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Words and Music

As a bit of background, before you read what I have written here, keep in mind that I made my living by playing music on the radio for a quarter of a century and I heard the best on a daily basis. There once was a time in the history of the world that the lyrics to songs not only made sense, but could be clearly understood by the common man. I very well remember the gold standard in singers.  Stars like Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Barbra Streisand, Nat “King” Cole, and many others sang the lyrics like pure poetry. Today, for the most part, they have been replaced by a tiny minority of singers whose song stylings can still be understood by anyone who understands English. I can think of two singers who carry on the traditions of the past. There are more like Harry Connick and Michael Bouble, but not much more. The majority of modern-day singers in English have several very bad habits, chief among them is placing their lips on the microphones they use. This is a highly un-hygienic practice.  For some reason, they have been taught to belt the quietest melodies into oblivion by hollering unintelligible lyrics at decibels that match the roar of a 747 taking off. The other night, I saw an American talent contest on television and the winner received accolades from the judges and the audience alike though I couldn’t understand one word she sang.  As a general rule, the only ones who don’t sing that way and have resisted the practice are those in country music. In the Philippines, however, the old way still holds forth and it’s not just in English. I have watched and listened to countless people both professional and amateur who sing a song and enunciate the words the way they were written. Even though I don’t speak or understand Tagalog, it is obvious that the singers in the Philippines have been taught to sing without slurring or shouting. This is certainly not to say they all sing well because just one party with a karaoke machine disabused me of that thought.  It has been my observation that there are as many tone deaf singers in Tagalog as there are in English, but at least the words are understandable. I won’t even get into rap music because, in my opinion rap is simply gutter poetry and I dismiss it outright.

China Mart

I saw a posting in a forum for foreigners where one American man said he was anxious to be an ex-patriot in thePhilippines so he could get away from the land of “Chinamart.”  It was clear that he looked down on Wal-Mart and the preponderance of Chinese merchandise in that chain of stores. A day later, another poster made a very good point in answer. What he said was that if you think you will get away from shoddy Chinese made goods by moving to thePhilippines, you will be severely disappointed.  In fact, the common folk here (me included) have to buy Chinese made products because the imports from other countries are simply out of our price range. Some of those products from China include those that have been banned in theUS like some dairy products or toys because dangerous chemicals or ingredients are in them. The Chinese of today are quite similar to the Japanese following World War II. Those of us who were alive back then remember that the Japanese copied the products of the West and then sold them at relatively cheap prices. That was possible because their workers got barely enough wages to subsist. These days, the Chinese do the same and seem to care little about quality.  They make high priced pills like Viagra and charge pennies on the dollar because they are knockoffs. The Chinese don’t pay the pharmaceutical companies any royalties and the worst part is the pills may not work. They care not at all about intellectual property and find a ready market willing to buy books, movies, and music copied from the originals. Name brand labels are slapped on items ranging from shoes, to clothing, to handbags, and others even though they are third rate products. They are then sold at a heavy discount in the Philippines and the sad fact is that most buyers don’t care about the practice and gladly settle for inferior products just as long as the designer label is on it.  Every Wednesday is bargain day in my town and I can go to the city market and find all manner of Chinese made items sold at rock bottom prices.  I can choose from tools, to watches, to combs, to small appliances, and so much more.  For the most part, it’s on a buyer beware basis because the government does not meddle in such commerce even though there are laws against it.  It’s just not something the government cares about. The man who thinks he is getting away from what he calls “Chinamart” has a real eye-opener coming when he leaves the US.

