Done with the Philippines

It was a long ass day.  Started out with intermittent power outages in my hotel.  When the lights went out (we’d leave the light on in the bathroom) it made a popping sound.  The first time was around 0300.  The noise woke me up and I laid there worrying how the hell I was going to pack the rest of my shit in a pitch black room.  About 10 minutes later the lights “popped” back on.  Relieved I went back to sleep, only to hear the lights pop off again a few minutes later.  This cycle continued until my 0500 alarm sounded.

Rushed around and managed to get most of my gear ready to travel before the next blackout.  Used the phone light for awhile and then once again power was restored.  Got a call at 0545 that my driver had arrived, so it was off to Manila.  Arrived without incident at the airport by 0930 for my 1230 flight.

The airport in Manila, much like the city, sucks.  As I waited to board by flight it occurred to me that I was most likely completing my last vacation in the Philippines.

Goodbye to you Manila!

The flight departed one hour late (of course!) and landed me at Incheon just before 1800.  Almost all the passengers on the fully loaded Asiana 747 were transferring to other flights so I was able to sail through immigration.  And lo and behold, my bag was one of the first to hit the carousel.  Hoofed over to the AREX express train and made it ten minutes before it departed for Seoul station.

Which gave me time to figure out how to cut the zip tie the agent in Manila had helpfully used to lock my bag.  The bag that contained my jacket and gloves for the sub-freezing weather in Korea.  Brilliantly, I remembered I had some nail clippers in the unlocked front pocket of my suitcase.  Woot!  They did the trick.  Donned my sweatshirt and jacket and I was once again dressed appropriately for my environment.

I like the AREX.  But I always get lost trying to get up five floors of escalators to the main floor exits at Seoul station.  Last night was no exception.  And then my AREX ticket wouldn’t work on the exit turnstiles, so I had to hit the help button (on two different occasions) to be let out.  Once I exited the station I grabbed a cab and got to re-experience the joy of miscommunication with a non-English speaking Seoul cabbie (and yes, it is MY fault for having not learned even basic Korean).  I did say “Noksapyeong yak” which he repeated, but then started entering the location in his phone like he didn’t know where it was.  I’m all like “you know, near Itaewon” which didn’t seem to register.  Eventually he figured it out and got me there.  The fair was W4600 so I gave him W12,000 and asked for 5000 back.  Which created more confusion and miscommunication.  When he figured out I was just wanting to give him a decent tip, he seemed pleased.

I wanted Noksapyeong because it was the closet location I could think of to where I’d left my car parked on the Army base at Yongsan (near the gas station).  I had to hike a couple of blocks to get there, but of course that’s no big deal.  Loaded up and hit the highway at just past eight.  I was really surprised to encounter bumper-to-bumper traffic heading south at that hour.  Frustrating to be sure for a weary traveler and I was lamenting my decision to not spend the night in Seoul.  Once I got past Seongnam things cleared up and I had smooth 100 kmh sailing the rest of the way home, arriving just after 2130.

A long and tiring trip, almost as boring as this post.  If you can imagine that.  I did have lots of time to think which in my case is often not a good thing.  But one of my thoughts was that I had traveled from the future back to the present.  And made pretty good time at that.

The first day of the rest of my life…

…this year.

As days go it was a pretty fine one all and all.

Gem and I “kissed” and made up. We’ve got some communication issues we need to work on, but it’s early yet…

I’ve been very impressed with Gem’s willingness to indulge my walking habit. She hangs right in there on our 20,000+ step days. Hell, the other day she even said “I’m bored, let’s go for a walk”. Nothing seems to get her goat out on the road either…

During a trek out to Baloy Beach I found this place that may very well work for me…

Talked to the owner, “Lucky Mike” who said the current tenant is leaving in May which of course is when I expect to arrive…

It’s small, only one bedroom, but…

…it has this huge ass patio/deck/balcony thing going for it. My vision would be to convert it to outdoor living space. You know, table/umbrella, hammock, chair swing, and of course a nice grill. It’s on the 3rd floor and features outstanding water views from the patio and great mountain views from the house. 20,000 pesos a month ($400.) works for me too.

The highlight of the day though was participating in my first Hash House Harrier event.

We started out with the administrative stuff (250 peso dues) at Johannson’s Bar and Grill.

Then we loaded up in the back of this truck for the drive out to the Hash starting point.

The days route included hiking up and down two mountains. It was honestly much more difficult terrain than I’ve experienced on Namsan or Bukhansan in Korea. There were a couple of spots where I was even a little fearful. Only fell on my ass a couple of times though.

Let’s get started!

And we are off!

Passed by some residences that show just how lucky I am….

The trail was more difficult that it appears…very steep with dicey footing in places.  Next time I’ll definitely bring a walking stick!

Gem kept right up with me the entire way…and she was much better at spotting the trail markings (chalk arrows on trees) that I am. I can truthfully say I would have been lost without her.

From the top of the mountain we were rewarded with amazing views of the bay like this one…

And there lies Barrio Baretto in all its glory. I’ll be calling here home one day soon…

The local kids were quite amused to see the crazy foreigners walking about in the hot sun for no particular reason.

The Hash finished up on the roof of the Hot Zone bar…owned by the leader of the Subic Bay Hashers.

Now, there are certain rituals associated with the Hash that take place at the conclusion of every hike. I don’t fully understand them all yet, but they include sitting bare bottomed on a block of ice and drinking from a toilet plunger. I was happy to just observe.

As a Hash House “virgin” I was required to engage in an initiation ritual…

Which concluded by my having to guzzle an entire bottle of beer in one shot. Anything remaining in the bottle after it left my lips was unceremoniously poured over my head. I missed it by just a sip…

Anyway, it felt like a fresh start and a step in the direction of a new and better future life.  We will see how that works out for me.

Dead and buried

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Rest in Peace motherfucker.

