A Day in the Life of Manila [true story]

Just another day in Manila:

Novita took the car so I grabbed a taxi home from work. Traffic in Manila was so obscenely terrible that I decided to get out and walk. Only after exiting the car did I realize the entire street was lined with gates – meaning it was completely illegal to be on the busy street vs the sidewalk. (Ayala Ave / Paseo) Nice of the taxi driver to mention that. WTF?

So just as I’m ready to hop the gate, a cop runs over and yells at me to stay where I am – in traffic – with cars driving dangerously close to me. I politely tell him the story – that I didn’t mean to, didn’t know, blah blah. He asked for my ID so I lied and said I only had my work badge. “Sir, where is your license?” “Well, sirrrr, I’m walking so I don’t really need my driver’s license do I?” His face wrinkled up like he just swallowed a burning cigarette.

He said he’d confiscate my work badge. No problem, cause I’d just get a new one at work rather than spend 5 hours sweating in a filthy Manila police station to retrieve it. A far better option than handing him my license which was in my pocket.

He then tried to issue me a ticket. Hmmm, based on what – my work ID? “How long have you been in Manila?” “Uh, only 3 months.” “And you didn’t know you can’t walk on this street?” “Uh, I never walk this way – I drive to work.”

Now he’s really confused. Or is it angry? Irrelevant.

“Sir, I thought you didn’t have a license?” “Yeah, uh, I left it in my car.” Moving on… “Sir, do you realize I can give you community service for jay-walking.” “Yeah, but I also realize it’s your job to keep people safe and we’re standing here talking on the very street where you said it’s not safe to be.”

Obviously hard of hearing as he didn’t reply.

“Sir. Do you see all these flowers planted? They were planted by jaywalkers.” “Right. So how about you help me hop this fence and I can get home safely rather than chat with you in this ridiculous traffic?” He wasn’t amused but I think he simply couldn’t stand my insubordinate face anymore so he said, “Ok, but next time I catch you I will give you community service planting flowers.”

“It’s a deal, boss. Can you give me a boost?”

After I hop the fence. In my nice clothes. At rush hour. In front of 300 people. Carrying 3 bags and a bunch of photo gear that crashes to the sidewalk. I compose myself and continue on. At the next intersection a woman near me starts screaming. (Not at me, fortunately) The screaming escalates. She starts throwing punches at another woman. The other woman punches back – hard. Only then do I realize that the other woman has unusually large biceps under her skin tight dress. She was he in drag. So basically a street brawl opens up right in front of me between she-men with far too much estrogen/testosterone to be safe for anyone breathing fumes like that. In a city like Manila, you don’t wanna hang around for round 2.

As I’m walking away, a cop runs over and starts yelling at them, all I hear is, “Ladies, do you want community service!!!”

And this, my friends, is why I love expatriate life. Never a dull moment.


Want more? Here are similar posts:

Expat Experiences

Bule Behavior

Culture Clash

Two typhoons hit Manila in less than a week

In less than 6 days, two separate typhoons have rolled through Manila. These hit almost exactly two years after Ondoy ripped through killing many and leaving devastation and horrendous flooding in its wake. Fortunately these have been relatively mild in Manila compared to Ondoy, but with heavy flooding occurring in some areas nonetheless.

My neighbor and coworker had a massive tree get ripped out of the ground during the heavy winds. I believe it knocked out his power for a few days. When I asked him about it, he mentioned that the electrical company sent workers out to begin slicing up the tree for removal. Apparently the guy with the chainsaw forgot to cut the power to the lines and the chainsaw went through the main line sending sparks everywhere – as he was wearing flip-flops standing in the wet street.

Sorry for the poor quality but this was taken from Novita’s Blackberry in a rush.

Expat life remains anything but dull.


Post about Indonesian women and expat men has reached 221 comments

This post from nearly 5 years ago has certainly received a lot of feedback – currently at 221 comments. And there were many more comments not approved or moderated for various reasons (and I’m very lenient). It appears the nature of relationships between Asian women and foreigners is a hot topic. Unfortunately, the discussion also seems to breed hate, blatant racism, extreme generalizations, and the other crap that comes with the telling of peoples’ personal history.

