Saturday, February 14, 2015

Why I Always Carry A Knife (or Three)

I had originally planned on posting a different topic, but there have been some recent events that pushed my scheduled topic up a bit... I wanted to talk about security here and the fact that I always have a knife on my person.

In the interest of full disclosure, yes, I am a "guns-rights advocate." I won't go into the ins and outs of my position on various related topics, but there it is.

Here in the Philippines, however, I am not permitted to carry (or even OWN) a gun. It's one of THREE things I can't do as a permanent resident: I can't be the primary owner (ownership of 50% or more) on a business or property, I can't own a firearm, and I can't vote in Philippine elections.

I have been informed by various people that there are loopholes around this (Jing can own and carry a gun as a Philippine citizen, and I can use it circumstantially in self-defense -- i.e. grab it out of her purse and discharge in an emergency), but to be honest I don't have that much faith in these self-proclaimed "experts" or in the legal system to protect me in that situation.

So I carry a knife. 

NOTE: I have no delusions of being John Rambo, killing bad guys indiscriminately and scowling through an hour and a half of action.

But the possibility of kidnapping / ransoming is real (albeit very unlikely in our area of the country). So I carry. To protect my family.

There have been several robberies (and one unsettling event) in our neighborhood as well as two gun related incidents in the past week close to home which have reinforced my belief in always having a knife on me. ("Fun" Fact: Jing was even in a hostage/armed robbery situation as a child)

  • NOT a Walk in the Park

The family takes walks at night through the neighborhood. "Family" being Jing, the boys, and Lolo and Lola (Jing's parents). We never really thought anything about it... sure, it's dark, but there are occasional lights so it's not super "dangerous." Plus we live in a gated community with security guards roving.

Recently, though, I was walking with the family (I only get to on certain nights because of my work schedule). We ended up passing a house that I noticed had faint light inside it... the only issue is that this house has been abandoned for OVER a year and a half. When "Lolo" shone his flashlight over once I got his attention, he saw someone running to hide from the light. We called security, of course. I had Jing move the boys well away from the house and Lolo kept his light on any possible exits while I prepped for the worst. 15 minutes later security arrives (they were two blocks away from where we were) .

Once there, security grabs their assault rifle (more on that later) and knocks on the gate, calling for someone to come out. He does that for ten minutes(!) until finally a male walks out. The male claims that he is a "caretaker" sent by the bank. However, he has no ID on him and did not check in with the office (how convenient). There was another male in there with him, and possibly more inside the house. The guard was "satisfied" by his answers and said everything was OK. Lolo said that they weren't supposed to be there because it was after hours and they weren't even registered, and we would be talking to the Association head in the morning because this is unacceptable practice.

"Mysteriously," the "caretakers" were not there the next day. The Association head said the bank was supposed to send a family, but we have seen that family since the incident and none of the males from that night are a part of it. I have since encouraged Jing to carry my police-grade pepper spray on the nights that I am not able to walk with them. Lolo is about 90% sure that the people in question are the same people that did some robberies several years ago, but still live in the complex.

As a result, the Homeowner's Association has asked all foreigners to "register" themselves (and their ACR cards) with the front office, but THAT'S not gonna happen... at least not for me. I'm a bit perturbed that they are using the foreigners as a scapegoat. All signs indicate that recent events were/are inside jobs (AKA the housekeeper took it but owners are too embarrassed to admit that they were stupid about handling their valuables -- or people know there is an abandoned house in the neighborhood they can use to scout potential marks). 

  • Jumping the Gun

The first gun related incident was at SM Sta. Rosa. Three people were killed in the incident. All the news said was that there was a shooting at the mall. Of course, the entire story wasn't available via the news, so second and third-hand (probably more like fourth or fifth-hand) information has come to light.

Originally, it was said that the guard was "playing" with his gun (trying to do tricks, etc). and someone grappled with him, took the gun, and shot him when he tried to get it back, then shot a responding PNP officer while the motorcycle was still in motion.

THEN the story was that they had restrained a male who was acting crazy and was waiting for the police to come take him into custody when the male snatch a gun from one of the nearby officers and opened fire, killing a guard and then a policeman.

NOW the story is that a scruffy-looking teenager had a knife on him. According to "sources," the guard wouldn't let him in while carrying the knife. The teenager became upset, stole the guard's gun, shot the guard, and then shot a policeman who was responding to the emergency call while he was still on (or dismounting from, depending on your source) his motorcycle. The teen was shot and killed by the second wave of police responders. People claim the teen was mentally ill / he was homeless.

All three scenarios are completely plausible here. Guards are not trained how to properly carry and handle guns. Most, if not all, of their training (if actions as a whole are any indication) is done in the classroom. I would be surprised if half of the people carrying around handguns/shotguns/assault rifles have ever actually shot a firearm. And the second and third versions sound like "PR" scenarios, to make the security company not so embarrassed (heaven forbid anyone here become hiya -- "ashamed" -- for doing a crappy job)!