And welcome to the new born year of 2018.  Chances are I’ll fuck this one up as well, but hopefully in new and more interesting ways.  For sure my future fuck ups will primarily be taking place in the Philippines.  So there’s that.

Spent the last night of the year at Lollipop enjoying more live music.

The actually put on a pretty good show playing some outstanding classic rock songs.

Last night a big dick walked into the bar. That really took some balls…

Welcomed the New Year on the rooftop of the Paradise Hotel where we could view the firework show from the old Navy base.  Then had a fight with Gem and woke up pissed.

This year is going to rock!

It’s a small town after all

Apparently.

One of the things I like about Barrio Baretto is that while it is a small town it has easy access to major conveniences, such as dining, shopping and of course, bars.  I’d reckon it is similar in size to Anjeong-ri (where I currently reside) but with more of an Itaewon vibe (lots of expats from around the world).

So anyway, earlier this week I walked into Rolling Stones bar for the first time ever.  And a guy shouts out, “hey John, I know you!”.  Well, it turns out it was a guy named Scott. He is a member of the local Hash club that I made Facebook friends with.

Yesterday I popped over to Cheap Charlie’s bar for a quick beer while Gem was napping.  The place was packed but I scoped out one open stool at the far end of the bar.  Once I was seated I noticed that the guy next to me was Scott, there with another Hasher friend.  After they left I saw a woman across the bar who looked vaguely familiar.  Finally, I recognized her as the sales girl in a small shop who had sold me a ball cap earlier in the day.  We made eye contact and I saw the confusion on her face. I called out that I was in her store earlier…then she remembered me.

Later as I was walking back to my hotel I was thinking about what a small town this truly is so hopefully it won’t take long to make friends and see lots of familiar faces while I’m out and about.  Then a Jeepney pulls ups, and out hop John and his girlfriend Mango, the only two people I actually know here.  Weird, huh?

And oh, later that evening while Gem and I were enjoying the floating bar at Arizona Resort, in walks Scott and his friend who sit at the table next to mine.  Turns out Scott was from Huntington Beach, CA, right next door to my hometown of Westminster.  I couldn’t help but remind him how we always kicked their ass in football on Friday nights.  Small town, small world.

Snapped this photo of the sun going down from the Arizona floater. Made it my FB profile picture. Later I noticed that Scott had taken a similar photo and made it HIS profile picture. Yeah, it’s getting a little strange, I know.

Had a fish and chips dinner at the Midnight Rambler. Saw this sign on the way out and thought it was good advice. So I took it.

We went to the Velvet Touch bar to hear some live music on a Saturday night.

Apparently the new “no smoking” ordinance is even more restrictive than I thought if this sign in the men’s room is any indication…

Enjoyed my final breakfast of the year at Treasure Island.

Then Gem and I hopped in a Jeepney for the short ride to the Navy base to get some walking and shopping done.

My challenge for the final night of 2017 is to stay sober enough awake to enjoy the countdown to 2018 and fireworks show.  We shall see.

 

Judgement day

So kept busy yesterday working on the transition to my new life in the Philippines.  Walked through a subdivision called Santa Rita.  Most of the houses appeared to be Filipino occupied and were in various states of disrepair.  The guard shack at the entrance was not manned, so much for security.

There was this place…brand new. Called and was told it was a 2 bedroom 2 bath, partially furnished for 25,000 pesos ($500) per month. Given the dicey nature of the neighborhood I’ll give it a pass…

I hired a car and driver to take me out to Club Morocco to look at that big ass house I mentioned yesterday.  It’s a great house but…

…much as I’d enjoy waking up to this view every morning the distance from everywhere (over 30 minutes from Baretto) and associated inconvenience makes it not worth the trouble.

I next had the driver take me out to the Subic Bay Freeport Zone (aka the old Navy base) to do some grocery shopping.

Not for me, for the kids at the Fil-Am orphanage.

When we delivered the bounty it was the first time I had actually met the children.  On my previous visits they had always been in school.  I was very impressed with how well-mannered and happy they seemed to be.  Glad to be able to provide a little support and I told the administrator that once I make the move I want to set up a monthly event for the kids to celebrate birthdays and share a big meal.  Should be fun!

Last night was the weekly Sons of Baccus (SOB) dance competition. Once again I was asked to sit in judgement.

The other judges concurred with my opinion that the gals from Wet Spot had the best routine last night…

I wound up getting drunker than usual but Gem was a good sport about it.

I also put in some efforts at exorcism trying to free myself from the ghosts of times gone by.  Can’t say that I succeeded in slaying them, but I did confront them head on, intentionally visiting those places where the memories were made.  Other then feeling a little sick in my stomach I came through unscathed.  I’d call that progress.

Had breakfast in one of those old haunts…Treasure Island.

As you can see I’ve suspended my war on carbs for now. Damn, it was good eating!

Gem opted for a traditional Filipino breakfast and she declared it “masarap”.

The journey continues.  Stay tuned.

Ghost on the coast

I despise Manila.  Getting from the airport to Subic took nearly four hours, most of that stuck in Manila traffic.  It’s an ugly and filthy city and even after all these years I find the poverty shocking.  To be fair, there are nice parts of the city you just don’t see them on the trip from the airport.  I much prefer flying into Clark in Angeles.  Just hard to score a ticket this time of year as it is a very popular tourist destination for Koreans.  Well, Korean men anyway.

Anyway, leaving the city behind it is a quite pleasant and scenic drive.  Arrived safely at my lodging for the week and got checked in.

The Palm Tree Resort was my third choice, everything else was booked. I’m not happy with the “no view” room, but otherwise the place is clean and comfortable.

I normally stay on Baloy Beach at the Blue Rock Resort.  But I knew I’d be dealing with the ghost of Loraine this trip and staying there without her would have been overwhelming.  Honestly, I’ve been haunted quite a bit so far as it is.  Nothing to be done but face up to the fact that the memories will always be there, I can only control how I choose to react to them.  Gem has been a nice distraction.

