It’s officially been 10 Days since I first landed here on Mactan Island. Each day has been an adventure with it’s own set of tasks from finding a clean water source to securing home internet. Along the way I’ve learned a few things and made some observations that you might find useful if not just plain amusing. I do not live in a ‘nice’ suburb where all the ‘rich’ Kanos go with their retirement money. I’m only 49 and on a limited budget so I’m somewhere between ‘upper-ghetto‘ and ‘jungle‘ lifestyle.
Courtesy — The Philippines is a very polite society. I used to think California was a ‘friendly’ place to live, and there are a lot of friendly people there. But.. compared to everywhere I’ve been to here so far.. the Philippines is the most courteous, helpful place I’ve ever been to. And it takes getting used to. I’m not accustomed to people in stores carrying my purchase to the counter for me. Or opening the box and filling out the warranty-card for me so I don’t forget to do it. I’m not used to being called ‘Sir’ everywhere I go. Not just from store clerks.. but everybody. If I stop to ask a random person in a crowd or on the sidewalk for directions.. where I can find some item.. again, very friendly, no attitude and apologetic if they cannot help me. In ten days I’ve already had 3 Trike drivers offer to have me visit their home to meet their sisters once they found out I was not married. True story. Not kidding.. three. And they were serious. Like ‘right now.. we go’ serious. In crowds here you will often hear ‘Excuse..’, ‘Maam‘ & ‘Sir‘. It’s a real mind-blower to be surrounded by so many truly polite people. Usually, back home, you had to be in church or the Midwest to get this kind of treatment.
Mini-Skirts — It doesn’t matter what department store, grocery store or franchise you go to.. in the city just about 100% of them have the same dress-code/uniform for the ladies working there; hair pulled back, short mini-skirts, black shoes and nylons. (kinda reminiscent of the women in Robert Palmer’s ‘Simply Irresistible’ videos) The colors of the dresses may differ depending on whether they are a standard worker, lead or supervisor.. but it’s mini-skirts at every turn. My second day on the island I had to go to the money-exchange vendor inside the mall, which is joined with the local grocery store. I turned around and at the counter to my right were about 16 beautiful, young Filipina women, all in mini-skirts, gathered to collect their checks for the week. It was all I could do to just stand there.. stunned. After 10 days.. and seeing literally hundreds of such variations on the uniforms I find it a bit easier now to maintain composure. But, wow.. what a culture shock to get used to. 🙂 p.s. For some reason, hardware stores and pharmacies seem exempt from the mini-skirt. But the nurses wear above-the-knee skirts as well. Just an observation.
Bring In The Dancing Girls — On my 3rd day here I went to the grocery store.. grocery store, mind you, to get some stuff for my studio. Some Pine-Sol, dish-cloths, shampoo.. the usual boring stuff. When suddenly a gaggle of dancing-girls appear to do a 30-minute dance number right there in the store. Apparently various companies will hire them to wear uniforms with logos of their products as a promotion. I was too distracted by the dance routine to remember whatever product was being sponsored that day. Fortunately I had my camera with me and was able to sit down in front of the crowd that gathered and get some video footage for those of you who think I’m just making this stuff up. (Video-Here)
Learn To Divide By 40.. Quickly — I mentioned the money-exchange. You’ll arrive with some US Dollars or money from Australia, Japan, Canada or wherever it is you hail from. Don’t expect to get much love for your hometown currency. The thing to do is find a reputable money-exchange outfit within one of the larger malls and convert your duckets into the local Philippine Peso. You can get the current conversion rates at this link to get an idea of how your money kinda multiplies as you convert to the local economy. The reason I say “divide by 40” only applies to US dollars since currently the exchange rate is about 41.50 Pesos for every USD$. So.. now you’ve got a wad of pesos in your wallet feeling like Mr. Moneybags because you’ve got 1,000 pesos. Well, divide by 40 and you’ve got the equivalent of ‘about’ $25.00 USD. (again, use the current conversion rates for an exact amount of buying power) You don’t want to be the guy holding up the line (which go slow enough as it is) trying to figure out whether your 2,000 peso purchase is a lot of money or not. I suggest doing little mental exercises.. converting $10, $50 and $100 in your head to pesos so you can at least get a ‘ballpark’ idea of what you’re spending. One guy I read about spent $4 for a meal and left a $25 tip. So.. get good with the math, and soon. In a pinch, your cell-phone most likely has either a calculator or a money-converter app in it.
‘Baygon’ Is Your Friend — No matter where you live in the Philippines.. there are critters. What kind of critters, you ask? To begin with, house-ants. Tiny, red, seemingly normal house ants. But these are not like the ants back home. These little guys waste ZERO time.. I’m talking about 1 minute in finding any crumb of food you drop on the floor. I dropped a piece of fruit on the floor. Immediately picked it up, went to the restroom to toss it in the toilet (leaving it in the trash is just asking for problems) and by the time I walked back there were about 200+ already feasting on the vapors of the fruit juices. They are THAT frickin’ fast. I kid you not. You got snacks? Keep ’em in a sealed tupperware. But the ants aren’t anywhere near as frightening as the gigantic cockroaches. The only other place I’ve seen cockroaches this big was in a Greyhound bus-station in San Francisco years ago. About 2-inches, not counting the 2-inch antennae. When you see one.. you DO NOT feel alone in the room. It’s like these things LOOK at you. Bugs should not be allowed to get this big. My only consolation is that there are even bigger ones in other parts of the world.
