Some Random Observations

As the title says, this will just be some random vignettes of my life here in Iloilo City.

Inday and I went to SM Supermarket, which is in SM City, the large mall. We came out with a cart full of shopping bags, ordered a Grab car to bring us home, and when the car arrived the driver jumped out and opened the back of his car to load our bundles. One of the mall security guards, with his long gun strapped across his chest, came up and started helping the driver load everything in the back of the car. It was all done so fast, we didn’t even have a chance to help. Then the guard smiled, waved, and walked off.

Once the Grab driver dropped us off at home, as we approached the lobby door one of the building staff opened the door and greeted us as we entered, then he pushed the elevator call button for us, and when the door opened and we got in, he reached in to push Floor 3 for us so we wouldn’t need to do that with our hands full. I have no idea how they manage to remember that we live on the 3rd floor. There are 7 floors of condos in this building.

Does anybody remember the arcade game Frogger, from back in the 80’s? Crossing the road here is like a game of live-action Frogger. If the road has two lanes in each direction, then there could be three lanes of traffic in each direction, plus motorbikes filtering by on either side and in between. There are signs directing drivers to Yield To Pedestrians In Crosswalk. They are a total waste of time and materials. Nobody stops. When I first got here my strategy was simple: I’d stand on the curb and wait until some locals ventured forth to cross the road, and I’d shadow them. I’ve become marginally competent at crossing the road now, although Inday still thinks I’m not to be trusted on my own and always takes my hand so she can steer me across the road. To be fair, I did nearly get run down by a motorbike right in front of her once. But only once!

Filipinos typically eat using a fork and a spoon. I’ve actually adopted this method at home, although I use the spoon to help load food onto my fork, while Inday uses her fork to push food onto her spoon. In restaurants the staff will sometimes give Inday a fork and spoon, and will give me a fork and a knife. I get a chuckle from that every time!

Back in the States people lament the rise of cellphone addiction. It is nothing like what it is here. Nothing! People seem to be glued to their phones every waking moment. More than once I’ve had Filipinos walk right into me while staring at their phone screen.

When we moved to this condo, there was no toaster. I need to have my toast in the morning, so we headed off to the SM Store to buy a toaster. When you buy something in the Philippines, the store staff will unpack whatever it is and make sure it works before you pay for it and leave. So the sales clerk took the toaster out of the box, plugged it in, made sure it heated up, then packed it back into the box and sent us on our way to the checkout.

Similarly, Inday bought a toy train for her son Edrian, and the store staff unpacked the little train, put the batteries in it, and made sure it ran on the track. Then they packed it all back up, checked us out, and sent us on our way.

Okay, that’s it. Nothing important and profound. Just a few snippets about adjusting to life here. I hope it was worth the few minutes to read.

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

Manila Airport

I recently returned from a trip to Iloilo City in the Philippines. I know there are people in the world who get to choose their travel itinerary based on convenience while ignoring cost. I’m not one of those people. I chose my travel itinerary based on which tickets were cheapest. That being so, our itinerary consisted of a 10 hour flight from Boston to Istanbul (Boston because a girlfriend from Boston traveled with me), a 10 1/2 hour layover in Istanbul, a 12 hour flight from there to Manila, an 18 hour layover in Manila, then a 1 hour flight to Iloilo City. If you add that all up, that’s 50-something hours.

I had heard horror stories of Manila Airport. Basically, it’s an old, not well organized airport that is operating far above its designed capacity. There are 4 terminals, none of which are connected to any of the others. International flights operate into and out of Terminal 3. Philippine Airlines operates flights between Manila and Iloilo from Terminal 2.

On the way out we had that 18-hour overnight layover. Since we arrived in Terminal 3, it was super easy to collect our bags, head up to level 3 of the terminal, and follow the signs to Runway Manila, which is an enclosed pedestrian walkway over the highway that deposits you in the Newport area, which is a district of hotels, restaurants, and shopping. And right as you exit the elevator on the city side of the pedestrian bridge is the Belmont Hotel, where we had a reservation for the night.

The next day, however, we had to fly out of Terminal 2. That being so, I asked the concierge whether taking a taxi was the best way to get there. He said “Yes, but they will rip you off. I can order a Grab for you.”

Grab is the Philippine version of Uber. You can get rides, have food delivered, etc. If I remember correctly, the 20-minute Grab ride to Terminal 2 cost something like 270 PHP, or less than $5 USD.

The route from Belmont Hotel to Terminal 2

We were at the airport plenty early. The lines were long, and the gates were pretty chaotic, including a last-minute gate change, but we had plenty of time to deal with it all. Our flight to Iloilo was delayed, but that was our final destination so we had no connection issues to worry about.

On the way back, it was quite a different story.

We had booked an early afternoon flight from Iloilo to Manila, then a 5+ hour layover in Manila before our flight to Istanbul. That 5 hours should have been plenty of time to get from Terminal 2 to Terminal 3, check in, go through Immigration, go through security, and get to our gate.

Iloilo Airport was so quiet and peaceful

Unfortunately, Philippine Airlines being Philippine Airlines, at the time we were supposed to be taking off from Iloilo, our plane was still in Manila. The end result is that we were over 2 hours late arriving in Manila. Then we had to wait an insanely long time for our checked bags to come out. By now, we knew we were in trouble.

My plan had been to order a Grab to take us to Terminal 3, but now our priority had become finding the fastest possible way to get there. That being so, we asked one of the airport personnel where we could get a taxi. He pointed to the door and said “Bay 11”.

As you approach a taxi stand, you’ll be approached by people offering you rides. We told the woman who approached us that we needed to get to Terminal 3, and we were very late. When asked how much, she answered “1150”. Now, we knew this ride should be about 400 pesos. Her explanation was that it was 700 for the ride, and 450 for the toll for the flyway to Terminal 3.

Okay, we knew we were being taken advantage of. But at the end of the day, 1150PHP is about $20USD. Let’s just get going. And our driver did get us there fast. He used the tollway. As we approached the departure area there was a long line of taxis and people trying to enter the terminal, and he said he would drop us at Arrivals and tell us how to get up to Departures. Sure enough, he pulled up to the curb, pointed out which door we should enter through, and pointed out the escalator inside that would take us up to Departures. Off we went.

Because of the way we entered, we came into the check-in area on the opposite side from most traffic. We spotted the Turkish Airways desks, saw the long check-in line, sighed, and got in line. Ha! Naive us. We were immediately approached by a man from Turkish Airways who pointed to his colleague down the way and told us to go see her to get in line. We did that, and the woman proceeded to point to a long line snaking half the length of the terminal, and told us we had to go to the back of this line. So, basically, there was a line to get to the actual check-in line. Sigh…

The line to get to the check-in line
Finally, the actual check-in line!

We did as we were told, and after an interminable length of time we were finally checked in. Then we had to find the Immigration line, which wasn’t all that easy. Things are not signed well in the Manila Airport. Once you get there, there is a big sign, but there aren’t many signs pointing out the way there. But we got there, and thank goodness we were flying on foreign passports. The line for Philippine passport holders was incredible. We probably only waited 10 or 15 minutes, but it felt like forever, as our plane had started boarding while we were still back checking in.

Finally through Immigration, now we were off to security. Another line. More watching time whizz by at lightning speed. Through security, and off on a dash to our gate. Duck under the rope with the sign saying Final Boarding, present our passports and boarding passes, and finally, we are on the plane!

I hope I never get to repeat that experience.