Speaking of Gem, I’ve introduced to some of the elements of my lifestyle.  She hung in there for a pretty decent walk, some on the beach, some on the highway.  Gem also has now experienced her first “go-go” bar and she was not shocked or offended.  Even seemed to enjoy herself.

Gem is actually a non-drinker. She’s a good sport about my enjoyment of a cold brew though and she’ll even occasionally have a few sips with me.

One of the things I’m hoping to accomplish on this trip is to nail down at least the general area where I will find my house when I move here permanently come what May. (ahem).  Revisited a nearby subdivision called Alta Vista.

Most of the houses in Alta Vista feature bay views like this…

…or mountain views like this.

Some houses even have both views. I liked this one because it was about my size (lots of the houses are McMansions in scope).

I did not see any indication that there were any available rentals in Alta Vista however.  I do have a phone number where I can at least make some additional inquiries.  I did find a house that seems perfect and it will be available for rent in late January.

It has everything!

Including a view to die for.

And what a kitchen!

And the rent?  A whopping $500. a month! The only problem with it is the location.  Club Morocco is 14 kms from my preferred area in Barrio Baretto.  Going to hire a car today and see just how inconvenient living that far out would be.

Met up with my only friend in town for dinner last night.  He brought along his new girlfriend.  Very lovely girl, and very sweet.

They seem very happy together.

As we finished dinner I was rewarded with this lovely sunset view:

It was a good day.

Onward!

 

And so it begins. Again.

Up at 0330 to to catch the 0430 Airport Limo that arrived at Incheon at 0550 in time to make my 0750 flight to Manila.

I had scored a business class seat when I booked which paid off in many ways.  Firstly, I avoided an incredibly long line of cattle coach class passengers waiting to check in.  And my checked bag also got priority handling, which made it one of the first ones on the carousel at bag claim in Manila.  And one thing I hadn’t actually thought about, my ticket came with access to the Asiana Business Class Lounge!

Waiting for my flight in style and comfort…

Free coffee and breakfast. Damn the carbs, I’m on vacation!

I perched myself by the windows and took in the view while I dined.

So, this trip is my first post-Loraine.  There will be no escaping the memories we shared together during my past travels.  But I’m going to try and accept that what is done is done and what will be is yet to be seen.

That’s me looking cautiously optimistic…

Well, when I checked in I was advised my flight was delayed for 30 minutes because of “connection problems”.  The thirty minutes became almost two hours.  Ah well, nothing to be done about it.  Got some steps in while I waited.

And of course, once I did board I got to enjoy the luxury of life as a business class traveler.

Big comfortable seats. Good food served on china. And very attentive flight attendants.

I may be ruined on coach forever.  Not sure how I wound up with the business class seat to begin with.  I booked like I always do through kayak.com.  I rarely pick the cheapest flight, instead opting for convenient flight times and major airlines (the budget carriers are just too damn cramped and uncomfortable).  Still, I never request business class as an option because spending an additional three or four hundred dollars for a 4 hour flight is just not worth it to me.  My ticket this trip was $578., about a hundred dollars more than what I usually pay, but given the holidays not too bad.  It as only after I booked that I noticed I had business class on the outbound.  Stuck in coach coming home though.

After a comfortable flight which included a nice nap in a fully reclined seat, we landed in Manila.  One of the first off the plane, I had no wait at all at immigration.  My bag was promptly retrieved, I exchanged some dollars for pesos, and headed outside to enjoy the first day of the rest of my life.

And this little Gem was waiting to greet me. Let the adventure begin!

Coincidentally, it was exactly one year ago when Loraine met me at the airport for the first time.  And on that day I had posted this to my Facebook:

“You take a risk giving your heart to anybody. But every time your heart gets stomped on, you pick it up, brush it off, and start looking for somebody else to give it to. You know the risk and you accept it, gladly, because the payoff is worth it. And any love that qualifies itself, any ‘I love her but I don’t trust her’ love, isn’t really love. If you’re not risking everything you have, it’s not love. Ya pays yer money and ya takes yer chances.”
–Steve Rosse

Well, I have a long way to go yet.  Let’s see what happens.

Home again

And I learned some things along the way.

Plane landed wheels down at 1730 in Incheon.  A 747 and it appeared every seat was full.  I was relatively close to the front (row 37) so hustled on down to beat the crowd to the immigration queue.  Success!

Had to wait for my bag about 10 minutes, but I’m not one to complain.  Much.  Anyway, I was undecided about how best to get home.  I went out to the Airport Limo ticket stand and asked about the next bus to Pyeongtaek.  It left at 1900, and my watch said 5 minutes past 6.  Fuck that I said to myself (hopefully I didn’t say it out loud!).  So I made my way to the airport railroad.  I reckoned on taking the “all stops” line, figuring to get off at Yongsan station and catch the train home.  Well, once I was on board the AREX slow train I looked at the map and saw the fucker didn’t stop at Yongsan.  Every other goddamn burg along the way, but no Yongsan.

So, I got off at the stop prior to Seoul station and caught the subway over to Yongsan (2 stops).  I arrived at 19:30 and the Pyeongtaek train departed at 19:50.  So the timing was good.  In retrospect, I’d been better off taking the express AREX to Seoul station and cabbing or subway to Yongsan from there.  Might have saved me 30 minutes.  Not sure if there was an earlier train to Pyeongtaek, so maybe it didn’t matter.

Anyway, I got back home a few minutes after 9.  I probably beat the Airport Limo bus, but not by much.

Traveling is such a pain in the ass.  Can’t wait to do it again!

Bowed but not beaten!

And tomorrow I’ll blog about my new attitude.  Now it is off to bed.