We Don’t Have That

Citizens of countries like theUnited States, Canada, theUK, and most developed countries get used to the little necessities of life and have the feeling that such things are universal. That feeling changes when you set foot on Philippine soil. For instance, the pharmaceuticals you’re used to simply not sold at any price. A popular pain remedy for sore teeth and gums is Anbesol or Oragel. You will not find even a replacement brand here because all pain killers are prescription only and only certain physicians can write prescriptions.  Even if you are lucky enough to find such a doctor, the product is not on drugstore shelves. Should you be unlucky enough to get the flu, you may want Nyquil.  No such thing here, but you can ask the druggist for something that will relieve the symptoms.  It might take several separate medicines though. Some people with dentures need dental adhesives like Poligrip or Fixodent. Those very products are sold in the Philippines, but it takes time to locate a reliable supply. It seems that people who need the adhesives buy in quantity at the store and deplete the stock. You will have to wait for another month before a new delivery is made. Often, it takes a trip to the nearest mall to find blades for a man’s razor because local stores don’t stock razor blades of any kind.  Even then, it’s not a sure bet that the blades your razor takes will be there. As for foods, certain items are completely impossible. Cold cuts like salami and baloney are nowhere to be found, however hot dogs are in plentiful supply. Sliced ham is for sale though it doesn’t look anything like the ham you ate at home. It looks more like a blotchy quilt of colors. Hamburger is sold but whatever you do, do not buy the grayish frozen patties sold in many stores. They do not taste like any beef you know. Get freshly ground meat from a meat market. Some things you may want are sold here, but under a different name and it takes time to find out what that name is. I happen to like mustard. This is not something Filipinos ever try, so it is usually not on the store shelves outside of the bigger cities. I fixed that situation by myself. Every time I went into my local supermarket, I asked for mustard. They now stock it. As for catsup, you have two choices. Tomato or banana catsup. Banana? Give it a try. You might like it.

Never Again

I have heard many people say, “Never say never,” but this is one thing I am certain of. I will never again go shopping for anything at Christmastime. I hope you notice that I did not say, “Never go Christmas shopping.” I am a proud atheist and Christmas has no meaning for me. I have never in my life gone Christmas shopping. Under no circumstances, will I ever buy presents for anyone at that time of year. Never did and never will. How dare the powers that be tell me that I MUST buy a Christmas present for anyone on a certain arbitrary date on the calendar that misinformed people say is the birthday of someone called Jesus? I once was fired from a job because I wouldn’t do it. I was told that I had to put money into the pot to buy a Christmas present for a boss I didn’t like and I refused. I laugh when I hear people say this is the season for peace and love. That hypocrisy is something the retailers thought up to justify spending mass amounts of money. Well, this year I was asked to accompany my wife and two other people to a mall in and the moment I stepped inside, I knew I had made a terrible mistake. The crowd was so thick that the floor beneath my feet couldn’t be seen. I was behind hordes of people holding large bags stuffed with purchases in both hands. Others pushed fully loaded shopping carts in a mad frenzy to spend every peso they had in their pockets. The noise was nearly unbearable and the only thing I thought of buying was ear plugs. The four of us ate overpriced meals at a restaurant we never would normally choose since all our favorite places were jammed. After the food, the others dragged me into a department store and two minutes of crowd jostling later I decided there was no way I wanted to be part of it. I excused myself and made for a relatively quiet oasis, the mall’s Internet café. An hour later, I reluctantly stepped back into the chaos and ran for the exit. Outside, the traffic crawled and I was assaulted by a jarring symphony of car horns. I crossed over to another nearby mall and pushed through the nearly impenetrable army of shock troop shoppers. I made my way to the food court at the farthest reach of the mall where I plopped down and called my wife who told me she had been standing in line at the cash register for half an hour to make a simple purchase. I could take no more and told her I was catching a bus home where I would wait for her. The bus was even more crowded than the mall and at least 66 people were crammed into a first-class bus meant for only 48. I was forced to stand in the aisle for 30 minutes until a seated passenger got up to leave. At one point, a one-year-old boy waddled next to me in the aisle and needed to pee. He was without a diaper and his father put a plastic bag up to the kid’s privates and the boy relieved himself, though some got on the floor. I suppose I should be thankful the kid didn’t want to take a dump. I solemnly promise never to get in your way as you shop for Christmas because I will definitely never be there

