- 01. Giving It Away
- 02. Mind Games
- 03. Customer Service
- 04. Getting Down to Business
- 05. …And Not a Drop to Drink
- 06. The Commission
- 07. Service!
- 08. Instant Celebrity
- 09. The Pinoy Diet
- 10. Life As We Know It
- 11. Doctors’ Borders
- 12. Poor, Poorer, Poorest
- 13. Half Empty
- 14. Me and My Leg
- 15. Always Be With You
- 16. Going Underground
- 17. Decisions, Decisions
- 18. I Shall Depart
- 19. A Volcano within a Volcano
- 20. A Nod and a Smile
- 21. Not Fighting City Hall
- 22. Stasis in Places
- 23. Fond Farewells
- 24. Parting Shots
You know the type. They work long hours, attending meetings, making presentations, always “on”. They take work home, and actually work on it. They never call in sick, taking only quarter-days for funerals of immediate family members. They have “me time” they use to chat about “best practice” and “continuous improvement” with bankers, lawyers, and accountants over a single glass of wine that lasts an entire evening.
I have never been that type.
Once a year, they go on vacation, usually to a resort surrounded by guards and barbed-wire, sometimes they call it “Aruba”. Then — and only then — they get deathly ill, spending the entire week covered with hives of indeterminate provenance, shivering in an overheated hotel room.
I had never been that type, either.
Today was the first day in about two months we had nothing to accomplish. Naturally, Frank and I filled our heads with all sorts of fun things to do. More naturally, my body exerted veto power, “No fucking way.” Sensing that it could finally turn “off”, turn off it did. I had new, unwelcome insight into that type.
I crawled back into bed and slept until noon. I’m not that type, either. I had no appetite, which was almost unprecedented, as I eat through just about anything. At three o’clock I mustered the energy to get dressed.
Frank and I headed out to find the ukay-ukay shops (second hand stores) we had mapped out the night before. We would move into our new furnished apartment tomorrow, but it did not come equipped with certain necessaries, such as a microwave, a toaster, and toilet paper, to name a few.
Once drugged up and out on the streets, I felt somewhat better. Every third person we passed greeted us with enthusiasm. Uniformed men and women, most often security guards, would emit a rollicking “Good afteroon, sir!” So would older or managerial-looking men, as well as younger, university student-looking women. Male laborers, on the other hand, shout “Hey, Joe!” a throwback to WWII’s “GI Joe”. Younger, university student-looking men, by contrast, might say “Hey, bro!’”, or “Hey, yo!”, possibly an indication of Quentin Tarantino’s unfortunate influence. The managerial-looking women remained silent. The old women were invisible.
For our part, we tried to spit out “Good afternoon to you, too!” in Tagalog (“Magandang hapon naman”). Later we discovered that by putting the emphasis on the wrong syllable of “hapon” we were responding with “Another beautiful Japanese person!” No harm done, they probably got it — they didn’t seem to mind.
Before today, the only shopping we had done was for groceries, and one trip to the fancy SM Mall so the Apple geniuses could be of no help. Now we were exposed to storefront shopping — mostly family operations, but there were plenty of familiar store brands, especially American fast food franchises.
Private security is big business here. Every store, except the smallest sari-sari (Mom ’n’ Pop stores), has its own security guard. Banks have three or more guards, apparently well-trained, certainly well-equipped with communications devices, and always heavily armed. Most restaurants have parking supervisors whose job it is to stop traffic so patrons can get in and out of the three or four parking spaces under their control. Street sweepers are common. Some are private citizens, some are local government employees. All use short, Asian-style brooms to push small piles of debris around with no real hope of getting rid of it. There’s simply nowhere to put it.
The ukay-ukay shops mostly sold clothing, and not much in the way of the household items we needed. We made our way back to the malls around the Araneta Center, discovering a massive superdupermarket called ShopWise. We weren’t ready to buy yet, since it would be more stuff to move tomorrow.
