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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Application for Permanent Resident Status

We went to Immigration today for a hearing on my application for permanent resident status.  Since I am married to a citizen of the Philippines, I can stay here as long as I stay married to Grace and I stay out of trouble.  I think both should be pretty easy for me to do.  The hearing officer tried to come up with all kinds of unlikely scenarios to imply that we should not have gotten married, but we did, and intend to stay that way.  So I paid my fees, and we wait for a month to find out if the application has been approved.  If so, I won't have to go in to Immigration until next year to pay the fees to convert my status from provisional to permanent resident.  Collecting the fees seems to be the main point of all the hoops we have to jump through.  Of course the two caveats will always apply.

My doctor has decided that I have allergies bad enough to require seeing an allergist and having the testing done to find out exactly what makes my sinuses fill up with goop.  She also gave me a referral to an orthopedic surgeon who will look over the X-rays of my spine.  I stopped at the drug store on the way home and got the strongest naproxin sodium you can get over the counter, and my back is only moderately sore now, so maybe I'll be able to sleep tonight.

Filipino food and me...

Before I say anything about this topic, let me just say in bold capital letters that, I LOVE EVERYTHING GRACE HAS EVER COOKED FOR ME.  Any food comments are totally about the smells coming from sidewalk eateries, our neighbors apartments, or the food I have tried at "authentic" restaurants.

My initial reaction is, "Why are they cooking garbage?" That's what it smells and looks like to me.  I worked for traffic court in Des Moines, Iowa the summer after I graduated from high school.  The elected Clerk of Court was a pig farmer, and liked to tell me about how cooked until sterile garbage was the best food for pigs, provided there was no citrus fruit in the batch.  The way he smelled, basically like he had just finished cooking a batch before he came to the traffic court, is how a lot of the street eateries smell to me.

Any seafood or freshwater fish dish smells like it is at least 3 days rotten.  When we went to the beach with Grace's college friends, one of them cooked milk fish over charcoal, and it looked fresh when she started, smelled good while cooking, and tasted just fine.  I don't know what other people do to it, but that is supposed to be a Filipino favorite, and I want to gag most of the time when I smell it cooking.

I'm very picky about fish because my dad fished in whatever mud puddle he could find, then we had to eat the fish. My mom and sister did a better job of choking it down and smiling than I did.  My dad thought I was a bad kid and that the only way to keep me from becoming a worthless adult was severe corporal punishment for any offense.  The only time I ever was excused from eating the latest catch was one day when I had my eyes dilated,  before they used drops to reverse the action, and could not see the bones. The rest of the time, I had to choose whether to eat the fish or get a beating and go hungry.  As a result, I generally do not eat fish.  Long John Silver's or similar cold water ocean fish that doesn't have a "fishy" taste are fine, and cold water freshwater fish like trout are fine when I catch them and they get eaten very soon after they are caught.  Otherwise I just don't eat fish. So I admit I'm prejudiced where fish are concerned.

One thing that causes problems for me is that like most Americans, I have been taught that eating fat is bad.  A lot of dishes use very fatty meat.  For example, for lunch today, Grace had Sinigang. This is a soup that has River Spinach and pork in a broth.  Grace has made it for me at home, and it tasted just fine. At the mall food court, the broth tasted spoiled, and the pork was 90% fat.  I know it makes her sad when I don't like something she thinks is a great dish, but I was much happier with my grilled pork chop from a different restaurant.  So I am very lucky that my wife is a great cook and knows how to buy better ingredients than most restaurants use.  Otherwise, I would be losing weight a lot faster.