Getting the Internet

For the past month and a half, I have been without the Internet in my home. I have  limped along and used Internet cafés which I would not recommend to anyone who wants to remain sane. From my experience at several Internet cafés I can say that 95% of the computers are used by young teen boys who play video games with each other and who constantly yell, holler, and scream at the slightest provocation. Before this interruption of home service, I was completely satisfied with our cable TV and Internet hookup, but my wife wanted to move to a new place for reasons all her own. The place we moved to was okay, but cable was not available. The first thing we did was to contact PLDT or Philippine Long Distance Telephone for their Internet service. They brushed us off by saying that our location was outside of their service area and hung up. The next choice was Digitel. After a week, a technician came out, took one look at where we were and said the nearest Digitel lines were already taken and that it would cost a lot to put up new lines just for us. I went back to our previous cable connection and asked where their service areas were in town so we could make another move. They told me the few areas that were available and my wife went apartment hunting there. After a few days, she gave up because she knew the places she found were substandard or too expensive for our budget. There is another choice, but I am adamantly opposed to using Smart Bro because their service is the worst I have ever seen. My solution was to move to another town and we chose Hermosa where we found a spacious townhouse in a subdivision. The next step was contacting the cable company there. Their office manager/technician/clerk gave us a handful of paperwork to fill out and told us to come back the next day. That was a holiday and the office was closed. It was also closed the next two days because it was a weekend. On the following Monday, the man in the office took all the paperwork and said that cable installation would not be until after the technicians complete a survey of our area. They have to physically come to our place to calculate how near or far we were to their lines.  My wife decided to hurry the process.  She went over and demanded they come today or we would get another company.  That’s why you now see this.

Kota Kinabalu

Try saying that three times fast. Once you perform that task, try saying this… “Diosdado Macapagal.”  If you are like most people you’ve never heard of Kota Kinabalu, a city I decided to visit inMalaysia. The Philippine immigration law states that I may stay in the country for 16 months as a tourist and then, I must leave it. At this time, leaving for only one day satisfies the law. That may change in the future. Once I come back, I get another 16 months. Because the fare was supposed to be cheap, I chose Kota Kinabalu. It turned out to be much more expensive than I ever imagined. The fare started out as over $400 including taxes. However, I had to add what is called a throwaway ticket. More on that some other day.  Diosdado Macapagal is the name of a deceased president of the Philippines and the government named the airport I departed from after him. All was going according to plan until I found out that the taxes were not included. When I got to the airport, I was told that I have to pay a whopping 1,620 pesos ($33) for a Philippine travel tax. If that wasn’t enough, another window at the airport took 600 pesos ($14) for an airport tax. That is on top of a fee for police clearance that I had to get at another immigration office. As you can see, all the taxes were not included. I had not counted on any more fees and was close to being flat busted. At first, it appeared that I was left with not enough money for a taxi to a hotel in Kota Kinabalu. I had already paid for the tickets and all the taxes, so I had to get on the plane. No need to panic. The steward for Air Asia told me there would be a money changer on duty when we landed. I still had 1000 pesos in Philippine money and I thought that was enough to keep me from sleeping at the airport in Malaysia. Boarding the plane was reminiscent of the 1950s. The passengers had to walk out on the tarmac and climb the rollaway stairs to gain entrance. On board the plane, I took pictures of the interior and the safety demonstration in the aisle. After it was over, the young stewardess told me not to take pictures. Upon landing, I stepped out on the tarmac and started to take pictures of the exterior of the plane and was again cautioned not to take pictures. I took these warnings as an inauspicious welcome. After passing through Malaysian immigration, I found the money changer, got a taxi that took me through a clean and modern city, then walked into the first hotel I saw, the Hotel Kinabalu. The room was tiny but clean. The bathroom had the requisite toilet and sink and I was surprised to see a shower head in the wall between them. When I took a shower everything got wet. The TV had a four channels. Three of them were Malaysian and the other was HBO, Asian version with Malaysian subtitles. In the morning, HBO didn’t start until seven and at around 830, I had enough of the room, so I hit the streets with my camera. I was astounded at the differences between the Philippines and Malaysia, definitely not a Third World country. English is spoken, at least among the people I met.  Kota Kinabalu is Muslim territory and many females wore headscarves.  Also, not the slightest glimpse of leg can be shown. That alone crosses Malaysia off my list of approved countries. None of the men or women I saw on the streets were in shorts while they abound in thePhilippines. Cars drive on the wrong side of the road and drivers seemed to be courteous and followed the rules. Parks were in abundance on many streets and while there was no shortage of foliage, I saw not one palm tree. Filipinos will see a camera and jump over each other to get in my pictures, but as far as I could see, Malaysian people ignore cameras. The trip back was uneventful though I was super hungry due to not eating for two days. I think I lost 2 kilos and I would rather cut it off than lose it that way. Maybe if I had more time and money, I would have enjoyed the city, but it was probably the worst Thanksgiving I ever experienced.

Doing business in the Philippines

Yesterday, I posted this comment on a forum for foreigners in thePhilippines.

