Th-th-th-that’s All Folks!

My new blog, Spike In Manila, is now up and running.

There’s still a bit of work to do to get things working correctly, not to mention the overall look of the site. It’s progressing slowly but surely.

I hope you’ll at least take a look at the site. RSS is set up and I’ve got a Facebook page set up as well. I hope that you’ll follow me to the new page and check back there from time to time. For those who don’t check the new site – and for those who do – thanks for following me for all these years. Thanks for reading and for commenting. I’ve mostly really enjoyed the last ten years of blogging and hope to up my game (and blogging frequency) with the new page.

So long Hong Kong and thanks for all the fish!

I’m not really expecting to do any further updates here. I will probably migrate most of the content here over to there at some point in the near future.

Here Comes the Pain

This is not entirely unexpected but that doesn’t make it any more pleasant.

I’ve been using Smart mobile in Manila, pre-paid SIM card – LTE service, unlimited internet, costs P50 per day (about US$1) with discounts if you’re registering for multiple days at a time.

We went out to the house today. It’s a new house on a new street in a new phase of the subdivision. There are two wires running to the house for electricity. That’s it. The houses in the older phases have a choice between Sky and PLDT for cable and internet. The houses near me all have small satellite dishes for Cignal, a company offering most of the popular cable channels. No internet service.

I tried using OpenSignal and Speedtest to check the signal for 3G/4G at the house. No 4G anywhere. The 3G was so weak that Speedtest basically didn’t run (except from the 1st floor balcony). Using my phone as a hotspot, I was able to load Gmail and Facebook on my laptop. But  I don’t believe I’d try any downloading or streaming.

I’ve found some cell coverage maps and they just about tell the story. The red arrow is pointing  to the approximate area where I will be living. It’s borderline zero coverage.smartGlobe is ever so slightly better, at least for 3G:

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The 3rd largest provider, Sun, has no coverage for miles around me.

Even in my current service apartment, which is on a main business street in a business district, internet is not great. The building is using Eastern Telecom and I’ve got a 2 Mbps WiFi connection. But that’s giving me a download speed of an average 75 Kbps on a file that has more than 7,000 seeders. Switch to my mobile phone, where Speedtest tells me I should be getting around 5 Mbps, and torrents are coming in even more slowly than the WiFi connection. Perhaps the mobile companies are throttling on certain ports.

Meanwhile, the pricing is quite odd. At Globe today, I see they are using the label “Tattoo” for various Internet connectivity services. A pocket wifi thingie with internet costs P999 (under HK$200) per month on a postpaid account, but is capped at 5 gig per month. If Apple releases an iOS update, that’s 4 gig used in one day to update our four iOS devices. So that’s useless.

Except if one does not postpay, if one prepays – again P50 per day, P200 for 5 days, and I think it’s P999 for one month – then internet usage is unlimited.

I suspect that what I’m going to end up having to do is to hunt around near my office for the best 4G signal and then stop in the nearest coffee shop for an hour each day before going home.

There’s an answer for everything, just sometimes the answer isn’t so pleasant.

 

I’m in Manila

So here I am.

So far the move has been tiring but relatively pain free.

We ended up having 260 boxes of stuff – 1,200 cubic feet – 200 cubic feet too much to fit into a 20 foot container. If I had another couple of weeks, I’m sure I could have gotten it down to 1,000, but in the weeks leading up to the move I was busier at work than expected. I’ve heard some horror stories from other friends who made the move recently – some reporting goods stolen or broken, others saying the ship made it from Hong Kong to Manila in 2 weeks but then the goods took 5 weeks to clear the port.

At least everything went smoothly with our dog. We spent our last night in a hotel, so the dog export company boarded him that one night. We used a company based in Sai Kung called Export-a-Pet – I had used them back in 2001 when I brought my other dog over to Hong Kong from San Francisco.

We met Bogey at the airport at 6 AM and he was obviously not happy to have spent a night without us and to be stuck in that crate. He was checked through as “excess baggage”. Cathay has a special section in their cargo hold that is pressurized and climate controlled, and he was the last piece of “luggage” loaded onto the plane. I could watch from the terminal as his crate went up that little conveyor belt into the cargo hold.

