Monday, March 31, 2008

Define Irony

No wonder Hillary wants universal
healthcare. It's the only way she can
pay her campaign's insurance bills.
Now we know how Senator Clinton plans on paying for healthcare for all Americans:
Among the debts reported this month by Hillary Rodham Clinton’s struggling presidential campaign, the $292,000 in unpaid health insurance premiums for her campaign staff stands out.

The fact is though, Hillary's campaign has left unpaid bills all over the map, from $800,000 direct mail bills with large national coporations to $25,000 event staging bills with companies who handle a local district to $600 for renting a sound system from some local guy.

Daily Report: Full House Redux

I was up early and had a good morning of work.

Inday, Doreen, and Dimple
enjoying the swimming pool
out on our balcony.
The rest of Epril's family (Mom, Dad, Dimple, Doreen, and Aunt Vicki) showed up at about 8:00. First, there was the obligatory sweeping of the floor by Epril's mother. I don't know why she does that, but every time she comes to visit, she sets about cleaning up right out of the gate. After that was grocery shopping at SM, where Epril discovered that they were selling strawberries — albeit strawberries the size of grapes — for 75 pesos per plastic box.

Before lunch, I drove with Epril back to SM and bought 12 more boxes of strawberries to put in the freezer. (I use strawberries for my margaritas, and they need to be frozen.) I figure that I'm going to have to learn how to hoard the things that are most precious to find in Cagayan. I might go out and buy myself a second freezer for that purpose. I also found that they had gotten in a stock of dry Vermouth (low, low price of 480 pesos), so martinis are back on the menu again.

Humbe: Pork belly in a sauce of black
beans, bay leaves, vinegar, sugar,
and a bit of Mountain Dew. (There
was no 7-Up in the house, I'm told.)
For lunch, Epril's mother pulled out all the stops. There was the obligatory big steaming bowl of pancit guisado (Filipino Lo Mein), humbe (pork belly in a sweet black bean sauce, made with vinegar and Mountain Dew, of all things... and was so delicious), pork steak, and ginagmay (pork cut into long slices with potatoes and carrots in tomato sauce).

In the afternoon, I got back to work, and in the evening we ate some birthday cake, and watched television. Everyone is sleeping over again, but Epril and I are letting somebody else deal with the sleeping acrobat, Doreen, tonight.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Daily Report: Slept All Day, Didn't Party All Night

I was up at 7:00 a.m., only to discover that I had a massive splitting headache. I don't know what they put in San Miguel Light, but nobody drinks 5 or 6 bottles of beer over the course of an evening and wakes up with a hangover like this. Well, pretty much every person with any drinking experience has at least one beverage to which they say, "No, I don't drink that... Just a couple of drinks and I wake up with such a headache."

I climbed back into bed, and spent the rest of the morning relaxing. Then in the afternoon, Epril and I started watching Season 1 of "24". She hasn't seen it before, and I don't mind watching it again. Susan, Ednil, and Inday arrived in the afternoon as well. We're having the family over again on Monday for Epril's father's birthday party.

Epril, her little sister Dimple,
and her niece, Doreen.
In the evening, it was off to Robinson's shopping center to buy a temporary temporary licence plate for my motorcycle. (I expect the proper temporary licence plate to be on my motorcycle in the next 2 weeks.) The licensing process in The Philippines is so convoluted and time-consuming that about half the vehicles on the road have temporary licence plates on them.

From there, we went to my friend Tom's apartment. He lives out on the far edge of town on the road to Jasaan in a low row of newly-finished apartments. It's a nice place that isn't too expensive. (Right behind Tom's apartment was a mansion renting for 30,000 pesos per month. Nice place, but no pool, and I'm not keen on the location.)

The road leading into the village
of Jasaan.
After hanging out at Tom's for a little while, Epril and I went with Tom and his girlfriend Marlyn to Sentro. (It's a good indicator of the restaurant selection here in Cagayan when you go two nights in a row to the same place; it is also a good indicator of how good that restaurant is.) We got to try the bacon-mushroon pasta for 120 pesos, there was a chicken in pomodoro sauce for 150 pesos, and the Cesar salad for 90 pesos. The girls had a deep fried pork belly for 170 pesos that I took a pass on: It was 90% fat.

After that, it was home to bed.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Daily Report: Slept All Day, Partied All Night

I was up at 5:00 this morning, hoping to get a really good day of work in to make up for yesterday's half day of work. Well, I managed to get up, and even did a bit of blogging and drank my coffee, but I was so tired after about an hour that I just went back to bed, and slept for another 6 hours. (I really hate that aspect of myself: The fact that I need so much sleep. I want to be one of those people that sleeps only 5 or 6 hours per night and feels great afterwards.)

Anyway, I got out of bed at about noontime and got to work. I had a fair day overall, considering that my entire morning of work was missing. Susan spends her weekends in Jassan with her daughter, Doreen, so Epril and I had the house to ourselves. Epril spent the day doing some laundry and cleaning, and watched television.

Sentro 1850 Restaurant in Cagayan De
Oro has good food, but great prices.
Tonight, we met up with Mike and Marissa Turner at a restaurant in the center of town called Sentro. It was absolutely fantastic: The decor was nice, the food was definitely a cut above average (although not stupendous), but the prices were so so cheap: We started off with appetizers of glazed calamari for 89 pesos ($2.25) and spinach mozzarella dip for 80 pesos ($2.00). I had linguine with scallops and mushrooms for 120 pesos ($3.00), and Mike and Epril had baby back ribs for 180 pesos ($4.50). Dinner for 4 people, including drinks, was 1200 pesos ($30) with tip.

Pulse Nightclub in Cagayan and
the house band playing.
After dinner, Mike and I went across the street to Racks and shot pool for about 3 hours. Epril and Marissa walked over to the night market on the town plaza and then stopped by Club Mojo for a few beers. I met a Filipino fellow named Oscar at the pool hall who owns a trucking company here in town, and he's a fair pool player.

I'm having a good time getting my pool game back up to scratch. Like golf, I used to be a formidable pool player. I still have my two hand-crafted pool cues that I purchased about 10 years ago when I played 40 hours per week, which each cost more than my television. They've never left my side, although my game hardly deserves them anymore. Maybe soon though, if I keep practicing. I don't think I'll run into the same level of competition here in Cagayan that I ran into in the pool halls of Manhattan, but maybe I'll get a chance to play against Efren Reyes or one of the other Filipino billiard gods sometime.

Marissa and Epril.
After 3 hours of pool (and 5 or 6 San Miguel Lites), Epril and Marissa came back to join Mike and me, and we all went to Pulse — the nearby night club — for a couple of hours. Much like Pattaya, the band at Pulse was Filipino. Actually, the bands I have seen during the 3 times I have been at Pulse are always better than any Filipino band I ever saw in Pattaya.

After 2 hours, another San Miguel, and 2 vodka tonics, it was 2:00 a.m. and time to go home.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Daily Report: Endless Commencement

Today was Epril's younger sister's high school graduation out in Jassan.

I was up at 5:30 this morning so that I could get a fair amount of work in before going out to the village. That plan actually worked out pretty well, and by 10:00 I had put in a nice half day of work and we were on the road.

First, we took a jeepney to a shopping center called Ororama. I have to put in a recall on my earlier rant about a lack of decent home decor and supplies in Cagayan. Ororama actually had a surprisingly tasteful and stylish selection of odds and ends for around the house, and at prices that had me laughing out loud. (A gorgeous 2-foot-tall glass vase was $5, and a very nice and large wood-framed wall mirror was $15.) We bought Ednil her graduation present (a snow globe for $2) and had it gift wrapped.

