Friday, June 29, 2007

the best laid plans of mice and men.....

Well it seems that three out of the five people I spoke to at Philippine Airlines were correct.... taking a cat on the plane with you is really that simple......

For those that are arrive at the airport as normal, baggage goes through the x-ray machine, cat doesn't...they originally wanted me to take the cat out and put the box through...but we agreed maybe that wasn't such a good idea...! Then a quick visit to the quarantine official, he checks the paperwork, stamps the health certificate and its over to check in...Kitty gets charged as excess baggage and gets taken away by a special ground staff who puts him on the baggage conveyor belt for her! All very simple....lets see what happens when I get to BKK!!!!

Actually, it all seems to be quite normal (I must admit due to flight/living arrangements, my cats have normally either followed me or gone ahead...I've never travelled with this was all new for me).

One thing that did help was that when I arrived, for the first time, I used one of the porters that skulk at the entrance...he was fantastic...knew what to do, where to go, how to deal with the cat, excess baggage etc....absolutely first rate..and yes, I was surprised...but to be honest from the minute he saw the cat - he just rattled off what we needed to do and what the procedures were and before we even entered the airport he asked if I had all her documentation etc.... quite the expert.

Anyway, Chiang Kai-shek was last seen at the chekc-in desk, cowering in the back of her cage...poor thing, she looked terrified.. she normally has Chairman Mao with her and they normally curl up together in the back of the cage looking like big furry gloves! This is her first trip without I hope she's ok...

So far all has gone according to plan, lets see what happens at the other end... updates later!

One thing that does make me smile at this the boarding announcements...always finished with "All aboard".....its hysterical, like a bus station...and it does remind me of Airplane!

Thanks to those of you who have texted or e-mailed over the last few days....I will answer when I am settled somewhere in BKK with a cup of tea...hopefully later today!

Anyway, that's my flight they're calling.....All Aboard!

Over and out!

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Things I won't miss...

This is the first of a two part post...the second - not surprisingly, and more postively - will be on things that I will miss...this, as titled, is things that I will not miss....

I won't miss the smelly, dirty, about to fall apart taxis that I have been using on a daily basis since I arrived here.... I have clocked up four accidents in a taxi and one disintegration (under the Shaw-Edsa flyover - the back wing fell off a taxi whilst we were sitting in the middle of the junction waiting for the traffic to clear - the driver got out...asked me to move into the front seat, whilst he man-handled the back wing into the back seat!!). Or the taxi that mid-ride to Makati said he needed to do something urgent stopped the car, got out, flipped up the bonnet and started fiddling around with the engine.

Taxi drivers (there is a flip side to this one - see the positive post later!)
I wont miss the conniving, scamming drivers...the ones that ask for extra money due to traffic, weather, time of day/night, general political situation etc etc....
I wont miss the drivers that it is a battle to get them to use their meters
I wont miss the drivers who run out of petrol mid-ride (happened twice), or on one occasion, the driver who mid-ride asked if I could advance the fare so he could fill up with petrol... actually this made me quite sad - it just goes to show the hand-mouth lifestyle that the lower classes here have...nobody should have to deal with that...worker or customer.
And I sure as hell wont miss being turfed out of taxis because either the driver has changed his mind, or I refuse to pay any extra over and above the meter.... I've been turfed out on Edsa three times (usually late at night - not fun) and once in Cebu, fortunately in the middle of Lapu-Lapu city where there was a friendly policeman!

The Airport
I don't know where to start....!!!!! It's a disaster....organisation, cleanliness, security, its all bad....Manila International Airport does not have one redeeming feature that I can think of.....from the wildlife, to the terrible shopping and f&b facilities, lack of a decent bookstore, the process for getting to check in....its all bad....and arrival at the airport is even worse!

Waste of resources
The Philippines has a lot going for it...language, education level, fantastic tourist sites and locations, vivid history, diving, lovely resorts, a generally friendly and welcoming population, great shopping, relatively good weather..... so why is it not a booming, flourishing nation with a bright and rosy future.... the political situation and the government are mostly to blame but...and I tell my Filipino friends this....the problem is 'resignation'...the other day whilst catching up on blog reading...a post by Torn & Frayed, had one sentence in it that whilst in this case was referring to political killings, I think refers to the Philippines in general....

He is battling against the biggest ally of all politically motivated killings—the resignation of the Filipino people.

he goes on....

