Friday, December 27, 2013

Funny, it doesn't LOOK like Christmas...

It's been quite a while since I've updated the site, and a lot has happened since then!

The first thing(s) of note are that Jing and I are now both employed.... ironically, to US companies. Jing is a Customer Service Rep here in PI for ATT's accounts, and I started working from home as a virtual assistant, handling some of the financial aspects for client accounts for a company based in San Diego, California. Vacation time in a tropical climate is now officially over. So ironically, we moved thousands of miles away and ended up with American based jobs.

I guess the funny thing about getting a new job is how much you think about "Oh, when I get my first paycheck, I'm gonna do this or that or buy this or that." When in the Bay Area, it used to be "Oh let's go to this fancy restaurant," or "Let's go see this show/movie/performance." Here, our priorities have shifted a bit... with Jing's first check we looked forward to buying diapers. With mine? Well, I can't really think of anything that I'd want/need, especially after Christmas -- I got the two things that have piqued my interest in the past 4 months (more on that later).

For my readers in the States, concerning Jing's job: call center jobs are actually very lucrative in comparison to their American counterparts. In the States, call center agents are usually fresh high school and college grads, and the perception is that the position is (maybe) a rung above fast food working. Here in the Philippines, you're doing very well for yourself if you can get a job at a call center. It's one of the highest starting pay positions in the Philippines. The English proficiency required means you most likely already have some sort of degree (many nursing and medical school grads begin working in call centers before they find a nursing position abroad -- the US isn't known for importing call center agents).

"Kuya,"** our oldest son, will most likely start preschool in January. He's excited about it, but I don't think he really knows what he's in for.

All the kids here are on break until after the New year, so we have a few of the kids' cousins over pretty much every day, plus a neighbor kid who comes over and rides bikes. My nose bleeds from all the Tagalog being thrown out...

Speaking of which, my Tagalog has gotten worse. I haven't been practicing it very much at all lately (as I mentioned before, it's very possible to live here and not use Tagalog at all if you don't want to). I'm also becoming a little more "independent" and we now have an electric scooter that I use to go to and from places (which obviously cuts down on my "in-transit" conversations). Added to the mix the fact that since my mom has been here I can't really use Tagalog with her, so I've barely been using it at all... just the occasional phrase every now and then. This is something I plan to fix once the New Year rolls around.

Christmas has, of course, come and gone... though honestly it feels like we've been in the Christmas season since September! Christmas music started before we arrived in September and has been playing pretty much nonstop since November hit, so I'll admit I'm a little glad it's past. Radio is different here... there doesn't seem to be much censorship in the Philippines... for radio at least. You can Google some of the "TV scandals" for the Philippines (usually it's off color jokes or something similarly ridiculously minute), but as far as radio goes you can hear the "F-bomb" get dropped during your commute. It was pretty surreal to walk into a book store last week and hear "Merry Christmas to all, now you're all gonna die!" from Weird Al Yankovich's "The Night Santa Went Crazy."

Unlike our friends and family in the US, we didn't get any temperature drops... in fact, it seems to have gotten hotter and more humid in the past few weeks! I know a few of my friends have gotten snow. I don't know that I really miss snow... though I'm sure "Ading"*** (our youngest) would have loved playing in it. Maybe in a few years when we visit the States again... depends on the timing.

It was really nice to see all of our family (well, most of them) on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Kuya was overly excited about getting Mentos (I really wish we had gotten a video of it). Jing got some clothes, Kuya and Ading got snacks and some toys we brought from the States when we moved, and I got a shirt and a G-Shock watch (knockoff). Haven't really seen anything here that I want. I guess my attitude has changed a bit since moving here. In the States it always felt like you were just working to get the next "want." The next iPhone, the next gadget, the next "big thing." Here, I haven't really seen anything that I felt was really a "want," and most of the needs, we already have.