I weighed about 235 pounds when I came to the Philippines, June 14, 2010. Last visit to the doctor I was 99 kg, which is about 217 pounds.  I am finding it easier to get in and out of  tricycles and taxis, which is a good thing.  I'm still afraid I'll fall on my face if the jeepney driver starts driving away before I've stepped off the back of the jeep, so Grace usually has me go first, hoping the driver will have more sympathy for a woman.  I have a problem with exercise.  My mother thought if you had to bend your knees to do something, it was too strenuous.  Instead of all the good lessons I probably could have learned from her, I learned that one instead.  It went right along with, "Do you want to be a ditch digger, or have a real job where you make your living with your brain?"  If I didn't hate getting sweaty so much, I would also be losing weight a lot faster.  I ran cross-country my Freshman year in college, and actually enjoyed running across the golf course on cool fall days, but when I got Mono at the end of my freshman year, I just never regained the energy to enjoy running three or four miles.  My Air Force pilot school was in Enid, Oklahoma, and started in June, so from then on, exercise was associated with drowning in sweat and feeling like I was going to die from the heat.  Wonderful experiences like having to run for time in the hottest part of the afternoon when we got 6 vaccinations, which included Yellow Fever and Black Plague, in the morning, further solidified my dislike of exercise.  I can see myself strolling around in the mountains when it is cool, or walking leisurely along a beach with cool ocean breezes keeping the heat under control, but going to a gym or running have no attraction for me.  I am a terrible example, so if you are young, learn to like exercise and find things you like to do that involve physical activity.  If you are my age, be more active and be healthier and happier.  I try, but I backslide very quickly.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


The island of Luzon, at least, was home to a Muslim kingdom when the Spanish decided to invade and take over in the 1500's. This means that there are some security concerns here that are more pressing than in some other places.  When we flew from Manila to Bacolod, on the island of Negros, there were no unusual security precautions above what you experience in any U.S. airport.  However when we took the Super Ferry from Bacolod to Manila, there was a LOT more security.  All carry on luggage was screened the way it is in U.S. airports. Then, we were searched with a hand held metal detector.  My Swiss Army Knife was packaged up and I got a receipt to get it back after we reached Manila.  After that, we went into a holding area in small groups, and our carry on baggage was checked twice by dogs.  When the dogs were done, that group was allowed to board. This is pretty time consuming, considering there were over 1,600 passengers on the ferry.  I'm not sure what kind of screening they did on checked bags, but ours were waiting outside our cabin door with a big chalk "X" on each one.  There were also about half a dozen armed military personnel who came aboard after all the passengers. I'm not sure what branch they were from or why they are aboard.  It is a little unsettling to see people in camo uniforms carrying automatic weapons in a civilian setting, but this is commonplace in the Philippines. Most big businesses and banks have an armed guard who sits in front of the building when the store or office is closed.  They are all armed with an automatic shotgun in addition to a hand gun.  Sometimes, I'm reminded of Barney Fife's one bullet in his shirt pocket because often, the weapons are handed off from one shift to the next.  I have not ever seen anything to make me concerned about my safety, but the tank-like armored cars and all the armed security people are not cheap, so there must be a need.  I did hear on the news about an attempted bank robbery where a gang of five came in with guns blazing, so there seems to be good reason for the extensive precautions.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Did you ever wonder...?

Did you ever wonder what happens to clothing donated in the U.S. that is supposed to go to help the poor in other countries?  Well, in the Philippines, it eventually gets into the hands of small thrift stores that typically sell the clothing for 50p per item. That's just a little more than $1, with the current exchange rate fluctuating between 43 & 44 pesos per U.S. Dollar. These people obviously aren't getting rich, and perhaps it is more helpful for them to have a way to make a living than handing out clothes for free, and the people who buy them might appreciate them more at low cost than if they were free. The longer I am here, the more I think that things I once saw as black and white issues may not be that way after all.

LDS is active in the Philippines

Since some of my readers are LDS members, I thought I'd pass on that there is a lot of LDS activity in the Philippines. I see young men on mission quite often.  I lived across the hall from a group of them in Pateros.  We live about 3 blocks from a very large LDS Church.  It is quite new, and a very nice facility.  There is also a church in La Carlota, which is a very small town in Negros Occidental.  When we were at the post office in Bacolod, also in Negros Occidental,  to send my son Kris his birthday gift, we saw a group of young men on mission receiving lots of big boxes of literature.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Elementary Physics Education

I have told a lot of people that the U.S. Education system is not getting the job done teaching elementary physics principles. If people were aware that two solid objects can NOT occupy the same space at the same time, we would not have people pushing to get on the elevator or bus or subway before the passengers, trying to exit, get out.  WELL, the problem in the U.S. is minimal compared to the problem here!!!