Boracay adventure–finale

Kinda got settled into the drunken laid back beach lifestyle and couldn’t be fucked to post here.  In Manila now and will head out to the airport in an hour.  Let’s ketchup!

This is where I stayed. As mentioned previously, a bit inconvenient in that it is at the end of the beach with no road access. I guess you might call it a “boutique” hotel, small and older but not without its charms.

Probably the best thing going for it was the friendly staff. Everyone I encountered was smiling and helpful.

Now, getting up to the room could be a bit of challenge, especially on those nights when I had a bit too much to drink (that would be all of them). Narrow and twisting stairway from the lobby…

….leading to a second flight of stairs…

….and finally to the balcony in front of the room.

Sailboats on the beach….

I got a kick out of this dog. He held that plastic bottle in his mouth like it was the best chew toy ever. I’m really hoping to own a German Shepherd once I make the move.

Doggone.

A breakfast view…

A view of breakfast…

Speaking of food, it was generally a disappointment. Subic Bay has a lot more choices and higher quality preparation in my experience. This pulled pork sandwich was pretty nice though…

Unlike Subic, Boracay has a lot of franchise chain outlets. Hadn’t seen a Johnny Rockets since I left NOVA in 2005. Had to give it a try of course and the double meat burger I ordered was quite tasty.

Sunday was my last night in Boracay and so I spent it on the beach. Where else would I go?

Made it back to the airport with a minimum of trouble and in less than an hour.

The view from the very small terminal was quite pleasant.

Back in Manila and I needed to get some walking in. Hoofed it over to the Mall of Asia. Huge it is!

Christmas season is in full swing here. Crazy!

In a land of beautiful brown skinned people I was quite shocked to discover this outlet in the mall….turns out it is an inappropriately named restaurant.

After the mall I paid a visit to the EDSA entertainment complex. The entertainment being a group of several bars featuring dancing girls and overpriced drinks. This blonde didn’t have much to say, but she was friendlier than most of the gals I’ve met lately…

And now I’ll begin the journey back home.  But before I go I will share this nugget the daughter sent me:

Ha! She inherited her father’s sense of humor!

 

Boracay adventure Day 2

Take a deep breath, relax, and accept the Filipino way.  Repeat as necessary.

I said that a lot on the way to Boracay.

The one hour Cebu Pacific flight from Manila to Caticaylan airport went without a hitch. Getting from that small airport to Boracay requires transport to the ferry depot, a short ferry ride to Boracay island, and then transport to your hotel.  During the flight it was announced that Cebu Pacific was now offering a package that would take you from the airport direct to your hotel all for just 550 pesos ($11).  Well, that seemed like a good deal just for the convenience factor so I ponied up the money.

So we land and deplane onto waiting buses.  Not unusual for small airports with no jet ways.  What I had never experienced before was having the bus exit the airport, drive through some small villages, and arriving at a small terminal 15 minutes later.  Well, I call it a terminal, it just seemed to be a room for bag claim.  Anyway, retrieved my luggage and walked outside where I was besieged by touts offering transportation.  I said no, I’ve already bought a ride from Cebu Pacific.  It took me awhile to figure out that Southwestern Tours was the contractor for this service.  Someone eventually pointed to a waiting van across the street.  The van driver told me I had to go this nearby window to get my ticket.  The ticket I got on the plane was just a voucher for the real ticket.  And so began the ordeal.

I was only second in line, but damn, you wouldn’t believe the paperwork.  I had to fill out a form, then receipts were printed, taxes (a 75 peso “environment” tax) collected, and so on.  I was then handed a stack of paper to carry with me and directed to board the van with about 20 other travelers.   We drove through some fairly heavy traffic for such a small village, but arrived at the ferry in due course.  Where we stood in line to go through security, including x-rays of the baggage.  Then we stood in another line where some of the paper I had been issued was collected.  We were then directed to the line for the ferry entrance, where more paper was taken from my stack.  There were lots of ferries to choose from, but I eventually found the Southwestern Tours boat.  I boarded and waited.  And waited.

Once we were full-up we made the quick trip (maybe 10 minutes) across the water and finally arrived at Boracay island.  Where we waited some more for a van to take us to our hotel.  I guess we had ten people in our van, and of course my hotel was the last one on the list.  Worse than that, it was just shy of total gridlock the entire way.  Who knew there could be so much traffic on such a small island?

Two hours later (no shit, two hours from the airport to my hotel, a total distance that couldn’t be more than 15 kms or so) I arrived.  Sort of.  My hotel is at the far end of the beach and the road doesn’t go that far.  Seriously, it was a two block walk through the sand to get to the hotel.

I repeated my mantra like a Catholic praying to Mary for most of the ride.  Welcome to the Philippines!

So, that was the bad part.  So far, Boracay has been pretty nice otherwise.  Just some quick geography before we go to the pictures.  Boracay is divided into three stations. The ferry arrives at Station 3, most of the tourist resorts are in Station 2, and my hotel is at the far end of Station 1.  At first I was distressed at being so far from the “action” but after witnessing that action, I’m very pleased to be on the relatively quiet end of the island.

The ferry port, Station 3 Boracay island.

The view from my hotel..the Aritista. Not bad, eh?

The beach at Station 3 Boracay. My hotel is at the end of the beach…

The Station 3 water view…

The Spider House. Had dinner here the first night. Interesting set of stairs to get up there and really cool ambiance and views. Food was mediocre and the service was worse than terrible.

Sunset on the water…

And the harvest moon…

The water is crystal clear here. Puts Subic to shame in that regard.

Took a goodly long walk yesterday (22,000 steps all told). Most of it was on the beach, but this was part of the trail as well. Would not walk it at night or after drinking though…

Who says there are no virgins in the Philippines?

Lots of beachside bars like this…

Beautiful places, smiling faces…

I’ve only tried muff diving…

Station 2 beach scene. Now you can see why I’m glad to be in Station 1. I’d say 85% of the tourists here are Korean and Chinese.