I have lived here for a year and a half at this point. In that time, we have frequented both SM Sta. Rosa and WalterMart Carmona (below). Almost every time I have entered, I have had my USMC KABAR attached to my hip. I usually have a long shirt on which covers the handle, but the rest of the sheath hangs below my shirt and is visible (especially when I raise my hands for the "patdown" -- they just touch the small of your back, honestly). I also have on me a folding knife clipped to my pocket, easily seen to the most casual observer. I have yet to be turned away from the entrance (which makes it so surprising to me that the teenager allegedly was-- and makes me believe that version of the story is more of a "PR" effort).

Obviously, I'll never know what really happened, as the rumour mill is already in full swing and the story has surely been distorted several times by now.

  • Go On, Take the Money (Jewelry?) and Run

The other incident was at WalterMart in Carmona. An armed robbery happened (no shots fired). A man dug a tunnel overnight and snuck in with a gun and held up a jewelry store. Apparently, there was a lot of panic and people fleeing, and the guy cleaned out the store (they're still closed) but fortunately no one was injured.

  • Biting Dropping the Bullet

According to Tito, there was a hostage incident in our neighborhood a few years back with Aling Loling ("Miss Grandma"). She runs a sari-sari store in the neighborhood that the boys go to buy candies. Her son had a mental breakdown of some sort and had her grappled and was threatening to cut her throat with a knife. Security was called, of course, and Tito and some other residents were trying to calm him down to help Loling until security came. According to Tito, the security guard arrived but wouldn't make any attempt to help her, they just stood as far away as possible and watched the scene unfolding. 

At one point, someone was able to sneak in and distract the son long enough to get Loling out to safety, but then the son started slashing at people with the knife. Of course, everyone ran out of the house and the son followed. When the son exited the house to flee, the guard (FINALLY) decided to try to stop the situation. He raised his shotgun and cocked it as a warning...

...and the bullets fell out. Presumably because he had not properly loaded/chambered his ammunition.

The son ran away from the scene and seemed to get away. No shots fired, no one was injured.

They eventually subdued the son later (he ended up falling asleep under a tree somewhere else in the neighborhood) and ACTUAL police (who honestly are not much better than security at times) took him into custody. It turns out the knife he had wasn't a knife at all but just cardboard wrapped in tinfoil.


Incidents like these are the main reason I carry a combat knife. Though I will (hopefully) never need to use it, I don't want to need a knife in an emergency and not have it available. And I've learned that security and police forces here are not really trained past the classroom. Security will save its own hide before it considers helping me or my family. So I have my KABAR attached to my hip most of the time. Even at home/work.

...but honestly, my "folder" -- a dinky little "Navy Seal" knife -- gets far more use... almost on a daily basis, in fact. It's one of those crappy $5 dollar knives you see in BUDK and other publications. I'm actually not sure how I acquired it, because it's a  knife I would NEVER buy. I think a cousin visited our house in the US at one point and left it, but I'm not sure. Anyway, it's a terrible knife for self-defense. It's small, the handle is shoddy and plastic, and the blade is partially serrated (serrated blades have little practical use and have a high chance to get stuck in the ribcage in a self defense situation).

Unfortunately, my folder is showing its age. The clip is on its last leg, and I've noticed it doesn't stay in place as well as it used to. So I may be shopping for a new folder the next time we go to Divisoria.

...but until then, it'll be on my person, for those containers that need to be opened, cutting tags, shaving off some kindling to start the grill, cutting seams... whatever day-to-day "emergency" that arrives.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Funny, I Didn't Think I Was Either...

Even after our trip today to DFA, Jing and I are still not officially recognized as married in the PI... even though it's been five years since we were married and I already have my permanent residence through marriage to a Filipina citizen. I'll expand on that tomorrow probably, but I wanted to write the following snippet from today before I forgot:

While at the Department of Foreign Affairs to get passports taken care of, I was assigned to the role of "keeping the kids quiet" while Jing takes care of paperwork and talking to officials. I use the opportunity to practice my Tagalog with the kids.

After being there for a while, we end up sitting near a Filipina lady who has a 4-year old girl with her. The girl and Kuya begin to interact in that "shy 4 year old" way. I ask Kuya what her name is, but he is too shy to ask, so I ask her in Tagalog: "Ate, anong panggalin mo?"

The lady with her says "oh, she doesn't understand Tagalog. She lives in Paranaque." (Paranaque is part of the National Capitol Region)

I continue to use Tagalog with the boys, but then we switch to English when we want to speak with "Ate." Eventually our paperwork is processed and we move on.

Later, I overhear the lady telling the girl "Oh, you need to learn Tagalog."

The girl responds

"Why? I'm not poor."