However, during a trip to Divisorio back in October (think of an open air market with cheap/knockoff goods and brickabrack), I saw a shirt and a watch. I don't need a shirt, I have plenty, but I thought it would be funny for me to wear it, since everyone wants to use English with me.
The text doesn't translate directly, but basically it says something close to
"You're so fancy with your English, how about I kick you?"
As far as the watch (also pictured below), I already have a really nice watch that Jing gave me as a while ago, but it's very nice and I don't like to wear "flashy" stuff when I'm just out during the day -- I stick out a lot already. I mentioned to Jing that I wanted a cheap watch that I didn't care if it got stolen or broken. I don't like pulling out an iPhone or an iPod in a large crowd to check the time, either. Too much potential for mandu (pickpockets) to do the old "snatch and grab." The watch she got me was perfect.
G-Shock knockoff... it cost a little under $5 American.
The real thing can go for $100 to $300 USD, depending on style.
Otherwise, Christmas was very... sickly. I've been fighting a cold/flu/SOMETHING since the night of Christmas Eve, and the boys started sniffling Christmas night, so they probably got it too.. Ading is pretty miserable right now, and with him being a year old, it's tough for him to communicate and it's tough for us to get him to take medicine.

I guess the next thing coming up is the New Year, which is traditionally seen as an opportunity for "a new start." We've already taken advantage of a new start of sorts by moving here, so I guess I have a few personal goals for 2014, but aside from "update this blog more often," nothing major (or at least nothing I'm interested in sharing to the World Wide Web at this point).

I hope you all (or y'all, depending on where you're reading this from) had a great holiday, and I hope you have a wonderful New Year!!!

**"kuya" means "older brother" in Tagalog
*** "ading" is Ilocano (a Philippine dialect) for "younger sibling"

Monday, November 18, 2013

I'm Big in the Philippines

I've come to the conclusion/realization that no matter how hard I try, I will never "blend in" to my new home.

Jing (my wife) is lucky. She blends in perfectly... in fact, she's earned the nickname "Kanto Girl" because of it. ("Kanto" means corner... which is where most of the street food -- AKA "turo-turo" or "point-point" -- is sold).

I can overcome the lanuage, I can learn proper social etiquette, I can learn to love all the street food here, but despite ALL OF THAT, I will ALWAYS stick out like... well, like a tall white guy in a room/street full of Filipinos.

I hit my head on awnings, chairs are usually too small for me, and even when getting my picture taken for "Biodata" (they require 2x2 photos to accompany your job application) I have to crouch down to get into the shot. I had to do the same for my driver's license and NBI clearance... the camera was aimed at my belly button! I barely fit into tricycles, and my head is practically glued to the roof of the Jeepney when I ride. Honestly, I'm surprised I don't have worse posture as a result of public transit.

Me Inside a Tricycle

I'm very aware of my presence... and I expect stares and comments when I walk to the Sari-Sari or am in public places. I'm called "Joe Kano" (a reference to the US military occupation during/following WW2). I'm the minority here, I get it.

You have to get used to being viewed like a sideshow attraction (luckily I used to be in the circus, so I'm accustomed to it!). Depending on where you live, seeing a white person is like seeing a unicorn! Obviously, Manila, Subic Bay, Baguio, and the "touristy" places are full of white people visiting from various countries, but once you get to more provincial areas, it becomes more and more of a novelty. I'll admit, I was on my way to a job interview the other day and saw a white person and thought to myself, "Whoa! What's a white guy doing here?!?!" My first few weeks in the Philippines I didn't see any other white people, and when we went to one of the more famous malls in Quezon City for 'Bert's environmental fundraiser event (See sidebar under "Filipeanut") I did my fair share of double takes! Where I live, white people aren't common at all.

So yes, I stick out.

There are advantages and disadvantages to this, of course.


1) The most notable advantage, I have what I'll term the "Kano Perimeter," (originally known as the "Gaijin Perimeter" courtesy of Az at People like me... from a distance. If I'm sitting in a Jeepney, the last two spots to fill up are the ones on either side of me. People love to talk to me, but touching? That's a different story (and you DO touch on the Jeepney. The drivers like to jam in as many people on the Jeepney as possible to get more more money out of the same amount of time. I've been in a Jeepney where there were 12 people on each side, though the seat is only meant to hold 8... I may have unwittingly sired a child or two as a result).

