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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.

Ants & Co.

Thank goodness that I have not had cockroach problems since the day I moved here. In Texas, I learned how to fight the pests. I asked a professional exterminator and he said I should buy a product named Combat. To my surprise, it worked. Now who is it that I have to thank for the multitude of pests that inhabit every place I have lived in the Philippines? Certainly not goodness. The ants are the most numerous. They prowl every inch of the place 24 hours a day for some tiny morsel of food I might accidentally allow to escape from my mouth. As far as I can tell, there are two main varieties, the regular garden-variety size ants that travel from point A to point B in a mostly straightforward way. Ah, but then there are the tiny and seemingly crazy ants who seem to go in all four directions at once including in circles. When I see either, I usually exterminate them with my finger, however if they congregate by the dozens around something they find irresistible, I spray the bunch to death with Baygon. Next, there are the gecko lizards who look exactly like that irritating and unfunny mascot of the Geico insurance commercials. Geckos of all sizes are scared of people and are kind enough to eat the ants, but they also leave their black droppings on the floors, windows, walls, tables, and anything that doesn’t move. The other day, we closed the rear door for the night and unbeknownst to us, a medium-sized gecko was mashed to death. In the morning, I saw this poor half-eaten lizard with 75% of his body smooshed on the door and the other 25% on the door frame. Crawling all over it, a horde of bigger ants were wreaking their revenge on him. Cleanup was not a pretty sight. When it rains heavily, thumbnail sized frogs manage to hop in and set up home in my shower. Most of the time, I use a broom to show the tiny beasts the way out. Then there are the spiders. Normally, they don’t bother me except for one recent morning. As I pushed back the shower curtain, I spotted a monster arachnid hanging onto it. The body was the size of my fist and the legs made it seem larger. A well-placed whack with a shoe brought it down to the floor, but it was still alive. Before it could recover from the blow, the shoe came down again and ugly guts went in all directions. It almost made me wish for cockroaches.

Pirates Have Invaded

At this moment, I have in my hand a blue ray high definition DVD. On it is the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean, on Stranger Tides.” The DVD cost me approximately $1.25 on the streets of the small town where I live. I think you’ll agree that would be a bargain anywhere, but in addition to that blockbuster hit, there are nine others on the disc, most of which are well-known. They include “Harry Potter 7,” “Transformers 3,” “Captain America,” “Kung Fu Panda 2,” “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” and other pictures like “Super Eight,” “Dylan Dog,” and “Larry Crown.” All 10 of those movies are on one disc. How do they do it? Simple. The disc manufacturers either make a direct copy of the movie from an authorized disk (illegal) or a pirate walks into a theater and uses a high definition camera to capture the image and sound off the screen (also illegal). The latter method often yields a movie with poor quality sound and frequent audience noises such as coughing or laughing. The laws of the Philippines are clear. These two practices are illegal here as they are in most other countries around the world. However, the video pirates set up shop in full view of police and other authorities in cities and town, large and small. No one is ever arrested or prosecuted for making or selling these discs. Media piracy is a criminal act because the works are copyrighted and all the people who make the original movies do not get a cut of the profits. Do I care? No, not in the slightest. I won’t cry one tear over Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp or Angelina Jolie losing a few bucks. I doubt they will miss it. And the idea that the other individuals down the movie chain such as script girl, best boy, and lighting director are hurt by the video pirates is ludicrous. They are doing just fine in their Hollywood homes without any help from impoverished folks who only want some entertainment in their lives without coughing up half a day’s wage at the box office.

No Power

That is a frequent cry here, usually in English. It is often accompanied with the shrugging of shoulders. The two words are announced when the electricity goes off. I guess I shouldn’t complain because on some islands, it is a daily occurrence while it may happen once a month where I live. I have heard that some areas of the Philippines expect the power to be off for up to 12 hours a day. Even when the power is on though, it is not reliable and frequent surges have a habit of causing havoc to the internet connection and they do odd things to computers among other problems.

Every few months, my power company, Penelco fires up their loudspeaker van that drives through every neighborhood in town to announce a scheduled power outage. These are done for necessary repairs to the grid or some piece of equipment. At these times, I have learned to expect the power to be out for at least 8 hours or more. Occasional brown outs will occur in the middle of lightning storms also, but work crews will have the power back on within hours or it may pop back up more quickly without any human help.

This sunny morning, for no apparent reason, the electricity dropped off at 8:45 and came back at 9:10. Most Filipinos are accustomed to the outages and view them as necessary nuisances in their daily lives. They know to plan ahead by stocking candles and flashlights, to cook with propane, and a large percentage have only foam coolers to keep some things cold. On the other hand, it can be a major pain to me. I have a 2 burner electric stove and my trusty microwave to do my cooking with. Obviously it’s not possible for me to heat anything during an outage. Everything in my freezer melts when the electricity stays off for an extended period. The very worst inconvenience is none of the above and it affects everyone even the poorest among us. All of the fans and air conditioners go off reminding us that this is a hot climate to live in.

Fasten Safety Belts, Part 2

In the Philippines, from First Class down to the lowly minibus, all buses come with a conductor. These men act somewhat like the old fashioned passenger train conductor used to operate in the early to middle of the last century, but there are differences.
In the US, passengers go to a bus station, buy a ticket to their destination, and board a bus before it pulls out, but in the Philippines, would be riders simply wait by the side of the road until a bus comes by (and there are many) going to their destination. The bus pulls up to let people get on and find a seat. In his head, the Conductor notes where a passenger got on, but may not act until he is ready. When he feels the time is right, he steps from his position near the driver to the new passenger and asks where he are going. He then tells the rider the fare and collects the money. If there is change coming, he hands it to the customer. If the Conductor doesn’t have the proper amount, he will return when he does. No matter how many passengers are on board, he is is like the proverbial elephant and never forgets. How he keeps track is a mystery to me, but he always gives the correct amount. Not once have I been short changed even though I am a foreigner.
Conductors are easily recognized by the white shirt they all wear. First Class conductors have a pressed shirt that sports the name of the bus company embroidered over a pocket while last class conductors may just wear a clean t-shirt. Though I may be asleep in my seat or not paying attention to where I am, they seem able to remember my stop and announce it to all the passengers on board. Once again, he (and they never are female) seems able to remember where each person in a 50 passenger bus is going.
Sometimes, a passenger may tell him the destination but not the cross street. The passenger has two choices when he sees his stop. He either pounds two times on the side of the bus or shouts, “Para,” (Stop) or both and the conductor tells the driver to pull over. It might be in town or out in the countryside or even in the middle of a bridge. If the passenger wants out, that’s what he gets. Even first class buses will make stops where the driver sees possible passengers at the side of a highway, except on a toll expressway. It never fails. The system works all the time which is more than I can say about a lot of things.