Monday, December 31, 2007

Daily Report: Happy New... Doh, What A Long Day

I was up fairly early — at 10:00 — considering that I walked in the door from the airport at 3:00 a.m. Maid Go wasn't there to greet us last night: She was up in Bangkok with Riza visiting her ill sister. I uploaded the photos from the trip to my computer, and made phone calls to all of my friends.

Lunch at the Dao Café was great
as always. Best pizza too.

Epril and Franky peacing out.
I tried to get some work done, but the New Year's holiday (along with Thanksgiving) marks the least amount of work that there is available during the year, and I simply had nothing to do. Therefore, I spent a little time blogging.

Franky came over at 1:00, back in town for a month. (Franky is president of the J.I.P. Fan Club (i.e. this blog's first regular reader, amongst others) for those of you who don't know, and is a really enjoyable fellow from Arizona.) We spent time looking at the 300 photos I took from my week in the Philippines.

After that, it was out with Epril and Franky to The Dao Café for pizza. I tried the Pizza Orientale (chicken, sausage, onion, peppers), which wasn't as good as other types, but still quite nice. After that, we went back into the bar area and had some beers, while Franky turned on the charm and in no time flat had garnered several marriage proposals from the local lasses assembled for his entertainment.

Franky with one of the
Dao Café cuties.

Patented Franky move: Give
the cute bartender the sad
puppy dog eye look from
behind the beer bottle.
After a couple of beers, Franky went back to his apartment, while Epril and I went home and spent the afternoon enjoying some quiet time. Maid Go finally got back from Bangkok and got to work on the massive pile of dirty laundry that she found in the suitcases stacked outside her door, I read my book for a while, and put up another few days' worth of trip photos on the blog.

In the evening it was out with Epril to Bob's BBQ for dinner. Bob is pleased as punch at his new location, and told me that this December has been his best month ever since starting the restaurant four years ago. I'm really happy for him. Many of my friends saw their business efforts really start to pay off in 2007.

After Bob's, it was off to Rick's bar for the New Year's countdown. It was there that I found out two things: First and foremost was that one of my best friends, Willie, had flown in from Arizona on a surprise visit the day after I left for The Philippines. Unfortunately, last night at about the same time my plane was landing, Willie got in a bad motorcycle accident and got mangled pretty badly on his face, arm, and foot (as well as about a dozen other places, according to Rick, who spent the entire night and today at the hospital). No broken bones, but cuts that sounded truly gruesome. Willie was apparently home in bed unconscious on narcotics for New Year's Eve. So that stained the evening, knowing that Willie was here, and in such poor shape.

Da, Pui, Epril, Riza, Maid Go,
Baby Sara, and Rat.
The second thing I found out shortly thereafter was that Rick has hired Pui (my ex-girlfriend) as the nighttime bartender for his bar. I'm not too happy about it, but it's something I can live with. Pui and Rick's wife, Da, are as close friends as I am with Rick, and it's no surprise and perfectly reasonable that they took her on. Pui had been working at the Buffalo Bar on Third Road, but she's found some new boyfriend whom I saw briefly (seems European, in his 60's or 70's) who is paying Pui a few extra thousand baht a month to work for Rick.

The fireworks this year
were nice, but only a
fraction as many on Soi
Rungland as in prior years.
So Pui The Old and Epril The New were hanging out together with Riza, Da, Rat, and Maid Go for New Year's. (This is actually the second time Epril and Pui have met, the first being on Buddha's Birthday earlier this month, when Maid Go and Epril went to the beach, and Da and Pui showed up and joined them.)

Anyway, it was a low-tone countdown. The vikings from next door did barely anything for fireworks this year. (In 2005/6, we guessed it was 40,000 baht's worth of fireworks they set off; in 2006/7, probably around 10,000; this year was barely 4,000.)

Miss Ahm, Shooters manager Ray,
and Epril enjoying New Year's.

Walking Street was packed.
After midnight, Epril and I went down to Walking Street to find Stan. I finally reached him on the phone, to find out that he was "pissed as a fart" (that's British lingo in case you didn't know), and was walking home. So, Epril and I stopped in at Shooters for a drink with Ray. Epril and I also chatted with Sam for a while as well. He's still putting out some great Mexican food there, if you are interested, and Shooters still does have the best beer selection in Pattaya, bar none. (Sam and Ray want me to let you all know to keep an eye out on the Pattaya Secrets board for upcoming meal specials... which I'm happy to do.)

