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.