Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Matelots. Filipino begging. Back in Taiwan. Complex teaching. Guanxi.

Manila - visas and matelots

I've been in Manila for 17 days. I only had one job to do and that was obtain a 60 day tourist visa for Taiwan. I failed this unassuming task after a demented trip to the Taiwanese Embassy. I spent two hours on a bus to get to the Makati area of Manila where many tall shiny glass buildings manifest themselves. I ascended to the 41st floor of a huge building where my ears popped. I waited in the queue at the embassy for another two hours only to be told that because I'm British I cant have the visa. "But I got one in Jakarta in August." "This is Manila, not Jakarta."

So, I only get 30 days when I get back to Taiwan. I waited two hours for a one minute conversation! Nightmare! I hate embassies!

The reason I've been stuck in Manila so long is because I've been hanging out with Don, a Scotsman from Edinburgh. He was a LtCDR in the Royal Navy with many interesting tales. We've a lot in common so we've been caning 'Red Horse' beer in together. This stuff is strong - stronger than Thailand's Chang beer! Don now works as a Captain on luxury yachts and he's offered me a position on one in August. I hope this works out as I would relish working on a grotesquely opulent yacht - cool!!

I go back to Taiwan on Tuesday where I can re-unite with Zi Ting again aftert a three week absence. Should be good!


What am I doing?

In the absence of clearly-defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it.” ~ Robert Heinlein (1907-1988)

I don't know who Robert was but his quote makes me recall my original ambition to step outside my comfort zone and explore the World. I also reviewed my first entry on this blog and saw how one of my goals was to learn Chinese. I'd forgotten about this. However, it must have remained in my subconscious as I'm pursuing that now.


I've been staying in the minging Townhouse Guesthouse in Baclaran for the last three weeks. In Europe this building would be condemned. I've just returned from a Tagalog dinner of Chicken Mami followed by Pancit Canton. Total cost? Just under £1.

You constantly get hassled by beggars everywhere you go. I counted today: on the 10 minute stroll to the cafe I was pestered for cash 14 times. Needless to say this starts to get on your tits after a while. To exacerbate the problem is your white skin which results in you being an instant lucrative target! Since, as you know, ALL white people are millionaires!

This is water off a duck's back now. I do give to some people sometimes but if you gave to everybody you'd be skint in minutes. I dislike the feeling that I'm perceived as a walking ATM who would stupidly give all his cash away. This is the feeling you get in the Philippines. It seems everybody is out to screw you. Many travellers concur with this.

Today I was eating scran as the only foreigner among 20 Filipinos. A beggar walks in and bypassing all the locals demands "Give me peso". I ask "Why me? The place is packed and you ask me?" He stood staring before staff chased him away.

I could tell you a thousand other tales like this from the last couple of years but never has it happened in a cafe (well it did once in Singapore but that's another story). To their credit, the other diners apologised and understood my frustration. They remarked how incidents like this, and the many others they witness cause them embarrassment. Sometimes it's a crap world we live in.

At the other end of the scale we have large scale corruption by the people that run the government. The latest one is about a messed up governmental telecoms deal with a Chinese state owned company. No surprise to see a Chinese state owned company in a financial scandal with the Filipino government - eh? Also, you'd be amazed at the number of luxury cars here with blacked-out windows (could this be because they're embarrassed about such an ostentatious display of wealth in the midst of obscene poverty?). Also the number of luxury hotels – it's quite bewildering.

You could stay in Asia in these sorts of places and not even know where you really are. However, staying in minging hostels leaves you in no doubt exactly where you are. The paradox though, is that budget travellers are a bigger target for beggars than their richer Western counterparts. This is partly due to the fact we take local transport and walk, therefore exposing ourselves to the local culture much more. The rich guys seem to taxi everywhere, from their fancy hotels to their fancy resorts and restaurants.


I arrived in Taiwan yesterday at Taoyuan International Airport. To give you some idea of the difference between the Philippines and Taiwan, try to imagine travelling from the Earth to the Moon. They are THAT different! At Manila airport you have to fight your way past a scrum of taxi driving scum in order to escape the madness. In civilised Taiwan, you can simply approach the information desk in a peaceful manner in order to organise one's affairs. No hassle here. No con-artists.

However, Taiwan is cold at the moment and I'm starting to really feel brass monkeys. I was talking to a Manc in Manila and he reckons my blood has thinned. His theory is based on the fact that I was enduring the 30+ deg temperatures without a bead of sweat on my body. He, meanwhile, was sweating like Michael Jackson in court. He reckons that due to prolonged exposure to the tropics my body has acclimitised, thus, resulting in thinner blood. I'm not sure, but there could be a grain of truth in what he's saying. I'm currently freezing as the Taiwan temperature dips to below 15 deg! I would probably die in a Northeast of England winter now.

I've just finished another Stephen King book Insomnia. I thought I would read it as I was suffering from the condition in Manila. I induced this condition because of too much Red Horse beer with Don. I like Stephen King because of some of his writing brings me out in giggles. My favourite this time was: "He felt like he was in a fairy tale written by a lunatic." Class or what?

I've just finished my first evening at work in Jiali. It was two one-hour English classes. I covered subject matter as academically rigorous as astro-physics. The first class was "Yesterday, I was sick" followed by "Yesterday, we were sick". Complex eh? The next class was better because the kids were younger. Here I was challenged by: "Nice to meet you.......nice to meet you too". This almost blew my mind. It made me feel like I was in a fairy tale written by a lunatic. Three more glorious hours of this tomorrow. At least the kids appeared to like me as we had fun.

Remember when I said I was only doing 8hrs/week? Well that plan has been revised thanks to ZiTing. Her Auntie wants me to teach her kids for an extra 4 hours/week. I said "No bloody way baby, not on my watch". She then explained how this Aunt had been instrumental in obtaining the original 8hr job. There's a thing in China called guanxi. It's a bit like: 'If you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours'. I have to do these extra hours to re-balance the guanxi........hmmmpphh! I guess it's another 4hrs pay!

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