Wings Travels foul up, I was weary about flying with Cebu Pacific in coming here. But am glad to report, Cebu Pacific delivered a decent service last night. From the counter people to the flight attendants, all was up to par...and the pilot not only got us here on time he even thanked us for "plying" with Cebu Pacific. Maybe that columnist did pave the way for me and for other future passengers.
Lance, keep an eye on your baby because I love your price and your slogan -"It's time everyone flies."

(Ok, I got to go. I should not have lied and told these 2 young British backpackers that I am a backpacker. Now they're interrupting me with questions about trains and buses to get out of Singapore. Heck if I know. Maybe I should tell them about Cebu Pacific and sell my island instead. )

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Simply My observation

In observance of the holy week, I have my own observations that I would like to share with ya'll.

1.When I was growing up, I was told that if you look happy during holy week then you must be a Jew. You were one of those people who crucified Jesus. We were supposed to look sad and penitent; no watching the tv unless you're watching the passion of the cross and definitely no singing -but that was before the Japanese invented the post war subtle form of torture - the karaoke.

2. Now, I see more gay men wagging their tails on the street than there are stray dogs. Once again, you can see that the government is ineffective even after the city health department's campaign that eating dogs is not good for your health. Don't get me wrong, I love gay men because they are upfront and honest. (though brutally at times) Like yesterday, I had my hair washed and on the next sink was a gay man telling the salon attendant:" Your armpit stinks, and
this towel is not soft enough, I need a soft towel because I am not an ordinary person." I thought that was cruel, but life would be simpler if we can all be that straightforward.

3. In America if you want to buy an antique gun, you would go to an antique gun dealer or go online and put a bid on eBay. Here, you just walk up to a policeman and make him an offer. My friend Tom told me this morning of a policeman who was issued a gun 20 years ago, and finally had to use that gun on his 21st year. (I don't know, I guess all these time he just used a bolo) The policeman never once cleaned or took the bullets out of that gun from the day it was issued to him. In the US, before anything can be classified an antique, it has to be over 100 years old, but looking at what's on the hips of these policemen here, they might as well be classified as antiques.

4. Growing up I roamed the streets peddling fruits and vegetables. The green vegetables were really green and ripe mangoes were really ripe. You never had to ask "Are these sweet?" They were round, fat and almost yellow orange when ripe but now, they're thin and pale. We don't like our mangoes to be thin and pale so why should women be thin and pale?
I can understand the proliferation of diet pills but whitening agents? I have this friend who doesn't have a job but when she has money, she buys whitening pills. To me that's deplorable.

Michael Jackson thought that America wanted him to be white, look at him now. I understand we all have our insecurities and our need to belong but wanting to be white? For what? This lady was knocking on my door the other day, she sells soaps and imported clothes from Hongkong. She was explaining to me why I should use the soap she was selling, "it has a lightening agent, it will make you white." Why would I want to be white? . "So you can find a husband." With her comment I wished I was gay but I held my tongue. I said, "No,thank you, I'm not looking for a Filipino husband, I am looking for an American husband- they like their women to look like Nora Aunor with a flat nose." Minus the drug charges in California, of course.

*Nora Aunor- Filipino actress with dark complexion.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

To nurture or to neuter

In Dallas I live a very quiet and simple life. I go to work, I come home, I have lunch with friends on weekends and my usual trips to the library or Barnes and Noble. Simple and efficient ..but very dull. It's void of anticipation of who's going to be knocking on my door asking for financial help because one is in the hospital dying from complications delivering her 9th child or because one's in the hospital because his left eye got infected when he was whacked by a friend because he kept the microphone too long singing the Karaoke.

Then there's Badat, the other day Badat's 2 month old baby died. Badat lives on the other side of our fence, she is Jordan's cousin. They manufacture babies without any thought of the consequences and I have pretty much paid for most of the adults burial expenses there and now this? Chat writes checks without question when I ask her for help because I am overwhelmed by the needs around me here in Cebu. But this time, she told me: "This money I am sending is for them to get neutered, then we don't have to worry about baby funerals."

Yeah, I am over it too, but the sight was gruesome you can't just ignore the need. They laid the baby on the bench all day and all night while the uncle scampered around looking for some wood to build a make do coffin and they were not sure when the baby could be buried because they're waiting for money to pay the priest for the final blessing or the baby could not be buried. The truth of Christ is simpler than the burdens that the priests have yoked us with and yet no one questions that? I did and the truth has set me free.