So finally, after Shooters, it was a stroll back down Walking Street, trying to share space with all the drunk foreigners some of whom tended to saunter down the street like they were 3 feet wide, bumping into any and all in their way. So, seeing that the fun part of the party was already over, Epril and I got on the motorcycle and made our way home safely and slowly by the empty back roads.

Back From Vacation

I arrived back from The Philippines at 3:00 a.m., and now I'm up and ready to start my (almost) new year. I've taken over 300 photos, and will try to get the best ones up over the next few days. My new year's resolution is to work harder at work, so that is my priority, but I'm equally anxious to get the photos up as well... so I won't forget you either.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Philippines Trip Day 10

Epril with her parents at the airport in Cagayan.We had an uneventful trip home to Pattaya.

Filipinos are supposed to show return plane tickets when they leave the country, but I decided to try getting Epril out without one, and if the people at the airline counter asked, I would just tell them that our next stop after Thailand would be Laos, Cambodia, and Viet Nam, and that we didn't know exactly when we would be going back to The Philippines, or what city we would be flying from. However, the people at the airport in Manila didn't ask to see a return ticket once.

(I was later to learn that we were just lucky: A German fellow with his Filipina girlfriend, with whom we shared a taxi back to Pattaya, tried the same thing and wound up having to buy a ticket at the request of one lady at the counter... a ticket which was never asked for by a different person whom they saw at the same counter 30 minutes later.)

I have to remind myself that getting out of The Philippines costs over 3,000 pesos in taxes per couple: Epril had to pay a 1,620 peso tax to immigration for leaving her own country, and then each of us had to shell out a 750 peso airport tax. (I had forgotten how much all those taxes cost from last time, and only left myself about 2,000 pesos in cash at the end of the trip... and had to hit the ATM again before leaving.)

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Philippines Trip Day 9

We rode up into the mountains outside the village of Jassan today. About 30 minutes out, we got this view of Epril's village on the peninsula.The Philippines has great baked goods, as this bakery in the village of Jassan illustrates.
Threshing rice near Epril's family's house.
Village scene, kids playing.
Little boy outside house with coconut palm leaf roof.
Little girl walking with colorful chicken.
Old lady walking to the store.
Kids play while lady burns leaves she swept up.
Two little girls who were following me around.
Kids watching me through a fence.
Neice Doreen, father Eddie, Dimple makes a peace sign, Inday behind her father, pretty little Chupel, and her brother, C.J.
Tonight's movie was a little boring.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Philippines Trip Day 8

Epril and I did some after-Christmas shopping in Cagayan De Oro before heading back to the village. We bought little sister Inday this cute outfit, and bought little sister Dimple a Barbie backpack for school.The stereo and television I bought on Christmas Eve were delivered yesterday.Neighbor girl mugs for the camera.Personal pizza for lunch. Toppings: Hot dogs, mushrooms, peppers, pineapple, raisins, a white Velveeta-style cheese, and a pink chili sauce. I have no idea why it tasted good, because it really shouldn't have... but there you are.Local neighborhood boys making noise: Hollow bamboo logs wrapped with rope for strength, and a small hole at one end. They spray window cleaner or some other flammable liquid inside, and then wave it around in the air to fully aerosolize the mixture, and then hold the end with the hole in it over a flame until it explodes. I was secretly hoping for a mishap, but none occurred.Inday holding baby Poknat.In the afternoon, it was off to Rock Spring Resort, the second of two swimming pool resorts, where we had a wonderful time splashing around. I taught the local kids how to play "Marco Polo".Local teenagers sitting on a rock at Rock Spring Resort.Empty rice paddy, with small house out in the jungle.Cousin-in-law Jean and cousin-in-law Ida holding baby A.J.In the evening, it was off to Epril's elementary school homecoming dance. This was her seventh anniversary of graduation, which you wouldn't is special, but in The Philippines at homecoming, each graduating class (called a "batch") for a certain span of years has to get up and do a dance. This year covered 1960 up to 2000... so it was Epril's class' first turn to dance. If not for the constant drizzle, mud, and standing around, I might have stayed longer.Epril's mother and father relaxing in front of the television.The local bug-eater, called a tuko, one of which inhabits the rafters of Epril's house. It is about 12 inches long, and everyone is scared of him. I played a great joke on Epril's family by claiming that I would catch him in a pot and set him free outside. I then went back in the kitchen by myself where nobody could see me and pretended to catch the creature in the pot and cover it, and then made a big show of struggling to hold the enraged lizard inside the pot while trying to take it past the family to the outdoors. Then right in the middle of the living room, amidst everyone, I pretended to trip and have the cover of the pot fall off, and gave out a big yell. Everyone ran for the exits before figuring out that I was playing a joke on them, and then we all laughed for about an hour.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Philippines Trip Day 7

More home hunting today.

