So This Happened

I’ve been living here in Iloilo City for a bit over 6 months now. It feels like just yesterday that I got here, and at the same time it feels like I’ve been here forever. I will interpret that as a good thing; it feels new and fresh and exciting, and at the same time it feels like I’m settled and in place. When I tried settling in Tennessee, I never had that feeling of being in my place.

After I had been here a while, I met and dated a woman a few times. She was nice and we got along alright, but there wasn’t any spark between us so we ended that. That’s alright, I certainly didn’t expect the first woman I met to be my soulmate.

Then I met Eden. Our first date was a walk along the Esplanade on a Saturday evening, followed by pizza at Giuseppe’s. At the end of the night I asked her if she would take me someplace for Filipino food the next day, and she agreed. We started at the food court in SM City for batchoy, then we wandered around and talked for a while, and ended up at Pedro Bulalohan a couple of hours later for several dishes I didn’t recognize, and don’t now recall. I do remember we ordered way too much food for 2 of us, so we ended up taking the leftovers over to Inday’s (Eden’s nickname is Inday) workplace and sharing it with her colleagues.

That day out continued into the evening, when we finally ended up in Molo Plaza. It being Christmas season, which in the Philippines runs from September to January, the plaza was lit up with Christmas lights, and being Sunday evening it was crowded with families. At Christmas time small groups of children go around singing Christmas carols, and in exchange you give them a few coins. After one trio sang for us, Inday opened her purse and took out coins to give the kids. Afterwards I said something to her about not giving away all her money, and she replied “That’s okay. Those are the coins I didn’t spend for my food today because I am with you.” That made a big impression on me, because that’s the kind of person Inday is.

So, we’ve been together every single day since then. Has every moment been perfect? Of course not. There are cultural differences to adapt to in each other. There are food differences. I’ve eaten more rice in the last six months than I have in my entire life pre-Philippines! Eden speaks excellent English, but in the beginning I could tell that having to speak English constantly was wearying for her. And anyone who knows me knows that I am pretty rigid. I doubt anyone has ever described me as being flexible or easy going or anything similar. But we’re good together. Really good.

A few weeks after we met, we made the trip up to Barotac Viejo so I could meet Inday’s family. I met her mom and dad, her 5-year-old son Edrian, and several of her 6 sisters, and various children and neighbors.

I never expected to meet somebody and be in a committed relationship so soon after arriving here. Just before I met Inday I had committed to a 12-month lease on a 1-bedroom condo here in Iloilo. It was plenty of room just for myself, but now there are three of us.

As of this last Saturday, we have been together for 6 months. We are now engaged and planning a December wedding, on Inday’s birthday. We have plans for our life together, but more on that later. For now, I just wanted to introduce you to Eden and Edrian, and share the part they play in my life now. I will add here that my daughter Anju has agreed to be my “Best Woman” and stand up with me at our wedding. That makes me very happy. I’m looking forward to her being here for the wedding and Christmas and New Years, and seeing what my new life is like.

The Barangay Captain, The District Hospital, and Zooming Through The Night

Okay, the Barangay Captain doesn’t actually have anything to do with our story, although we did see him while we were in the Barangay Hall. I just think it helped make for a good title.

Sometime last week we were in SM City shopping, and noticed a banner advertising a summer sports program for kids in Iloilo City. Inday wants to sign Edrian up for this, and one of the requirements is a Barangay Clearance to prove residence.

For my Western friends, a barangay is the smallest political division in the Philippines. A city or town is made up of multiple barangays. Iloilo City, for instance, has 180 barangays. You can think of it as a neighborhood. Each barangay has an elected captain and elected council members.

So, on Tuesday morning Inday and I walked over to the Barangay Hall for the barangay that includes our condo, in order to ask for a Clearance for Edrian. Since we never registered with the barangay when we moved here, we had to do that first. The clerk came out and sat down with us to interview us, and fill out our information in a surprisingly large, multi-page booklet. He recorded information about each of us including name, birth date, religion, educational attainment, where we lived prior to moving to Barangay San Rafael, and our reason for moving here. For the household, he asked what our source for drinking water is, what fuel we primarily use to cook, and how we dispose of our kitchen waste. And at the end of all this, they printed up Edrian’s Barangay Clearance, stating his full name, that he is a resident of Barangay San Rafael, he is of good character, and the barangay officials know of no complaints or actions against him.