Recently, a friend of mine who is an officer with a corporation with locations in several Asian countries and headquartered in Texastold me he wanted to close down operations in the other countries and move everything to the Philippines. He was even considering buying a home here to live in when he came to marry a Filipina. Due to the intransigence of officials, he has changed his mind. The following was taken directly from his email to me…
”I now doubt that I will be buying a home there. We are moving our corporation to China. The government officials and the people in the Philippines that we had to deal with were very unreasonable. They all wanted kickbacks and the amounts were ridiculous. (money under the table) We will purchase the items we need in China instead and have them shipped directly to the States, and stored here in Texas. Everything will fly into Dallas, Fort Worth Airport, (DFW) and the on to Tyler. One of the other officers in our corporation is from China, so he will be making the arrangements in China. I do not particularly want to travel to China.”

I got several responses to my posting.  Here are two of them…

“It has been going on a long time, and it’s why the Philippineslags behind other Asian countries in attracting business. Its people are industrious, educated, English speaking, and the labor is cheap. There are good ports and airports everywhere, but the story of the Phils is, the land of ofw’s because of no jobs. Employers can demand almost anything, and get it. Those sales girls at SM are required to have college degrees. And although I personally enjoy it, you rarely see pinays so immodestly dressed in public as those short, ugly orangish dresses they make those sales ladies wear. I have seen some gloriously fine legs on SM sales ladies.  The laws themselves deny land ownership and restrict business ownership, and then the bureaucracy demands its graft all the way down the line.  In ways, we profit from this system. I was able to bribe the issuer of our marriage license to date it prior to my arrival to allow me to marry before my trip ended. I was able to pay a “fine” to a policeman, on the spot, to get out of ticket, towing, court, etc. Others here have experiences similar.  I have boys to raise, but don’t intend to sit on my keister and drink when I am retired, but I also plan to keep a low profile, in small businesses, and be a shadow manager.  What can you do? If the Phils reforms, attracts business, and prospers, it will become just another place like here. And the ladies there would become like ours. A tragedy that gives me the shudders.”

And there was this…

“The World Bank gives thePhilippinesvery poor marks for doing business there.  They are rated 136 out of 183 countries. The issues are not just the issues you have noted, the problem is much deeper and getting worse over the years. I’ve seen very few foreigners do well with business in the RP. If you want to do something to entertain yourself in the Philippines, raise pigs, chickens, children, have a sarisari, have a bar, etc… great. But your own country, no matter where you are from, is probably a better place to make money at least according to the World Bank.”

I neither agree nor disagree with the comments.  Just something to think about.


Getting a Job

A few weeks ago, I spoke with an ignorant man from another country who commented on the sorry state of unemployment in the Philippines by saying, “Well, if the Filipinos would just get up off their lazy asses, their lot in life would be better.” To be sure, there are some lazy people here just as there are in other countries, however jobs are not only few and far between in the Philippines, it takes more effort to get one. If all you want to do is to obtain the position of cashier at a fast food restaurant, you better have a college degree. Those places don’t even want to talk to a person without one. Because the employers want to avoid paying any benefits, workers must sign a six month contract knowing that they will be laid off at the end of the contract. You see, benefits kick in after six months of employment. The employees must work for free during training which could be up to a month and they have to pay for their own uniforms. Right now, there are nearly a quarter of a million fully trained nurses who are out of work and if they ever manage to snag a job at a hospital, they will be required to work for almost no pay for two long years of on-the-job training before they are put on the permanent staff. If a job seeker has no education to speak of, they must settle for low wages and intolerable conditions. Sitting in my living room and looking out the window, I see men and women struggling with the heavy weight of fish buckets suspended by ropes attached to a wooden pole over their shoulders. They walk the streets selling their fresh catch from dawn until the bucket is empty. I have seen men carrying 5′ x 5′ pieces of furniture strapped to their backs as they trudged steep hills outside of a city near my home. If they don’t sell the furniture, they try again the next day. Women young and old get up before the sun rises to work as “tinderas” at little cafés called “carinderias” in the city market. The pay for these jobs is literally pennies an hour. Take a stroll down any street in any neighborhood and it will reward you with quite a few entrepreneurs who set up small stores and food stands. They take what little capital they have and try to scrape out a living close to home. You can see for yourself that most Filipinos are definitely not just sitting on their lazy asses.

