Monday, December 29, 2008

A New Link

Epril has a Friendster page. I didn't help her with it, as you'll see. Turn down your volume, or scroll quickly to the bottom of the page to turn off/down the music. People allergic to flashing gifs, Javalets and txtspk: You've been warned.

She updates it regularly with photos.

An Interesting Visit

Cagayan De Oro is filled with interesting people, I have to admit. Today, I sat down and had coffee with a treasure hunter. As you know, the Philippines is filled with buried gold treasure, which the Japanese left here during World War 2. My treasure-hunting friend is in the business of finding that gold.

Let's see:

  • He received a million dollars for his minor share of a major treasure find in 2003 of Japanese gold, but unfortunately that money got snatched by the IRS when he transferred it back to the U.S. (He does have photos of actual gold bars though, which just goes to show that there is Japanese gold booty in The Philippines.)
  • He was part of a second major treasure find, but unfortunately all of that gold got snatched by The Philippine government when he and his partners tried to get the stash out of the country.
  • Now, he's thisclose to a third major gold find: He's done his research, talked with people who helped carry the gold up into the hills, and found the stash via his own ground penetrating radar, and dug a deep hole in the ground. At the bottom of the hole, he's found thick metal bars buried there, and big rocks. (He's got pictures of the big metal bar and rocks inside the big hole, so there's no doubt that there's gold under it.)
  • Unfortunately, he has run out of money just a few feet away from the millions and millions of dollars of gold, and he needs $15,000 to move away the last few big boulders and bars and stuff. Whoever gives him the $15,000 will get $500,000 as soon as the gold is dug up.
  • My treasure hunter friend said he'll arrange a visit for me to go out to the digging site, but it's a very long walk through a dangerous area, and the people who are watching over the hole in the ground aren't very friendly to outsiders — at least more than one outsider at a time, it makes them "nervous" — and there's no telling how they'll react. (One of his Filipino business partners has already been kidnapped and beaten, but returned safely, thank goodness.) Besides, the hole is filled up with rain water because the tarp that was covering the hole wore out, and you can't see the bottom of the hole (with the bars and big rocks) until the water is pumped out.
I can't imagine how frustrating that must be: To be that close to several tons of gold bullion, but not have enough money to be able to pay to move the rocks and stuff that is covering it. (Damn Filipinos: You think they'd work on credit, but apparently not.) Oh: He has a website too. I see the page is "Copyright 2007", so apparently this fortune in gold has been sitting there just out of reach for at least 12 months for lack of just $15,000.

Well, it certainly sounds like a good thing to spend my tax refund on this year. Anybody want to join me in helping this guy out?

Oh... and if you want, there is this other guy in a different part of The Philippines, who also needs money: He's only 5 feet away from his gold treasure. (Although this other guy does bear an incredible similarity in appearance to the fellow I talked with today, he doesn't have the same name, so it obviously isn't the same person, but amazingly, he too has photos of gold bars from past discoveries.) Wow: What a shame to have all of this lost gold sitting just out of reach, unable to be reclaimed without your help. Well, now is your chance to get involved and get in on the riches.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Difference Between Brits and Yanks

I was reading this post over on Stan's blog about a guy in Britain who rented out his Ferrari to an exotic car rental company. Somebody rented and then crashed his car, and the rental company owners did a runner with the insurance cash.

I went and read the article on The Sun's website. Then I started reading the comments at the bottom.

The vast majority of the commenters (all British, it appears) blamed the Ferrari owner... joyously and happily blamed the Ferrari owner. They blamed him for being (a) too greedy, (b) too rich, or (c) too stupid, and pretty much perfunctorily declared that justice had been served. I think if I had to select the perfect comment out of many, it would be this one:
No one needs to earn so much money they spend over a hundred thousand on a car. There are a lot of people that can't be bothered to work and get given things handed on a plate but there are also so many that get far too much. The only way one person gets rich is by another becoming poorer.
I really think that if you ever wanted to point out the fundamental, deep-down differences between British and American ways of looking at things, these several dozen comments are the gold standard.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Other Than Appearances, That Is

This Associated Press article about how Wall Street companies are still using corporate jets is a bit much.

Corporate jets, in truth, are — solely in business terms — very profitable.