First house: 15,000 pesos (12,000 baht, $360) per month, furnished. Located in "Grand Europa" housing estate, which was supposed to be a high-end development. Heh. That pretty much means high-end prices, and not much more. Condition inside was about the same as what you see outside: Straight outta Compton. Also it was about 3 miles away from the front gate of the estate.Same development, 35,000 pesos (28,000 baht, $850), unfurnished. Tiny place with no yard at all. Yawn.
Off to Camilia Homes development, which was even more of a rundown ghetto of a place. This place was 10,000 pesos (8,000 baht, $240) unfurnished. Didn't bother to go inside... was afraid the roof might collapse on my head.Then, surprise: Same development, Camilia Homes, all the way down at the end, right at the very edge of the top of the Cagayan river valley, were 7 gorgeous little homes under construction, never occupied, with first and second-floor balconies overlooking the river several hundred feet below, renting for 20,000 pesos (16K/$480) to 35,000 pesos (28K/$850) per month. Epril and I have (hopefully) found our new home. The houses should be ready for occupancy in the next few months.Around the back side of the homes is a private walkway. "Front" porches are on the left, and on the right is a fence after which is a steep slope to the valley floor several hundred feet below.In the evening it was out to dinner at a restaurant slightly out of town called "Leo's". It was pretty good.

After that it was out to Spooks, Cagayan's popular gogo bar. Here are two of the girls who work there. If Spooks were in Pattaya, it would have a pretty good claim to being the bar with the prettiest girls, but there aren't that many girls in total... only about 15 or 20 that I could tell. Well, this isn't Angeles City, after all.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Philippines Trip Day 6

Doreen after morning shower.Unlike Thailand, in The Philippines, gun ownership and being armed is legal. Hence, signs like this one below on the doors at banks. It is a bit weird to see guards with pistol grip shotguns at McDonald's though. Nonetheless: There is much less gun violence in The Philippines than there is in Thailand, where guns are 100% illegal.Today, we were back from the village to the city of Cagayan De Oro to go hunting for a house to rent. We saw this house below, 35,000 pisos (28,500 baht, $850) per month, furnished.We looked primarily in high end housing estates, which I found to be a bit of a let-down. The estates are so big (1000-plus houses) and lacking in any consistency of appearance in houses or construction that they don't seem like a development at all. In addition, the empty lots (of which there are many) are overgrown and nasty-looking, and while the houses... some of the houses... may be in good condition, the community as a whole feels neglected compared to what I'm used to seeing in Pattaya.

It was out to dinner at Countryside Steakhouse at the recommendation of my friend in C.D.O., Mike. I had spare ribs which were simply awful, but Epril had one of the best steaks she had ever had, and I can say that the calamari (below) were splendid. (Total price: 1,500 pesos (1200 baht, $36) including drinks.)I looked into the alcohol selection at liquor stores in Cagayan: Jack Daniels was cheaper than Thailand, but Johnnie Walker was more expensive. The beer selection was basically "any flavor of San Miguel you want", which is a bummer... although there is an ale called "Red Horse" which isn't too bad. Wines seemed to be moderately varied, but not more than 50 or 60 wineries. What seemed to be really lacking are cordials and mixers. No triple sec for margaritas was one that sticks in my memory. Looks like liquor runs to Manila will be in the cards if I want to live in Cagayan and have a properly-stocked bar.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Philippines Trip Day 5

Neighbor Mary Chris, little sister Dimple, and niece Doreen enjoying Christmas morning with teddy bears.I invited a manicurist over to do all the girls' nails. The manicurist's daughter watched me through the wooden wall of the front porch.Epril and Doreen chat while Epril gets a pedicure.Doreen sits in the front door, watching television.House on the water, fishing boat in the background. At high tide, this house is surrounded by water.A roadside store dwarfed by trees.Doreen shows off her karate moves.Cousin Emma standing in the road.It seems that babies named Vincent are naturally adorable. (Love the earring dude.)