TV or not TV

The first thing you notice about TV in the Philippines is that everything comes out of Manila.  That might be because I am on the island of Luzon, the same island as the capital city. It might be different on another island, but I don’t know.  I don’t recommend watching the Philippine channels because even if you manage to learn the language, the comedies are so lowbrow they make the Beverly Hillbillies seem to be on a level with Masterpiece Theatre. The nighttime soap operas can be pretty good or very bad, however they go on and on far after they should have ended. The variety shows are loaded with songs, dances, comedy, and quizzes to keep the audience entertained, but most have little appeal to me.  If you are like me and don’t feel any need to learn another language, you should get the cable or dish service. Mine gave me a ton of TV channels plus fast Internet for less than I was paying for the Smart Bros Internet alone. That was absolutely the worst Internet provider I ever had, bar none. When I first moved to the cable, I discovered several movie channels, world news and some US TV channels and I was on cloud nine. It wasn’t long before I found out that the movies were limited. They run 24 hours a day, but there is no set schedule. The movies begin when someone decides that they have put on enough promotional announcements to kill any viewer interest. Some channels have subtitles in English even though the movie is already in English. Others have Chinese subtitles and the movies are in English or German or even French. The incessant repetition and selection is astoundingly appalling.  Expect to see a De Niro movie called “Ronin” once a week. This week, “Robocop” was on at least once a day on one channel.  That is not an exaggeration. Action heroes abound and I think I now have seen every Jean-Claude Van Damme movie ever made plus all of the movies that Chuck Norris made with Asian villains. For some reason, Woody Harrelson movies are shown here. I’m not a fan of his and I don’t know why people want to see him.  Cinemax shows very low budget movies with totally unknown actors and a selection of 1930s horror flicks. HBO is the Asian version and they tend to appeal to a young audience. Star movies lean in the direction of big stars in big movies while the History Channel and National Geographic present 50% US made programming along with 50% Asian product in English. The shows on these two channels start at the top of the hour but they end around ten minutes before the hour. CNN is not from Atlanta and usually comes from Hong Kong or Singapore while Fox is real-time from New York, though the night programs are on in the morning Philippine time and vice versa. Fox deletes all US commercial announcements and fills the time with what they call Extras. The musical Extras are unbearable. The others repeat without end.  MSNBC is also on, but that is so leftist it is unwatchable. A few American network shows can be seen but only in reruns. After about a month this fare, I was bored to tears by the selection on the cable. I have now switched to pirated movies.

The National Shoe of the Philippines

Everybody wears them. Designers come up with new styles. They fill entire stores devoted to them. They are everywhere. You may call them flip flops or shower shoes or even sandals. In many areas of the Philippines, they are called slippers or tsinelas. They are as ubiquitous as a 5 peso coin and come in every color, design, and price range. Everyone from the poorest slum kid to the wealthiest businessman wears them and I have come to hate them. First of all, what is the reason that everyone in the Philippines wears them? That answer is simple. They are cheap and people with very little disposable income have no money to blow on real shoes. Now if you look around, there are places where you will not see slippers. Most schools insist on uniforms and shoes are part of that uniform. The same goes for big stores in the malls. Slippers just don’t go with uniforms. Police officers wear heavy shoes and boots and government offices are usually slipper-free. In fact, the Bureau of Immigration has sent down an edict from the head office that clearly bans the wearing of slippers on foreigners who use the services of the Bureau. However, that rule is not enforced in many outlying field offices. Secondly, why have I taken a personal dislike for the lowly flip-flop? When I first set foot on Philippine territory, I was urged to dress native style. Since I already came from a region that is warmer and even more humid than the Philippines, that was easy. My mode of dress has always been shorts and a T-shirt, but I never wore flip-flops. For one week, I tried to wear what the natives wore. I tripped three times and fell on my face twice. Normally, I am quite sure footed and never trip when wearing shoes. I can’t even remember the last time that happened. Also, slippers offer no protection and I stubbed my toes several times on the uneven and broken sidewalks. I was told I should learn to walk all over again. I declined. Now, you may think that I stopped buying flip-flops. Not exactly. My wife, a Filipina has become the Imelda Marcos of the flip-flop world and when we go shopping together, she spends 30 minutes trying on the latest styles and never walks out of the store without a new pair… that I have paid for.