First off is the cost: It's $20,000 in fuel to fly a private jet across the country, and figure to kick in $5,000 for maintenance and pilot, et cetera. Now, put 8 bank executives on that plane making a combined total of, say, $12 million per year. At 50 hours per week, that's $4,600 per hour in combined salaries. A 4½-hour commercial flight, plus a 30-minute check-in for a total of 5 hours is $23,000. Add to that the cost of 8 tickets, and you've got $25,000. On a private flight (you've seen it in the movies), it's right up to the plane in the limo, no check-in, and straight to flying. While up in the air, there is business being conducted, conference calls being made, and then upon landing, it's straight off to the meetings.

We'll add to that the scheduling: If you're a bank executive with 7 other people, imagine trying to find a flight that will get you from New York City to Dallas with exactly enough time to get to your company's scheduled meeting, and then another flight returning you all to New York City that leaves exactly when you are ready to go back to New York, without requiring you to wait around... and more importantly, a flight that will wait for you and your executive team when the meeting inevitably runs late.

Additionally, most Boards of Directors of major banks insist that their executives fly in private jets on all occasions because of security reasons, especially when they travel internationally. How much insurance do you think is taken out on a Wall Street billionaire? Do you really want to expose the senior managers of your trillion-dollar portfolio to the hustle and bustle of the airport in Amsterdam? Want to risk a kidnapping? (The ransom will certainly be much more than operating a private jet for any length of time.) Hell, executives like those getting the flu from the guy sitting next to them in First Class, and missing a week of work, would cost the same amount in lost productivity as a private jet costs per year.

In the end though, while it's fair to say that appearances matter, it still seems a bit punctilious for the Associated Press to be nitpicking on a bank's ten-million-dollar-per-year, debatedly-optional business expense because that bank received $150 billion (that's 15,000 years of private jet operations) from the government.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Jungle Jil Music Video: Rusted Root

Forgive me for being slow once again: Here is a band from the 90's that completely went under my radar, Rusted Root (band site, wikipedia). (However, you all have heard their song, Send Me On My Way, the "wandering song" from Ice Age.) Their music is really a lot of fun, and they have a great sound: Kind of a Talking Heads / African Pop / Grateful Dead / Brazilian drum / psychedelic / folk jam combination. I listened through their library on, and they had lots of songs I liked, which is rare.

Interestingly, it seems that the band never made a video... or at least none have ever been posted to YouTube. (Lots of live stuff though with bad sound, if you are interested.) Therefore, today we have audio only.

(hat tip Baloon Juice)

For Franky

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Auto Industry Woes Take Dollar Down

The dollar value has been dropping like crazy over the past 3 weeks, losing 6½% against the Philippine Piso. The Thai Baht, Indonesian Rupiah, Korean Won, and Malaysian Ringgit are all showing similar gains.

Well, when you vote to let the world's second largest auto industry "fend for itself" in business (as I would have voted to do), the currency in which that industry operates is certainly bound to take a hit on that news.

I do have a sneaking suspicion that if the American auto industry collapses (and it's remnants are bought up by other foreign auto makers), and takes all of the other businesses that survive on auto manufacturing with it, and so on down the line, America will regret it... probably more than bailing out that hidebound industry with taxpayer dollars. If President Bush or President Obama decide to chuck half a trillion dollars at The Big Three, I'll allow my hope to override my principles, hold my nose, and cautiously go with it.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Airbags for Grandma

Photo of wearable airbags inflating
around 80-year-old Mrs. Lander.
No bones broken!*
For $1400, you too can ensure that should your 94-year-old grandmother take a tumble, she'll do so with the comfortable reassurance that violently inflating airbags wrapped around her neck and hips will fire off and give her a bounce where there otherwise would have been a thud.

The airbags apparently operate on balance sensors of some sort, so that when old people start to tilt floorwards, the system will go off.

Hopefully, the thing is rechargeable. Otherwise, you'll be out $1400 every time granny forgets to put the safety on before leaning back in her recliner and getting her dentures shot across the room from the occipital impact.

Hat tip Andy.

* The photo is actually of the Mars Lander airbags from 8 years ago, not 80-year-old Mrs. Lander's airbags. But close enough for this story.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Daily Report: Fixing, Fixins, and Fixtures

I was out of the house early today in order to drop my bike off at the shop to have a second battery put in, and have the non-blinking turn signals and loose wiring on the headlights fixed. I dropped the bike off, and then took a taxi back home. (Taxis are still one of the best "cheap things" about The Philippines compared to America — along with movies — with a 30-minute, 10-mile taxi ride costing under $4.)

After that was another poor day of work, although it did start off good.