Lots of Hanguel signage and Korean food. And to a lesser degree, Chinese as well. Clearly catering to their tourist base.

Lots of diving places back in Station 3.

This is the National Highway that runs the length of the island. The only highway apparently. Very narrow two lane. And as I mentioned, it often results in gridlock. I walked back to the hotel this way and it was not pleasant. I’ll stick to the beach from here on out.
This is also why I’m unlikely to ever return here. Lots of new hotels under construction but no work on the supporting infrastructure. What is bad now is only going to get worse.

Last night I helped my tour guide/caregiver Loraine celebrate her 50th birthday…

A restaurant I will NOT be trying. What next, a building named Trump?

And that pretty much captures the highlights of Day 2.

Stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

Boracay adventure Day 1

Greetings from the Philippines!

Getting here was half the fun.  Well, less than that.

The bus I rode from Anjeong-ri. It arrived 10 minutes late and not at the stop I had been advised to catch it. Actually, after waiting awhile I decided to go catch a cab to Pyeongtaek. While heading to the taxi stand I found the correct bus stop. Lucky me!

It was a little disconcerting being the only passenger for the first part of the trip.  We were taking narrow backroads through rice paddies and I’m thinking it’s gonna be a long ride to Incheon.  As you can see, the bus I rode indicated it made stops in Songtan and Osan before going to the airport.  Nope.  We stopped at a bus terminal in Ansung and picked up a handful of passengers.  Drove past some random roadside stops where no one was waiting, stopped at another bus terminal in Suwon (I think), more backroads, then a highway with bumper-to-bumper traffic for awhile.  All told, it took just over three hours to make the airport.  Interesting ride but one I have no intention of ever taking again.

Still, I had three hours more to kill before my flight was scheduled to depart.  That’s fine, I much prefer being early than late.  I had checked in via the internet, so there was no waiting when I dropped my bag.  Sailed through security and immigration.  The terminal was packed with holiday travelers, which kind of surprised me.  I figured most folks would have departed earlier in the week.  Ah well, it made it a pain in the ass to get my walking in, but I managed.

Plane boarded 30 minutes late.  Apparently they didn’t have enough ground crew scheduled on Chuesok to get the job done.  Almost all the flights seemed to be getting out late for that reason.  Despite departing late, we arrived in Manila right on time. Good job Korean Air!

Well, our Boeing 777 was fully loaded and I was near the back of the plane, so…

…this is what I encountered at immigration. Must have been more than our flight arriving at the same time. 45 minutes to get through, but I expected it would be much worse than that.

Baggage claim was a bit of a fiasco.  Because everyone was stuck at immigration, the belt was jammed with bags and golf clubs to the extent that new bags could not exit the conveyor belt until passengers retrieved bags to make room.  Alas, my bag was not one of those already on the belt.  15 more minutes and I was able to walk through customs without an issue.

Met my tour guide/caregiver and she suggested we catch a “grab” cab (similar to Uber) because the airport taxis wanted 600 pesos for the short ride to the airport hotel.  So, we went to find a Grab and that fucker wanted 500 pesos for the two mile trip.  A legit metered taxi might be all of 200 pesos.  It was late and I was tired, and really the difference amounts to 6 bucks, so why argue.  I hate being ripped off, but when in the Philippines…

Hotel was clean and comfortable and convenient, except for the internet password which is like a VIN number for an automobile.

So, that makes three times so far I’ve used my mantra “deep breath, relax, and accept the Filipino way.”

Quick walk around the poverty stricken neighborhood after breakfast.  Lots of destitute people eking out a living, filthy homeless children sleeping on the streets, desperation filling the air, but that is the life here.

Oddly enough, I’m already feeling much better.  Not sure if I’m just in vacation mode or if being out of Anjeong-ri has helped clear my mind of self-pity.  Certainly being reminded of just how fucking lucky I am may be part of it.  And here’s the thing–I can make a difference here.  I’m ready to get started.

Flying on to Boracay in a couple of hours.  More to follow.

Expecting to fly

Happy Chuesok to those of you who celebrate Korean holidays.

If everything goes according to plan I’ll be on an airplane to the Philippines tonight. Getting to Incheon from Pyeongtaek ain’t nearly as convenient as it is from Seoul. Basically my options are to take a cab or city bus to Pyeongtaek station, grab the train to Yongsan station, then transfer to the slow airport train (or cab or subway to Seoul station to catch the express).  Alternatively, I can catch the airport bus here in Anjeong-ri and ride it on in to Incheon.  I’m going with the bus.

I don’t arrive in Manila until 11:00 p.m., so I will overnight there and then catch an afternoon plane to Boracay island.  First time I’ve every visited there.  From what I read it is pretty much a touristy beach area.  Considering my difficulty in securing a hotel room I’m assuming it is a popular spot for Koreans on this long holiday period.  I should feel right at home.

It’s no secret that I’ve been struggling of late.  I’m hoping this vacation will help me get my head on straight so I can man up and stop being such a pathetic whiner.  You know, that whole changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes thing.

Stay tuned.

Reading departure signs in some big airport
Reminds me of the places I’ve been.
Visions of good times that brought so much pleasure
Makes me want to go back again.
If it suddenly ended tomorrow,
I could somehow adjust to the fall.
Good times and riches and son of a bitches,
I’ve seen more than I can recall

These changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes,
Nothing remains quite the same.
Through all of the islands and all of the highlands,
If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane

Back home in the south…

It was a good trip to the Philippines for the most part.  In fact, other than starting and ending my vacation in Angeles City, it was quite lovely.  I despise AC and the whole sexpat vibe.  Just looking at the old decrepit “whore mongers” (a term they actually call themselves) made me shake my head in disgust.  As much as I am down on how trivially I’m living my life, I am so glad that my future will not include being a lonely old man looking for love in all the wrong places.