Arriving in Manila, basically I was counting every second until he was back with us. Fortunately I didn’t have to wait long. And customs clearance for him was a matter of minutes since Export-a-Pet had arranged everything in advance. The plant/animal quarantine lady looked at the papers, stamped them, charged us 350 pesos, and we were done.

So actually collecting our 4 bags from the conveyor belt, getting our dog and getting him cleared – from the time we got off the plane until we were outside the terminal loading stuff into the van we’d already booked took 45 minutes at most.

Last night we went to a nearby supermarket to stock up our kitchen. I found Hebrew National hot dogs! But the big surprise was that when the guy boxed up all our groceries and we told him we were going to get a taxi, he asked where we were staying and said he could deliver it for us. “How much is the delivery charge?” “No charge.” “When can you do it?” “Right now.” He even said he’d bring over the bags of stuff we’d just bought in the department store (other household items we needed right away). (Of course we tipped him.)  Need I mention that the supermarket was about 3 times the size of a Hong Kong supermarket and had much greater variety of stuff on the shelves?

Less Than a Week to Go

I’m having a hard time believing that in just 5 more days we’ll be boarding a plane to Manila and Hong Kong will no longer be home. I’m excited about the move, of course, but also anxious to get it all over and done with.

It’s been difficult to finish off everything that I need to get done in what’s an increasingly short time while balancing that with seemingly never-ending demand in the office. Fortunately I’ll get back to Hong Kong at least every other month, so there will be other opportunities to get stuff done.

It’s mostly done though. I’m looking down my task list and see all that remains is the local gas company, one of the mobile providers (Three being slightly more of a pain to deal with than SmarTone or even PCCW, believe it or not) and my MPF.

On Friday I did my final clearance with the HK tax folks. That went kind of funny. I was unable to do any sort of calculation in my head of how much I might owe and I was afraid it could end up being six figures, which would have been inconvenient. On the other hand, I’d already paid my tax bill for the prior year at the beginning of the month, but I didn’t recall how much of it was for the prior year and how much for the year ahead. So after I submitted all of the forms and they asked me if I wanted to come back on Monday to settle the bill or wait for one hour, I chose one hour (my office is just a ten minute walk from Revenue Tower).

One hour later, the first sheet of paper the woman handed to me showed that I owed HK$139. “I love you,” I blurted out before I could even stop myself. But then, there were two more bills (for reasons that I won’t go into), each one higher than the one before, the final one in the low 5 figures. “I don’t love you any more,” I said. “Your choice,” she said.

I paid off the bills and then collected my release letters to give to my company and to the various banks that have my various MPF accounts (I was too lazy to ever consolidate them). The MPF money will take 30 days to collect.

Then Friday night we did our unofficial going away party. 5 or 6 hours hanging out at Joe Bananas (chosen because my wife used to work there and they’ve always been very nice to both of us). I wanted to get that done with because time will be very tight in the coming days. Just one or two more farewell lunches to go.

The movers are here Wednesday and Thursday; I’d say we’re more than half packed already. The dog gets picked up on Thursday and spends the night in a kennel while we spend our final night in a hotel. Then we have to be at the airport 6 AM Friday morning, get our dog checked through, get all of our other (probably excess) baggage checked through.

On the Manila side, we’ve already got a van arranged to pick up us, our dog and all of our luggage at the airport. We’ll be staying in a one bedroom serviced apartment right across the street from my office until we get the basics set up in the house – air conditioners, water heaters, bed, refrigerator, stove, car, etc. Hopefully I can get all of that done in less than a month.

Yikes. I’m tired just thinking about it.

Oh, last week Saturday, I shot my final show for Underground HK, Girls With Guitars #7, at Orange Peel in Lan Kwai Fong. Here’s a few shots:

This is Jules O’Brien:

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Here’s the lead singer from a group with a Chinese name that was doing what they described as “math rock”:

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This is a group called Muffy. They had their own theme song.

