Thursday, October 9, 2014

First trip to the Philippines. Late September 2014.

September 21, 2014
  I awoke to my alarm at 8am in my favorite 1m x 2m x 1m hotel room in Tokyo. Century Capsule capsule hotel, located in the fashionable district of Shibuya. I got dressed, checked out, and went across the street to Gasuto (a "family restaurant") for breakfast. After breakfast I headed down Dougenzaka hill to Shibuya station and caught the NEX (Narita Express) train to Narita airport. 
  After arriving and checking in for my flight I still had a few hours so I bought lunch at McDonalds and took it out to the observation deck to eat it and enjoy the recently arrived cooler early fall weather. After lunch I exchanged a few thousand Yen to Philippine Pesos (at a rate I would later remark about as "terrible".)
  As usual, going through security at a non American airport was not lacking but was.. expedited.
  The five hour flight was bumpy but otherwise uneventful. I did manage to sleep a bit on the plane.
  I arrived at Mactan international airport at 6:15 local time. As the plane was landing one of the local resorts was having a fireworks show which made for a nice welcome. It's worth pointing out that the sunsets very early in the Philippines and it was already dark by the time the plane landed. Everyone disembarked the plane fairly quickly. Customs and immigration took a while to clear but there was no hassle.
  I met my supervisor (the director of the project I was sent to help with, we'll call him Mr. O) met me outside the terminal building. Fortunately Mactan airport is not very big and only has one terminal with one arrivals exit so we were able to find each other easily.
  The weather on arrival was a humid 86(f) and felt very similar to summer in Osaka. I would later learn that this was the hot/wet season (the other two seasons being cool/dry and hot/dry.)
  The next step was to take a taxi from Mactan island (where the airport is) to Cebu City (on another island, where the hotel and office are located.) Being in a strange new country and taking a taxi through unknown streets after dark is a slightly scary experience.
  We arrived at the hotel safely and I checked into my room. I went up to drop my bags off and then came back to the lobby to meet Mr. O and go to dinner.
  We walked across the street (and under a fairly seedy underpass) to Ayala mall where we had dinner at a nice Thai restaurant. A shocking revelation that came up during dinner was that the minimum daily wage in the Philippines is about equal to the price of the meals we were eating. Now, I make way over near minimum wage (in any country) but trying to imagine eating a meal that cost me an entire day's wages was an interesting thought exercise. The Pad Thai was good but not that good.
  After dinner I went back to my room, unpacked, watched some cable TV, and was in bed and asleep by 11pm.

 The hotel room was bigger than my apartment and only cost about $60 per night.
The room had a nice balcony but it was just a tad too humid in the evenings to use it.

View looking down the other balconies in the morning.

A building under construction across the street.
One of three currently being built.
The central jeepney stand for the tech district was right across the street.

The jeepney artist don't waste any time and care not for copyrights.
The hot tub, pool, and pool bar on the 7th floor, where my room was. Convenient!
The view from the pool deck.
 Another view from the pool deck. Note the cathedral in the lower-left.
 The interior of Ayala mall.
They had more American stores than most American malls.
They even had a Payless Shoe Source and  True Value Hardware.

September 22, 2014
  I woke up at 7am to my alarm, showered, dressed, and went down to the first floor to have breakfast at the hotel's restaurant. Breakfasts at this restaurant were buffet style with a wide variety of fresh fruit, baked goods, cereals, and other things. One particularly interesting feature were two big plates of American cut bacon... which they did something to to make it taste horrible. I'd have been angry if making bacon taste bad wasn't such a rare feat.
  After breakfast I met Mr. O in the hotel lobby and we shared a quick taxi ride to the office. the trip was around 2 miles and cost less than $2.00.
  I stopped in the 7-11 on the first floor of the building to buy a bottle of water for the day (I was told the tap water in Cebu is not potable to foreigners.)
  When I arrived in the office some of the teachers I was there to train had already arrived and the rest trickled in as I organized my materials for the week's training. Around this time I also met the office staff Ms. O and Mr. T from Japan and Ms. G, our Filipino HR manager.
  Training started promptly at 9am. I went through the material I had prepared for the first morning (ice breakers and a company overview) quicker than I had expected and we broke for lunch a little before noon.
  On the recommendation of the Japanese staff in the office, I tried the Japanese restaurant "Goku" on the first floor of the building we were in. It was mediocre as Japanese food goes, but somewhat comforting to have for lunch in an unfamiliar place.
  The material I had prepared for the afternoon lasted a bit more like I had expected and I introduced the teacher to my company's teaching philosophy and basic teaching skills.
  At the end of the work day I left work alone and hailed a cab back to the hotel. Traffic was a bit heavy but not as bad as I would later find out it could get. Back at the hotel I watched some TV and unwound rom the first 9 hour shift I've worked in years.
  Around 7pm I met Mr. O and Ms. O for dinner at a Dim-Sum restaurant in Ayala mall. We discussed how the first day's training went and what I would be doing for the rest of the week.
  After dinner, back at the hotel, I watched a bit more TV (it had beed a while since I had access to cable), the went to bed, exhausted, at 10:30pm.