I think that work is also slow now in part because I'm taking lots of notes on the new operative reports I've been getting, and downloading previous work from difficult doctors and keeping a file of their work. Operative reports can be lucrative after you get them figured out: A cardiologist dictates all of his coronary bypass notes pretty much the same. He's dictated so many of them that he can (and does, actually) say them in his sleep, so they are impossible to understand at first. However, after you know what is being said, you can just copy and paste one of his prior dictations and... mutatis mutandis... you have an instant 60-line cardiology report worth $5.

I'm just not there right now. I've got 20 doctors covered so far, each one doing 5 or 10 different surgical procedures, and a couple hundred more to go.

At 5:00, it was back by taxi to pick up my motorcycle. The new battery, installed and fixed and all the wiring done cost $30. Unfortunately (a) they put the new battery in the storage space under the seat, so that needs to be moved; (b) 3 miles down the road, I noticed the horn was no longer working; (c) 4 miles down the road, one of the lights went out again and the other started flickering like a strobe light. The turn signals did work though. Got that part sorted.

Epril and I went to Spooks Friday night expatriate get-together as per usual. There were very few people there tonight. I met this nice guy Oliver from Florida, who is in town looking for a place to settle and start a family. I chatted with him, Ron Van Ordern, and Bob McCrea all evening. (Bob convinced me to try and make some dill pickles here in Cagayan, since they cannot be purchased. Good small business idea, that. Jil's Dills?)

After Spooks, Epril and I joined Ron and Eve, and our new friend Oliver at Town Restaurant for dinner. We shot the moon, eating and drinking ourselves silly.

Then it was home to bed at midnight.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Saving Myself 1000 Words

I didn't have time to write about it yesterday, as I had 4 days' worth of daily reports and photos to put up. I'm too busy this morning to write anything particularly in depth about it either. But I think this picture I edited sums up what I was going to say pretty well anyway.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Good Economist Article On Thailand

My friend Eric sent me this link. Anybody who is interested in understanding Thailand's current political revanchism needs to know its source, and the source is the one thing that Thai people won't talk about... can't talk about.
The government of generals and bureaucrats installed by the 2006 coup-makers performed miserably. In last December's elections, though TRT had been disbanded, Mr Thaksin's new People's Power Party won most seats. This spurred the PAD to resume its protests. In clashes in October PAD members fought the police with guns, bombs and sharp staves, hoping the army would again use disorder as the pretext for a coup. The PAD nevertheless blamed the clashes entirely on police brutality, and the anti-Thaksin Bangkok press let it get away with this. The death of one PAD member, apparently blown up in his car by the bomb he was carrying, was quickly buried. But the death of a young woman, reportedly when a police tear-gas canister exploded, became a cause célèbre.

Up to this point there were only whispers as to why the PAD enjoyed such lenient treatment—even from the army, which refused to help the police remove protesters from government offices. However, rumours of an extremely influential backer were confirmed when Queen Sirikit, attended by a clutch of cameramen, presided over the dead woman’s cremation. The king remained silent.

Nobody can discuss, of course, what effect the queen's support has had on the majority of Thais who still, apparently, back Mr Thaksin. A whirl of lèse-majesté accusations have been made against pro- and anti-Thaksin figures. But the PAD's ever more menacing behaviour, the palace's failure to disown it, and the group's insistence that Thais must choose between loyalty to Mr Thaksin and to the king, may be doing untold damage to the crown itself. Some of Mr Thaksin's voters must be contemplating the flip-side of the PAD's argument: if the monarchy is against the leader they keep voting for, maybe it is against them. Such feelings may only be encouraged by the PAD's condescending arguments that the rural poor, Mr Thaksin's main support base, are too "uneducated" to have political opinions, so their voting power must be reduced.

At a pro-Thaksin rally in July a young activist ranted against the monarchy, calling the king "a thorn in the side of democracy" for having backed so many coups, and warning the royal family they risked the guillotine. She was quickly arrested. What shocked the royalist establishment was not just the startling criticism of the king—but that the activist was cheered. "It is more and more difficult for them to hold the illusion that the monarchy is universally adored," says a Thai academic.
Their majesties have never been big fans of Democracy. It's not unreasonable to suspect that the king tacitly shares the royalists' supposition that Thailand's general population can't be trusted to elect the best government possible, and that he advocates at worst some sort of monarchal irredentism, or at best the martial plutocracy that Thailand has traditionally appointed in the past.

The article goes on to examine the line of succession in Thailand, and also takes time to examine the historical context in which the major parties' behaviors are unfolding. All in all, a nice little piece on the situation behind the scenes in Thailand today.