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Muffy’s guitarist was not a girl but he did have all the requisite rock star moves:

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And finally a group called After-After-Party, people I knew, a new configuration, doing what I can best describe as comedy punk rock.

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Definitely go check them out if you have the chance.

I’ll try to fit in one or two more posts before I take off.

My Countdown Continues – 16 Days to Go

Just 16 days before I leave Hong Kong and fly off to Manila.

Most of the important stuff is done – movers booked, including the export service that will help me bring Bogey (my dog) with me. Service flat is arranged, so we’ll have a place to stay until we get the basics installed in our home. A good percentage of the things we’ve been trying to sell off have been sold, we (and when I say “we” here I actually mean “my wife”) started the packing, and we’re also giving away and throwing away stuff like crazy.

But there’s too much that I didn’t start on soon enough. I won’t have my resident visa done for the Philippines for at least another month. I should have my taxes all closed out but won’t be able to collect my MPF funds that soon either. (The banks want to snail mail checks in HKD to me in Manila. Great.)  I haven’t even started to deal with PCCW yet – I’m sure that will be fun.

Not to mention that things at my day job are so busy that I don’t have as much time yet to help around the house getting ready for the move as I’d thought. I’m going to have to take off the entire week before the movers arrive.

This week I did my sworn declaration that I’m leaving Hong Kong for good. And I went to the Certificate of No Criminal Conviction Office, which is located in the same place as the Sexual Conviction Record Check Office. I  made certain not to sit near anyone else while I was waiting for my number to be called. Next I need to figure out where to do the medical check required for the Philippines visa, or maybe I’ll just get it done there.

I was supposed to shoot Avenged Sevenfold tomorrow night but that won’t happen. I may go to one more Underground event before I leave – Girls With Guitars, this Saturday night at Orange Peel.

I’ve been removing most HK blogs from my RSS feeds and adding in Manila blogs. Sad to say that most Manila food bloggers appear to be as useless as most HK food bloggers – badly written rave reviews about meals they got for free. Quotes from a review I read today, yes this is all from the same review: “Crystal Jade Dining IN is known for truly authentic yet contemporary Cantonese cuisine … I go for a refreshing Grape Shake … Our feast started with a uniquely Singaporean dish … the combination of ingredients also presents unique and rich flavors … The dish is prepared by Crystal Jade Dining IN’s staff [who the fuck else is going to prepare it?????] … the feast rises up another notch as we eagerly await with anticipation … a rich and contrasting blend of crisp fresh vegetables and soft and chewy preserved vegetables. The diversity of flavors reflect the rich culinary traditions of Cantonese cuisine, recreated in every dish at Crystal Jade Dining IN … Hearty and comforting noodles for long life, prosperity and abundance … ”  Was that a review or was it just retyping a poorly written press release?

Anyway, as I said, just 16 days to go. Tons to do. Can’t wait till it’s over and done with.

And when I’m gone, I’ll stop following the SCMP and will miss nonsense “news” like this thing they published today:

A prominent businesswoman and close friend of Li Ka-shing, Solina Chau Hoi-shuen, has made rare comments about Hong Kong politics – as well as Asia’s richest man, who she believes is too open-minded to ever enter politics.

On a political role for the tycoon, she said: “Mr Li has often said he might try to enter politics to make a greater contribution if he had a choice. But he is an unusual person. He must not enter politics. He is too open-minded. He never cares about criticism against him.”

He’s 86 years old and he’s going to “enter politics”? And her English name is Solina. Presumably because she’s so lina? (Solina is a village in Lesko County, Subcarpathian Voivodeship, in south-eastern Poland. It is the former seat of the gmina called Gmina Solina.)(Voivod was a pretty decent band I must say.)(I wonder if Solina is a fan.)

The businesswoman echoed Li’s hope that lawmakers would pass the electoral reform package, which she believed would create a platform to overcome political disputes.

And just what is that belief based on, pray tell?