We caught a taxi to Jassan. I apparently got ripped off the last time I did this last October, as the driver charged me a flat rate of 1,000 pesos, while this time the driver used the meter, and it only cost 290 pesos. (Being picked up by the taxi in front of the local discount shopping mall, instead of a resort hotel probably had something to do with the price difference.)

Along the way to Jassan, I actually thought about getting into the taxi business here in Cagayan. A late-model taxi is rented by the taxi owner to the driver for 600 pesos ($15) per day, and a new taxi rents for 800 pesos ($20) per day. A fleet of 10 taxis would make for a nice little business. I haven't found out yet about the licensing and regulations and other as-yet-unknown costs, but I think I'll look into it.

We got to Jassan and the karaoke from the neighbor's house was blasting again. I had planned for this though: Epril and I immediately invited the family out to lunch at the local resort hotel's restaurant: It was quiet, it was air conditioned, and it was comfortable. We spent a pleasant hour sitting around eating and enjoying ourselves.

Jassan is a small little village of about 6,000 souls, I would guess... about the same size as the town I grew up in. I expected... expected a high school graduation here would be roughly the same 90-minute, sit-in-the-grandstand to-do that my family and I went through a couple of decades ago. Heck: The Philippines is a much simpler place, perhaps the graduation ceremony would be even simpler.

Wrong. Oh so wrong.

Batch 2008. All 375 of them.
First of all, how can such a little town have a graduating class of 375? I don't know, but it did, and it was the first warning sign that I was in for a long afternoon.

At 2:00 was the graduates' church service. Then at 4:00 (when the church service finished), the graduates walked across the town square to "the shell" (the grandiose bandstand and covered pavilion), where commencement activities took place. No where to sit: Only graduates and school staff got seats. Everyone else stood.

Ednil gets her diploma from
Jassan National High School.
At 7:00, five hours after this all started, the high school choir was filing on to the stage to sing their "graduating song", which apparently comes before the principal's speech, Epril and I were heading for the highway. It was a 90-minute trip home by Jeepney, and I wanted to get in 2 hours of work before going to sleep.

Anyway, yes... we did make it home at about 9:00, and no... I didn't get any more work done today. Instead, I climbed into bed almost immediately after getting home.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Daily Report: Neighborhood Party

I had a much better day of work. It does my soul good to be on the upswing in the work category. Part of moving to The Philippines was the thought that with fewer distractions (and God knows, Pattaya was the world capital of distractions), I would get more work done. I was quite surprised when at first that didn't seem to be the case.

I sent Susan to the market to buy fish again to see if she could fine-tune the fish recipe that she had tried yesterday. It was a bit better the second time around (along with the Spanish rice), but still a bit over-cooked.

I had called my friend Ross today to see if he wanted to do something tonight, but instead he invited me to a party that was being held in my own neighborhood by another new arrival to Cagayan De Oro, a fellow named Mike, a retired farmer from Montana. So, early in the evening, Epril and I got dressed up and went to this party.

My new friend Montana Mike
and his girlfriend.
The party was being held at a bungalow about a 5 minute walk from my house. It wasn't Mike's own house, but his girlfriend's aunt's house. What a weird place it was, looking like something out of a Tim Burton movie, with hundreds of animal taxidermy victims, an intimidating collection of knickknacks that seemed to crowd in on you, and even a mannequin dressed like a biker babe... whatever on earth that was about. The yard outside was no less interesting, with a Gothic jungle theme going on, as trees and choking vines lurked ominously overhead, and the gaping maw of a 6-foot-deep turtle pit threatened to swallow any who came near. The ladder-like jagged cement steps leading to the car park, where I joined the other expatriates only added to the garden's vertical menace. Two caged eagles, not yet stuffed, watched me with large yellow eyes as if I were a mouse, and screeched angrily at the chicken wire keeping their monstrous claws from my face.

Well, at least the human company was nice: I joined Ross and my new friend Montana Mike, as well as expatriates Bob and Ronnie... two other fellows I had met earlier this month at a Spooks Friday night dinner. We sat around and chatted about living in Cagayan, mostly.

Local kids swimming in the river.
At about 8:00 or so, we all headed home. In Cagayan, it appears that that is right about quitting time for anything exciting. The hours after 8:00 seem to be reserved for quiet time with the family, with bedtime rarely coming after 11:00 at night... if that late at all.

Like I said, very few... maybe too few... distractions.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Daily Report: Cooking Sessions

Had a great day of work. I lost the University of Texas from the list of hospitals I transcribe for due to too many mistakes in my work. Since (a) I got a "high quality" award from my company last year due to the fact that I (otherwise) almost never make mistakes, and (b) I hated doing the work from the two UT hospitals with a flaming hot passion and never wanted them in the first place, I'm an extra little bit happy today.

Susan cooked another one of those 59-peso pizzas for lunch today. Jeez, I shouldn't have bought 5 of those things, because now I have 3 of them left to choke down. I might just throw the rest of them out.

In the afternoon, Maid Susan and Epril went to the market to do some shopping. I'm using the cookbooks I bought yesterday as a menu, and then Susan and Epril go and find the ingredients to make the things I pick out.

Tonight, we had Spanish rice and baked fish with lemon and coriander. Susan started a fire by putting the grill for the fish (with wax paper on it) over the open flame of the stove instead of in the oven. No worries though: It was just a burning piece of paper that went out in a few seconds.

The rice was really good, but needed a bit more spicing. The fish was overcooked by a significant amount and most importantly, for future reference, all of the recipes in the cookbooks need to be at least doubled to feed 3 hungry people.

This guy built himself a little shelter
for the day to sit under while he did
his fishing.
We're all caught up on watching Heroes, and are now moving on to Season One of 24.

Heh: I haven't been out of the house (other than for shopping or a quick lunch) in almost a week. I'm going to have to force myself to go out just to have something to put in this blog other than what I'm eating or watching on TV. Well, this weekend is Ednil's high school graduation... so strap yourselves in for some upcoming true excitement here at Jungle Jil.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Daily Report: Turkish Lunch

I had a fine morning of work. It looks like I may have turned the corner on my production levels since moving to The Philippines. It was a combination of being stuck in nothing but difficult accounts, and being distracted by all the new things going on in my life that went with this move. Now that I'm settled in, and working with easier hospitals, my work output is much better.

Cows grazing next to the river.
For lunch, Epril and I went to the Turkish restaurant in SM mall. I was going to do a full restaurant review, but forgot to take decent notes or photos... so I'll give a quick rundown here: The food was okay, although the sauces were just warmed-over salad dressings. I had a yogurt-cucumber soup that was great. Epril had beef kebab in a tomato and pepper sauce that was really quite good. The prices were outstanding, with most of the "big ticket" items on the menu between 120 and 160 pesos ($3 and $4).

After lunch, Epril and I went to the book store and bought a series of 5 small cookbooks (chicken dishes, family dishes, low-fat dishes, stir-fry, and meat dishes) for 99 pesos each.

In the evening, Epril and I watched more "Heroes".

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Future Of Television

Meet Miro... if you haven't already.

There has never been a better reason to put a computer in your living room: Miro is a free program that you download to your computer. Miro allows you to download (not stream, so there aren't any pauses, but you have to wait... or simply plan in advance) television programs, many of them high-definition, to your computer and play them. Hook up your high-definition television to your computer, and you can have HDTV anywhere in the world... even second-tier cities in The Philippines who won't see HDTV cable broadcasts for another decade.

Miro, based on looking at their channel browser, already has the support of National Geographic and Discovery Channel, as well as MTV, Comedy Central, ESPN, NBC, and many others. These channels aren't putting up their full lineup, but they do have certain things on offer, and it is obvious that the breadth of the selection will only improve with time. There also seems to be quite a bit of adult (but I'm not sure how graphic) content, and all of the techhie content you could ever want.