Which is not to say I didn’t spend a goodly amount of my nighttime hours in the girly bars of Olongapo’s Barrio Baretto.  It’s a way to pass the time and I enjoy treating the girls to something a little different from what they are used to.   My style is to pass out chocolate (I’m told the bargirls call me “the candyman”), tip the dancers for their efforts, and pick out one or two deserving girls for a lady drink (an overpriced beverage from which they earn a commission) and a little conversation.  It seems to make their night and I enjoy seeing them smile.

Of course, it’s one thing to get a little wild on vacation, but I can’t sustain that lifestyle long term once I retire.  I expect I’ll visit the “regular” bars for darting events a couple times a week and perhaps limit my role as candyman to only one night.  As the prophet has said, man does not live by bars alone.

I mentioned my doctor consult, but forgot to say what that appointment cost me.  400 pesos!  Which translates to $8.00 at the current exchange rate.  I didn’t do a lot of serious house hunting because I’m not yet sure when I will quit my job, and really I’ll need to be on the ground to make that decision.  I did find one place right on the beach.  Small one bedroom house, but a huge yard.  Only 20,000 pesos a month ($400.00).  Eh, when I looked inside though it was just too old and worn out for my first world tastes.  Plenty of time to find the right place for me as I don’t intend to live poor in my old age.  

Baretto is similar in size to Anjeong-ri, and I was remembered in some places from my previous visits and also made some new friends as well.  It is nice to be greeted with “welcome Sir John” or “San Miguel Light, sir?” when I enter a bar or restaurant.  I was walking down the main street one evening and a young woman came running up to me and said “John! Glad you are in town.  We need a player for dart league tonight!”  Heh. Makes me feel kinda at home.

A big difference to Anjeong-ri is the age demographic in Baretto.  Hell, most nights I was the youngest fucker in the bar (and by some accounts at least the most handsome).  I could get used to that!

Living and eating large caused my belly to bloat and this week’s weigh-in finds me back up to 225 pounds.  I intend to work hard at reversing that trend.

Getting back to my current home was not much fun.  My 0130 flight was delayed over an hour which made an already long day particularly hellish.  I rode the AREX to Seoul Station, cabbed to my old office (where my car was parked) and then started the hour and a half drive to Pyeongtaek.  Halfway there I ran out of gas.  Well, not my car.  Me.  I was afraid I was about to fall asleep at the wheel, so I had to pull off the highway and take a power nap.  That was enough to get me the rest of the way home.  

And now it is on with my not so exciting country life.  That won’t stop me for writing about it no doubt. Stay tuned!

Welcome to the Philippines

Or in the vernacular of the locals, Mabuhay!

The news I alluded to yesterday was that my long lost daughter (lost in the sense that I’ve not seen her for years) Avery and her partner Annie popped into the PI for a rendezvous.

A chip off the ol’ block. I’m not Avery’s birth father, but she was just a baby when I married her mother (that wold be wife #2 for you all keeping score at home) so I’m the only father she has ever known. Somehow she managed to overcome that handicap and is living a happy life. There is no greater success than that!

Avery and Annie. Quite the adventurers as they are six months into a journey that has taken them to Hawaii, Australia, Thailand, Indonesia, and now the PI. Next up is Myanmar, and after that Korea is on the radar.

Annie has been blogging their exploits at Nomadic Vortex, go give it a read.

Well, we’ve seen and done the things that you can do in Baretto, and they seem to have enjoyed themselves.  They even had a blast in the go-go bars which touched my drunken heart.  They’ll be flying out to more adventure tomorrow on Palawan Island.and from there, who can say? The world is their oyster and they have youth on their side.

Jet ski fun day. It was a first for Loraine and she was crazy about it…

They are off!

They are back! Me? I stayed on the beach and drank some beers. I don’t do much, but what I do, I do well!

Yesterday was our banka boat adventure.

Annie felt like king of the world…

We stopped at a small island in the middle of the bay. I was channeling Magellan and claimed the land in the name of Spain. One of the locals said “I’m Lapu-Lapu” so I quickly retreated.

With the daughter and my bodyguard Loraine…

The lonely light house at the summit of our small isle.

I mentioned the outstanding food here at our resort, here’s a taste:

That’s not everything they serve here at Blue Rock, but you get the idea.

Yikes!  Gotta check out of here now and catch the bus to Angeles City.

More later…

The adventure continues

Well, provided adventure is broadly defined.  I’ve basically just settled into a new routine in a new location.  But I’m good with that.

Everyday starts with an outstanding Blue Rock breakfast followed by a walk on the beach…

Early afternoons feature a variety of events.  I visited the hospital here for a consultation on my COPD and the availability of my meds.  Doc says the warm and humid climate here will be good for my health and all but one of my current prescriptions are locally available.  She also referred me to an internist who will be my primary care provider once I make the move.

Also took a couple of trips over to the old Navy base for some shopping.  Happy that we were able to restock the larder at the Kings Fil-Am Home, a small orphanage I’ve adopted as my charity project.  Truthfully, this is another example of my innate selfishness.  Helping take care of these kids alleviates some of the guilt I feel about having to ignore much of the poverty that surrounds me.

I’m eating good though. Good but not always healthy. I’ve basically said to hell with the low carb diet this trip.

I haven’t said no to french toast or pancakes for breakfast either.  And the other day at Sit N Bull, one of my favorite places to hang out, I had the prison plate special.

Featuring meatloaf…

And of course, the evening entertainment involves hitting the bars for copious amounts of my favorite brew, SML.

The girls are friendly and seem to really enjoy the contents of my wallet my wit and humor.

And I usually end my night back at the Blue Rock Resort bar where I am well attended to…

…by my favorite bartender Izel. She’s a real sweetheart…

…more than willing to cater to all my cravings for sweet things. Like this apple pie a la mode.