Everybody in Thailand must be reading this article. Since posting this, I've received 2 more links to the Economist in my e-mail. Thanks for thinking of me, guys.

Daily Report: Good Eats

Susan came by the house today, and taught Epril how to cook beef with snow peas, with a nice sauce made from soy sauce, beef bullion, and corn starch. Awesome. Along with the sweet and sour chicken, that is now 2 dishes that Epril can cook. Another 12 dishes, and we'll have lunch and dinner for a week covered, and we won't need to eat out anymore.

Work was once again a bit of a letdown. I have to wrap my mind around the new realities of my job, which I haven't done yet. It's not easy sitting down to do something that used to pay you X and now pays you X/3. I think my low work output is more motivational than anything.

For dinner, Epril and I went out to SM Mall to Bigbys. I had their canneloni as per usual ($4.50) and the soup of the day ($1.50). The leggy maitresse d' there managed to sell Epril and I on a huge block of cinnamon rolls for $4, which we took home with us. As per usual, the diet starts tomorrow.

One of the H.I.D. headlights that I had installed on my Motorstar went out after driving it for 5 minutes. Also, the turn signals no longer blink. Oh well. First rule of customizing vehicles: If you can't deal with the fact that the aftermarket stuff may and will malfunction, don't start messing around in the first place. I'll take it back to the shop on Monday. I need to put a bigger battery in the bike anyway.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Daily Report: All Hoping For Brighter Times

I've started adjusting my work total to reflect the fact that the speech recognition work is worth only two-thirds what the regular work is worth. There was a bit of a "settling in" phase where this wasn't the case... and the S.R. work was worth the same as all the other work. That is no longer the case, and I've had to adjust my work totals to reflect that.

I worked 6 hours straight and did an amount that used to take me only 3 hours to do. Add to that the fact that I am no longer getting paid overtime, and I'm now making only one third what I used to for the same amount of work.

The main event of the Katubigan Festival:
Taking Mary (and Jesus on the boat
behind) out for a ride around the harbor.
If Mary sees her shadow while she is out
there it means 6 more weeks until fishing
season starts... just kidding.
Epril got home in the late afternoon from holy boating. After that, we went out to dinner at Big Rocks Diner. (Rob wasn't there, which was the secondary reason for going. Too bad... I'll catch him next time.) The food there is really good. I had the "Arabian Sausage", which was a spicy sausage with sour cream and vegetables on a toasted bun. The one that really got me was the 1-liter glass of iced tea for 25 pisos... 50 cents. Oh that's nice.

My bike was finally returned to me at 9:00 tonight from Jun and his friends at the shop. They apparently had a hellacious time with my bike's wiring (that's Motorstar for you... hardly a surprise), leading to an extra 30 hours of work. The H.I.D. lights are fantastic. They light up the world. Unfortunately, I'm going to need a new and bigger battery for my motorcycle to power them. The battery being used currently is too weak, and the lights flicker from low amperage. Next paycheck, I'm going to put a rear disc brake on the bike to replace the godawful, useless rear drum brake.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Daily Report: Bright Lights, Small City

On Saturday on my way out to Cagayan De Oro, I stopped in at Motor Mate, the big motorcycle shop in the Cogon Market area. I wanted to buy H.I.D. headlights for my motorcycle. I want the motorcycle to be safer, so I'm investing in brighter headlights and better brakes.

Anyway, while at Motor Mate, I met a fellow I know: Rob, the owner of Big Rocks Diner. He told me about a guy who owns a motorcycle shop who does a lot of customizing of Motorstar motorcycles. Since this shop was on the road to Jasaan, I stopped in and then decided to have them do the upgrade of my lights.

So, this morning I drove back out to the place where the owner (a nice fellow named Jun... short for Junior, I'm told) immediately got his electric guy working on my H.I.D. lights ($120 for two lights). That should be enough to see where I'm going at night on the highway home from the In-Laws.

The lovely ladies of Cagayan De Oro
Immigration working hard to keep our
visas current!
After that, it was off to immigration to renew my visa for another 2 months. Heh: I remember the trials and tribulations of visa running in Thailand. Now, it is just a 30-minute visit with the nice girls at the Imigration Office, and 2800 pisos ($52) every two months. Really though: People are genuinely nice there. After the dour Thai immigration officials and the dyspeptic atmosphere surrounding the entire Thai visa process, it's so nice. (My wedding certificate will allow me a "green card" style visa, where I can come and go as often as I want without time limits.)