Chat has learned that if we live our life focusing only on our own needs, it leaves us empty and shallow. She understands what the bible means when it said "it is more blessed to give than to receive." The heart is calmed, the heart is fulfilled when we follow God's principles, but giving without accountability is irresponsible.

So when Chat said the other day: "Mom, next time you take on another project, please don't use the word "we" because I ain't gonna be in it." When Chat starts talking Ebonics, it's not good. So I better agree...but neuter them?

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Living in the Present

I have yet to learn how to live in the present. I am either romanticizing the past or contemplating about the future. I know this is not the way to live, God says that tomorrow has enough problems of it's own, and that we can not add a single cubit to our life by worrying. Rightly translated it means - live and thank God for the present and trust that God has the future under control. The present is the fruit of the past and the seed for the future, so be careful on what we do with it.

I love to say that there are two plans: My plan and God's plan; and my plan doesn't count. The Yiddish proverb is better said: If you want to make God laugh, tell Him about your plans.

When I sit in my spacious and comfortable apartment in Dallas, I make all these plans on what to do when I get here in Cebu. Then I get here and sit in my postage stamp size apartment and I wilt and all plans evaporate. I am not a planner to begin with, my stepson who is a physician used to tell me in jest : Don't buy green bananas, you may not live long enough to see it ripen.

The range of my long term plan is in the context of 2 hours. Australia is no longer in the plan, after that mess up with Wings Travel, I have to cut my losses and regroup. I bought a ticket yesterday to go to Singapore instead then bus it to Melaka then on to Penang. Well, that's my plan, I hope that's God's plan too. At least let me eat laksa before I die or change my mind...again.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

On Wings...

When Live Nation messed up my seating arrangement in New Mexico for the Journey concert, I did not make a big deal about it. But my friends kept telling me, "everytime you have a complaint that is not resolved by the establishment, ie, airlines, stores, hotels..etc, you should blog about it."

Well, I for sure will not be quiet anymore because right now I could vomit from anger and frustration. I have often wondered silently to myself : which would I prefer, an always smiling Filipino but is inefficient and does not have a clue what "customer service" means or would I want someone who looks and sounds almost robotic but very efficient and understands that it's the customer who writes their paycheck. I definitely want the latter.

I went to Wings Travel in Ayala Saturday to see if they can get me a ticket to go to Sydney, Australia. The ladies there were very helpful and polite to look up routings and airlines and we finally reserved Singapore Airlines. From Sydney I have to fly to Coffs Harbour but they told me that they can't book that part of the ticket because they have to call Quantas and Quantas is not open til Monday which was yesterday. (First foul up) I told them I will handle that part, I will buy it from Travelocity, which I did. So yesterday, I went to get money from my ATM card, but my bank in the US flagged my withdrawal as "irregular activity" because I forgot to inform them to flag my account that I will be using it outside of the US. (A good security measure for me - their customer, though not under this circumstance.)

I did not want to use my credit card because Wings told me that it would be a different price if I use a credit card - 65 usd more difference. (2nd foul up) But instead of waiting until my bank removes the alert and have to go back to withdraw again, I called Wings at 415pm and told them that I will be using a credit card instead to get it over with. Then they dropped the guillotine on me when the lady told me that they will be closed at 530 and it's too late because Singapore Airlines has to issue the ticket and they will be closed all week after today. Now mind you, I was in constant communication with them since Saturday, Monday and today, no one told me about the deadline. Why can't they issue the ticket on Monday the 13th? No, it's too late because I am flying on the 14th, she said. Well, it's not my fault that they are closed all week, can they not make other arrangement to help the customer? That would be too much to ask.

Whoever owned that agency lost my business and my future business. Why? His employees were only trained to operate computers to find "vendors" to sell to me but forgot to tell them that the most critical aspect of a business is customer care. Knowing your product is important, but only secondary to knowing the needs of your client. Successful businesses in the West knows this very important fact: Only 4% of dissatisfied customers will go back to the establishment to complain while the 96% goes around badmouthing to their friends. And their friends badmouth to their...and so the chain goes on.

And why am I fuming about this? Because if I don't get a flight out of Cebu to connect with the one I already bought from Travelocity, I can just kiss my 325 dollars goodbye.