Each of these delicately composed comments comes streaming (and sometimes shouting) into my inbox, at times more frequently than bathroom breaks. I’m so often tempted to respond, to speak my own mind, and share my experiences having been with an amazing, loving, and caring Indonesian woman for so many years – experiences so very opposite from the majority of those sharp words expressed in the comments. But then again, whose mind am I going to change? If someone has had a horrible experience with love or has witnessed a partner using them only as a means to an end, who am I to say that they’re wrong to lash out?

Despite the fact that this blog is centered around photography, travel, culture, and my own life experiences as an expatriate living in Asia, I’ll continue to allow the comments to flow. I simply ask that before you contribute to the discussion, you ask yourself if you’d say the same thing if you were face-to-face with others, that you consider the flip side to your beliefs and statements, and that you strive to maintain some semblance of respect – especially in terms of religion. Don’t confuse the disparity of wealth and blatant naivety with a particular religion.

Having said that, perhaps it’s time for me to share my own perspectives on this matter from many years of personal experience.

Photographing Manila as an expat

Took a stroll the other day with a fellow photography enthusiast and Novita through a part of Manila most expats would never dare explore. Between that area and the area we live in, “Fort Bonifacio”, there’s a massive, imposing wall reaching 5 meters in some places.

I wasn’t sure if it was keeping them out, or keeping us walled in.

The security guards near one entrance just smiled and said there’s no way we could enter. Of course that didn’t stop us – we found a small gate 300 meters down the road that led us into what can only be deemed the polar opposite of where we live.

In Indonesia, I regularly went exploring on foot through less developed areas, landfills, and slums. The major difference was that I understood what those around me were saying. Yet after more than a year in Manila, I still can’t speak a lick of Tagalog – English is much more widespread. I’ll admit, it feels more vulnerable not knowing what the young guys are saying about Novita when they chuckle together. I try to smile and keep walking when I’m pretty sure they’re saying something derogatory about her – continually reminding myself that we’re the visitors wandering around their grounds by choice. It’s not always easy.

Luckily, most of those we met on the street were friendly and just wanted to practice their English. I managed to take a few interesting photos, but for the most part simply wanted to take in my surroundings and gauge everyone’s response to our cameras. I consider it groundwork for going out again.

Unfortunately, the next day, my friend went out again on his own to take photos and was pick-pocketed. His phone was stolen right out of his bag as he was taking pics. He felt it, but by the time he realized it, the guy was on his way out of there. A few girls pointed the thief out and my friend managed to get his phone back. It is a reminder to not always assume the best in people I suppose, but it could have happened nearly anywhere. It’s not fair to label a country, its people, or their station in life – there are thieves in every country, culture, and level of society. It is what it is. Better to lose a cheap Nokia than a pension plan. It won’t deter him; he’ll be back out next weekend with his camera and a grin.

It’s taken me much longer to get out with my camera in Manila than it ever did in Jakarta. But I hope I can get to know the people beyond my expat bubble, to see the similarities and contrast amongst Indonesian and Filipino people, and learn to appreciate this amazing culture just as I did with my beloved Indonesia.

Earning supplemental income: How to make money in your spare time?

Money. As much as I strive to enjoy life without focusing on it, I’m beginning to feel that it’s time to seek out more financial security. The global recession, New Year’s resolutions, and the very lucid realization that I’m now in my 30’s has been the cause of such thinking.

For the past seven years, I’ve lived in Jakarta on a decent salary, with sufficient housing provided, a car that’s paid off, maids that have cooked and cleaned, and have enjoyed much of the expat lifestyle defined by comfort and travel.

On the other hand, I’ve been a salaried employee this entire time, with not much potential to break out of the pre-determined pay scale beyond yearly (very modest) increases. I am friends with many expats making absurd amounts of money; generally they’re working in the oil industry, investments, or other more lucrative fields. It’s not easy seeing how much more they earn, not out of greed or jealousy, but from the knowlege that they’ve traveled the world, and don’t stress about finances in the same manner. Having said that, I’ve never measured a man by his wealth.