My Mom (visiting) and I on a Jeepney. As you can tell from our expressions,
she doesn't know it's about to get VERY crowded. I do.
2) People are intrigued by this foreign pale being towering over them, and Filipinos are (in my experience) very outgoing, so it's easy to find someone to talk to or help you (even if you don't actually want to talk). EVERYONE wants to know where you're from, "how do you find the Philippines," where you're going, are you married, and do you have kids? After answering those questions (bonus points if you can do it in Tagalog) then you've got a brand new kaibigan ("friend") to help you out.

3) I can easily see what's happening at the front of a crowd/line even if I'm at the very back.

4) No one asks to have my stuff, because it doesn't fit them. Nobody here wears size 14 shoes, so I have them all to myself. It's fortunate I brought plenty of shoes and flip flops with me, because none of the markets here have anything close to my size (we've even gone to the outlet facilities... to no avail).

5) People remember you. After travelling around for a while, people start to recognize me, because I do stick out. I'm probably the only white guy doing the things I do where I do them. I don't get patted down as often when I go to the stores, because they know who I am. Vendors remember me. Trike drivers come over to shoot the breeze with me in the mornings while I'm out walking. The people who beg on the street don't bother me as much (my heart bleeds for them and I really do wish I could help, but I still don't have a job and the only money I carry is my bayad ("payment") for the Jeepney. I explain this as kindly as I can, and they remember and the next day or next week they don't bother me as much. I used to get asked for money everyday. Now it's once a week, if that.)


1) The "Kano Perimeter" (patent pending) can be a disadvantage, too. I have to make sure to smile a lot. I've become very aware of my facial expressions, because I know if I have a neutral or grumpy face it can be very intimidating for people... especially kids. People get out of my way of me in general... If my expression doesn't look content, they do it in a hurry. It's like Godzilla walking into Tokyo.

2) Forget about being low profile. It's not going to happen. Everyone is going to look at you, and most people are going to try to talk to you. I don't always feel like practicing my Tagalog, but people are so friendly and outgoing, I feel bad about having those "isolationist" moments.

3) I am often at the back of crowds because Filipinos shove past me. I don't know why, but it's VERY common in my experience... McDonald's, grocery lines, Jollibee, DMV... Maybe they think I can't see them all the way "down there" as they sneak past? No clue. And I'm not gonna go all "Kano Smash!" on them. That would be bad form... so usually I just act polite and sulk inside my head, because I don't want to be Godzilla.

4) No one can have my stuff. I can't "hand me down" things very easily, because a lot of things won't fit relatives. Even the stuff that I don't use that much... most of it is too long in the legs or too thick in the chest or something. Things are small here. In the USA I wear size Medium pants/shirts. In the Philippines, I'm AT LEAST and XL (sometimes XXL). And shoes in my size are nonexistant.

5) People remember you. Some days, I don't feel like talking to or acknowledging every single person on the street as I'm walking at the plaza or going home from SoroSoro. But I don't want them to be offended or think I'm a stuck up foreigner or in a bad mood (see disadvantage #1), so I say hi and converse anyway. I figure there are worse things than conversations...

So there it is... despite all my efforts, I will always have the advantages (and disadvantages) of being "Big in the Philippines."

Ingat ka! ("Take Care!")


Sunday, November 10, 2013

It's All Good in the 'Hood

We're OK here in Binan. The typhoon was very noisy, flooded a few areas and knocked over some trees, but otherwise Binan is relatively untouched. The real trauma is down in the southern part of PI. Latest predictions to my knowledge have been more than 10,000 dead.

That's all for this post. Just wanted to let everyone know we're OK. Go hug someone you love while you can.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

We've now been here over a month, and though the job search continues (and I am still learning the ins and outs of getting around and handling social interactions in a different language), I thought I'd put a short update with a few observations.

 - Here in Binan, using the Jeepney (which is the closest thing they have here to a "local bus system") costs 8 PhP (roughly 20 US cents) to ride one way for the entire length of the route. Unfortunately, you have to pay fare each time you get on a new Jeepney, as they do not give you any sort of transfer receipt like you would get in the US. I'll have to post a more detailed account of Jeepneys in a later post.