Meanwhile, back on Monday morning Edrian had woken up and the little guy’s face was all swollen in an obvious allergic reaction to something, although he wasn’t complaining about anything. Inday had been planning to bring him to Barotac Viejo to stay with his grandmother, and she decided to carry on with that plan, but with the addition that when they got to Barotac Viejo she first took Edrian to the babaylan, and then to the doctor. The doctor ordered some tests, and prescribed medication. Inday spent the day there with her family, and in the evening Edrian was feeling good and wanted to stay with Grandma, so Inday came home alone.

Fast forward to Tuesday night, and about 8:30 or so Inday got a call from her mom telling us that Edrian had been complaining it was hard to breathe so they were taking him to the hospital. The fastest way for us to get up there is by car, so I booked a Grab Car and off we went. We got to the hospital a few minutes after 10:00, and Inday’s mom and two of her sisters were there with Edrian. He was doing okay, sitting on the bed with one of his titas (aunts). The doctor wanted a chest x-ray and some blood tests, so we paid for those, and were told we would have to wait 3 to 4 hours for the results. Fortunately it only took a couple of hours, so a bit after midnight they told us all the tests were negative, and they did one last check of his vitals before telling us he could leave about 12:30.

So now we’re sitting outside the hospital in the middle of the night with a 5-year-old, and we need to find a way back to Iloilo City. The obvious choice is to book another Grab Car, but after multiple attempts we always got the “No Drivers Available” response. The buses don’t run overnight, and the first bus in the morning is at 4:00AM. Fortunately, Inday is a resourceful woman. She had the phone number for a Grab driver who had told her previously that he was available as a hired driver for day trips and such, so she called him and he agreed to drive up to Barotac Viejo and pick us up. It’s a bit over an hour drive, so we settled down to wait and he showed up about a quarter to two. Finally, we were on our way, and after a stop at Inday’s parents’ place to pick up Edrian’s medications from the day before, we were off and got home a couple of minutes after 3:00AM.

This morning Edrian was still very itchy, still had hives all over his body, and was complaining that his tummy hurt, so Inday called his pediatrician. She doesn’t have office hours here today, but told us to bring him to the ER at the hospital down the street, where her office is. We did that; they checked him over, reviewed all the tests that had been done up in the province, called his pediatrician and filled her in, and she said he should be fine, we just need to allow time for his medications to work, and made an appointment to see him on Monday. The ER didn’t even charge us for the visit. Can you imagine that happening in the States? I can’t.

I’ve been thinking about buying a car so we can easily take trips around Panay, but have been put off by the cost of parking here at the condo. A parking spot in the garage costs about 5500 – 6000 pesos per month. In a typical month we don’t spend anywhere near that amount for transportation. A Grab ride across town is a couple hundred pesos. But last night’s experience is, in my mind, a pretty strong argument for having our own car. So now we’re re-evaluating.

Week One Is In The Books

I’ve been here in Iloilo City for a week now. It feels like I’ve been busy, but at the same time not busy at all.

When my flight landed at the crack of dawn in Iloilo last Friday, I was met at the airport by two other expats living here who I had connected with on Facebook. Chris and Mary were so kind to pick me up and drive me to the condo I had rented on Airbnb. It made a wonderful start to my time here.

Since then I’ve figured out my neighborhood a bit. I’ve shopped for groceries a couple of times. I either run or walk on the Esplanade most every morning.

There are some things I need to do to settle in here. One of those is to get a Philippine phone number. My US number is with Google Fi, which works in most countries in the world. Here in the Philippines, Fi uses Globe’s network. Since Globe and Smart are the two big players here, I chose Smart for my local SIM. This way, I should have coverage most anywhere I go.