In living like an expat, I spend like an expat. Whereas an Indonesian meal may cost less than $1, a decent meal of sushi or seafood will generally be well over $20. I won’t continue with the disparities in lifestyle expenditures, but you get the point. There are areas where I can cut back.

I feel it’s time to start being more financially responsible. Focusing on the basics, saving more money, and finding cheaper ways of enjoying life. Knowing this is a trend around the globe makes it easier, but budgeting alone isn’t enough.

It’s time to seek out other opportunities for making supplemental income. There are two factors that play into this:

A) The very real fact that the life of an expat is transient. I never know when I’ll leave Indonesia, as my contracts are renewed annually. I’ll need another source of income to bridge the gap when I decide to leave and/or switch careers.

B) Budgeting and saving may be sufficient for developing good habits, but it’s simply not enough for things like buying property, a home, or investing carefully, at this time.

It will take lots of research, dedication, time, and money to get some things started, but I believe I have all of those aspects covered. Whereas many of my friends enjoy evenings of leisure, TV, reading, and socialization, after the gym, dinner, and some quality time with Novita, I’m back on the computer in the evenings doing photography, teaching myself new skills, etc. I have no problem dedicating at least an additional 2-4 hours per day to whatever venture I begin.

Now the question is… what should I do? I have a few ideas, and will dedicate another post to them. In the meantime, are there any ways you make additional income beyond your primary job? Do you find that the time you put into it is worthwhile in the end? Do you make sufficient income from it to rationalize giving up your free time?

More to come.

Job opportunity: we're hiring ASAP

My employer is currently seeking to hire someone as soon as possible.

I believe it’s preferable to have an expat, or an Indonesian fluent in English. The package is good, salary good, and many perks. It’s a great place to work; but I believe they’re keen to fill the position this week. I will remove this post after the position is filled.

Please contact me directly for more information if interested.

*UPDATE* – Post filled. Thank you for your interest!

When friends leave

One of the most unfortunate aspects of being an overseas expat is the simple but inevitable fact that you must continually part ways with close friends. When you work in an expat situation and experience extreme highs and even more intense lows, these people become your surrogate family.

Unlike other environments, rarely would you find a job where you’d find yourself stranded together because of massive flooding, and evacuated together in the back of a military truck. You’d scarcely find yourself discussing ways of coping should Avian Flu come to a head, changing life dramatically. You hopefully would never witness the death of your very own leader who had become a father figure to all in this close-knit environment, and the subsequent painful healing afterwards.

Dealing with these issues brings people closer than the average workplace. The fact that in many ways you’re isolated due to the language constraints only amplifies this bond. When vacation time arises, most often you’re traveling together, and experiencing the cultural differences and quirks together. These experiences form memories that time will not tarnish.

It’s only when your friends begin seeking new contracts in other countries, or start moving back to where they originated from that you remember that this is all temporary – that all of us will move on in one way or another in due time. Am I thankful I’ve remained in Indonesia this long? Of course. Have I met some amazing people? Definitely. It’s better to have made these connections and then lost them, rather than to never have made them in the first place.

But like a layer of fresh snow in the April sunlight, it’s fleeting and ephemeral.

Ultimately, we are all transient.

Maid-less once again

As spoiled as this sounds – it sucks not having a maid. We had to let ours go.

I lived alone for nearly a decade, so I’m quite competent with laundry, cooking (well, sort of), and am a pretty clean guy. So, no, a maid is not a necessary part of living here – BUT, I’ll have the rest of my life to go maid-less once I leave Indonesia.

So, my plea to you is this: if you have any reliable source for finding maids, or know of one available, please let me know. I’m not picky, not demanding, and pay more than average. i just ask that they not steal from me, escape out the roof at midnight to ‘hang out’ with the construction workers, or smoke crack in the back patio. English is not necessary believe it or not, and neither is previous expat household experience.

The search is on.