 - Rice is available at pretty much any fast food location. Even McDonald's gives you rice as part of your meal! In fact, my current favorite place to eat, Chic-Boy, which serves CHICken and "baBOY" (Tagalog for "pig" or "pork"), has a promotion called "unli-rice." Some places call it "rice all you can," but it basically means you get as many refills on rice as you want with your main dish (for only 99 PhP -- $2.60 USD)! My favorite dish is the chicken sisig.... SARAP! (delicious!)

 - All the Filipinos I've interacted with love it when foreigners use Tagalog. In fact, a lot of times they get TOO excited over it and begin speaking in Tagalog very quickly, making it difficult for me to keep up. Before I have time to say "Bagalan" (slow down) or "Uliten, paki" (repeat, please), they often assume I haven't understood and then switch to English... but often get too flustered and embarrassed to continue the conversation!!! This has happened to me most often in retail stores (like SM, where I had more than 4 customer service assistants "helping" me pick out boxers, complete with a lot of giggling and Tagalog comments I don't think they knew I heard or understood)

 - Many things here can be bartered for... especially at kiosks or in open markets. A lot of times the items in the markets are imitation goods or somehow "defective" and can't be sold in retail stores in the US. Mostly it's the former more than the latter. Going to these open markets has been a great experience for me and has really helped my confidence in speaking Tagalog conversationally in "real-world" (i.e. not involving my family) situations. I still get a little nervous when using Tagalog, so bartering (which is just as dependent on HOW you say things as it is on WHAT you say) is a great way to "jump in the deep end," so to speak. It forces you to use speech, mannerisms, humor, flattery, and sometimes "fast talking" to be successful. As a bonus to relieve some of the pressure, if things go awry (for whatever reason) and you don't get the price you want, you can always go to another kiosk or merchant a few feet away and odds are they'll give you the price you like... with a little negotiation, of course!

That's all for now. I have a lot of drafts saved but they definitely need to be polished before I post. Until then!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Getting Settled

It's been a while since I've posted, obviously, and for that I apologize. Things have been pretty crazy lately (understandable when undertaking such a huge move). I may break up today's posts into several posts, as there is much to cover and I will be writing in "free-form" mode.

We arrived in the Philippines on the 11th of September. Since then we have gone through approximately 55 boxes, purchased a mattress for sleeping, attempted to organize needs/storage items, finalized my application for my "yellow card" (the Philippine version of a green card -- which was a multi-day process) , taken two sick children to the doctor (i.e. multiple ER visits), and there is still much more to do. Much of the delay is due to a similar setup experienced in the SF Consulate, unfortunately. People are largely uninformed or unable to properly do their job of distributing information. I suspect this is in part because often jobs are given because of whom you know, and not as much of a skillset based placement.

This can be a two-edged sword. If you know the right people, then things can be incredibly efficient (the actual application process for my yellow card only took an hour -- but only because Jing's dad knew someone who used to work in the Immigration office, and thus she was able to get priority for us and rushed everything through). ALSO, her husband was able to tell us beforehand what documents we would need and how many copies are needed. Otherwise, we would have not known that we need multiple copies of passport entry stamps, etc.

The inherent problem with many of the systems here is that there are multiple ways to do the same thing.

The first is the "correct" way, which is terribly inefficient and rife with miscommunication and misinformation. Simply getting your driver's license can take an entire day (or more!) using this method, and often involves multiple trips to get medical exams, copies made, pictures taken, etc.

The second method is to know somebody (see example above with immigration). It can still take a few hours to get the same driver's license, but is much more efficient and a friendlier experience for foreigners, as the person who "knows somebody" acts as mediator. Filipinos are BIG on having go-betweens. I'll expound on my observations in a future article, as it certainly permeates the culture, and is something that I have had to constantly be aware of since arriving.

The third method is to shell out money and have the issue taken care of FOR you. Pay extra to the right people, and not only can you get your driver's license with only an hour of time on your part, but you ALSO don't even need to take any tests AND they'll deliver the license to your door for you.