The view from the front of the office building.
Beautiful resorts and mountains.
The view from the back of the office building.
A stark reminder that you're in a "developing nation".

September 23, 2014
  My morning was fairly identical to the previous morning up until the taxi ride. The taxi driver tried to get out of using the meter and charging us a flat rate (500 pesos for a ride that normally costs 75). Mr. O wasn't having any of it and talked the driver into turning the meter on. I'm told this happens from time to time but it was the only time I experienced it on this trip. Maybe because the driver felt cheated out of a sweet fare but at one stop light he put the car in park, go out, and went to yell at the driver in the car in front of ours, leaving Mr. O and I looking at each other wondering what was going on.
  Again many of the teachers were there before I arrived. In a country without a developed mass transit system, you can be early or late but it's really hard to be on time.
  The morning's training went well and we broke for lunch, on schedule, shortly after noon. Once again I ate at "Goku" for lunch.
  I didn't cover as much material as I had planned in the afternoon which made me uneasy about the rest of the schedule I had planned but figured it would all work out in the end.
  Traffic on the way back to the hotel was heavier than the previous evening but still moved along at a start and stop rate.
  Fortunately the money I had exchanged back at the airport in Japan had lasted just fine but to be safe I went to a money changer in the mall and got a much better rate than before. On Mr. O's advice before I came I only exchanged a little and saved my bigger bills to exchange in the Philippines.
  I then had dinner at T.G.I. Fridays before going back to the hotel to unwind before crashing out around 10:30pm again.

September 24, 2014
  By this point I was in a pretty good grove and most of the rest of the trip would be fairly similar. I went through my, now, normal morning routine. Mr. O was traveling back to Osaka on this day so I caught my own taxi into work. Traffic was light and I made it to the office in record time.
  To my surprise almost all of the teachers were waiting outside the locked office waiting for the staff to arrive. I chatted with everyone while we waited.
  The first part of the training day went well and the teachers were finally able to practice a full lesson by themselves. No one broke down in tears or threw their PC out the window and nothing caught on fire, so I'd say it was a success all around.
  After lunch at "Goku" the second part of training went so smoothly that the teachers had an unplanned second chance to practice a lessons, which they really appreciated and which gave me a chance to relax my voice.
  At the end of the day I finally had a chance to pull aside the two teachers who would become my assistant trainers after this training week. We discussed training so far, what else we would do, and some of their concerns about the program.
  After work I took a taxi directly to the mall (instead of to the hotel first) and had dinner at Pizza Hut. After dinner I walked around the mall and discovered that it had more American stores than many American malls including a True Value Hardware, a Payless Shoe Source, and a Sbarro pizza place.
  Back at the hotel I did my evening ritual of watching TV before going to bed at the seemingly late hour of 11pm.

September 25, 2014
  If one were watching my days in the Philippines, one couldn't be blamed for thinking they were watching a Groudhog Day situation.
  The biggest difference between this day and the last is that I ran up against the first problem that I hadn't foreseen and couldn't immediately remedy. Some necessary files had not yet been uploaded to the system. I shot off a quick e-mail to the person in charge of the system in Osaka and came up with a quick fix. I got through teaching two lesson types before I had an epiphany on a workaround. After that, the rest of training went smoothly.
  Dinner was at T.G.I. Fridays again. After dinner I stopped at the supermarket in the mall which was an venture in itself. The layout and goods for sale weren't too different from an American supermarket but the dubstep playing on the speakers gave the experience a frantic vibe.
  Taking my haul of root-beer and chips-ahoy cookies back to the hotel, I was asleep by 10pm.

September 26, 2014
  Wash, rinse, repeat up to lunch.
  It had been storming for a while outside while was finishing my usual lunch at "Goku". I didn't think much of the thunder until the building experienced a brownout and all the lights went out. I settled up my bill and strongly considered taking the stairs up to the 6th floor instead of the elevator. Everyone back in the office was okay and not terribly surprised that the power had flicked off.
  It was Friday so after work it was a challenge to catch a taxi as traffic was gridlocked in the direction I was going. When I did finally get a taxi the driver kept insisting that we take a "shortcut" to get to the mall. I was fairly certain that the "shortcut" was going to cost me several pesos in the best case scenario. After sitting in the same place in traffic where I got in the taxi for several minutes running up the meter anyways, I relented and agreed that we should use the "shortcut". In the end I paid 55 pesos ($1.23) more than usual but in exchange I got to see a number of interesting backstreets and a different side of town than I was used to. This was also the first time I had a chatty taxi driver, which made the ride even more fun.
  I tried to have dinner at McDonalds but it was too busy so I settled for Pizza Hut.
  Bed time was 10pm again. Evidently working a full day for a living makes one tired.