Chau said: “It is important for Hong Kong to be part of the political progress of China. I personally want to see the reforms passed, and I think they should be passed with all legislators voting for them.”

Because everybody voting the same is real democracy, eh? Yes! We’re all individuals! Yes! We’re all different! Yes! We’ve got to work it out for ourselves! Now what was that bit about blessed are the cheese-makers? What’s so special about the cheese-makers?

“If the reforms are passed … it can encourage more of those who want to serve Hong Kong to run for [chief executive].

“Without [a platform of universal suffrage], every day when we watch TV, there is only noise and lies … It is like almost all people are telling lies. Aren’t you tired of it? Don’t you want to turn off the TV? … These things repeat and repeat.”

It’s almost like Solina is telling lies, saying that universal suffrage combined with a system where the only candidates on the ballot are those approved by the CCP would be a cure-all for Hong Kong’s woes. The thing is, plenty of people believe this. And she might actually be one of them for all I know.

Put one million Dr. Seuss’s in a room with one million typewriters for one million years and they still wouldn’t be able to come up with blather like that.  Who needs Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck when you’ve got this?

Our Search for a Home in Manila – Part 2

Continuing on from here ….

My wife and I gradually reached a mutual understanding in terms of what we were looking for in a house. As close as reasonably possible to my office in Ortigas. A minimum of 4 bedrooms, one of which had to be on the ground floor since I’m trying to get my mother to live with us (or, even if she doesn’t join us, my wife reminded me that I’m getting old and might not be able to walk stairs much longer. Thanks dear.)

After a lot of web searching and some initial viewings of properties, we decided to concentrate on a place called Greenwoods Executive Village. This sits on the border straddling Pasig and Cainta. The main entry gate is 8.9 kilometers from my office according to Google – the drive can take anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes depending on route and time of day; a taxi ride is under 150 pesos (around US$3).

I’m told that Greenwoods is the second largest residential development in Manila (the first being BF Paranaque, southeast of the airport). It’s 20 years old, there are ten “phases” and the later phases are just starting to get built out now. No one could tell me how many houses are in the development – 500? 1,000? Could be. There’s a club house with a pool and a small commercial district with an odd but useful selection of shops inside the development.

You can buy a plot of land and build a house, for yourself or just to try and flip it in a year and make a decent profit.  If there are any restrictions on design, I couldn’t tell. Every house is different, which is a good thing in my opinion.  The price range on houses seems to run from 4 or 5 million pesos up to around 15. The 15 million peso places, few and far between, might have up to 5,000 square feet of floor space and a pool.

We must have looked at at least 30 houses. At the end of my first trip, I saw one that I really liked. So the following week my wife came back with me and we met with the owner to make an offer. The problem was that our agent was a total idiot – a woman in her 40s (or 50s?) who picked me up with her husband in a broken down heap of a car with no air conditioning.

When we asked her how much of a discount over the asking price we might be able to negotiate, she said that we might be able to get 10%. She had never talked to the owner though. So when we met him and tried to get him down from his 6.8 million asking price, he told us the biggest discount he would be willing to consider would be 25,000.

During the negotiation, the agent just sat there looking at her mobile phone. She never tried to intercede on our behalf or offer any advice. I thought the owner was taking the piss, figuring I must be some rich white guy. (I would much later find out that discounts above 200,000 are rare there and this guy had already come down that 200k.)  So we exchanged business cards, shook hands and I waited for him to call me and tell me he’d come down a bit. Instead, two days later, he emailed me to let me know the house was already sold.

Meanwhile the agent kept sending me messages that I needed to send her 4,500 pesos so that the bank could do a pre-appraisal on the property. What property? We had no agreement to buy it. And she asked for that money again even after the owner told us the place was sold.

Another month down the line, I was ready to put in an offer on another house (using a different agent, of course). This one had a different problem. Someone had already put in an offer on the house and paid down 50%, but they were unable to come up with all of the papers the bank wanted for the mortgage after 4 months, and so the owner started advertising again. I could understand this – she wanted another buyer locked in before kicking out the first one. So she assured me that the contract stipulated 60 days to close the deal, it was now 120 days, and so she was ready to inform the first buyer that the contract was cancelled, refund the money and sell to us.

