Jill, over at the Perlman Update, is hosting a foreign service blog round up, and this week’s question is what makes me happy at our current post (which is good timing too, as the winter bidlist just came out, so if you’re researching Manila, here is my advice!).
I admit, that there are days that living in Manila gets the best of me: the traffic; men peeing against walls while their pee trickle goes down the sidewalk I’m walking on (or seeing the construction workers at the roof of the building next door just pull it out and pee right there – hope whoever lives in the penthouse never has an infiltration problem on their ceiling, ick!); never getting our food at the same time when we’re out to eat (it’s not uncommon now for whoever gets their food first to start eating right away and not doing the polite thing and waiting – unless you want to eat your food cold); rarely getting our drinks before our food order (even if I just ordered house water!); the lack of green space and not having anywhere nice to walk my dog, and wondering if all her skin issues are due to the bad air; etc…
But, if you’ve been reading along you KNOW all the good here overshadows the bad! And the good? Oh there’s just soooo much!
-The TRAVEL! I know, I know, I shouldn’t start a post on the wonderful things about Manila with how easy it is to get out of it! But chances are, if you’re an expat in the Philippines, you like traveling and exploring and Manila is a great hub for it. There are the wonderful islands of the Philippines with their clear blue waters…
And all the amazing Asian countries all around you waiting to be explored.
I find that the expats who tend to hate Manila (there’s quite a handful of them, unfortunately), are the ones that don’t travel enough – it’s a great resource, it’s affordable if you take advantage of flight promos (which we do every time we travel), and it really makes you appreciate living in Asia!
-And the best way to recuperate from traveling (or working?). MASSAGES! It’s no secret I’m addicted to them. I like that I can go to the fancy place across the street and get a 1.5 hour massage for $25. I love that for about $8 I can get an hour-long foot massage. Some people here that don’t have a crazy dog and cat roaming their apartment actually get a one hour home massage service for $6.
-Since we’re talking about PAMPERING, let’s keep up the theme and add how your mani/pedi here should come out to about 10 bucks, your expensive haircut costs less than 20 dollars, an hour-long facial is also 10 bucks… You can definitely get used to this life!
–DIVING! That’s our new passion since arriving here! Learning how to dive it’s still not cheap, but much more affordable than most places! And when each dive costs from $20-$30 (including equipment rental, as we don’t have our stuff), it is also one of the most affordable places to dive in the world. And you get to see some amazing things!
It’s also one of the reasons why we keep delaying the having a baby things. Women can’t dive while pregnant, and I’d hate to waste a year living here and not being able to dive…
–AFFORDABILITY: it’s true, things here are affordable if you compare to the US and European prices (heck, at this point even compared to Brazil!), but not necessarily to other Southeast Asian countries, but that doesn’t make things here expensive. You can have a nice meal including drinks and tips for less than $20/person. Most often, it comes out to about $15/person. And though Filipino food doesn’t make my mouth water, there’s some great restaurants in this area… You can find Thai, Spanish, Korean, Italian… And if you’re hankering for a burger, yep, we have Chili’s here too (funnily enough, it’s more expensive than most restaurants!).
–HOUSEHOLD HELP: Since moving to our permanent housing, I have done zero laundry, zero toilet scrubbing, zero dishes (ok, maybe a couple of dishes here and there if things on the weekend got out of control, but it could average it out to almost zero). Yep, being able to afford GOOD household help has been wonderful! My bed is made every morning, my floors are always shining, my pots and pans scrubbed, and most nights I have dinner made for me. You can even skip grocery shopping if you’d like!
Ah, and we also have a driver, which is perfect for our one-car household – Karl can go to and from work with our car, and I still have the car to use at the other times of day, plus I’m not the one dodging jeepneys on the road. Sweet, no?
–PET SITTER! Another bonus of having full-time household help? For a couple of bucks more, she stays with our pets when we travel. They LOVE her, she LOVES them (which is super important to us), and we can take advantage of all the traveling I mentioned above without the least bit of worry. Our babies are well taken care of!