And then I go to sleep, wake up, and repeat.  Hey, it may not be paradise, but it’s close enough for me.

Big news (comparatively speaking) coming up, but now the maid wants to clean the room.  I’ll be back!

I’m a judgmental SOB

Or at least I was Friday night.  Yes, once again I was drafted to serve as a judge at the weekly Sons of Baccus dance contest.

The lineup of competitors.

Your humble judge and his faithful assistant.

Bring it on girls!

It was a tough call, but here’s how I saw it. The other judges must have agreed because that was the final result.

Just another day in paradise.

 

It’s more fun in the Philippines

Don’t take my word for it, just ask the Department of Tourism.

And on with my story…

I had two options for getting to Subic inexpensively, the Southern Cross shuttle or Fly the Bus.  The latter left later (9:30 versus 8:45) so I figured I;d catch a bit more sleep.  Woke up at 8:00 which left me time for breakfast so I hoofed over to Kokomo’s.  Breakfast was fine but the WiFi may as well have been non-existent. Ah well, deep breath and accept the Filipino way. Back to the my hotel, the Orchid Inn, to check out and wait for my ride.

And wait I did.  At 9:45 I went back to the desk and they called the Fly the Bus folks who advised the driver would be there in ten minutes.  Thirty minutes later I went back to the desk and the FtB dispatcher said “soon”.  Ah well, deep breath and accept the Filipino way and all that.  The van was packed tight when it arrived at 10:30 but I squeezed in for the uneventful ride to Barrio Baretto, in Olongopo City, in the province of Zambales, situated on the beautiful (mostly) Subic Bay.

My pre-booked lodging was at the Blue Rock Resort on Baloy Beach.  Stayed here last time and was comfortable, so here I am again.  When I walked into my room I was accosted by about 50 good sized flies.  Called the front desk and they sent someone up with bug spray and she dispatched them rather quickly.  Even wiped up a few of the carcasses.  I unpacked my bags and went in to take a shower, only to see that the shower control knob had been sheared off, and based on the rust this wasn’t a recent event.  No answer at reception this time, so I marched myself down to the lobby.  I explained my dilemma, staying as true to my mantra as possible, but clearly peeved and a young maintenance guy came back with me to the room.  He looked at the shower handle, shook his head, then looked over to where the water heater is hung.  And pointed out that a new knob had been jury-rigged there underneath.  Ah well, it worked, so I took a deep breath, thanked him, and accepted the Filipino way.

For those wondering why I was having to fend for myself, my personal assistant/caregiver was unavailable for this portion of my trip. She was busy attending her graduation upon earning certification as a massage therapist. I expect to reap the benefits of that investment in the days ahead…

I consoled myself with an icy cold SML…

…and enjoyed the view of the floating bar.

Out on the town for a few too many beers on Thursday night, but wound up safely home alone in my bed.  The Blue Rock does have an impressive menu and they do a good job in the food preparation, so there’s that.  I had a fine breakfast and a nice walk on the beach.

It’s rainy season, but so far I’ve missed the worst of it…

My bitching and moaning notwithstanding, I do recognize this is indeed a third world country. I need to suck it up and appreciate my blessings in life. It is infinitely worse for so very many others.

Your humble correspondent will be back soon with more of the story. Stay tuned!

 

Observations

Well, here it is Sunday already.  Let’s catch up.

Up early and off to Seoul on Wednesday morning.  The 18 year old that brought me didn’t disappoint.  I’m talking about my car of course.

She’s a good old gal…

Finished a successful meeting with the union president and then had the good fortune to secure a coveted “Space A” doctor appointment at the Army hospital.  I mostly needed to get refills on all my meds, but also got three shots (pneumonia, tetanus, and one other one recommended after age 60 that I can’t remember at the moment.  My arm hurt like a mother fucker for a couple of days afterwards though.

Caught the AREX at Seoul Station and arrived at Incheon International right around 6:00 p.m.  My flight wasn’t scheduled to depart until 9:30, but better early than late is how I roll.

I passed the time by walking around the terminal several times. At least it was air-conditioned, but the place was crawling with tourists…

My flight was delayed 30 minutes because of air traffic congestion, which put me on the ground at Clark Field in Angeles City just before one in the morning.  Breezed through immigration and then got stalled at baggage claim.  I don’t understand why, but the bags were coming out in batches of five or so at a time, which made for a frustrating delay.  It was my first opportunity to practice my new mantra for successful living in the PI–take a deep breath, relax, and accept the Filipino way.

Got gouged for 500 pesos (ten dollars) for the short ride to my hotel, but I employed my mantra and stayed calm.  Once checked in, it was 2 a.m. (three Seoul time) but I figured I’d grab a beer or two before getting some sleep.  Wasn’t in the mood for a girly bar, so opted for the street side seating at Phillies and engaged in a little late-night people watching.

As I sat there it occurred to me that I have become more of an observer of life than I am a participant.  And perhaps I’m projecting, but what I observe seems to be sadness and desperation.  Or maybe dull resignation to the meaninglessness of everyday living.  I certainly have felt that about the people I encounter on my walks through the boring little village of Anjeong-ri and the surrounding countryside.  Sometimes it.just seems all so pointless, and yet folks continue plodding on with their routines day after empty day.

Now, there in the bar district of Angeles City in the early morning hours, those manifestations of hopelessness are only enhanced.  As I started in on my second San Miguel Light beer I wondered what it was that makes people just keep pushing on the way they do.  I guess it all comes down to you just don’t have any other choice but to make the best of life until that too has disappeared.  That’s my plan at least.