I tried to buy an eSIM from Smart via their website, but in order to complete the checkout, they require a Philippine phone number. So I went to the Smart store in the mall to take care of it. It cost me P40 for a SIM, which included unlimited calls, texts, and 5G data for 3 days. Since my phone is dual SIM capable, I have both my US service and my Philippines service active at all times, and I have it set so the phone automatically switches to whichever data service is better at the moment. Very convenient.

The system for funding a prepaid phone plan, and for choosing what calling, texting, and data options you want, is completely different than in the States, and very confusing to me, but I think I’ve figured it out enough to have a working phone. There are so many little details of daily life to learn anew!

When I landed in Cebu and went through Immigration, they stamped my passport with a 30 day tourist visa. I’ve since gone online and applied for a visa waiver, which gives me another 29 days. It was very easy to do online. I logged into the Bureau of Immigration website on Sunday night, filled out the form and submitted the payment, and on Monday morning I got an email from BI with the waiver attached. So now I’m good until Christmas Day, December 25.

I believe in December, when I apply for a visa extension (I don’t know why the first extension is called a waiver, and then you subsequently apply for extensions) I can also apply for my ACR card. ACR is Alien Certificate of Registration and is a government issued ID card for non-citizens living in the Philippines.

The other significant thing I’ve been working on is finding a long-term rental. This Airbnb is okay, but it’s relatively expensive, it’s very tiny, and I don’t love the location as much as I thought I would. I looked at a one-bedroom unit that’s currently available at a condo complex called Avida Storey. It had a reasonable amount of space, but the way it’s laid out makes no sense and results in a tiny living room with a significant amount of wasted space by the kitchen. The plus side to Avida is that I really like the complex. There are a lot of conveniences on-site, including a 7-Eleven, a water refill station, and a laundry service, as well as some coffee shops and restaurants. The pool area is really nice, and shaded in the afternoon, and there seems to be more air there. It’s also not right on a main road, which I am here.

So I didn’t like the unit I looked at, but there’s a different one-bedroom unit coming available in early December, and that one has a much better layout with a decent sized living room. Right now I am waiting to hear if they will discount the rent if I sign a one-year lease.

This was meant to go out on Friday, and it is now Sunday morning. So I should properly rename this entry “Week One Plus Two Days Is In The Books,” but I’m not going to. Such a rebel!

Fill ‘Er up! No, wait! Don’t!

This morning I hiked out to Laurel Falls, and on the drive out to the trailhead I stopped for gas. As usual, I was going to fill the truck up, but as I was pumping gas I thought “No, wait. You’re not going to use a whole tank of gas before you leave here!” So heck, I’m less than a tank of gas away from leaving. I’ve got about half a tank of gas in the truck. No sense selling it with $50 worth of gas in it.

BTW, when I sold the AdventureMobile last year, it had a nearly full gas tank. At 80 gallons to a full tank, that was a couple of hundred dollars. And it’s not like I got more money from the sale because of it.

Anyway… Two weeks to go. Two weeks until I fly out of here, bound for the other side of the world. I’ve just about go the last few details lined up.

I leave early in the morning on Wednesday, October 25. On Monday, the 23rd, some folks will be coming to get all of the furniture and kitchen stuff in the apartment. I decided to just give everything away, rather than deal with the logistics of trying to sell everything, while also needing it all since I’m living here until the last minute. So it is all going to end up going to an international student at ETSU who apparently is living in a mostly empty apartment.

Tomorrow I’ll be heading over to the local Ford dealer to hopefully come to an agreement for them to buy the truck on Tuesday, the 24th.

The only other final detail left is to sell the washer and dryer. I’m going to try to make that happen on the 23rd as well, so I can leave here with all my laundry clean.

So on the 23rd all the furniture goes and the apartment will be empty. I have a hotel room reserved for two nights starting then.

On the morning of the 24th I do the walk-thru of the apartment with the management company, and they give me all the bullshit reasons why they won’t be returning the full security deposit.

That afternoon, I drop the truck off at the Ford dealer, and take an Uber back to my hotel.