Epril had stayed home doing laundry while I dropped off my motorcycle at the shop. Then she caught up with me at Immigration. We saw Bennie's wife Janne there renewing Bennie's visa as well: Apparently your wife can go and renew your visa for you if you are too busy. Nice.

After Immigration, Epril and I went to Ramen Tei for lunch. Then it was back out to check on the motorcycle, which was all torn apart but making progress. Then, Epril hopped on a Jeepney out to Jasaan, where she is going to be attending the last of the Katubigan Festival celebrations (taking Jesus and Mary for boat rides), while I went back home by taxi.

I worked the rest of the afternoon, and settled into a night at home alone. Meanwhile, Epril was out in the village watching the Miss Kimaya Pagaent. No bikinis for these fine ladies... ballroom gowns only, thank you very much.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Daily Report: Sunday Shopping Spree

Another poor day of work.

At midday, it was out as per usual to The Kingston Lodge to have Sunday dinner with our friends. Owner Tony knows some German guys in Davao who are operating their own charcuterie, and have some great deals on various meats. I ordered a ham for Christmas.

After lunch, it was straight off to SM Mall where I took Epril on a shopping spree in Guess for her birthday. We also went to SM Department Store to buy me some new pants. After that, it was off to SM Grocery Market where we replinshed my supply of diet root beer, Epril's supply of hair conditioner, and various other things.

After that it was back home for an afternoon of playing video games and sipping Cagayan Cocktails. Just the way I like my Sunday's.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

75th Anniversay of Repeal of 18th Amendment

Let's all raise a toast.

I've read articles before on the era of Prohibition, and the damage that social do-gooders and Christian idealists did to America.
Black market alcohol was of dubious origin, unregulated by market forces. The price premium that attaches to banned substances made the alcohol that made it to consumers more potent and more dangerous. And, of course, organized crime rose and flourished thanks to the new market created by the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act.

So hospitalizations related to alcohol soared. And so did violent crime. Corruption flourished, as law enforcement officials in charge of enforcing prohibition went on the take, from beat cops all the way up to the office of the United States Attorney General. Even the U.S. Senate had a secret, illegal stash of booze for its members and their staffs.
I remember a comment by one sociologist that Prohibition's biggest damage to America was that it was a huge blow to respect for the rule of law. Before Prohibition, all Americans — law-abiding and criminal — were cognizant of the moral, social, and personal repercussions of making a conscious decision to engage in an illegal activity. After Prohibition, the concept of "breaking the law a little" was born, and the creation of a gray area between the legal and the illegal created of Americans a vast population of casual scofflaws for whose actions there existed virtually no legal repercussions.

This law-breaking nonchalance born in speakeasys and other abstruse locations eventually found its way into the forefront of American thought, in "bending the law", in "just as long as you don't get caught", in "just this once", in "loopholes". Now people can be convicted of a crime, and Americans can say, "Yeah he has a criminal record, but it's just for tax evasion" or "well he isn't married, so who cares if he paid for sex?" or "but officer, there isn't another car on the road for miles in any direction. Give me a break."

The sociologist explained that this nonchalance itself wasn't the problem, but was a gateway to a bigger declension: that it detrimentally moved America's mental and moral cordon sanitaire between socially acceptable and socially unacceptable. To put it succinctly: after Prohibition, "wrong" was simply not as wrong as it used to be.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Daily Report: Epril's Birthday And Lots Of Things

Today was Epril's birthday. She headed out to Jasaan in the late morning while I stayed at home and worked, joining her later in the afternoon.

Epril's first stop of the day was a visit to some relatives' house and a chapel out in the jungle. It looked like a very nice walk from the photos she took, and there were some pretty vistas... but hot and a bit of a climb. Maybe next time I'll go.

After that in the late afternoon and early evening (after I arrived) was a street dancing competition in Jasaan as part of the Katubigan Festival celebrations. The Katubigan Festival is a local fiesta celebrating water, and The Immaculate Conception. Filipino street dancing consists of large groups of dancers, known as "tribes" who put on brightly-colored costumes (some traditional, some more syncretic, and some just plain fanciful). Then, with drum and bugle accompaniment, a 10-minute choreographed dance/march/pageant is put on. These tribes come from around the region to compete, and apparently have different dances for different fiestas: Today's dances all had The Virgin Mary feature as a central subject. Unfortunately, the internet has no information available on the history of this part of Filipino culture.