So, I caught a few come on smiles from the ladyboys who frequent the area (which I did not reciprocate), watched the bargirls who hadn’t snagged a customer for the night and those that had as they made their way to home or hotel.  And then one young woman stopped in front of where I was sitting and wordlessly pleaded with me to be with her that night.  I know the look but I told her sorry, not interested.  She then spoke and asked will you buy me a drink?  I hesitated, then shrugged, and said sure, why not.

When she set down next to me I immediately asked her age (she looked even younger in good light) and she told me she had just turned 20.  I asked her where she worked and she told me she was a masseuse.  That normally translates to freelance prostitute. I again declined her this time verbal offer to give me a “massage”.  We sat in silence as we drank, but she practically oozed sadness and desperation.  I’m sorry for her situation of course, but these days it’s all I can do to save myself.  And it was time for me to go to sleep.  As I paid the tab, I asked her if she had eaten and she told me no.  I handed her 200 pesos and left her sitting there alone.

More to come.  And it is not all doom and gloom.  I promise.

 

On the beach (final weekend)

Time for an update.  Although admittedly things are getting a little fuzzy.

Now, I’m not saying my following this advice has created that fuzziness, but…

I’ll just slap up some pictures and hopefully things will get a little clearer.  Not going to even attempt to stay chronological.  Instead I’ll categorize.  Sound like fun?  Let’s roll!

Let’s start with the housing situation.  Too soon to actually make a commitment, it was more about seeing what was out there and assessing the the viability of me wanting to live in a particular location.  There is only one neighborhood on the old Navy base I’d like to call home, and whether anything might be available when I’m ready to move (and whether it is within my budget ($1000.00 a month max) remains to be seen.

Now, most of the expats or soon to be expats I’ve talked with this week are renting places for under $500, but I’ve not given up on finding something clean and nice with a view even if it comes with a premium price tag.  Maybe I’m a dreamer.

One thing that is different here as compared to Seoul is there are no realtors specializing in rentals. It’s basically walking around and looking for vacancy signs.

Now, here’s a funny story for you.  See the road behind the sign in the picture above.  Well, that’s the National Highway that runs through Barrio Baretto.  It can be a real bitch to cross.  So, the other day right after taking that picture I made my dash for the other side.  I looked to left and saw a gap sufficiently large to make it across.  I looked to the right and observed a smaller gap, but doable if I hustled.  So hustle I did.  And half way across I came within inches of running into a motorcycle that must have been in my blind spot on the left.  And meanwhile a second motorbike had to slam on his breaks to keep from hitting me.  If dirty looks could kill I’d be a dead man.  Anyway, lesson learned.  My future plans do not include being a pedestrian statistic.  The best advice I received in that regard was to wait and cross with the Filipinos.  They have a knack for getting it done alive.

These apartments are on the far end of Baretto. 3 bedroom, 3 bath, split level. 33,000 pesos ($660) per month furnished. No view though, unless the neighbors leave their curtains open….

What I will likely do when I first make the move is go for a short term rental (30-60 days) while I look around some more. Living in a Nipa hut might be kind of fun….

On the medical scene, I had the opportunity to visit the local hospital.

It wasn’t me in need of care luckily. Rather, my personal assistant/caregiver was feeling poorly so she saw a doctor for meds. No appointment, got in an out in 20 minutes. Place was clean and relatively modern. Actually, it seems to get pretty good reviews from the expat community here. Nice emergency room should I get unlucky crossing the road.

Also located two other hospitals in Olongapo, one that even takes my insurance.  On my to-do list is to make sure I’ve made arrangements for some form of pre-payment.  They won’t treat you until you pay.  And if they do treat you, you can’t leave until you do pay.

On the dart scene, I played in a second tourney on Thursday night and pulled out a victory there as well.  2 for 2, maybe I should quit while I’m ahead?

It was fun to be playing competitively once again.

Also got drafted to play in the league match on Friday with my new friends from Alley Cats bar. Thanks for having me!

And now for a change of scenery…

Brewed coffee to start the day…

Brew with a view…

A lonely banka boat…

What’s not to love?

Some of the food I’ve enjoyed this weekend…

A burger at DaBar…

Fish and chips at Midnight Rambler…

A fruit pate at Harley’s…

Ribs at Blue Rock…

Pork chops at Mango’s Resort…

I never saw such a patty…

I didn’t eat here but I though it was funny as hell regardless…

And I spent some time in the bars as well…

The weekly S.O.B. dance contest was hosted by Rum Jungle this week. Paid my admission and got drafted to be a judge. The girls all work hard and so I tried to be appropriately serious in my assessments of their efforts and results…

Arizona Bar had the the best overall performance.

Nice costumes to go with the moves…

The other competitors were entertaining…

No ifs, and, or…

…butts about it.

Going for it.

getting down…

not everyone can be a winner…

…but you can always look good losing…

A new night, a new bar.  This time for the “bar olympics.”  And once again, I was asked to perform the duties of sitting in judgement.

The first event…

Hell, I don’t know. They all seemed to know their way around a “banana”.

The next event. Imagine my disappointment when I learned it was all about the skill in drinking a particular shot…

The shots in question…

And the last event of the night…

Much more enjoyable than the crappy photo would indicate….

And that was the highlights of the weekend in Baretto…

When you see the Southern Cross for the first time… I normally hire a private car but everyone was booked up for the trip to Manila today. This got us here in a roundabout way for half the price…

Got here in plenty of time to enjoy a pleasant stroll through Rizal park, named in honor of the Philippines national hero…

I was glad to discover that he had been executed in 1896. Well, not happy about the execution per se, just glad it was the Spanish who did the killing instead of us Yanks.

Crappy service at L.A. Cafe, so I relented and did Shakey’s pizza with Loraine for dinner…

Nope. When I’m done working I will be done with work. I really, really mean it this time!

Anyway, I fly out tomorrow.  Overall, I’d rate this the best trip I’ve had to the PI.  I’ll elaborate in a future post when I’ve had more time to digest what I’ve learned.

Thanks for coming along!