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, http://www.filipeanut.com/ 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.
Never let go.