An almost unlimited well of stoicism it this country’s greatest strength and its most overpowering weakness. It sees balikbayans through the most terrible experiences from Jeddah to Singapore to LA and almost all points in between and somehow gives them the strength to come out of it all laughing. It enables Filipinos at home to smile despite low wages, poor living conditions, and some of the world’s worst traffic. It is an absolutely necessary quality in the often brutal world of modern Manila.

Yet stoicism has its limits. Putting up with crap is all well and good, but there comes a point when you have to change the world instead of just putting up with it

....I copied pasted, because i couldn't have written it better myself. Never have I come across such a waste of resources, such complete and utter chaos and such resignation..... it's tragic.

The Peeing
I don't understand why Filipino men have this urge to unzip their trousers and pee where ever they wish..... it is disgusting and its unhygienic.... Whilst in BKK I actively looked to see if this was an Asian thing (although have not seen it in HKG or Singapore!) but in three days...not one guy standing close to a wall, lamp post, tree etc relieving himself.... here I see on average three or four a day when out and about.... its not nice.

The staring
It's not polite and given the number of foreigners that have been in the country, one would think we were not a rarity...granted if I go way out into the provinces...being blonde and rather - how can I put this -'busty'??!!, I can understand that I'll get a few looks...but in the Metro Manila area there is no excuse for the out and out staring that goes on...whilst waiting for a cab, walking down the road, in a mall, wherever...again, its not nice....

The overall feeling of chaos, disorganistion and dirt
Self explanatory....I loathe it!

The supermarkets
Quality, items available, supply and again, organisation - all lacking....although I would say that the new Rustans at Rockwell is an improvement...a few more like that would make life more pleasant.... they even have conveyor belts at the checkout counters (I'm a simple soul really), and it's clean, bright and doesn't smell....!!! OK, I know I'm being fussy - when we lived in The Gambia in the mid-80s we only had butter for four months of the year.... a real treat was a mini tin of condensed milk, meat was purchased in the market - usually half a cow and we would take it home and butcher it... so yes, this is an improvement....but on the other hand, we are now in 2007, 20 years on, in a huge city with a large expat population...

The overall lack of trust
There is an overriding lack of trust in this country that is shown in the way that purchases are handled in a store (packed and checked off against the receipt, not being able to leave without the receipt visible), the way that credit card purchases are handled, the way that people are frisked going into and out of establishments, even moving out of my apartment needs security checks etc (and its my belongings that are being if I have broken into another apartment and stolen their items). I realise that this lack of trust is due to previous abuses of trust, due to the levels of poverty in the country....but still it is quite disheartening that this is the case.

I think that's basically doubt I shall think of other annoyances but, off the top of my head, these are the ones that have bothered me the most whilst I have been here!

When I told my friends and colleagues two years ago that I was moving to a man (and a woman), they could not believe that I would do something that daft...nobody, including those that had worked here had a positive word to say about the country.

Here I am two years later and the same friends and colleagues are amazed that I have managed two years here. Quite a few people that I have spoken to don't understand my frustrations with day to day life here...but (and I have gently explained this to them!) these are people who have drivers (removes the taxi stresses!), helpers for shopping, running errands etc, and other little bits of help like collecting things from the post office (all things that relieve stress)...Granted, compared to the average Manila resident I lead a charmed life here, I can use taxis instead of buses, I do have the spending power to shop and eat in the better places and I live in a secure apartment.

The reason I guess I get so agitated about all of this is that, if all goes according to plan, my time in the Philippines is not yet over...Bangkok will be just a short 'break' for us....I repeat, if all goes according to plan (which in my life it rarely does), I shall be returning to these shores to set up home with the Island Boy! Which means that I will have to face this all over again....

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Leaving the Philippines....

I have to say that the last few days of my time in the Philippines have been incredibly stressful....all of it indicative of the lack of organisation, decision making and trust that is inherent in organisations here.

When I was in BKK last week looking for my new apartment, I spent some time with one of my new colleagues, a Thai lady, about the same age as me, well travelled and with fairly strong opinions on Asian countries...HKG - fine, Singapore - very nice and organised, Japan - interesting, the Philippines....and here the conversation went south....I have rarely heard such a negative description of the Philippines - the end result was she told me that in a past job one of her colleagues had won (at a staff party) an all expenses paid trip to the Philippines for two....the colleague who had won, was so horrified at the thought of going to the Philippines he passed up on the prize and offered it to his other colleagues...nobody wanted it, the prize was unused.

In summary, my week has gone something like this....

Visa application.