You can probably guess what happened here.  She used my offer as leverage to get the first buyer to finally come up with all the paperwork. Less than one week after making our offer, and after being assured that the house was ours, the house was not ours. I told the owner in an email that she had lied to me and used me. She responded, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” Meanwhile this agent on this deal never once reached out to me, never said “sorry the deal didn’t go through,” never said “let’s work together and I’ll find you another house.” Crickets.

So, more trips. And finally a third house, with a third agent. Someone else had put in an offer on this house. But, as I later found out, they didn’t have the 20% down payment and they were trying to negotiate terms on that with the owner, who wasn’t inclined to go down that road. So I came along, I had the 20% down payment in cash for them, and within a week I had verbal approval from the bank for the mortgage. So finally the deal was done.

Here’s what we got:

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The plot is 150 square meters, roughly 1600 square feet. The floor space is 270 square meters, roughly 2900 square feet. Four bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, living room, dining room, kitchen, family room, separate maid’s quarters. Parking for two cars. Small garden areas front and back of the house. A view straight to Ortigas from the balcony.

The master bedroom alone is 220 square feet (not including the walk-in closet and a bathroom with two sinks, separate tub and shower). Large kitchen? How does this look?

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The price was roughly 90% cheaper than a village house in Hong Kong (probably 95% cheaper than a village house in Sai Kung). So yeah, we’re extremely happy.

Last week we signed all of the papers and paid the full down payment and closing costs. It will take a few weeks for everything to go through and for the title to be in our names. So, from the time we started seriously looking until we had a deal, a mortgage and all of the papers signed was under six months. I’m glad it’s done.

The plan now is to leave Hong Kong at the end of January and stay in a service apartment near my office until our stuff arrives. That 2-to-4 week waiting period should give us enough time to get the place set up with air conditioners, water heaters and most of the other stuff we plan to buy locally rather than ship over.

Our Search for a Home in Manila – part 1

I’ve been wanting to write about this as it was taking place, but didn’t because I wasn’t ready to announce that I was planning to leave Hong Kong until everything was in place. Now that it is, let me share some of the story with you.

(This is going to be a large post, so I’ll split it into 2 or 3 parts. This might be useful information for others looking to buy a home in Manila.)

Around 10 years ago, my friends in Manila kept telling me I should buy something there. They would point to new buildings going up in various locations or give me a call when prices dipped (along with the economy). But 10 years ago I wasn’t considering living in the Philippines. The economy has been going strong there for the last several years and prices now are roughly triple what they were 10 years ago. Sadly I can’t go back in time and buy something in the past.

We actually started looking about 2-1/2 years ago. The idea at first was just to have a place there so we’d have our own place to stay for our increasingly frequent visits as well as a place to retire to in the distant future. We didn’t have a clear idea of what we wanted or our budget but even then I knew I wanted to be in Manila and not in some province or on some remote island.

We did a bit of looking around and came across this development from Ayala (the largest real estate developer, among other things) called Ametta Place and we were about to sign a contract for a 183 square meter townhouse when I lost my job. (Well, I didn’t lose it. It’s still there. Just someone else is doing it now.)

Things have obviously stabilized for me in the past couple of years and, as I’d previously written, it was getting to be “now or never” time – even if it meant leaving Hong Kong in order to make this happen. So we started looking again over the summer.

My favorite place in Manila, for many reasons is The Fort, aka Fort Bonifacio, aka Bonifacio Global City, aka BGC, so it was the first place I thought about living.  We looked there (and also in nearby Rockwell).  Serendra (another Ayala development) would have been my first choice, but two (or more) bedrooms there was out of my budget. We did find a nice 90 square meter two bedroom condo there in a different building. We were all ready to sign the papers and buy it, until it turned out that the owner wouldn’t budge from his demand for a 50% down payment, rather than the usual 20%.