(Epril and I snuck up to the Mayor's viewing platform where I filmed one of the tribes, and to say hi to Hizzoner. Unfortunately the giant field lights were directly across the field from the official rostrum, and glaring right in our eyes, and that washed out the video entirely, so the video below is a second video filmed from the sidelines. And, for the love of your ears, turn down your volume when you click on the video below. I called them bugles, but that is a very extreme euphemism for 20 the world's loudest bamboo goose calls blowing in unison.)

Epril can't have a birthday
without flowers. First words
out of her mouth this morning:
"Where's my flowers?"
After the street dancing, it was back to the In-Laws for Epril's birthday dinner of pancit and chicken. Epril had purchased a "Red Ribbon" chocolate cake in Cagayan on her way out to Jasaan, and it was quite literally one of the best chocolate cakes I have had in years, layered with marscapone and a hint of cherry jelly.

Mike Bird has been working on his pizza recipe, so after dinner, it was over to his house to sample his latest attempt. Not too bad really. I might have to start making my own.

After that, Epril, kid sister Inday, older sister Susan, and myself went down to the basketball courts where there was a singing competition starting. We didn't stay around to listen. Instead, we went off to a local karaoke bar and had something to drink. There were two groups of guys there: There was a group of gay guys who sang great and were hysterically funny. Even not speaking Visayan, I still was laughing. Epril and her sisters had tears rolling from laughing so hard. The other group of guys were some straight guys who took turns singing with the gay guys, and they sang great too... and had some great music taste: Mostly old and uncommon Beatles songs and other hits from the 60s. Lots of fun.

From there, it was off to another beauty pageant. This was the same folks who invited me to judge in the last 2 pageants, but they didn't invite me this time. Apparently many of the same girls are in the pageants over and over again, and the show's director didn't think it would be sporting to have me judge the same girls over and over again. (This pageant had 10 girls, 3 of whom were in the competition from 2 weeks ago.)

Zax Restobar is a great place to go
out to in Cagayan De Oro on Saturday
nights. There is a good crowd of
expatriates hanging out, and there are
cheap drinks and good food, and of
course some spectatular music mostly
of from the 60s and 70s. Mambo and
Salsa also are popular, with several
dance enthusiasts taking to the floor
to show off their repertoire of moves.
At about 10:00, Epril and I left Jasaan and went back to Cagayan De Oro, where we joined all of our friends at Zax for some live music and dancing. Bennie and Nelson were there, and we all had a good time. Elmer the Nance was up on stage entertaining the crowd as usual: He was telling some humorous story (not in English) about how he was sending mobile phone credit to his bandmate's boyfriend's phone in order to get his affection. (He's always chasing after the straight guys.) After that, of course, was some of the most fantastic live music Cagayan De Oro has to offer. It was the second time tonight we got comic relief and musical pleasure from Mindinao's gay community.

Epril and I were finally back home at 1:00 a.m. A very long day.

(Turn down the volume!)

Daily Report: Beer, Then BBQ, Then Babies

Another rather bad day of work. I spent a bit too much time blogging, I'm afraid. Well, some days are like that.

I had leftover sweet and sour chicken that Epril made. Susan taught her how to make the dish on Monday, and then Epril made it herself on Thursday. That dish goes a long way: We're going to get four meals out of one batch, and that batch only cost $4. Tasty and economical, and as Martha says, that's a good thing.

In the evening, it was out to Spooks for beers. Maybe someday The Philippines will get to the point where imported beers find their way into the market... but for now, you have only one major and two minor choices, all made in The Philippines. I chatted with all of my friends: Ron VanOrden, Andy Gilbert, Chris MacQueen, Harry Hopkins. (By the way Ron, "tit for tat" is a 500-year-old phrase explained here.)

After that, Epril and I went over to Kinse Amigos to hang out with the locals and have some bar-be-que. I don't know why I enjoy their chicken so much there compared to other places, but I do. It must be the way the outside is dripping with bar-be-que sauce, with those layers of fire-blackened skin that slide right off, and nice tender meat underneath. Epril and I ate a whole small chicken together, I had a beer and she had a coke. Total price, $3.80. That's a good thing too.

Kinse Amigos is easy to find if you're a local, impossible to find if you're not. The best I can do is put up this map on the right (here it is in wikimapia). Maybe I'll see you there someday. It's one of the few regular expatriate watering holes in town.

Oh... I forgot to mention: They also have free WiFi internet there and also you can rent Honda Wave motorcycles there for 200 pisos ($4) per day.

Later in the evening, we joined up with Michael Turner and his Valles-family in-laws for a little nephew's first birthday party. The family had rented out Sentro Restaurant for the bash, and there was a buffet meal. In the Philippines, the biggest parties always seem to be for babies. Teenagers and adults... and even kids: I've never seen a big party for them, but first birthday parties always rock.