When we are walking anyplace, there always seems to be at least one person who feels it is there life mission to get in front of me and between Grace and me. This was really a problem when we were boarding the Super Ferry because Grace had both tickets and both passports. Gosh, elementary physics again!

I used to walk around the perimeter of Concord Mills Mall for exercise because one circuit is one mile.  One of my biggest frustrations was people who seemed to be wandering aimlessly with no apparent purpose. They would stop, start, turn without looking, and generally zig-zag like two year olds.  It seems to be ten times worse here. Maybe that is because there are many more people per square kilometer. It is irritating and I seem to be spending a lot of time being irritated lately. Another thing that is incredibly irritating to me is that people don't make any effort not to run into you with themselves or the things they are carrying. I suppose being raised in the midwest during the 1950's makes me more irritated by things people do to me that I would never dream of doing to them. Apparently, the crowded conditions make pushing, shoving, stepping on your toes, and smacking into you with parcels, a way of life.  Here again, elementary physics knowledge would benefit people a great deal. I think some Buddhist "awareness" of one's self and one's surroundings would be really helpful too.

While I'm complaining, I'll tell you that the club house has two party areas. They have a roof, and low walls, but they are open on all sides. The people who set-up and operate the P.A. systems seem to think everyone in EVERY unit of the complex NEEDS to hear what's going on. Tonight they are having some kind of karaoke contest, and I am wishing for a high powered rifle with telescopic sights to put some of the croaking chickens out of their misery. If this were a perfect world, Gilbert & Sullivan rules would apply, and the punishment WOULD fit the crime!

Grace says I'm entirely too grumpy, and I have abandoned my goal of becoming a curmudgeon, like Walter, so I suppose I need to learn to flow like a stream between the lilly pads.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Where shall we live?

It might seem like a simple question, but it has been difficult for us to answer.  Finally, we decided to extend our lease at Chateau Elysee in Paranaque City, Metro Manila for 6 months.  We are trying to start a business buying and reselling used laptop computers, and most of our sales have been in Manila, so we need to stay here and see if we can get the business going. However, there are a lot of other considerations. Grace would like to live close to her mom so they can visit more often. La Carlota seems to be bad for my health.  I like it there, but I was sick most of the time, and the doctor thinks I'm very allergic to Sugar Cane pollen.  I'm not sure I agree, because I didn't get magically better when we came back to Manila.  I hate the crowded conditions and pollution in Manila. I would like to live close to the ocean and mess around with boats, but we really can't afford anyplace nice that is near the beach yet.  We talked about living in Baguio, and it is very nice there because it is cool in the summer and the taxi drivers are all honest, but I don't think Grace really likes it there.  We talked about moving to a different location in Manila to cut our transpo costs, but I got a good deal on my rent, and there wasn't any place comparable for the same rent. Location is very important in Manila for practical and status reasons, and you have to pay a big premium for a good location or endure substandard conditions. So we invested in better telephone service, and now have a land line, which will improve our ability to do business. We have tried several Internet providers, and I have not been happy with any of them, but maybe the newest one will be better. Most of our business comes from internet ads, so a good connection is important for posting ads and uploading pics of our laptops. Grace wants to go to work so she is "not a burden" but I would rather have her company than the money, so our buy and sell business is our compromise. We only make about 2000p on each sale, after expenses, so we aren't getting rich, but we are slowly saving up what we do make.