My new company have been processing visas for their new expats team from HKG, Singapore and KL, they have managed about 4 visas so far by submitting the same required documents in all three cities. They gave me all these documents and I traipsed down to the Thai embassy in Makati. On arrival i was told that my documents were insufficient at the guy gave me a printed checklist of what I I contacted my HR in BKK and told them...they were a little bemused given that other countries embassies didn't need this but over a period of a few days they organised, scanned and sent me the required documents.

On Tuesday morning, once I had all the documents, I returned to the embassy, the same guy who gave me the list was behind the desk, looked at my papers and then said, this is still insufficient, I now need..this, this and I asked why it wasn't on the list...the conversation went something like this..."

MC:"Why are these extra items not on the list you gave me?"
Embassy Staff "Who gave you this list?"
MC:"You did, last week, don't you recognise your handwriting at the top showing the opening times?"
ES: "Actually No I don't, I never recognise my own writing, anyway, sorry about the inconvenience but I need those papers before it can be processed"

Now, bearing in mind this was Tuesday morning and I was supposed to be flying Thursday morning, I got a litttle tetchy. I called my HR in Bangkok who (not surprisingly at this stage!) lost her cool and decided to call the Thai embassy in Manila..... she called me back a few minutes later (I was by this time in a taxi, heading at some speed (sod's law - the one time the traffic is clear!) to Wack Wack Road!)...and told me to return and submit the forms..... she had spoken to the Thai people at the embassy who had something along the lines (and I wont write the derogatory terms used) that the Filipino at the front desk didn't know what he was doing..... I went back and submitted the forms.... allegedly today.... I should get a visa.... in hindsight...lucky I've had so many problems with Philippine Airlines that my flight was pushed back to Friday.

My frustration at the whole exercise aside.... it has amazed me the attitude of the Thais to the much for developing nation/Asian kinship.....

Philippine Airlines.

First off, on Monday I booked my ticket on the end when entering credit card details etc, there is an instruction telling the user that if there is a problem after 'submitting' cc details then do not resubmit but contact PAL

Sure enough, after submitting the details there is an error message...allegedly a problem with their emergency contact number is given...just an e-mail address. So I send off an e-mail giving the error message, my mobile number and telling them what make it easier to read the sequence of events will now be in point form (!)

Tuesday morning I get an e-mail back from them (an e-mail note, not a phone call as requested), asking for my flight details, which I submitted...I still have not had an answer to that e-mail.

Wednesday I tried unsuccessfuly to get through to their reservation between the movers and all the other bits and pieces going on

Finding that you cannot book PAL online if you are less than three days out on your travel date I have to get through to them by phone.

Finally Wednesday evening I get through....although due to being put on hold and cut off three times, I had to keep calling back - the whole process took about an hour.

You cannot pay over the phone using a credit card, because you have to go to the ticket office with your passport. On asking why this is the case compared to online booking, it is apparently because if you book over the phone they include the airport tax in your final as a resident foreigner who they take about P2,300 every time you try to leave the the departure tax, they want to collect that before issuing your ticket. Way to go Philippine Airlines...making it as difficult as possible for the passenger.

And then we now have the small problem of the cat..... three calls to PAL over the last week, to different departments, different levels of management have confirmed (allegedly) that all I need to do is show up at the airport, cat in hand, papers correct and I can check her in as excess baggage.....but last night...the goal posts I need even more paperwork, I need different forms that no one seems to know where to get and I apparently have to inform everyone of this cat's arrival from BKK immigration to Thai air ground staff and I think somewhere there was a mention of Cherie Blair. However, I cant do any of this without my ticket, which I cant get without my passport which is being held hostage at the Thai embassy......

I would like to point out that whilst in BKK last week I did speak to the Thai immigration and quarantine officials at the airport to check with them on the correct procedures for bringing in a domestic pet....nothing they said...just turn up with the paperwork and the cat and we will check it and issue its entrance papers.

The removal people

I have moved countries myself a few times...left HKG twice, left Jordan and with my parents - many, many times.

In HKG and Jordan, both my shipments were larger than they are leaving here...both places the packing was done in half a day, a quick break for lunch and then everything moved out after lunch...all done and dusted by 4pm latest.... here...a totally different story...

Arrived at about 8:30am, still packing at 5:30pm...need to come back in the morning to finish packing and move everything out....

I only have about 40 boxes...the majority of it is books.... the guy packing my bedroom took 2 hours to pack three boxes of items...

In addition, they randomly left out items which I then had to collect up and pack myself last night....

And they are still here....