We looked at some condos from the major developers. There was one that was using Paris Hilton as their spokesperson and yes, we actually did look at model apartments for that. Then there’s a company called DMCI. They’re kind of middle range developers and they always advertise “resort amenities” at very affordable prices. We saw what this meant – huge swimming pool and lots of green outdoor areas combined with tiny concrete apartments with tiny windows, dark and depressing.

As time went by, we agreed that my wife’s daughter would live with us and possibly my mother as well, so it became clear that we’d need more than two bedrooms. A larger apartment in the Fort was out of my price range. And at this point my wife decided that we had to buy a house and land and not an apartment. For her, it was non-negotiable.

I didn’t have a big problem with that decision. I’ve lived in village houses in Hong Kong for the past 7 years and much prefer it to an apartment. No waiting half an hour for an elevator when the dog needs to go out and pee (or when I come home and need to pee!). Lots more space. And a potentially better long term investment. (The only issue is that in the Philippines, foreigners can only buy condos, they cannot buy land. This meant either buying it in my wife’s name or forming some sort of corporation to buy it. In the end, both of our names are listed on the title and mortgage.)

Real estate shopping in Manila is different from Hong Kong in some ways. In one way it’s the same – the major developers own the shopping malls and so every mall has kids trying to force brochures into your hands and get to to agree to look at model apartments. (In some cases, the model apartments are in shops in the mall, so you don’t have to go anywhere to get some idea of what they’re selling.)

Of course with the large developers, you’re not just buying a flat or a house. You’re paying for their heavy overhead – their executives and office towers and marketing and all those kids handing out brochures in the malls. But once you get away from the large developers, finding out what’s available becomes much more difficult. They don’t have large chains like Centaline with shops on every corner. There are ads in newspapers but the ads are like “House for sale. Pasig. Call xxx.” No size, no price, nothing. There are some “buy-sell” magazines, but that’s not much use when you’re trying to do your search from another country.

So I looked at all of the developments from the major developers and wasn’t quite seeing what I wanted. Then I found various useful web sites, the best of which was probably OLX, a local variation on CraigsList with ads for everything from houses for rent and sale to all sorts of services and used goods.

There were several problems with OLX, the first of which is that the site requires you to have a Philippines mobile number to register with them. Without registering on the site, you cannot send messages directly to advertisers.  Many of the agents have an email address on their profile, but most didn’t respond to emails. I only got quick replies to SMS messages.

One thing that is the same as in Hong Kong is that most of the ads are fake. You call or text in response to a specific ad and you’re told that house is already sold but they have 20 others just like it that they can show you. Also there are few if any exclusive listings. 20 agents will post ads for the same house – and if the house gets sold by one agent, it takes awhile for the other 19 to find out about it and take their ads down.

Last but not least, good luck trying to sort out the good, knowledgeable agents from the bad. Just like anywhere else, there are a handful who seem to really know what they are doing and can offer good advice and guidance; there are plenty more who are complete idiots who probably never closed a deal in their lives.

Our search was further complicated by the obvious fact that we don’t live in the Philippines yet. I had one slight advantage – although my business travel budget for the year included just two trips to Manila, my boss agreed that I could work from the Manila office as long as I was paying for the additional trips myself. So while I had to spend a bit of money, at least I wasn’t burning through all of my vacation time.

Of course paying my own way meant staying in cheaper hotels than my company would normally book me into, but that wasn’t anything major. I haven’t worked for a company with a 5-star travel budget in 5 years. I found a place walking distance from my office (The Malayan Plaza), rooms (including a basic kitchen set-up) were just US$50 per night – and that included swimming pool, breakfast and shit-slow internet. (We stayed there again this week – no studio apartments available so a one bedroom set-up was US$75 per night.)

Given that this is the Philippines, where things rarely seem to go as planned, and that I could only make brief visits there, I wasn’t certain if I could find a house and get it locked in within the time period I’d set for myself.  I was successful. I’d guess that from the time I started searching “seriously” until everything was signed, sealed, delivered was roughly 5 months.

More to come ….

Here I Go Again?