And finally on the 25th, I get an Uber to the airport, and I’m off for the next insane adventure.

50 Days

50 days from today, at 7:45 in the morning, I will be flying out of the Tr-Cities Airport, bound for Dallas, then Seoul, then Cebu, and finally on to Iloilo.

50 Days.

I bought the tickets for my flights almost 3 months ago, so at the time it felt like I had forever to get ready. But now, all of a sudden, I find myself only 50 days out. That’s next month. Next month, I’m leaving the country.

I have got a lot done. I’ve been steadily busy selling things. I’ve sold the motorcycle. I’ve sold my beautiful Cannondale bicycle. That one hurt, but there is no practical and cost-effective way to ship an e-bike overseas. It can’t go by air because of the battery.

I sold the RV. That was a big one. The RV market has flipped since I bought it last year, and it is now a buyer’s market. But I sold it last week to a guy who drove down from Connecticut to get it. That’s a big source of anxiety off my plate, and a very big check mark on my to-do list.

And, of course, I’ve sold dozens of other, smaller things. I’m mostly down to things which, if I don’t find buyers and it’s close to time to leave, I can just give them away and feel fine about it.

The next logistical headache is how to empty out the apartment before I leave, but also have it livable until then. I’ve got some furniture, and all the kitchen stuff, which I’ll need until the end. I’ve got to cook and eat and sleep and sit down somewhere. I think I am going to try to find someone in need of setting up an apartment, and if they have a way to come get everything a couple of days before my flight out, I’ll just give it all to them.

And I’ve got to sell the truck, but I think I am going to sell it to the local Ford dealer, and arrange the date for the day before I leave.

That will leave me with a couple of nights in a hotel, and some Uber rides around town and finally to the airport.

BTW while I’m finishing up writing this, I’m listening to Peter, Paul and Mary sing Leaving On A Jet Plane. Fitting!

It’s All About The Pizza

Have I complained on this blog about the sorry state of pizza in most of the United States? Maybe not. But it is a sorry mess. Having grown up in Connecticut, halfway between New York and Boston, and 20 minutes from Wooster Street in New Haven, I thought everybody had access to great pizza.

Boy, was I wrong! After spending 5 years wandering all over the country, I can report that most Americans have absolutely no idea what good pizza is. And having lived here in Johnson City for over a year now, I can attest that that holds true here as well. There is a local place that claims they have “New York style pizza,” but judging by the product they turn out, nobody who works there has ever been to New York.

But… there is hope! I have found a place outside of the Northeast where there is genuinely good pizza. And you’ll never guess where it is. In Iloilo City, in the Province of Iloilo, on the island of Panay, in the Western Visayas Region of the Philippines, is Giuseppe Pizzeria and Sicilian Roast. And they have phenomenal pizza!

So I’m moving to Iloilo City.

Am I really moving? Yes. Am I really moving just for the pizza? No, of course not. But it’s a nice bonus!

Do you remember why I call this blog Monkeywrench Your Life? If not, you can read the reason why here. And I’m going to do it again. I’m selling the RV. I’m selling the motorcycle. I’m selling the bicycle, the truck, all the camping and hiking gear. I’m selling everything but what I can fit into my two suitcases, and I’m getting on an airplane and moving to the other side of the world. Because, why not?

Change is scary. It scares the bejeezus out of me. It makes me uncomfortable. And I mitigate that as best I can by researching and planning meticulously. But ultimately it makes life exciting. It keeps me engaged. I know there are going to be times when I will wish I had never done this. But Iloilo is a beautiful city, and the people are amazingly friendly. People talk to me when I walk down the street, and those who know me know that I don’t really have a warm and welcoming face by default. A Filipina told me “yes, they all look at you because to them you are an alien.” Well heck, I’ve felt like an alien my entire life! I’m made for this role.

So yeah, there will be lots to write about and share as this latest adventure unfolds. For now, I’ve got another 3 months to dispossess myself of all my things and get ready to fly out of here at the end of October.

This is where I will be living my first month in Iloilo City