....I knew there was a disconnect between NCR and the rest of the country and that the majority of "high society" there uses English as often as possible, but I didn't know it was THAT bad.

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Year+ In Review

After almost a year away from this blog, I have finally returned. A lot has happened in the past year. We celebrated our first year of living in the Philippines, I've been promoted to a new position at my work, and I've also had the opportunity to get several acting jobs in my spare time. I've been in a TV series, filmed a movie (though my scene didn't make the final cut), and in an international TV commercial.

I wish I could say that I have been so busy with these extraneous hobbies that I haven't been able to post, but truth be told, I rarely find myself wanting to spend time on the computer after working on it for eight hours. I've even let my WoW subscription lapse (which is no small feat, for those of you who aren't familiar with my online gaming addiction). During the day, I maintain the company's social media presence, in addition to marketing/advertising online, and handle Search Engine optimization. It's a lot to handle at times. Even though my new work position leaves me worn out (and sometimes stressed), I really enjoy it and really see a lot of opportunity for growth professionally, personally, and also for the company as well. I'm excited, to say the least! Very much worth the effort!

I'm one year closer to Philippine Citizenship. It's still up in the air on whether I can still visit the States without resetting the timer (I'm supposed to be in the PI for 5 years before I can apply for citizenship since I'm married to a Filipina citizen). I've attempted to do research, but unfortunately each source says something different... and our local immigration office has not been helpful in the slightest (in fact, the lady told me I would never be eligible for citizenship, which I know is completely incorrect, so...) I have to fiuggre that out (as well as a couple other things) which may influence when we go back to the States. Our tentative plan is sometime in 2016, though we're not sure exactly when yet.

I'm more confident in my everyday interactions than I was a year ago. Unfortunately, my Tagalog has not improved as much as it should have in that span of time. The main reason is that I'm not using it nearly as often as I should have been. My work is "English Only" as it is based in the US, and I only go out to pick up groceries or exercise at the gym... both scenarios involve little real communication, and what communication does happen is the same conversation over and over, so not much room for improvement.

In an effort to improve my comprehension, I've started listening to a lot of Tagalog music. Jing occasionally helps me by "quizzing" me, though she still hasn't started speaking to me ONLY in Tagalog as requested. I think that's mainly because she gets too annoyed at me too quickly when she does.

I'm trying to think of major things that have happened that I haven't mentioned, and I suppose there are milestones to us that are "typical" (birthdays, holidays, etc), but not worth mentioning in depth at this point. We're all a year older, except Jing, who has informed me that she is still 29. I guess that'll be nice in 30 years when I am 61 and I'll still be married to a 29 year old.

The boys are bigger, of course. Kuya has started school and only has a few months left before summer break (they end the school year in April here). Ading has started trying to ride a bike (I need to install a rear brake on his bike, at the moment he just pedals backward really fast and doesn't go anywhere). Kuya has been out of diapers completely for a while (even while sleeping at night) and so now the process begins to try to get Ading out of them as well... though hopefully he'll be out of them by the time the next one comes along (hopefully a girl, whenever that is). I've gotten bigger, too. I've gained too much weight as a result of laziness/travelling and have started watching what I eat once again.

I think we have (more or less) gotten past the absurdity of living here. When we first arrived, it felt like every day Jing and I would have a discussion about how "ridiculous" things were... but now, it's just accepted as the norm (sure, we still get annoyed, and situations are often accompanied by the occasional eyeroll, but I think we've begun to become very "bahala na" (what will be, will be) about it. We still take funny pictures and make jokes about things (which I need to make a photo post about soon I suppose), but our "The Philippines is a crazy place" is punctuated by a period instead of an exclamation point at this point.

To make an overgeneralization; I've learned that people here are inconsiderate. They'll blatantly try to skip lines. the longer I've been here, the more I've noticed that people try to take advantage of the fact that I am a foreigner, and that perhaps I don't *really* know what's going on. It happens to me more than anyone else, so I've learned how to comment in Tagalog, pointing out that there is a line, and the "back of the line is there." When I start speaking Tagalog and pointing out that the person is being bwiset, security (which by the the way is a total joke and should have been enforcing it to begin with --- but I'll save that for another post) will step in and "encourage" them to move to the back of the line to avoid escalation. I think it's so prevalent in general because people here are so nakakahiya (embarrassed) to point out that someone is being rude that those people get away with it. When I first got here, I was doubly so, because I am very aware of my status as a foreigner and i didn't want to overstep any cultural boundaries. People still try to take advantage of me, but I am far more outspoken than I used to be about the matter, and I have the vocabulary to back it up now.

So a year and a half after we got here, I feel like we have the routine of living here down. In the end, I suppose it's just like moving anywhere in the world (with an added language barrier). Initially it's always tough, but as you get more familiar with things and settle into your role(s), things get easier and more comfortable. At this point, I don't see us moving back to the States, though I suppose it's always a possibility.