I’m just back from Manila. We closed on the house this week. All of the papers are signed. Down payment is done. I’ll write more about the search and what we bought a bit later on, but first …

Earlier in our house search, I didn’t want to put in an offer on one house that my wife liked because I couldn’t get a clear answer on internet service at that location. (As it turns out, the house we finally got is a much nicer one that that one.) Aside from all of my normal internet activities (which require bandwidth of at least 5 Mbps), I will be able to work from home a fair amount of time each week and need to ensure good connectivity.

But as our search stretched into months and the probable move date got closer, internet connectivity dropped in importance. Getting the space we needed in the area we wanted within our budget became the priority.

So the house we bought is a new house on a new street in a massive development. It occurred to me that the various telecomms companies may not have built out their lines to this street yet. I looked at the house immediately behind mine and saw that they had a small satellite dish from Cignal, a company providing the usual batch of channels ranging from CNN to HBO. They might be using this signal because there’s no cable from Sky (that cable company also offers internet) or they might be using it because it’s relatively cheap.

And (dammit!) I forgot to use OpenSignal while at the house, an app that would allow me to see which provider had the strongest signal at that location. I don’t even know if there is any 4G signal there at all; my only option might be the far slower 3G. It will have to wait until the next trip.

I could be in the same situation I was in two years ago when I moved to Lam Tsuen and had to wait a year until PCCW got some copper lines out to my home. I have this image in my head of me buying a 4G pocket wifi, finding some place where the signal is strong, and sitting in my car with a laptop for an hour every day grabbing all of the stuff I want.

This last trip, we stayed in a relatively cheap hotel with shitty internet. Download speed of 0.4 Mbps. It was so slow I couldn’t really go through my daily newsfeeds in Feedly, it just took too damned long. But as I discovered on Saturday morning, it was fast enough for me to do a one hour Skype call with the president of my company.

I’ll get by.

 

Minor IT Mishaps and More Fun to Come

I’m turning into Expat@Large (I guess you have to be friends with him IRL/on Facebook to get the context).

I’ve got the iPhone 6, running the “latest and greatest” version of iOS. I flew from Hong Kong to Manila yesterday (closing on our house this week). During the flight, I swapped SIM cards, from my HK SIM to a Philippines SIM. I’ve done this many times before. But this time, as soon as I swapped cards, my phone said, “Activation required” and I was hosed for several hours after that. Swapping cards back to my HK card didn’t clear that. And I’m flying a budget airline (Cebu Pacific) so there’s no WiFi on the plane. All of my music is on my phone (I don’t have any on my iPad), a first world problem to be sure but still quite the annoyance.

Once we landed, I didn’t have enough load on the Philippines card to connect to the internet for activation. My phone settings are “no data when roaming internationally” so putting the HK card back in didn’t help – not that I would have wanted to because I can only guess what the data charges would have been with three hours worth of emails and other notifications streaming in.

So it had to wait until we reached the hotel, until the room was ready for check-in, until I could get my laptop unpacked and on the net. I couldn’t use the WiFi in the hotel for this purpose because the hotel uses an antiquated WiFi system that allows you to connect but then requires you to bring up your browser to actually login and use it.

Speaking of which, here’s my internet at the hotel:

Speedtest_net_by_Ookla_-_The_Global_Broadband_Speed_Test

I mean, what year is this, anyway?

To add insult to injury, the hotel WiFi only allows you to connect one device per room to their WiFi. Try to connect with a second device and the first one gets knocked off the network. This is in an era where most people are traveling with more than one internet-capable device (laptop, tablet, phone, etc.) and multiply that by the number of people in the room. You can “buy” additional connections for 200 pesos (HK$35) per day but even that price is too high considering the shitty speed you get.

This morning, I’m unable to get on their WiFi with even one device. “Unable to join network” over and over. Call the front desk. “I’m sorry sir. Our IT person arrives at 10 AM and we’ll check it then. Sorry for the inconvenience sir.”

Using my iPhone as a hotspot gets me moderately better speeds.