Workings of an idle mind

I’ve mentioned that American restaurants are common in the Philippines, but one thing I think is very interesting is that some brands that are all but extinct in the U.S. are alive and well in the Philippines.  When was the last time you saw a “Shakey’s Pizza” open for business and full of customers? They are all over the place in the Philippines.  They don’t make as good pizza as “Pizza Hut” and never did, but they are clean and much more comfortable than the old U.S. version with the long wooden tables and backless benches.  How about “Kenny Rogers’ Roasters?” Seen one of those lately? Well, they are in all the big malls, and Grace tells me they are considered more upscale than KFC. The chicken is very good, and they have a plate with half a breast with salad and fruit salad that I prefer over the heaps of rice everyone seems to think they need to serve here.  Many product brands considered over the hill in the U.S. are still going strong here too. One example is "Ajax" which has lost shelf space to "Comet" to the point of being invisible in the U.S., but it is still on display here, and "Comet" is not.

Most packaging and marketing is geared toward people who don’t have a lot of money and have to walk home from the store carrying their purchases.  That means that there is no emphasis on stocking up, and it is all about single use packaging.  There is currently a commercial for a package of shampoo that has 4 individual use sachets, with the slogan, “Enough for the whole family.”

When we go grocery shopping, we have to limit what we buy to the number of bags the two of us can carry to the taxi stand.  It is a long way to the tricycle stand, and difficult to put the bags in the way Paranaque tricycles are built.

I’ve had mixed success being more assertive with taxi drivers. I started refusing to get in until we have agreed on a price, and I’ve started offering “Flag down plus 30 pesos for shorter trips and plus fifty pesos for long trips.  The two drivers since I started my experiment accepted my offer, but the first ignored my directions and did not get off the expressway at the correct exit. At the next exit, the toll was 18 pesos more plus we had to retrace about 5 km. In the end, the trip should have been about 175p on the meter, but I ended up paying 300p. This is still better than asking “How much?” and getting a ridiculously high price. The average price I was paying was around 500p, so even with the fare padding, it was an improvement. The second driver went straight to the destination, which was a little longer trip.  He didn’t have complete change for my 1000p bill, which is what comes out of most ATMs, so I ended up paying 400p for that trip.  Still an improvement, and no constant complaints about “traffic” to justify the hold up fare, so in general, it was an improvement. Gas prices are going up here, and that has a lot to do with some drivers refusing to use the meter. The taxi authority approved a fare increase, but it hasn’t improved the mood of the drivers. Apparently they have to pay to have their meter recalibrated, and many have not done it. I think being aggressive and suggesting a meter based fare before they have time to think up an excuse is worth the effort, and I’ll continue that approach to see how well it works. We are trying to take public transportation more, but like anywhere else, there are a lot of places that are difficult to get to.  One of our problems is that so called public transit is a chaotic collection of jeepney routes and bus lines, all run by private and competing companies. We don’t know where a lot of the terminals are, and it makes it difficult to get places. Thursday night we came home on a bus that drove just like the “Night Bus” in Harry Potter.  We were holding on with white knuckles and praying the brakes worked every time the driver slammed them on.  One of my main objections to public transport here is that the cattle herder who loads the jeep or bus thinks I can make myself smaller by act of will. I take up the amount of room that I take up, and once Grace had to hold me back from expressing my dissatisfaction with a particularly rude and persistent loader by compressing his face with my fist.  I am finding that all my life experiences have not prepared me very well to live in crowded conditions.  Things that don’t bother Grace make me so mad I can’t think straight.  When we were in line at the supermarket check out on New Year’s Eve, the line was at least 2 hours long. About an hour into the wait, the person behind me got out of line. The new person behind me rammed their cart into my butt every time the line moved forward. After a half hour of this, I was so mad, I shoved their cart back with my foot. I didn’t look behind me, so I have no idea who the person was, but Grace told me I needed to go sit down in the cafĂ© and wait for her to check out. Now I know a lot of my grumpiness comes from the fact that my back hurts any time I have to stand for even a few minutes, and I’ll have to go see an orthopedic specialist about this because it is really making life miserable and difficult. Still, there really isn’t any excuse for bad behavior, even when there is provocation.