Get this: You can even browse, download, and store YouTube videos for playback.

Anyway, I'm definitely going to try to set up my home entertainment center downstairs to handle Miro soon. This is the future of television... and of the internet.

Daily Report: Getting Closer To Right

I had a miserable night last night: Epril and I had little Doreen sleeping between us, and there has simply never been a person who moves around at much in his or her sleep as this 4-year-old girl does. Using both hands and both feet, she grabbed, poked, punched, and flailed and kicked her way through the night. It was amazing: Not just once every few minutes, or even once every few seconds, but a constant motion of hands and feet. Obviously I didn't sleep very well.

Epril bought "banana catsup".
It tastes nothing like bananas.
It tastes a bit like tomato
catsup but sweeter and a bit
spicy, but overall is worth
Epril's family went back to Jassan just after breakfast, leaving the house to just myself, Epril and Susan once again. I immediately got to work, and didn't get up from my desk until a full 5 hours had gone by.

For lunch, Susan cooked chicken adobo. Epril and I are going to have to get Susan a cookbook quickly. Well actually: Epril's 16-year-old sister Ednil will be graduating from high school next weekend, and I'm going to be sending her to the local culinary school here in Cagayan (about $400 per year) and she'll be staying here during her studies as my own personal chef soon, which will be nice.

The rice paddies of Jassan are ready
for harvesting, it seems.
(Photo courtesy of Epril.)
I sat back down and did another 2 hours of work in the afternoon. If it had been 5 hours of work, which is my target, it would have been the perfect day.

In the evening, we started watching season 2 of Heroes, which Epril found on a pirated DVD for 65 pesos ($1.50) in Mega Ororama. It's not DVD quality, but it is compressed Tivo quality. Given the choice between one or the other, I would have paid the extra money for a proper DVD, but the pirated version is fine.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Daily Report: Full House

The Gontinas Family: Susan, Ednil,
Epril, Dimple, Doreen, Inday, mom
and dad (Nila and Eddie).
I gave my broken alarm clock another try: I figured, how can a digital alarm clock keep bad time? I set the clock, and set the alarm for 7:00 a.m. When the alarm went off, I hit the snooze button... and then again and again and again... until 9:30 in the morning.

When I sat down at my computer, it was 6:30 a.m. I guess my alarm clock really is broken.

I got to work at about 8:00, and Epril showed up with her family at about 10:00... including her father, who made a surprise appearance, managing to get away from his fishing boat for Easter.

Even the streets outside are packed
for Easter Morning sunrise service at
the Catholic Church in Jassan.
For lunch, Epril's mother cooked afritada (pork, potatoes, carrots, and other vegetables stewed in a pot), and pansit guisado (some kind of Filipino lo mein), along with fried chicken. With 9 of us in the house, it was quite a change from the lonely tranquility of yesterday.

We spent most of the day watching movies. We watched "Monsters, Inc.", "Pirates of the Carribbean part 3", and "Toy Story". (I do my best to keep things "rated G" when little kids are around... while Epril and Susan chose "Pirates".)

For dinner, Epril and I drove up to SM Mall and bought a bunch of fried chicken from the fast food joint "Greenwich", which was quite good.

Tonight, Susan, Ednil, and Inday went to sleep in Susan's bedroom; mom and dad and little Dimple slept on the bed in my office, while Epril and I slept with Doreen in our bedroom.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Daily Report: Home Alone

Epril, Susan, and Ednil left for their home village of Jassan this morning, about 30 miles to the northeast of Cagayan De Oro. They went there so that they could go to church with their mother on Easter Sunday.

Apparently, however, Good Friday is the more important of the two days of Holy Week here in the Catholic Philippines. Easter Sunday is basically the end of the holiday... and it ends after a sunrise mass. Epril, Susan, and Ednil missed celebrating Good Friday (and "Maundy Thursday" before it — I didn't know it was called that) and stayed here with me in Cagayan. They probably didn't want to participate in the pre-dawn walking of the stations of the cross several miles up a really steep hill. (Thank you Mom and Dad, for being Presbyterian.)

I spent the day alternating between work and watching a movie on TV. I cooked a couple of beef patties for lunch.

Morning fog over the Cagayan River.
In the evening, my friend Ross came over, bringing a pizza from Yellow Cab Pizza with him. (I must say, that is some exceptional pizza that they make.) We sat and watched South Park, which Ross really wasn't familiar with. He enjoyed it thoroughly. After that, we watched (I'm sorry to admit) "Jackass 2" on DVD, primarily because it was the only DVD in my paltry collection that either of Ross or I felt compelled to watch (myself because I had not yet watched it). When I left Pattaya, I told Epril she could bring 5 DVDs with her to The Philippines. "Jackass 2" was one that she chose. No sirs, I shall form no opinion about Epril based on that DVD choice, thank you.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Daily Report #1798

Today was the 1,798th day in my life that I didn't do anything special, interesting, or even particularly worth mentioning.

I got in a light morning of work, and then had hotdog-sauce spaghetti for lunch. (Maid Susan's idea... not mine.) Then, I took a nap, and worked some more. Then I took a break for dinner, and had ground pork and green beans in a bit of a brown sauce over rice. Then yet a little more work.

A local mosque across the valley from
my house. I didn't expect there to be
any muslims living outside the
Autonomous Region of Mindanao, but
there are a few.
Tonight, we watched the second Pirates of the Caribbean. (Susan and Ednil haven't seen these movies yet, and Epril and I don't mind watching them again.) One thing I've noticed is that Maid Susan, Epril, and Ednil, all sisters, have the exact same laugh... not even the slightest difference. It's kind of a weird thing to hear when all three laugh at the same time, like somebody laughing into an echo machine.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Daily Report: Palliative Pals

Started work a little bit late... but not too late. I managed to get in a below-average morning before breaking for lunch. I had some gorgeous pork and egg dumplings that Susan bought at Ororama: Puffy white bread rolls filled with a ground pork and hard-boiled egg in a sweet sauce. You have to try one to understand just how good they are.

Ednil, Epril's 16-year-old sister, arrived from Jassan today for the holidays. Epril's mother, her 12-year-old sister Inday, her 8-year-old sister Dimple, and her 4-year-old niece Doreen (Susan's daughter) will be arriving tomorrow after they do a pre-dawn Via Dolorosa up the side of some steep mountain. Woe to the residents of Mindanao that God saw fit to bless their land with mountains that dwarf the Mount of Olives, so that the bleary-eyed fervent have the opportunity to suffer as Christ did (at least in the calves and arches) once a year... and throw in altitude sickness as a bonus.

I took a nap in the afternoon, and then did an hour of work. My friend Franky called me from Pattaya this afternoon... my first phone call from The Old World. It was nice to catch up on the goings-on back there.

It's funny: I haven't even looked at anything Pattaya-related on the internet since leaving. But, I think about it all the time. I think I went out of my house in Pattaya less often than I do here in Cagayan, but somehow I feel more "stuck at home with nothing to do" here than I did in Pattaya. I suppose that when I lived in Pattaya, by simply having the knowledge that there were two thosand bars with twenty thousand Westerners, five hundred good restaurants, dozens of night clubs, and a huge handful of shopping malls, as well as a nice group of friends that I could call upon at any given time to go out and party with, made life and living in Pattaya — even if I didn't avail myself of those features every day — more bon vivant. In Cagayan — especially on a day when everything is closed — there is a constant background tenor of cabin fever that seeps into my thinking.

Let's just call it "Pattaya withdrawal symptoms".

An Eastern sunset. This happens
quite often here: The sun in the
West reflects off high clouds in
the east, and creates a second
sunset in the sky. I get to
enjoy both sunrise and sunset
from my balcony on some days.
For dinner, I had Susan bake up one of those 59-peso pizzas I bought at SM last night. There is a reason they are 59 peso. I managed to eat two slices.