September 27, 2014
  My morning routine stayed intact, though traffic on the way to work was very light.
  Instead of going to "Goku" for lunch again, I decided to try out "Jollibee". A homegrown Filipino fast food chain. They turned out to offer a little bit of everything from hamburgers to pasta to fried chicken. I ordered a bacon and mushroom cheeseburger which was edible but used the kind of "nacho" cheese you'd get at a gas station in the states, and I happen to dislike.
  I had wrapped up everything I needed to impart to the teachers by the early afternoon so I gave the teachers a lot of practice time and had another meeting with my assistant trainers. At the very end of the day we even had some time to take pictures.
  After all the other teachers had left for the evening Ms. O, the two assistant trainers, and I went down the block to a somewhat-famous lechon restaurant.
  After dinner we said out goodbyes and I headed back to the hotel one last time in incredibly light traffic.
  I packed my bags as much as I could while I watched TV before crashing out around 10pm again.

A Jollibee restaurant. More popular than McDonalds in the Philippines.
Jollibee himself. He evidently  has his own TV show. Your move Ronald...
 Lechon. National dish of the Philippines. Cebu apparently has the best pig for this dish.
 Me, the teachers, and the Filipino staff.
 Even sitting down I'm nearly as tall as everyone else.

September 28, 2014
  I woke up at 5:20am and was unable to get back to sleep again. I decided to get dressed and take a few more photos as the city woke up on a Sunday morning.
  I had one last breakfast in the hotel restaurant before checking out and getting a taxi back to the airport.
  Once again I think I was taken for a ride by the cab driver but got to see some more interesting neighborhoods, which was fun.
  At the airport it took me a few minutes to find the check-in counter but I was still in the terminal and waiting by my gate two hours before my flight.
  My seat on both legs of my trip back were in the very back of the plane. The first leg from Cebu to Manila was smooth except for the landing, which was a bit bumpy.
 Now, Manila airport. Going through Manila airport is a while story in itself.
  Our plane taxied off the runway and parked over by the Fex-Ex building, away from the main terminal. A little mobile set of stairs then drove up to the plane along with a few busses. Fast forward to an hour later and I was finally able to get from the back of the plane onto one of the busses over to the terminal building.
  With only a half an hour of my hour and a half layover left I navigated from the arrivals in the domestic terminal across one leg of the "V" that makes up Manila airport to the international departures terminal on the other leg. I then had to wait in like to pay the 550 peso "airport tax" before changing lines to go through customs. The start time for boarding my plane had now come and gone and the customs lines were not moving at all. Fortunately, someone else who was on the same flight that I was flagged down a security guard and got us moved over to the "diplomats" express lane.
  In the end I was only 15 minutes past the initial boarding time when I arrived at the gate. It turns out that it was another hour and a half before everyone who was supposed to be on the plane was gathered from throughout the airport.
  I got a lucky solo seat in a row of two for a smooth flight and that was almost enough for me to leave the nightmare that Manila airport was behind.
  I arrived back in Osaka at Kansai International airport around 7pm and was through immigration and customs by 7:15 and on a train back home by 7:30.
  After stopping to pick up some groceries and unpacking a bit I was in bed by 11pm.

 One last shot of Mactan airport. 
 The seas were so calm and blue that the clouds were reflecting off the surface.
 What paradise looks like from 36,000 feet.
Got to watch the sun set from the airplane.

Some final thoughts on my experience in the Philippines

  1. Every place has security guards and bigger places have metal detectors...
    I suppose many places in Japan also have security guards but they don't pat you down, inspect your bag, or carry guns.
  2. Guns...
    As noted above the security guards at the hotel, mall, and office all carried pistols. The guards at the airport in Manila had M4s. I heard from a few sources that random shootings are uncommon and that most gun violence revenge based or "had a reason"... which was... interesting.
  3. There were No vending machines...
    Coming from Japan, the land of the vending machine, it was quite jarring to be in a country with no vending machines. Thank goodness they did have 7-11s.
  4. Traffic is nuts...
    Cars, taxis, jeepneys, motorcycles, bicycles, people, chickens, dogs... the list goes on of the things that might me in the road at any given tile in any given location. Also lane markers are not even a suggestion, they're completely ignored, and yes, that includes the directional dividers.
  5. Jeepneys!
    Jeepneys appear to be mainly owner operated and are decked out and painted according to the taste of the driver. They range from tacky to inspired and never fail to amaze. When I go back I'd like to take a lot more pictures of Jeepneys.
  6. "Philippine time"
    One of the teachers noted that the Cebuano (local language) word for "Philippine time" is "MaƱana" ("tomorrow" in Spanish.) It implies that thing will get done... eventually. An example that came up in conversation was a light rail system that is supposed to be completed in the next for years. When mentioned everyone in the room rolled their eyes and said "4 years? That means at least 8 years."

*Sorry for the undoubtedly countless typos. As many of you know, I have an extreme distaste for editing my own work.