I won't bore you with ranting about my condo's 'moving out' procedures and security.....

The sad thing about all of this is that when talking to my Filipino friends about this last night...they all shrugged their shoulders and said...what do you expect...its the Philippines....particularly scathing comments were reserved for PAL... most asking why I was bothering to use answer... I thought it would be easier with the cat (obviously not!) and I couldn't bear to leave Manila through that bloody awful terminal 3..... I dont want that hell hole to be last vision of Manila!

There will be more positive posts later!!!!!!!!!

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Those of you that have been reading me for a while know that I have a few issues with the billboards that blot the landscape of particular along Edsa...

On arriving in Bangkok last week I noticed that the road to the airport has some huge of them is incredibly long (Samsung) I think...

It seems that the Thai govt has a few issues with the billboards....I wonder if they will be any more successful than the Philippine government?

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Well, we are both packing.....

I would imagine that Tony Blair's day today will be a little similar to mine...granted I'm not going to be meeting the Queen, granted I have already resigned, granted I am not moving out of one of the most famous addresses in the world....but we've both got the bloody packers in....!!!!

After 10 years, one month and a few weeks as PM, Blair is finally handing over to Gordon Brown. It's been an interesting 10 years, we've had his 'People's Princess' moment, we had the first baby born to a Prime Minister in however many years, we had Iraq (correction, still have Iraq), the dodgy dossier, spin, Cherie, Alistair Campbell, the 'war on terror', G8, 7th July, 11th September, Northern Ireland, the Good Friday agreement...and many, many other interesting, embarassing and odd moments.

For a good roundup of all things 'Blair'...go to the Daily Telegraph's page. Particularly informative/amusing is the assessment of the Blair Christmas Cards

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

And whilst on a car theme....

When I was in Bangkok at the beginning of the week, house hunting, I had an hour to kill whilst lurking in a shopping mall....and discovered they had an aquarium...actually a very good aquarium at that....

the only thing was that the mangement/creators of the aquarium should win an award for the oddest collection of items being used as fish tanks...

we had a car...

a fridge....

a microwave...

and one that didn't come out was a wine storage cabinet...

All I can say is that someone was obviously bored one day and thought..."what can I put the fish in today?"

One thing I can highly recommend here is the jelly fish section, I've never seen jellyfish in an aquarium before and this display is quite incredible...and makes your skin crawl...particularly for me who had a nasty experience when I was about 9, in, complaining for most of the day that my stomach hurts, my mother telling me to pull myself together, getting home and finding two little jellyfish had spent the day in my swimsuit!..not sure who screamed loudest when they fell out of my swimsuit in the shower!!




Confusing art.. English style

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Chairman Mao

About nine years ago whilst standing outside Sogo in Causeway Bay, a little black and white kitten stuck his little scrawny head out of a garbage bin and started squeaking at me. As I was in the market for a cat and was planning to visit the RSPCA the next day to adopt a cat, I thought this black and white bundle of fur was a perfect choice.

So Chairman Mao moved into my Discovery Bay apartment. Due my long hours at work and his rather affectionate character, Chairman Mao started to suffer from seperation anxiety and so needed a friend. A return visit to the garbage can behind Sogo found another bundle of fluff who joined us, enter Chiang Kai-shek!

Chairman Mao and Chiang Kai-shek have joined me moving house in Disco Bay, joined me in Jordan, came back to Hong Kong and made it to Manila! Unfortunately only two of us will be moving to Bangkok. Unfortunately, after a period of being really ill, Chairman Mao died on Wednesday morning.

My little black and white bundle of fluff that followed me around the house, slept across the top of my pillow every night, sat at the end of the shower every morning, 'mothered' endless foster street cats in Hong Kong and watched endless TV with me, been in endless scrapes and adventures and generally been my comfort for the last nine years....has left us.

So now its just Chiang Kai-shek and I against the world.



Monday, June 18, 2007


I am in Bangkok at the moment house hunting....and when I access blogger....everything is in Thai....which
I cant read!!! Does anyone know if there is a language default thing I can change...and if so where it not being able to read anything I dont know which part to access!!!

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The revenge of the Trucial States...

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Well it explains a fair bit, anyway!

Seb Coe is partially colour-blind

Personally, I think the offical logo is awful, an embarassment money would be on something a bit like this.....

selected from these....

And, if you don't know what I'm talking about, read here

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One wonders what is taught at schools these days?

From a conversation this morning....

"By the way, the door was the building guy complaining about the size of my rubbish"

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