At about 5:00, Mike Turner and his wife Marissa came for a visit, and we chatted for a while and wandered around the gardens in front of my house and enjoyed the view. After that, it was another hour of work.

At about 8:00, my new friend Tom, a retired psych-ward security guard from St. Louis came to visit with his girlfriend. The girls watched "Pirates of the Caribbean" (one of the DVDs I bought yesterday) while Tom and I chatted. He's a very nice guy, and definitely going to be a good friend.

So, at the end of the day, thanks to some visits by my new friends here in Cagayan, the Pattaya withdrawal symptoms were a little less acute tonight.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Daily Report: Immigration Sunshine And Rain

I was up at 5:30 this morning. I must have drank some of the local water yesterday. (That's my own personal euphemism... come up with your own for it.) I wound up getting a little dehydrated and drank a bunch of orange juice, and felt better... but throughout the day, I was still not cool.

Work in the morning was a little bit off. One of my new-but-old accounts has this doctor who dictates so badly, I actually stopped working for 45 minutes to see if his jobs would go to another person. They didn't, and I had to transcribe them myself. (Imagine a drunk Kentucky redneck mumbling and really slurring his speech, but speaking twice as fast as a normal person would.)

For lunch, Epril and I went out to La Roma (see below), hoping to meet up with some of the local expatriates, but nobody was there. We tried to stop by Over The Top, another Wednesday-afternoon expatriate hangout, after lunch, but everybody had already gone home.

The next stop was the immigration bureau in Cagayan De Oro, where I extended my visa. Epril's last visit to immigration was in Pattaya, where she was stared at and glared at by pissed-off-looking Thai men in stern uniforms. Remembering this, she didn't even want to go inside the CDO immigration... until I came out and actually dragged her inside.

What a difference. In the small, second-floor office space, a kind older lady behind the counter directed me to fill out some forms, and even gave me her pen to do so. Then a pretty lady named Sunshine (her real name) directed me to get some photocopies of my passport, and had me sit down and wait.

One of the guys behind the counter and I started chatting, and he asked me questions that coming from a Thai immigration agent would have had me in a cold sweat. These people were so nice in comparison.

Anyway, the process took a little longer than I expected... about 45 minutes. The cost for the initial extension was 3,080 pesos. The cost for the second extension will be a little less, and the cost for each additional extension will be less than the second. (I'm not sure how the pricing scheme works.)

The visa extension is thus: Your first visa on arrival at the airport (assuming you don't already have a tourist visa from a Filipino consulate in advance) is 21 days. Your first extension to that visa turns it from a 21-day visa into a 60-day visa — in other words, you get a 39-day extension. Each extension after that is for 60 days, and according to the guy behind the desk, this can be done repeatedly for up to 2 years before you have to actually do what we in Thailand would have called a "visa run" out of the country and back.

Oh: Don't go to CDO Immigration in shorts, sleeveless shirts, or sandals. You will not be served. There is a big sign that says so right on the door.

Rain soaks a bicycle taxi
in Cagayan De Oro.
When Epril and I finished at CDO Immigration, we found that it was raining. I rode in the steady drizzle, but two-thirds of the way home, the skies really opened up, and we pulled over and took refuge in a small restaurant and had some Cokes and watched a group of little boys playing in the rain.

After about 15 minutes or so, the rain lessened, and I drove the rest of the way home, still arriving soaked to the skin.

I spent the afternoon working.

At about 8:00, Epril, Susan and I went to SM Mall to do grocery shopping. On the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday before Easter, everything in the Philippines is closed. Epril's family (without her father, whose boss wouldn't let him leave the fishing trawler in a distant port to go be with his family) is coming to my house for the weekend, so I also bought some DVD's (kids movies and such) to keep us entertained.

I was surprised to find that I couldn't buy ham steak in SM. Maybe they have it elsewhere in CDO, but they didn't have it there. We bought 1,000 pesos worth of bath towels, I treated myself to some brie (yeah... you can get that, but no ham), and discovered some frozen pizzas for sale for 59 pesos ($1.50). Everybody should be happy through the Easter weekend; I have enough beer.

At the DVD store, I actually found a copy of Cirque De Soleil's "Allegria" for sale. Epril and I spent the evening watching that, which thrilled us both. I just love the circus.

Restaurant Review: La Roma

Today for lunch, Epril and I went to La Roma restaurant, located at the intersection of A. Roma and Corrales Streets. Go to the intersection on the main highway in front of Gasiano Shopping Mall, and that's Corrales Street. Go back towards downtown one block, and turn East (left) onto the first main street (A. Roma Street), and it is immediately on your right.

The restaurant is a simple, middle-of-the-road eatery, with fair decor. It has glass walls on 2 sides, and gets a nice amount of light. The staff is friendly, but it was a little hard to get their attention at times, especially considering Epril and I were the only customers in the restaurant.

Thursday lunchtime is listed on the Yahoo CDO Expatriate Group as an expatriate get-together, but when we got there, we were the only ones in the place. It could be due to it being Holy Week here in The Philippines, as the reason why nobody showed up. I'm not sure.

The menu has a breakfast page, a nice burger selection, several dinner platters, pizza, pasta, et cetera. They seemed to have a nice selection, but their menu is covered with little blank pieces of paper where dishes used to be listed, but are obviously no longer available. The entire Mexican menu (except for chili fries) is blank. I suppose it is more a matter of La Roma's supply of ingredients causing these blanks than anything else, and in a town like Cagayan that is to be expected. Still though: It's frustrating to see that Mexican food might have been available, but I can't have any.

Chili fries, 90 pesos.

Lasagna, 95 pesos.

Pork steak, 150 pesos.
After being denied a banana shake and a chocolate shake, I finally settled on a vanilla shake, which was very good, if a bit small in serving size. (A small and large shake would be a nice menu addition.) I had a single serving of lasagna for 95 pesos ($2.30) which was fair in taste and a pretty good size for the price, and an order of chili fries, which was surprisingly large, covered with meat chili and melted cheese, for 90 pesos (or so... can't remember exactly). Epril had a pork steak for 150 pesos ($3.75) which was quite a good size for the price. I introduced Epril to a root beer float for dessert, and the manager gave us 2 complimentary pieces of chocolate cake.

Overall, La Roma is a pretty good restaurant compared to what I've seen on offer in Cagayan De Oro. The food I had was perfectly acceptable, and I'm going to go back to try the burgers (ranging in price from 70 to 140 pesos) and various other items on the menu. The price is very reasonable compared to what I normally found in Thailand, and the serving sizes are pretty good.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Priorities And Comparisons

When New York investment bank Bear Stearns started going under, the U.S. Government immediately ponied up $30 billion to help save it. When New Orleans started going under, the best the U.S. Government could do on such short notice was $10.5 billion.

All in all, over the past 2 years, the government has given the Gulf Coast regions wiped out by the terrible act of nature which was Hurricane Katrina $120 billion. In a week of bad economic news, The Fed has made $200 billion available to prop up banks who are struggling and failing because of their own questionable business practices.

Daily Report: Motorstar Makes My Shit List

Up early and had a great morning of work.

Epril poses with ketchup as
we sit down to a lunch of
pork adobo and fried chicken.
For lunch, Susan cooked some pork adobo with green beans, and fried some chicken, which we enjoyed while sitting in front of the television watching the world's silliest television program, "Wo-wo-wie", which is about 20 minutes of fat fililpino housewives dancing and making kissey-faces at the camera, followed by a 10-minute game show.