-Which brings me to another advantage: VET CARE! Some things will not compare to the US, it’s true. But our most expensive vet bill to date was when Lily ate my flipflops, could not stop throwing up (which quickly became all blood) and spent 2 nights at the vet under observation while they made the vomiting stop and x-rayed her stomach multiple times to make sure there was no blockage. The total bill? $150. I spend that easily in the US with just a simple consultation and check up. Plus for the total sum of $12, the vet will come to your house for any consultation/vaccines/etc. He won’t do surgery on your dining table, no worries, there’s the vet office for that, but for anything else, it’s a quick text to the vet and he comes right over! (My friend who lived in Rwanda did have the vet neuter her cat on the dining table – so yes, it is an advantage that here there’s no need for that!)
–TEXTING! Some people might hate texting, I love it! Do you need to ask the vet a question or schedule an appointment, even if it’s off hours? Text him! Do you need to schedule a doctor’s appointment? Text the office! How about to schedule that massage/facial/pedicure/haircut? Text! (I heard people with children can even text their pediatrician at any time!) I really love it. No need to have a pen nearby, as I have all confirmed on my phone. No need to worry about busy signals, leaving a message, no one picking up, as again, you just text what you need! It’s perfect!
-Our AMAZING APARTMENT! It’s rare that any Embassy people get less than 3 bedrooms when they get their housing assigned in Manila. And though apartments at the Seafront Compound are a bit smaller and older, you win on the nice lap pool and green space. But for those of us living in Makati and the Fort? We are lucky enough to live in some spectacular apartments, with ton of things walking distance from us (meaning we don’t need to use the car for the most part and can walk to dinner, massages, hospital, park, to grab a beer or coffee, etc). I posted pics of our place before, but here’s a 360 of my living/dining room… (Click to enlarge)
And if you’re wondering, yes, I did find myself yet a new iPhone app, this one totally free called Photosynth and it makes panoramas of anything you want – including 360 pictures like above.
-Lastly: THE FILIPINOS! Yes, that’s another great thing about living in Manila! Sure, I hate them all when I’m trying to drive and have to deal with crazy pedestrians, Jeepney drivers that really shouldn’t be driving a thing, suicidal motorcycle riders, and no traffic enforcement. And sure, they lack the ability to say “no” when it means “no” like,
“Can I order the shrimp pasta?”
“perfect, I’ll have that!”
“Sold out, mam”
And the inability to even say things like “what? I don’t understand” so when you ask them a question you often get a yes – for a question that was NOT a yes/no question such as
“how do I get from here to the mall?”
or “Do you think it’s better if I go there in the morning or the afternoon to avoid traffic?”
But, but, but, with very rare exceptions (and outside of the roads, because on the roads they’re all maniacs), they’re one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. They might be bringing your drinks and food late, forget you ordered a water, and might not be answering your questions at all but they’ll be doing it all with a smile on their face. Service people don’t act like they’re doing you a favor, as you often see in the US. They’re truly happy to be there, even if that’s not their dream job. Never have I asked my helper or my driver for something and seen an eye roll or a reply that’s less than friendly. They’re never in a bad mood, or not forthcoming with a smile (I really should learn how to be more like them, to be honest).
When I walk in our neighborhood, all the guards (there are guards in every building) say “Good morning” (etc). And not in the “I’m trying to come on to you way” but in a genuinely nice way (and yes, I ALWAYS reply, because why not be nice to people that are being nice to me?).
And a tip? Always return a smile with a smile. I see many people not being nice to service people here, whether they’re expat or Filipino, but there’s no reason to be rude. Even when things are not done how you like them to be done, it’s not on purpose or to be spiteful, so just smile back and don’t let the little things stress you out. You won’t enjoy Manila at all if you get caught up into the little things, trust me!
I’m sure I’m forgetting 233,354 things more on this list, but these were the first things that popped in my head. 2 years here will be plenty for us, but we know how much we’ll miss this place when we’re gone, so maybe one day we’ll be back!