Anyway, there were tons of cute babies at the party, and I love cute Asian babies (that's the birthday boy in the photo to the left). They love me too: Baby jaws drop to the floor when they see their first face with hair growing out of it. Then, I don't know why... maybe even at that young age they can recall Jesus and Santa or something... then they are all smiles.

Some Incredible Houses

I was looking at the new house President Bush bought in Dallas.

Then I noticed the house behind him, which is the largest house in Dallas, owned by billionaire Tom Hicks, owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team. (Oh, and if you're wondering, President Bush bought the house on Daria Pl. directly to the rear of the mansion.)

One of my favorite passtimes is to look at the world's largest and most beautiful houses on I really can get endless hours of entertainment from that.

Here are some other beautiful homes I've found:

Most expensive house in London ($100 million), on the most expensive street in the world, owned by Indian Lakshki Mittal, 4th richest man in the world. I've heard that he hasn't moved into the place yet. Apparently his wife doesn't like it.

Oprah's house overlooking The Channel Islands in California ($80 million). The grounds are huge, and you need a golf cart to get around the place. Oprah apparently wanted the place so bad, she badgered the couple that lived there until they sold.

Currently most expensive house in America, Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle, outside of San Francisco ($170 million). A Japanese style compound built using 400-year old construction methods (blog entry I wrote), and a stone bridge imported from China.

The Phipps Estate outside of New York City (national park now, no price). If you look at the alignment of the trees, you can see that the estate used to run for many miles in each direction, and is now just a fraction of its original size.

The largest private house in New York State, owned by Ira Rennert (owns Humvee), located in Bridgehampton on the beach. People say that if it ever goes up for sale, it will be the take over title of most expensive home in America.

My favorite house of all, owned by Univision Mogul Jerrold Perenchio, in Bel Air, price unknown. However, owning a 20,000 square foot house and 9 acres of the most expensive real estate in California has to be expensive.

The Breakers, the summer home of Cornelius Vanderbilt II (wikipedia), in Newport, Rhode Island, now a national historic landmark. It originally cost $7 million to build in 1895 ($150 million in today's dollars). It's bigger than The White House.

The largest house in California, which used to belong to Aaron Spelling. Too bad he put it on such a small piece of property. At 56,000 square feet, it's just barely larger than The White House. It's currently for sale at $150 million. Nobody's buying.

And then finally, another personal favorite: The house with the ugliest exterior and most beautiful (modern) interior on earth, Portabello (website), currently for sale at $75 million. Nobody's buying.

Portabello has more amenities than a Las Vegas Casnio, including "2-story grotto with a pool, 2 spas, swim-up bar, tunnel slide, poolside lounge room and barbeque area; entertainment level with bowling alley, Art Deco theater, automotive museum, cafe, full exercise facility". (The automotive museum is fully stocked, including a gullwing Mercedes.)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Rosy Future For Philippines and Northern Mindanao

The next 20 years are going to be very good for countries like The Philippines. India and China are leading the way, but they aren't the only young turks at the gym looking for a chance to step into the ring and start swinging away at the last century's big economies.

Right now, out of all the countries looking to move up in the world, The Philippines is easily one of the top contenders. It has a literacy rate higher than China or India, and its rate of English-as-a-second-language fluency is the highest in the world, and still climbing. There is plenty of coast line and good ports yet to be developed, low-cost prime industrial land available, and a government that is euphamistically "quite flexible" in doing what needs to be done to attract foreign investment.

Although weak in mineral wealth, The Philippines' central location (close to Singapore) between Eastern and Western Asia, tropical climate, and inexpensive but highly-qualified human resources make it a fantastic destination for refining and industry. The rise of China as a world consumer will also be increasing demand for crops and natural resources such as timber that grow well in The Philippines.

One of the most appealing places to invest in The Philippines right now is Northern Mindanao, the province of Misamis Oriental, and most specifically that part fronting Macajalar Bay, close to Cagayan De Oro, where I live. Here, costs are very low compared to the rest of The Philippines, the infrastructure is very good, the highway system is good, ocean access is excellent. There will soon be a new international airport and the world's second largest shipbuilding facility located here. The Diwata mountain range immediately to the east acts as a huge barrier to the tropical storms that form southeast of The Philippines, always diverting northward the typhoons that routinely cause destruction elsewhere in the country.

