What makes me happy in Manila

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!


Filed under Asia, Foreign Service, Manila, Philippines, Pictures

26 responses to “What makes me happy in Manila

  1. GREAT list! My significant other just had an interview last week with the Asian Development Bank (headquartered in Manila). I was a bit nervous thinking about potentially moving there, but it sounds like a great place. I’m used to South East Asia so it would be comfortable the only part I’m worried about is not finding a job or a place to volunteer (I need to be productive) and my biggest concern: running! I read your other posts about how hot it can get and not finding trails to run on—this would really be the toughest thing.

    • Oh, you’ll like Manila! It’s so Americanized that it feels more like you’re in an US city full of Asian immigrants (instead of an actual Asian city). The ADB is not in Makati, but if you do come here, I recommend you live in Makati and have him commute, since this area is nicer than where the ADB is located.

      You can definitely find places to volunteer — the USEC (US Embassy Club) has about 13 charities they work with, so it’s a good place to start, and they are always looking for more people. As for a job, if you’re a teacher, you should be able to find something at one of the international schools, for a salary that is closer to what you would get in the US. Local non-teacher jobs, unless it’s at the ADB or similar, pay a lot less than what you’re used to (so little, that I personally don’t find worth working for that much, while taking away a job from a person that needs, and that money would actually make a difference for their family).

      There are races here every weekend (a 5k, including the tech singlet costs about $12 to register, so it’s totally affordable), and the races go anywhere from 3k to full marathon, most having the half distance. It’s good trails that is lacking here. There are a couple of running clubs, but they meet at the park nearby to do loops around it. It’s a 0.75 mile loop that they take over and over and over. I just don’t have the patience for that, and one of the big reasons I stopped running…

      I’m not sure if the ADB is as slow as the IMF and the UN in their hiring procedures, but if I’m still here and you guys are moving this way, shoot me an email and I’ll show you around! (We leave April 2013)

  2. Hi Carla. Thanks for this post…one of my favourites so far. I found your blog while trolling around for other running blogs. The Manila thing caught my eye because I lived there for the first 20 years of my life. Despite not having any Filipino blood in me, I consider myself one.

    You’re absolutely right on the money about the things to appreciate in Manila. It’s quite unfortunate that the city and government have let things slide for the worse since 1972. The airport, city, and slums make a bad impression for those visiting for the first time but deep in the heart of each Filipino is where all the beauty can be found. And I am very glad that you’ve found it and broadcasting it to the world.

    Please do keep up the great blogging, pictures, and, of course, running! If you ever find yourself in Toronto, please look me up and maybe we can for a run. And if you’re hankering for a running blog to read, I hope you can visit mine at http://www.9run.ca.


    • Filipinos definitely have a lot of heart, and are not afraid to show it! It does make you appreciate the place more!

      It really is sad that things here aren’t run as well, the slums keep increasing, pollution is very bad, and there are just not enough jobs or basic infrastructure for everyone. It’s still a spectacular country, once you get past those things.

  3. You’ve got me sold! (Though I was already, thanks in part to Caroline’s similar praise.) It was my #2 (and #3 and #7) on my bidlist this last time; Kampala won, but Manila may well happen later on… 🙂

  4. wonderful post! just realized I don’t have you bookmarked! will do so this wkend and you have inspired me to do a similar post about SD! hugs.

  5. We bid high on Manila back in 2005 – and though we didn’t get it, it’s certainly on our list for the future!

  6. Manilla is one of my “dream” posts. I don’t know if we will ever get it, but I want it.
    There are so many things to do and enjoy!

  7. Thanks for this Carla! My husband and I are heading to Manila in July, and this all made me very excited.

  8. Adrian

    Wonderful and funny post.

  9. Bianca O.

    Awesome post! Very comprehensive I must say. Hahaha! I’m a Filipina and I agree with the things you shared here! 😀 I just wanted to ask who your vet was! We’re looking for one who would be more accessible than our current one. Yours is a text away? Not bad! Lemme know how I can get in touch with him/her! 🙂 You can send it to me through my email. 🙂 Thanks so much and I’m glad you’re enjoying the Philippines!

    • Thanks, Bianca!

      I’ve been using Dr Racky from Vets In Practice (they’re based in Mandaluyong). He is no longer with them, but still comes for home visits, and still has contacts with VIP if there’s an emergency. His number is 0922-879-8314. If you want to deal directly with Vets In Practice, his replacement is Dr. Aston (who I haven’t yet tried) at 0918-545-5162. It’s a P500 charge for the home visit, which for me is totally worth it, since the time I spend in traffic + waiting at the office can totally be avoided.

  10. Pingback: 5 Pros and Cons of Living in Manila | Carla Runs the World

  11. Pingback: It must be bidding time again… | Carla Runs the World

  12. Raina

    Hi I loved your post. I am currently contemplating charity work around the world since children are very close to my heart. Is it true babies are discarded in Manila or sold? Heartwrenching 😦

  13. Harriet

    Hi, love your post. We are looking to move to Manila with ADB next year. We are Australian and are currently living in New Caledonia. A couple of questions if you don’t mind, I am a midwife and would love to work in Manila – is that a possibility? And is there an Australian expat club ? Cheers. Harriet

    • Hi Harriet! There is an Australian and New Zealand Association here. I don’t know all the details but have seen events posted here and there. Lots of Australians in Manila though!

      If you have kids, the MADS Manila group is the best way I’ve found to make friends with other expats. A wonderful group of women!

      As for work as a midwife, I’m honestly not familiar with the system to know if it’s possible. There is one midwife that shows up to our pregnancy MADS group occasionally and I can defining put you in touch w her if you have any questions on it. (She is also an expat.)

      Sent from my iPhone

  14. Good site you’ve got here.. It’s difficult to find high-quality
    writing like yours these days. I seriously appreciate people like
    you! Take care!!

  15. Jelena

    Hi Carla! I have been living here for half a year now, and I just saw your blog. And, more important, that you are a Westy mom! 🙂 Same as I am! Are you still here in Manila? I would love to meet for a walk!
    please email me if you have a chance: jelena.ovcinnikova(a)gmail.com Thank you!

  16. Tony/Jo

    Great article! We spent 3.5 years there and just loved it. Thanks for sharing.

  17. Tony/Jo

    Great article. We were posted there for 3.5 years and loved it. Work and people were amazing. Thanks for sharing.

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