After lunch, I went with Epril to the L.T.O (the Land Transportation Office), which is the filipino equivalent of the Department of Motor Vehicles, in order to register my motorcycle and get a temporary license plate... only to find that the motorcycle dealership had never supplied me with an "O.R." or an official receipt.

Going home having accomplished nothing, I called the motorcycle dealership to ask them where my O.R. was, and they told me that it would take 3-4 weeks for them to obtain one, and that they only mail out such requests to their head office in Manila once per week, "maybe this Friday?" they hinted. (This Friday, by the way is Good Friday, the biggest holiday in The Philippines... they'll be closed that day.) Why didn't they mail it out last Friday, 5 days after I bought the motorcycle? I don't know.

Sorry MotorStar of The Philippines. That's enough. Your Panther 150 is of poor quality, with 2 breakdowns and 3 trips to the shop within the first 100 kilometers of operation; and the staff at your Cagayan De Oro dealership are nitwits who apparently don't have a clue to what is necessary for selling or registering a motorcycle. Consider this my official warning to anybody reading to never buy a Motorstar motorcycle in Cagayan De Oro, or anyplace else in The Philippines for that matter.

Yes: I'm keeping the motorcycle. It's not worthless... it's just not worth buying. It's not worth the going through the hassles of ownership... but I already have gone through those hassles.

It's like ordering a dish at a restaurant that isn't very good: You don't really want to fight with the manager about taking it back, and you can still eat the dish although you don't enjoy it very much, but above all else, you will certainly tell all your friends not to buy the same dish.

More people having fun along the
river bank, this time some
students swimming.
Anyway, back to the rest of my day: My afternoon of work was a little light. Epril and Susan went shopping.

In the evening, Epril and I watched the final episodes of season one of Heroes. Absolutely excellent... That's all I can say about it. Better than season one of "Battlestar Galactica". Better than season two of "24". I haven't watched "Lost" yet, so I don't know about that, but it is on my list. Does anyone have any other television suggestions?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Daily Report: A Better Tune

Epril tried waking me up for about an hour before I finally gave in. She pounced on me, tickled me, and hit me with pillows... but I was refusing to wake up because my alarm which I had set for 7:00 a.m. hadn't gone off yet. It turned out after 5 years of faithful service, my alarm clock was no longer working. Have to buy a new one.

I spent the morning reading news on the internet, blogging, and enjoying my breakfast of bacon and eggs, cooked by Maid Susan. I never bought a new coffee maker when I moved to The Philippines, because I've started enjoying this Nestlé instant coffee called "3-In-1". A little milk, a splash of Bailey's Irish Cream, and it tastes quite nice. I'll get tired of it eventually though and go back to some nice fresh-ground coffee.

The afternoon Cebu Pacific
flight coming in for a landing.
Cagayan's airport is only a few
miles farther down the road
out of town from my house.
Work went well in the morning and was much more enjoyable. A few months back, several of my accounts were given to our transcription teams in India. They were all amongst the easiest accounts my company had, and therefore the easiest for Indians to transcribe.

Over the past few days, however, that work has started coming back to me (with the addition of the emergency room reports that I mentioned yesterday). It seems that even on the easiest accounts (crystal-clear phone lines with standard midwestern, articulate English speakers) Indians can't transcribe worth a damn. I hear The Philippines is trying to take the overseas medical transcription market away from India: Only if they can offer much higher quality, which, sadly, I doubt.

Getting these accounts back certainly makes me feel a little surer about my job.

For lunch, Epril and Susan went around and paid bills and did some grocery shopping. They bought for me a miniature pizza from Pizza Hut for 59 pesos ($1.50) which was good, if a little bit too small for a Kano's meal — about the size of an average New York City bagel.

Sunset over the Cagayan
river valley. In the distance,
behind the clouds, you can
see the mountains, about 40
miles distant.
In the afternoon, my motorcycle was returned to me from the shop. Seems it was indeed another electrical glitch. Here's hoping it's the last.

In the evening, we watched some more "Heroes" on television, and then went to bed nice and early.

The girls have discovered an oldies radio station that plays ballads from the 1960's and earlier, which they enjoy. I'm not sure if it is a radio station or just a morning show, since the girls tune in to "today's" music in the afternoon. It's an example of why I enjoy being around Filipino people so much more than Thai people: Filipino people have the capability to look beyond their own place, their own culture, and even their own age and era, to find things they can enjoy. The only thing that Thai people want antique are their monks. Downstairs, I've got two under-25 girls singing along to "When Smoke Gets In Your Eyes."

Heh: Just after I typed that, the music turned off, and Susan and Epril put in the head-knocking techno CD that my friend Siuyoung sent me from America. Figures.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Daily Report: Angry

Work was better this morning: I had written a letter to my team leader telling her how the Texas and Pittsburgh accounts were really dragging me down, and she traded out the Texas accounts for some old, familiar, and easy emergency room accounts. Much better. Still slower, but not devastatingly slow.

I took the Sunday afternoon off to go with Epril out to her parent's house in Jassan, a small village about 30 miles to the northeast of Cagayan, along the coastal highway.

I saw this sign at the Jolibee
at SM Mall. It says "Congrats
Batch 08". In The Philippines,
they don't call it a graduating
class, they call it a batch,
like graduating cookies.
Our first stop was at SM mall to buy a motorcycle helmet, as (I hadn't realized yesterday but) the motorcycle repair people had taken the cheap plastic helmet I had been using out from under the seat of the bike (there is a storage compartment there) when they were doing repairs, and had forgotten to put it back. We also picked up some Dunkin Donuts and Jollibee chicken.

About 5 miles out of town on the East side of Cagayan, my motorcycle died again. This time, it was the ignition/spark system, by my guess. I'm sure you're thinking the same thing I am at this point. Still, I'm a little more pragmatic: The motorcycle dealership can fix it this time... and one more time after that. Then, if it breaks down again, I'm asking for my money back. Yes, I'm that generous: My new motorcycle can break down three times without me asking for my money back. The fourth time will be the time I give up.

Anyway, we left the bike at a nearby gas station and caught a Jeepney the last 25 kilometers to Epril's village.

When we got to Jassan, I had quite a rude surprise: The family across the little dirt pathway from Epril's home had installed a karaoke machine and were operating a bar out of their house. The music was loud... bar loud... night club loud. Epril's family's house has only bamboo walls and no windows; the house across the path is only 15 or 20 feet away. Everyone in Epril's house had to talk in an almost-shout to have a conversation. This has been going on every day for almost a month... until 10:00 at night. Epril's sisters can't study, nobody can hear the television, Epril's mother — who wakes up at 4:00 a.m. every day — can't get enough sleep. (Epril's father is out on his fishing trawler, but when he is home, he has the same sleep schedule, and the same problem.) Nobody is willing to complain for fear of causing resentment in the neighborhood.

As each song played (Guns & Roses seemed to be popular today), I watched Epril's mother came closer and closer to tears, and I got angrier and angrier.

People doing something on
a small island in the river
below. Could be washing
sheets, though that seems
a bit odd. Fishing? It's
a mystery to me.
Finally, after an hour, I had enough. I had two choices: Go over there to that house and go nuclear, or go back to Cagayan. I decided to go back to Cagayan... but not before I let Epril's mother know in my sternest words possible that there were 30 or 40 other people on this street suffering because of this family, and she needed to talk to them about this, and see what they, as a community, could do about it.

In the Jeepney back home (with Epril and Susan, who went with me), I decided that it might as well be me, the outsider, who will be the source of any bad sentiment in the neighborhood — that is, if the neighborhood itself can't find the will power to fix this problem. With Epril and Susan's encouragement, the next time I go out to Jassan, I'm going to go to the barangay (village) council, and pay them whatever cash it takes for them to have that machine removed from the neighbors' house. If they won't do it, I'll bribe the police. (No: There are no noise ordinances in The Philippines to the best of my knowledge... but, whatever it takes.)