In addition, while Misamis Oriental is safely distant from the small and generally bootless bands of Muslim terrorist groups operating on Mindanao, the presence of these groups has brought worldwide focus to the impoverished nature of the people of Mindanao, and the need for investment here. It's not unreasonable to expect business owners to start considering the irenic potential of their investment decisions in the future; many Muslim-owned multinationals may start looking past Indonesia and Malaysia towards Mindanao as places in which to invest. With a small but significant Mulsim minority, Misamis Oriental may be a safe place to start.

The world is moving forward and is getting smaller. Entirely new considerations that effect where and how business is done are decentralizing business away from the big economies. Small countries are very quickly becoming (or are already) entirely capable of hosting industry that just a decade ago could only function with the resources of Japan, Germany, or America. The Philippines can now match these old established players in factors of production, and do so at a much lower price. The Philippines, for the reasons I listed above... and Misamis Oriental specifically... are at the top of that list for the future of business.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Daily Report: Jungle Dancing

Tonight, out in Jasaan, the kids and teachers from Jasaan National High School gathered under The Big Vagina (what I call it, not them) and put on a show to celebrate the beginning of Fiesta in town. Honestly, I think this is like the fifth Fiesta this year. I think that basically every week, someplace within 20 miles of you, is a town having a Fiesta.

The school put on a nice little show with singing and dancing, both by students and by teachers.

Kid sister Inday led her little troupe in some hip-hop dancing (that's her, center stage, below). Some of Epril's teachers, who were sponsors at our wedding, also got up on stage and danced and sang, and weren't half bad.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Thailand Update

The Thai Supreme Court disbanded most all of the conservative parties today for vote fraud, and suspended about 40 top politicians. Of course, the remaining several hundred members of the Thai Parliament (as well as all of the suspended politicians' brothers, sons, and wives) are still eligible to hold office. There is already the "Pheua Thai" party waiting in the wings as a "reserve vehicle" for all the now-partyless members to join.

In other words, nothing has changed... but a lot has changed.

The yellow shirts are still sitting in the airport refusing to leave until every single politician they don't like is removed from office and is forbidden from electioneering ever again. Obviously, that's not going to happen, so now they are holding one of Asia's most important airports hostage with a demand that can never be met. The military supports the yellow shirts because they want power for themselves, so the protesters aren't leaving that airport without some new pressure on them to leave.

Now it gets ugly.

Enter the red shirts: The supporters of the disbanded conservative parties. Now they're pissed, and they're bigger than the yellow shirts. Add to that the massive millions of Thai people who are seeing their incomes hurt because of a few thousand yellow shirt people sitting in an airport for what is no longer a good reason, and you've got all the makings for a good old fashioned civil war: Red shirts and most Thai people on one side, yellow shirts and the military on the other.

Read all about it in this excellent article.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Daily Report: Between The Moon & New York City

Cagayan De Oro may never find itself upon the shining path which big music stars tread at the heights of their careers. But, if the present is any indication, we can look forward to seeing Britney and Justin performing for us in, oh, 2038 or so.

If there is one thing that Filipinos love, it is 70's and 80's soft rock music. It's all they listen to. Fortunately, aging stars have become hip to this fact, and now Cagayan De Oro regularly sees once-top-shelf music acts come and perform.

So far, in the 8 months I've been here, Earth Wind and Fire has played, Toto was here last month, and tonight was Christopher Cross, playing at the Limketkai Atrium.

Now, I won't go so far as to say I would prefer to see "Ride Like The Wind" performed live over "Hit Me Baby One More Time", but the price is right ($36 for both of us), and you can bring in your own food. Britney can't touch that with her two-hundred-dollar tickets.

Christopher is obviously getting on in years at 57 (but lordy, he's aged well), and his voice has lost most of his trademark bouncy countertenor and now sounds stretched and hollow. But, I was told by Epril that Christopher had mentioned at a press conference earlier today that he wasn't feeling well, so that may be it. But, the crowd, Epril and me included, enjoyed the music, our old favorites, discovered a couple of new songs we liked, and all in all thought it was a great deal.

So, if you are a semi-retired 70's superstar who wants to find the glory of yesteryear again (Hall and Oates, I'm looking at you), I'd like to let you know that The Philippines hasn't forgotten you. (Where do you think those royalty checks are coming from anyway?) Stop by when you get the time. We'll love you for it.

(And if you're wondering, yes I recorded a video of "Sailing", and no you can't hear it... mostly because of the crap sound the camera records. It doesn't sound as bad as the video from the beauty pagaent, but it's certainly not good enough to bother putting a bit of it up on YouTube.)