Presented with these three options, which would you choose?

The logical, "justice-based" part of me says that I should follow the proper means of obtaining documentations. To color beautifully within the lines. To be a shining beacon of all that is good and right and just in the world.

The pragmatic part of me realises that the world is not "good" or "right" or "just," and I cannot change the system -- no matter how much I try (especially as a foreigner).

There has been a push against "fixers" here but where some areas get cleaned it just seems to shift the dirt to a different area. Hopefully in time it will be swept away.

I was discussing my experiences and observations with a colleague of ours who moved here from SF a year before we did, and we both sort of came to the same conclusions. (Shameless plug: he runs his own blog, and is an awesome graphic designer and even awesomer human being! Go check out his stuff).

The rule we've come to is to simply accept the Philippines as they are. Sure, change what we can, but don't waste energy and get bent out of shape for the things we can't. Just accept things the way they are. For better or worse.

I think there is a lot more "better" than "worse," here in the Philippines, despite what my recent blogs may indicate. If that weren't true, I would've been gone by now. Nothing is stopping me from packing up and going back to the States. I'm simply a plane ticket away from returning to the home I had a few months ago.

But I choose to be here.

Because I love the Philippines.

All of the Philippines.

And I think that is perhaps one of the most important lessons an expat to/from ANY country can learn: stop comparing. Your new home will NEVER be the same as your old one. But it's still your home. It is what it is.

Embrace it.

Love it.

Never let go.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

13a (Philippine non quota immigrant visa) requirements

UPDATE JAN 21, 2015: Since this blog post is my most popular, I wanted to offer a disclaimer: This information was up to date as of my 13a application and receipt. From what I understand from perusing various expat resources, some of the requirements have changed slightly. To be honest, I have no intention of researching the updates, because I no longer have any need for 13a application. The next application I'll be going after is citizenship... but that's still 4 years away. I'm sure I'll chronicle that adventure then (assuming I still have this blog)

As promised, here's the complete list of items you'll need to have in order to acquire your Philippine immigrant visa (based on my experience with the SF Philippine Consular General). This should be the complete list. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to access my notes as they're locked away for the moment as we continue to unpack our items to be left in the States, so right now I'm working from memory. If I find any discrepancies, I'll be sure to revise this list as soon as possible.

1). Completed Application 13a

2). Valid passport (plus two copies)
3). Birth certificate (plus copy) of applicant
4). Four Passport-eligible photos (taken within the past six months)
5). Police clearance (from all cities+states you've lived in for the past six years) (plus copy(ies))
6). NOTARIZED Medical clearance form (F.A. Form 11), accompanied by chest X-Ray AND results for the following tests: 1) stool (ova/parasite and occult blood); 2) urinalysis; and 3) complete blood test (blood serology and chemistry) (plus copies)

7). NOTARIZED letter from Filipino spouse requesting issuance of Non-quota immigrant visa (plus copy)
8). Marriage certificate (plus 2 copies)
9). Proof of Filipino citizenship of spouse (sworn oath document, if spouse holds dual-citizenship)(plus copy)
10). Passport of Filipino spouse (if available) (Plus two copies)
 - if unavailable, current passport of Filipino spouse (i.e. U.S.A. passport, etc.)

11). Original birth certificate of Filipino spouse (with two copies)
12). NOTARIZED Letter of financial capacity accompanied by proof of financial capacity (e.g. travellers cheques, latest print out showing statement of credit card account(s), latest print-out of bank account statements, ownership of real estate properties, and other documents showing the applicant’s capacity to financially support himself/herself during his/her stay in the Philippines) -- I used land that will be transferred to Jing's name once we arrive and our bank statements. ---- As a bonus, if you can get a few notarized letters from family "sponsors" living in the Philippines stating that you won't become a financial burden, it helps.

13). $150.00 USD (cash)
14). Make a personal appearance for an interview. Expect basic questions like where you plan to live, etc. Basically, you'll be asked why you're moving and what you plan to do once you're there (obviously I'm a bit young to be retiring, so I let Jing do pretty much all of the talking. The interviewer was pretty stern with me in the beginning, but once Jing started answering everything in Tagalog, the interviewer eased up and even cheerfully wished us luck at the end).