That machine will be leaving that neighborhood. Epril's family will have a quiet home. I care too much about Epril's family to let their peace of mind and life be ruined like this. It really broke my heart today to see such nice people under such horrible circumstances.

Anyway, Epril and I at least got to spend a quiet evening at home enjoying some more episodes of "Heroes" on TV, before going to bed at about 11:00.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Daily Report: I Want Ikea

I spent the morning plugging away at work. My transcription company is losing the hospital I transcribe for to another company at the end of this month. (Apparently they didn't like the computer system my company uses or something.) I've been moved full-time to the University of Texas Medical School accounts (which readers of my past blog know I loathe), as well as the University of Pittsburgh Psychiatric Institute, which if anything, is actually worse than Texas.

As a result, my transcribing speed has been cut almost in half, with a result that unless I work more each day, my paycheck is affected correspondingly. (This was yet another reason I moved to The Philippines: This upcoming pay cut... although I didn't think it would be this bad.) I'm still making great money, and my transcribing speed will slowly edge back up as I get more comfortable with the accounts... but for now, I have to consider 6 hours of typing a day to be "not enough", whereas it used to mean a great amount of work.

My motorcycle was dropped off today by the dealership. It was a bad keyhole-turney-ignition part causing the electric system to fail to operate. (The odometer seemed to be about where I left it, so there were apparently no joyrides. I'm glad that my trust proved well-founded.)

For lunch, Epril and I went to SM Mall where I bought Epril a new shirt, and a silver bracelet. I bought her mother some reading glasses, her little sister, Dimple, 2 dresses (so cheap too), and some toys (even cheaper) for little Doreen.

The new night table. In
Cagayan, you can't get exactly
what you want every time.
I went to the furniture store called "My Home" to find some night tables, and their selection was terrible: An entire furniture store, and only two styles to choose from: one style was $300 per table, and one style was $50 per table. That kind of seems to be a running theme here in Cagayan for things I want to buy: I can get either the luxury version of something, or the bargain basement version... but nothing in between. And, of course, the cheap version is just like the Thai version: You're buying something you know damn well isn't going to last.

A typical Asian help wanted sign:
"Female, single, at least 5'2" with a
pleasing personality, 18 to 21 yrs old"
So illegal in America, so common here.
Anyway, since the $50 night tables weren't too terribly ugly (oval, modern, with tall lamps built into them), I bought those. Still though, I wish there were a nice big Ikea to buy cheap... but stylish... furniture for the house. Well, since the tables are hidden up in the bedroom, I'm not too fussy about them. (Also, I'm told that the craftsmen here in Cagayan are pretty good: If you take a photograph of a piece of furniture to them, they can make a knock-off for a very reasonable price... probably cheaper than you can buy it in a store.)

In the afternoon, Maid Susan left for Jassan with all the things we had purchased for Epril's family. Epril and I finally had some quality time alone in the house, and then I put in 4 hours of work in the afternoon.

A man weeds in the hilltop park
down the road from my house in
the "River Grand" housing estate.
There is a nice pool there
overlooking the valley, but I
don't have a membership yet.
I'm trying to get one though.
In the evening, Epril and I ate the last of the leftover spaghetti, a bit of leftover chicken from Greenwich, and we watched 4 episodes of season one of Heroes on DVD. (That show is really turning out to be excellent. Highly recommended.)

I tried calling some of my new friends to see if there was anything to do out on the town tonight, and nobody was having fun. Well, Mike was having a company party, but of course, that doesn't count. It's going to be hard for me to get used to the idea that "nothing to do" actually means that there is literally nothing to do here in Cagayan, instead of — as in Pattaya — "nothing I feel like doing."

Friday, March 14, 2008

Daily Report: Damn YouTube

I overslept a bit today; I forgot to set the alarm. I have to start putting out more effort to start my days right, as the success of my day seems to be directly related to my rising time.

So, that having been said, my late waking led to a crappy day: I blogged for a while, and then got to work about 4 hours later than I should have. I had some leftover spaghetti for lunch.

I got sucked into watching YouTube again today. It happens about once every two weeks... where I just go from one video to the next. Today, I was working my way through music videos I hadn't seen in a while. Two hours of my life wasted. Well, at least I wasn't blasting aliens or something.

In the afternoon, Epril and I took a cab down to Kinse Amigos, where I left my motorcycle last night. I had planned to use the bike's receipt stored under the seat to call the dealership to have them come fix the bike, only to realize that the receipt was back home. Therefore, Epril and I took a cab to the dealership and told them in person about my non-functioning bike, and dropped off a key to have the mechanic go fix/fetch it.

From there, we did some quick shopping at Limketkai Mall. It seems that the next great "where-can-I-find-it? challenge" in Cagayan De Oro will be for dry vermouth. No martinis until then. Man, I'm seriously considering doing visa runs instead of visa extensions here in the Philippines just for the opportunity to hit duty free.

Spooks Friday night buffet is a well-
attended weekly get-together of local
expatriates in Cagayan. Price is 180
pesos for all you can eat. Tonight was
chili dogs, beef stew, pasta, and
several other dishes.
After the mall, Epril and I went to Spooks A-GoGo for their Friday night family buffet. The food there is hit-and-miss: Last week was bad; this week was great. I think the price is a little high when I calculate in the fact that Epril eats only a couple of scoops of rice there. (Beers are 35 pesos, though.) The main thing is that, as far as opportunities to socialize and meet the expatriate community in CDO, this is currently the best. People wander from table to table introducing themselves, or sidle up to the bar and get in conversations there. The ladies bring their babies and children, and join in their own social networking... though not as much as the men. (I haven't seen any kano (Western) women at the dinner yet... although I have seen a couple around town.) Dinner starts at 4:30, and the dancing girls don't come on stage until 9:00, so there is lots of time to meet new friends.

After Spooks, Epril and I took a walk through the Divisoria, the square in the center of town. Every Friday night, they close off the streets there and have a bit of a party and night market. We walked from there to Kinse Amigos to check the status of my motorcycle; it was gone. I assume the mechanic took it back to the garage to be worked on... or was driving it around town with his buddies... or taking it to Zamboanga to sell for parts. I probably shouldn't think too much about that.

We took a taxi home, and then I did a little more work to make up for today's earlier attempt before going to bed.

My neighbor, Frenchman Serge, ponders
his tomato garden, with the river in the
One thing you notice in The Philippines is that a lot of the young people shout out "Hey Joe!" as you (the light-skinned foreigner) go by. I suppose it could be an insult, as my friend Ross believes, but I'm thick-skinned enough not to let it bother me. Besides, "Joe" was the name given to the American soldiers who fought and died in The Philippines. I'll just take it as a Filipino guy's unaware reminder of what my countrymen did here 60 years ago.

But, hey, if you're going to let it bother you, when someone yells "Hey Joe!" at you as you go buy, just shout back a friendly, "Hey Ferdinand!" That might make your point.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Daily Report: Broke

Had a pretty good morning of work. Epril and Susan went out this morning to a place called "Mulhuillier", which is the Filipino domestic version of Western Union, to send money to their father, who is stuck on the island of Bohol with a broke-down fishing trawler and can't make it home for Easter without a bit of cash.

For lunch, Epril cooked some chicken and spaghetti.

A guy walks with his cow (called a
"carabao" here in The Philippines)
across the river from my house today.
In the afternoon, I got back to work but Epril was a bit glum: The cable television has gone sour. A panning message across the top of the screen apologized for some sort of "sun activity". Funny how the sun never affects the cable in Thailand or America. Well regardless, it has not effected the internet which, I must say, has far exceeded my expectations. It isn't any faster than the DSL I had in Thailand (although it is close), but it hasn't gone down once yet (my computer lets me know if, at any point during the day, the internet has been down) which is a far cry from the two or three 1-minute periods per day that the DSL went down in Thailand.