But even scarier than the big cockroaches is the Giant Spider. I’ve only come across one so far and it got in through the bathroom window. I had a screen put on that pronto. These spiders are about the size of your palm and super-FAST. They can climb an 8-foot wall in less than a second. Just watching them move so fast is scary enough. Again, I got some video of the one I surprised when I came home from town one night, here’s the video. I didn’t video the insanity that broke loose once I went about killing it because I didn’t want to take any chance on it getting away. I smacked it five times, hard, with a broom and it didn’t do a damn thing. It went up the wall so I reached for some ‘Baygon‘ spray and even that only slowed it down. I finally had to crush it with a cardboard box (ugh.. I hate that sound!) before it was finally terminated.
Thank goodness for ‘Baygon‘. I don’t know what’s in that green can.. but any insect that even walks across the fumes where you sprayed the day before is suddenly hating life. And spray that right on ’em?.. even the biggest roach will be flipped over convulsing in less than four inches of travel. This stuff makes Raid look like air-freshener. So, your first night in town.. go to the nearest grocery store, get yourself a can or two and spray down the inside perimeter along the wall edges, window sill and doorway. (Or.. just take your chances, sleep-tight and don’t let the bedbugs bite.)
Plan Your Toilet (CR) Trips — Drank a lot of iced tea? Had a big meal? If you plan on going into town then you need to keep a mental list of which businesses have restrooms. Only Jollybee’s has real toilet seats and toilet paper. At the big SM Malls they have lots of very clean, nice restrooms (called CR’s here, ‘comfort rooms’), but even at the malls you’ll need a 5 Peso coin to buy a pack of toilet paper from the vending machine. The Guisano Malls also have fairly clean restrooms, but no toilet paper, no bucket of water and no vending machine so.. bring your own TP or hoard up some napkins if you come across any. The small-street vendors along the road.. no CR’s there so don’t bother asking. If you’re a guy, urinating on a nearby tree or building is not totally out of the question. It’s kinda common, actually so if it comes to that you’ve got that option without fear of a ticket for lewd or indecent exposure. Just pick a place that is somewhat out of view. Bottom-line.. remember where the CR’s are or ‘go’ before you leave the house and you’ll be fine.
It’s Not A Dry Heat — When you come to a tropical climate.. that means ‘humidity‘. I think the word ‘tropical’ is some kind of marketing ploy. While the temperature may only range between 79*-89*F year round.. it’s the variation in humidity that hovers around 80% that will need some getting used to. Some people, it drives them nutz and they get back on a plane for home. Me.. after my first 3 days of sweating like a coke-addict, I’ve come to terms with it and just dress and plan accordingly. Midday is typically my ‘siesta’ time during the hottest peak of the day. Evenings after 5pm and the ‘cool’ of the evening is fantastic for being outside, especially if there’s a slight breeze going or you’re in the nearby hills. And while I’m on the subject.. buy an umbrella. It’s kinda hard to figure whether it will rain during the four hours or so you decide to go into town. It could be sunny as all get-out when you leave and still sunny while it’s raining down on you an hour later. But at least if you have an umbrella you can leave the house when it’s pouring rather than be shut-in. I find that to beat the heat there are several things to do.
First.. planning. Like I said, I try to stay out of the midday heat if I can at all delay my errands until later. Second.. hydration. I keep any bottles of water I buy and refill them myself from my own, clean water tank and drink water almost every half-hour or hour as it comes to mind. You’re gonna sweat so.. hydrate! Third.. dress appropriately. I hear the only time men around here wear pants is at funerals and weddings. Even then, it’s iffy. Standard attire is loose-fitting, cotton shirts, some type of loose cargo shorts and sandals. I lasted two days here before I just had to go buy me some sandals. I haven’t worn sandals since I was 4 years old. Personally, I don’t like the simple ‘flip-flops’. I prefer the ones that have straps (no velcro.. velcro sucks).. straps that keep your sandals on so you can actually run in them if needed.. as in getting away from traffic when crossing the street. Get what you want, but I was changing socks three times a day those first two days. Fourth.. shower 3 times a day. Those cold showers are just the trick to cool down. I take one first thing in the morning, another a midday (so refreshing) and finally another just before dinner or bedtime.
Other useful (mandatory?) items are a good pair of sunglasses and maybe a hat for long walks or time outside like at the beach. I usually don’t wear a hat just in town because it messes up my hair and gets all sweaty.. but at the beach it can be a really good idea.
Purell Is Your Friend — I know, ‘Purell’ is the brand name but I didn’t feel like writing ‘alcohol-based bacteria killing gel product‘. There are SO many people here that you just gotta carry this stuff around with you. Grabbing door handles all the time, Jeepney handles, food trays.. no toilet paper. I think you see where I’m going with this. I’ve NEVER used the Purell-type stuff before.. always thought it was kinda a sissy-girly thing. But here.. there’s a reason they have SHELVES of this stuff in all colors and fragrances. There’s even a wristband version with a small bottle. So.. carry that stuff around and use it often before touching your face in any way. (that helps to keep from picking up some viral diseases as well.)
Well.. that’s about it for now. Maybe you can use some of these tips back home, maybe not. If nothing else.. check out the giant spider video again. Have fun and take care!
After 49 years living in Southern California, USA, I decided to move to the Philippines despite never having been here before. In July, 2012, I took a leap of faith and transplanted myself to the amazing Philippines. I am a single man taking an honest look at all that the islands here have to offer, one day at a time. I hope you find my LBTSea site informative, entertaining and hopefully a bit of each. 🙂 Be sure to visit the Forum and other parts of what the site has to offer. Browse around and be sure to sign up for updates via email. Enjoy!