I am almost incoherent writing this, but as I pray, I am beginning to calm down and realized that there must be a reason greater than Wings Travels foul up why I should not be going to Australia.

Monday, April 06, 2009

I'll never know how much it cost....

Hillsong Video: Courtesy of Santini24

Light of the world
You stepped down into darkness
Opened my eyes let me see
Beauty that made this heart adore You
Hope of a life spent with You

Here I am to worship
Here I am to bow down
Here I am to say that You’re my God

You’re altogether lovely
Altogether worthy
Altogether wonderful to me

King of all days
Oh so highly exalted
Glorious in heaven above
Humbly You came to the earth You created
All for love’s sake became poor

I’ll never know how much it cost
To see my sin upon that cross

Call upon the name of the Lord
And be saved

Sunday, April 05, 2009

It's all good....

Aiming for the contemplative life. My first attempt to enjoy life in Cebu.

Jordan and I having breakfast at Cebu Marine the other day.

Yesterday, I spent all day with my missionary friends; Eddie, Aaron and Michelle. Michelle graduated from UC Berkeley but she chose not to pursue a secular career but opted instead to serve the poor for Christ.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Let's move on...

Well, there was nothing wrong with my air-conditioner. It's me who's the problem-it's not cold enough for me. So instead of focusing on the negative I am trying to find the positive in all of these- even though my allergies have not abated, at least it only come in spurts. And while I'm constantly sweating all the time, at least sweating is good for my skin. Or is it?

And since I walk around like one of those Caucasian backpackers who look grungy and sweaty all the time, I thought I might as well go on and backpack my way to Penang, Malaysia. I dug up my old Lonely Planet and decided that I better do that instead of going to Fishermans Reach in Australia. My cousin has been inviting me to go there, and I promised to go there this time. But I know I will have another anxiety attack - considering that they would insist that I stay with them. Don have made this a policy in our life when he was alive- if we can't afford to stay in a hotel while on vacation, then we better just park our butts at home. (The practicality of Americans, you know.)

I never liked being a guest at anybody's home because I don't like being entertained and hovered over. I only want to do what I want to do and if that means just sitting and staring into space and not talking to anyone, (which is all the time) then I don't leave people wondering if I have gone insane. I emailed my cousin to ask her if they have airconditioner and she said they live like crocodile dundee. Naah, I do that now already so I'm going to Penang, the hawker's capital of Malaysia and eat laksa until I start looking like a Malay. I forgot I already look like one.

Negative people is so not attractive, and I have become one the last few I'll stop complaining - well at least one more complain and I promise this is the last. You can forget about uploading pictures with Smartbro--reason you don't see one here.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Whine, whine, whine

I practice refrain, at least I try to - refrain from focusing on the negative. But my goodness, I called the service center to get my airconditioning unit checked and they told me that if it needs freon, it would need to be pulled out and brought to their shop. "So you mean to say I will be without airconditioner for a day?" Haven't they heard of bringing the freon and pump it to my unit? "No, ma'm, we have to do a leak test." I better shut up.

Now I hate to sound like a diva, for crying out loud I've been in worst heat, in fact when Chat was born she was sickly and yellowed because up until the day I delivered her I was peddling snacks to construction workers to earn money to pay for her delivery. But that was then, this is now. I have paid my dues and I earned my pleasures in life. When I chose to backpack it's because I want the experience, not because I can't afford to stay at the Four Seasons or the Ritz.

It's now 2 a.m. and the last 2 hours I have been trying to get connected to the internet using this Smart Bro broadband kit. The kit costs P1995.00 with free 5 hours, then you can reload minutes, 20pesos per hour. Sounds reasonable, right? Well, the free 5 hours and the extra 15 hours that I bought was used up just trying to get connected to any website. I would just be happy if I can get to my emails without having to wait for a week to open.

But here's some positive; my allergies are still bad but I discovered that Vicks vaporub gives me relief for a minute. So I now walk around smelling like I just left the "manghihilot" but then again, hilot is so not for the poor anymore. In fact, look at the menu and the price of a "hilot"on some of the high end spas in Manila and you'd start to miss your toothless-betel chewing-red cud spitting manghihilot neighbor who did it just on donations.

But all is well because tomorrow I am going to the Chi at Shangrila.