Racks pool hall in downtown CDO
is 100 pesos ($2.50) per hour.
In the evening, I went into town and met up with my new friend, Ross. He's married and has two darling young boys. We met up at Racks, a pool hall above a coffee shop in downtown CDO. (CDO is "Cagayan De Oro" for you newbies.) It's a bit of a ragged place and they play ass-flavored music, but in CDO, you take what's on offer most of the time or go without. We played pool for about an hour and a half.

After that, we went off to the restaurant called Kinse Amigos — a kind of open-air beer joint where a lot of the local expatriates hang out that has become my favorite spot as well — and met up with Mike Turner, who usually hangs out there at night instead of his office. (That would be the office I had been working at before the internet was installed at home.)

At 11:00, I tried to go home, but my motorcycle wouldn't start. It seemed the battery was dead... but the kick-start wouldn't work either. (I think the kick start needs an electrical switch — i.e. battery power — to be functioning in order to turn over, but I can't be sure.)

The bike I bought probably sat on the sales lot for the better part of a year never having been started, so I'm holding off on ranting about having gotten ripped off: The bike probably has (and has had) several just-out-of-hibernation bugs that have to be worked out which the company who sold me the bike didn't count on. I've brought my chai yen (cool heart) from Thailand with me, and am not letting the situation roil me. However, the folks at the dealership better not gripe when I show back up with a not-so-healthy motorcycle only 4 days off their floor, wanting things fixed... or things will come to a head.

Anyway, a taxi from the Divisoria (the plaza in the center of town) to my house is 77.50 pesos.

By the way: The song "Alone" from Heart (you remember: "And now it tears me to the bone... How do I get you alone!!??") is to the Philippines what "Hotel California" is to Thailand: No band is allowed to get on stage if they can't play it.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Daily Report: Cheap Drinking

I spent my first morning working from home, instead of downtown at Mike's office. I can sit at my desk and look across the valley while I type. It's lovely.

My home office is still in the preliminary stages: I need to buy a new personal computer to go with my work computer (for my graphics editing, and to play games, mostly), and I need to buy Epril a laptop. I need to buy new monitors too. (I'm using a loaner computer monitor from Mike for the time being... thanks again bud, if you're reading.)

For lunch, Susan cooked chicken afritada, which was chicken simmered with vegetables in a sweet tomato sauce. Quite nice.

Cagayan De Oro has two really
nice shopping malls, three
older shopping malls, and a
central business district that
contains hundreds of small
stores. Other than food and
drink, there really is a fine
retail scene for well-off
shoppers in Cagayan De Oro.
After lunch, Epril and I went to the SM mall (about one mile from my house) to buy some odds and ends. We started off at the liquor section of the SM grocery store, where I discovered that hard alcohol in The Philippines is much cheaper than in Thailand. A bottle of Absolut Citron was 810 pesos ($19.75) here, whereas in Thailand it would cost 930 pesos; a bottle of Kahlua here was 634 pesos ($15.50), whereas in Thailand it would cost about 1,000 pesos; and a large bottle of Baileys Irish Cream here was 668 pesos ($16.25), whereas in Thailand it would cost about 1,350 pesos. I also bought a bottle of some extra-cheap tequila for 150 pesos so that I could try to make some strawberry margaritas tonight.

After the liquor store, it was off to Ace Hardware where I bought some more extension cords and various other electrical cord/plug supplies. I also bought some bug "chalk" to chase away the ants I've occasionally seen wandering around the house.

By the way, I really enjoy shopping in Cagayan De Oro much more than Pattaya. The salespeople here are much more helpful. I believe that any improvement I see though is primarily because of the immensely better English skills of the Filipinos. Thai people who can't speak English as well may or may not try to be helpful, but their likelihood of fulfilling your request or meeting your expectations is simply lower. (Still though: I do think that Filipino salespeople in Cagayan are more cheerful and friendly and focused on customers than their Thai counterparts in Pattaya.)

Epril took this photo of the village
across the river at the bottom of the
hill across from our house. Amazing
that this scene is only a mile away from
a bustling, congested city of 500,000.
Even more amazing is that the entire
3-mile valley in front of me looks pretty
much the same along its whole length.
In the afternoon, I got the television set up in the master bedroom, and set up the home theater so that it would play TV broadcast audio through the surround sound speakers. Then I spent the rest of the afternoon working. (Not a great day... but I'm getting warmed up still.)

In the evening, Epril and Susan went and bought some chicken, rice, and gravy from the fast food place at SM called "Greenwich"... 51 pesos (41 baht, $1.25) per serving... very good.

I also tried to make strawberry margaritas. I found a little bodega in the center of Cagayan which sells frozen strawberries that have already been chopped and processed and are sitting in their juices, which are pretty good. But the margaritas I made tonight were not very good. Too much ice, I suspect. Heh: The worst thing about such a failure is that I have to drink not-quite-perfect strawberry margaritas for several nights in a row. Bummer, eh?

We watched the season one finale of Battlestar Galactica on TV, and then 4 episodes of Heroes before going to bed. It's funny, with this monstrous television, when Epril and I walked by the electronics store today at the mall, all of the 40-inch and 50-inch televisions just seemed so small suddenly... and with the little 30-inch televisions, we felt like we couldn't even see the picture. It's amazing how such a monstrous TV can change your perceptions.

Anyway, off to bed before midnight. The stars were out tonight over the Cagayan river valley... which is something I hadn't seen here before in the summer season.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Weekly Report: A Long Detailed Summary

My view still can't be beat. This is
the view looking north up the Cagayan
valley. You can see the Bohol Sea in
the distance, and on a clear day you
can see 30 miles up the coast to Epril's
village of Jassan.
It's been a hectic 7 days... but the worst of the moving effort is ended. The bags have been unpacked and everything has its place, the house has been halfway stocked but not yet well-decorated, the cable has been installed in three rooms, the internet is functioning but the WiFi hasn't been set up yet, there is a new motor scooter in the driveway that only has a temporary licence.

There is still a bunch of stuff I want to do, but almost all of the stuff that I need to do has been done.

My big TV.
I've bought a beautiful 60-inch Sony Bravia HDTV with a home theater sound system, which was installed yesterday. Epril and I have started watching season one of "Heroes" on the DVD player. This Friday — with the Sony discount I received from my purchase of the TV — Epril and I are going out to buy a BluRay player.

I also bought a nice Kenwood microwave oven... all chrome and black. It has one of those weird monstrous electrical plugs on it that looks like it should connect Darth Vader's washing machine though, so I have to go find an adapter at SM Shopping Mall today on my lunch break.

The cable internet is installed in my house. I've got 3 cable television boxes: One for the living room, one for the master bedroom, and one for my office. The internet is functioning, but not particularly well: I'm paying 4,500 pesos per month for the extra fast speed, but am only getting about 2 to 4 times dial-up speed. I was told to expect very slow speeds, and it is about what I expected... but no wonder so many people complain about it. Considering that I subscribed to (and received) twice the advertised speed on my DSL internet in Thailand for 1,250 pesos per month, the internet here is a bit of a rip off. (Internet comparison shopping amongst expatriates in the Philippines is a popular pass-time, so I expect to see lots of comments directing me towards other providers.)