That should be it. Like I said, if I come across any documents I missed, I'll revise. Feel free to post any questions in the comments section or contact me via the sidebar.


Friday, June 7, 2013

Everything is on "Filipino Time."

As of today, we've finalized visas and dual-citizenship for all of the family. It's definitely been a struggle to get to this point.

Living in a Filipino household, I've gotten (somewhat) accustomed to the "eventually" attitude required when planning things. For example, if you have a party planned for noon, you should probably tell everyone it starts at 11AM so that they'll be there on time, and you should also plan on the party lasting until 9 or so that night (unless you have no reservations about shooing people out the door).

Sometimes, though, I forget. I make the assumption that things will be quick and easy and efficient.

Most of the time, I'm wrong.

What should have been two (MAYBE three) visits to the SF Philippine Consular General turned into (by our last count) fourteen visits -- fifteen if you include the final trip to pick up the last document for travel. (If you try to keep track of my visit count below, I didn't include trips independent of my visa experience -- i.e. for family dual-citizenship and my mom's visitor's visa -- in this narrative).

The first hurdle (and the only one I'm chronicling) was getting my immigrant visa taken care of... Before my first visit, I had checked their website online for the list of documents required. After compiling the listed documents, I called the SF Philippine Consular General to double check everything. I was told by three different people who called me back (because sometimes I get paranoid about really important things and yes, I did call three separate times to leave a message) that I had everything I needed. Even my paranoia couldn't help me, apparently.

When I got there, I waited in line and was told that I was missing seven ---SEVEN--- documents. I pointed out that I had gone on the website to use their checklist and the person told me that I had used the wrong website address. Then I pointed out that I had called ahead of time to double check and everyone had told me I had everything I needed. The visa officer said that I should have just checked the website, then proceeded to give me the same website address I had used before making the trip to SF.

After returning home, I spent the next week or so compiling the additional documents. When I returned, I was dismayed to find the Consular was not open. This would happen to me three more times throughout my application process, as nobody answers the phone at the SF Philippine Consular General and Philippine holidays are sometimes obscure (apparently "counting votes" is a national holiday) and NEVER listed on the website. Unfortunately, those days were also days Jing also went with me, which meant that her time was wasted as well.

On my next "successful" (RE: I was able to enter the building) visit, I was informed that I had all of the documents, but some of them needed to be notarized... another wasted trip and another long train ride out of SF.

On the next trip, Jing and I rode the train to SF. I had everything needed, dropped it off expecting it to be ready later that day (like the sign on the visa window implied), and was told that I would be contacted within about a week to let me know if my application was ready to be submitted.

A week passed, and I was called and told that my application had everything and I needed to come in and pay for my application. "Great!" I thought, assuming one would receive his or her visa after paying the application fee. After all, they've had my application for a week, right?

Alas, it was not to be. I had to make another trip to SF simply to pay the fee because the application had not yet been processed. Apparently, they "vet" the application before they ask you to pay.... which is admittedly nicer than paying for an application regardless of whether it is approved or not, but still means ANOTHER trip and I had to make at least one more trip just to pick the visa up after it's approved!

All in all, a very frustrating experience (and stressful one, too). I'm not sure why the SF Philippine Consular General has such rampant misinformation and inefficient policies. Some of it, I believe, is inherent to pretty much any government agency...

As a side note, though (and purely speculation on my part), I noticed that when I went by myself, I was greeted with more hostility than on the days Jing went with me. When she was there to throw out some Tagalog, things went so much smoother. In fact, the agents usually spoke with her the whole time instead of me. I'm filing that observation away for later...

I dislike the fact that my first post on a new blog is such a negative, but I wanted to write down my experience so that others who may be looking to immigrate to the Philippines know what to expect. Eventually, I'll post the ACTUAL list of what is required to gain your non-quota immigrant visa.

It's done, though. My visa is acquired and tickets have been booked. I'm visiting family and friends in West Virginia for the summer, as I won't be returning to the States for at least two years (very intimidating).