We wandered from department to department, noting what was available, prices and such. At each department we acquired another sales clerk. The growing pack would follow at a respectful distance, until we paused to look at something. Then, the departmental representative would insert himself between us and the object of our interest, plucking it off the rack or picking it up to offer it to us. Frank asked “Are you on commission?”, but I think they interpreted that as “Are you a member of the board of oversight?” In any case, they all denied they were on commission. As I said, we weren’t ready to buy yet, so we left five very disappointed sales persons in our wake.
We toyed with the idea of taking a taxi home, but one look at the traffic nixed that idea. I was feeling pretty good, so we hoofed it back, walking past many a stalled taxi on the way. Frank said one of the sales clerk said he made 490P a day (about US$10). Nice work if you can get it, by local standards. Frank has an uncanny ability to extract private information from people, a trait I often envy. That said, Filipinos are exceptionally willing to provide personal information — sometimes too much so!
The day’s pricing exercise confirmed the economic paradigm in which the Philippines dwells. That is, people are cheap and plentiful, so things with a big service component are cheap and plentiful, too. Taxis, delivery, restaurants, cleaning, construction, locally manufactured goods, customer service centres, cheap, cheap, cheap, CHEAP! Food, particularly commodities and staples, not so cheap. At least not in relation to local wages. You don’t have to be an economist to figure out the implications for the masses.
Sunday morning we packed up and said good-bye of the Hotel Fersal at one in the afternoon. We grabbed a Grab Taxi — sort of a down-market Uber that uses legal taxis — which delivered us promptly to our new home, Symphony Towers.
The real estate agent and landlord were waiting, papers ready to sign. While going over the paperwork, we mentioned a few things around the flat that needed attention. That ceiling light was out and we didn’t have a ladder. The second kitchen drawer was loose and rattling. When was the last time the air conditioner filter was cleaned? Everything signed, we handed over 60,000P (three months rent) in cash and were left on our own.
For about three minutes. A knock on the door signaled the arrival of the maintenance crew. They entered the apartment with a nod and set about fixing everything we had mentioned. Before they had finished, the landlord and real estate agent had returned with armloads of additional furnishings which Fay had negotiated for us: pots, a wok, flatware, and much else. An hour later, everything was fixed, and we had an apartment full of brand new stuff. Service!
After unpacking our limited clothing into our even more limited storage space, we went out to purchase extensions cords. Why does every rental property on earth have inadequate wiring? My suspicion is that landlords like the plausibility of an electrical fire. The place had only four power outlets. Nearby we found the Ace Hardware store, where once again a pack of store clerks followed us. This time we did not disappoint, spending a fortune on power boards.
With Monday free for settling-in time before starting work on Tuesday, Sunday evening we relaxed with an air conditioned trot on the fitness centre’s treadmills. Then, our feet dangling in the rooftop pool, we drafted a lengthy shopping list of thingamabobs the apartment lacked. I calculated that our volunteer stipend, intended to provide for a modest lifestyle, was probably more than the employees of our host organisation earned. It was a pretty sure bet that we’d be the only folks with a swimming pool and fitness centre on our roof. That might be awkward.
I really don’t like shopping unless I know exactly what I am looking for. I guess I mean I don’t like browsing. I do enjoy finding what I am looking for. We spent all day Monday finding what we were looking for. We started out at Ace Hardware, where a young lady that had helped us the previous night pounced with a hearty “Welcome back, sirs!”
After schlepping all the doodads we could carry home, we headed out again for the nearby All Home store for some furniture: a computer desk and bedside table topped the list. There we broke all records for the size of the sales tribe in pursuit. At check-out, no fewer than eight employees gathered around the cash register to glorify our purchases. Arrangements were made for delivery to occur Thursday evening.
On the way home, we passed a bar named Mankind, its logo the silhouette of a muscular man disco dancing.
“I think we found the right neighbourhood.” Frank observed. I had to agree.