Motorstar Panther 150 cc.
I bought a new motorcycle... a brand named "Motorstar", marquee of "Panther". It is very similar to the PGO "Tiger" I had before with a few pluses and several minuses. The motorcycles are both 150 cc with 1-gear, twist-and-go transmissions. The Panther is much smoother and quieter compared to the Tiger (although I kind of miss that throaty exhaust tone when I gun it), and the dashboard is much nicer to look at (although a tachometer would be nice). The main problems are that the brakes are woefully inadequate for the job (the Tiger had dual disc brakes and would stop the bike almost faster than I myself could physically withstand), and need to be upgraded. The tires are smaller too, and take a bit to get used to, but that's just something I'll have to drive around to overcome. The seat height on the Panther is actually an inch or two higher than the already-tall Tiger's seat. If I want to plant both feet on the ground with my butt on the seat, I need to stand on tip-toes to accomplish it.

The price of the motorcycle was very good, however: 55,000 pesos for the Panther versus 90,000 for the Tiger.

It was out to shoot pool for the first time in many months on Sunday night. Epril and I went with Mike and his wife, Marissa. I used to be a serious pool player when I was back in New York, and could have tried to make it as a pro if I had been willing to dedicate my life to the sport, but never made it much beyond a mid-to-high B-level player. I still have my pool cues though... the most valuable things I own (purchased back when my life and wealth revolved around pool halls). My game started off as a combination of "embarrassing" and "abysmal", but managed to improve to just "way off" after an hour or two. (The tables were quite bad too, with moth-eaten pock-marked felt and dead rails, but it was mostly me.) After playing pool, I took Mike and Marissa out to dinner at Country Steak House as thanks for everything that Mike has done in helping me out with my move.

Alright kids, you're all caught up for now. As I said: I'm settled in and pretty much back to the normal workaday routine. The blog should be updated more or less daily now, and we'll see what the future holds for Jungle Jil.

Epril and PBA basketball
player, Alex Crisano at
Manila domestic airport.
Oh: One photo from Epril. At the airport in Manila, she met somebody famous: Basketball star, Alex Crisano. Epril was all shy and just wanted to stare from a distance, but I (not knowing anything about famous people in The Philippines — and even less about the Philippine Basketball Association ("St. Lucia Realtors" and "Coca-Cola Tigers" are some of the teams... and I won't forget to mention the "Purefoods Tender Juicy Giants") which play almost solely in Manila) went up and started a conversation with the fellow. It turned out he is from Brooklyn, and was a nice enough guy to talk to. Note: If you're an almost-but-not-quite-NBA basketball player in America, you can have a pretty comfy sporting career here in The Philippines. Anyway, Epril eventually overcame her shyness, came up and said hello, and had her photo snapped with Alex. Best of luck to him and his team. I suppose I'll root for them now if I ever find myself watching.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Daily Report: Starting Out

I was up at 8:00 to the smell of bacon cooking. Susan is definitely defying expectations as a maid, and is making herself quite useful and keeping quite busy and generally making life pleasant for Epril and me. I had a very nice breakfast of scrambled eggs (which I taught Susan to cook to my preference yesterday), bacon, coffee (flavored with just a touch of Bailey's) and orange juice.

There was a light rain coming down as I rode to work this morning. I've rented a motorcycle from one of Mike's friends which is an absolute piece of shit... and I'm paying 200 pesos per day for the privilege. Buying my own motorcycle is definitely at the top of my list.

I got to Mike's office at 9:00 and was working by 10:00. Unfortunately I had Texas accounts in my queue, and work for the morning was rubbish. Additionally, Mike's office isn't the quietest place... mostly because of the traffic outside. He operates a "Search Engine Optimization" company called Harvest SEO, which apparently helps websites rank higher on search engines. Not sure what the people here do, but there are about 20 people sitting around at computers.

At lunch time, I went and bought some scissors and an umbrella. Then I went to Banco De Oro to deposit my landlord's (his name is Din) rent money in the bank... I'm paying 6 months at a time. My tax refund showed up in my bank account this morning, so it is 4 days after moving in that I'm paying the rent. (Nice guy, Din, allowing me to do that, eh?) Anyway, I tried to deposit the 210,000 pesos into his bank account off of my bank card, but the card was declined. Apparently the check from the IRS was still in the process of clearing.

I went back to Mike's office and did some more work... but not too much. Overall it was kind of a crap day of work. Epril and Susan had spent the day in Jassan (Epril's hometown about 45 minutes up the coast from Cagayan De Oro) and then came back at around suppertime. They bought some dumplings from a local store called Ororama, which we enjoyed for dinner.

Currently, we only have 3 channels of television to watch as we are waiting for the cable to be installed in the house. That leaves us with a choice of Filipino soap operas or Japanese cartoons (dubbed in Tagalog). The Filipino soap operas are on every weeknight from 8:00 until midnight, and range in quality from campy to crappy.

The first show on is called "Joaquin Bordado", which has some guy channeling Lou Diamond Phillips in "Young Guns" who has magical tattoos... but he mostly just walks around looking like he just got a colonoscopy. After that is a show called "Kamandag", which involves a bunch of guys wearing teddy bears on their heads and/or glitter around their eyes. I can't figure that one out, but it is at least as gay as it sounds. Finally, there is Mari Mar, which seems to involve lots of people (especially children) crying, some girl with different colored eyes and a scar, and lots and lots of bad acting. However, there is one actor who is Filipino-American and can't speak much Tagalog, so all of his lines are in English... which makes it one of the few bits I can understand. However, since that show comes on at 10:00 p.m., and I like to be in bed by then, I haven't watched it much.

I think the most annoying part of watching these soap operas though has to be the commercials. There are about 40 minutes of commercials for every hour of programming, and all of the commercials are for fortified milk for kids or skin care products. Apparently, the biggest consumer market in The Philippines is over-protective mothers with bad skin.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Settling In

I made it... but barely.

Here's a bit of info: Cebu Pacific charges 200 baht per kilo for every kilogram your luggage is overweight, and each passenger is only allowed 20 kilograms of luggage. Epril and I were therefore allowed 40 kilos between us, and we had 140 kg worth of stuff in 5 suitcases. You can do the math: Our luggage cost us twice as much as our plane tickets did. Oh: Cash only at the airline counter, if you please.

Here's some more info: Purple fuzzy fake handcuffs cause quite a stir at the X-ray machine at the domestic terminal in Manila... even if it is in your checked (not carry-on) luggage. Go figure. At this point, a wink-wink-nudge-nudge and friendly currency exchange with the 5 security guards wanting to paw through your suitcase comes in handy before you discover just how many shades of red your lady's face is capable of displaying.

I've moved into the new house, and am in the process of stocking it. So far, I've managed to avoid buying any bright green or orange plastic items, even though Epril (and her sister Susan, who is acting as our maid) beg me for just something bright. I'm sticking with black and polished steel, thank you.

I bought a little kiddie pool, and have put it up on the balcony overlooking the valley below, and filled it with water. It's hot here... so hot. A nice little tub of water to splash around in is just the thing. I'm thinking about setting out some potted plants, a table and some candles, and making a little jungle setting to hang out in while I soak.

Our first neighbors to the left of us are a French fellow, Serge, and his wife, Marisol, and there is a British guy also on our left whom I haven't met yet. The house immediately to our right is empty, and another one down the row is for rent if anyone is interested.

I'm trying to establish a rapport with the local bird population by putting out bread crumbs... I'll keep you updated on that part.

I'm working out of my friend Mike's office for the time being while I wait for the cable internet to be installed in the house. My work computer arrived broken, but fortunately the computer technicians in Mike's office jiggled and prodded and reseated the various bits and pieces inside of my computer, and it unbroked itself back to functionality.

I'm a little too busy to blog right now: I've got to catch up on the work I missed over the past 5 days and I've got to furnish a new house. So, have some patience while I get settled in. I'll be getting back to normal, and also fixing the sorry appearance of this blog in the near future.