Speedtest_net_by_Ookla_-_The_Global_Broadband_Speed_Test

And this is not some remote out-of-the-way location, I’m in the middle of Ortigas, one of the major business centers in Manila.  (An iOS/Android app called Open Signal is showing that Smart gives the strongest signal here, Globe is a close second and Sun is barely in the game.) With Smart you get unlimited internet for 50 pesos a day or 999  (HK$173) a month.

This led me to checking on what kind of internet speeds I can expect to get in my new home. I’m told that I can get Sky – they provide cable TV and also cable broadband. (That’s assuming they reach my house – it’s a new house in one of the newer phases of this development. I’m having nightmares thinking that it could be a year or 5 until they run whatever wires they need to run to get to me.)

“Sir, you can get Sky internet,” every agent said to me during my search. “You can get 3 Mbps! Will that be sufficient sir?” No it fucking will not but it is certainly better than nothing, if I can get it.

Sky charges 999 pesos per month for 3 Mbps. Their web site shows higher speeds available but no information on if those speeds are available at every location or just select areas. If you want 5 Mbps, that doubles the price (but not the speed, obviously) from the 3 Mbps service, P1,999.  10 Mbps doubles the price again to P3,999 (HK$696 per month); 16 Mbps takes you to P4,999 (HK$870 a month), and so on, up to 55 Mbps for P9,499 (HK$1,650) per month. 112 Mbps is P19,999 (HK$3,480 per month) and 200 Mbps will run you P34,999 (HK$6,090) per month. Certainly this is a better situation than it was just a few years ago, when home internet speeds were measured in Kbps, but keep in mind that if you live in HK, in some areas you can get 1 gigabit per second for HK$199 a month.

I’m guessing this will be a lot of fun for me in the months to come.

 

Hongkietown is 10 – Hello, I Must Be Going

Today marks 10 years since my first blog post. (See here for more details on that.)

And so, on the 10th anniversary of the blog, it’s as good a time as any to announce that I will be leaving Hong Kong after just over 17-1/2 years here. I’m moving to Manila at the end of January.

I don’t want to be overly dramatic about this but it does represent a seismic shift in my life. The reasons are purely financial – Hong Kong has simply gotten too expensive for me. I never bought a place here back when I could afford one and I will never be able to afford to buy one again. I can’t imagine retiring here and paying Hong Kong rents, or retiring into some government subsidized 300 square foot shitbox. Whether I should or should not have bought a place back when I could have afforded to is immaterial; I didn’t.

I can afford to buy a place in Manila, and quite a nice one at that, close to my office and more than 90% cheaper than a similar place in Hong Kong.  But I cannot afford to simultaneously pay rent in Hong Kong and a mortgage in the Philippines. Add in the age factor – in another year or two, I’ll probably be too old to get a mortgage. It was becoming clearer that it was a “now or never” situation.  And so it’s now. The house is chosen, the down payment made, the mortgage approved, the final papers will be signed before the end of the year.

For the past few years, to paraphrase LCD Soundsystem, Hong Kong I’ve loved you but you’re bringing me down. Hong Kong today is not the Hong Kong I first moved to in 1995 and it is not the Hong Kong I returned to in 2001. It is a territory that is managed by the rich for their own self-benefit. Hong Kong has a government that is controlled at every level by China and the billionaire property developers and has a vested interest in keeping things as they are or in tilting the field in their favor even further. There is no indication that things will change for the better (or my perception of that) in the near or distant future. “Patriotism” has been defined as maintaining the status quo rather than striving for improvement.  I increasingly feel that Hong Kong residents are like the frog in the pot on the stove – the pot starts off cold and the frog never notices how hot it’s getting until it’s too late and the frog is boiled alive.

I don’t mean to go off on a rant here (which I did, but since deleted).  I’ll simply say that Hong Kong is great if you’re rich. It sucks if you’re poor or middle class. This land was not made for you and me.

Yes, I do get that the Philippines is a third world country, or at least several orders of magnitude behind Hong Kong in many ways. I’ll probably find just as much to complain about there, possibly even more. I am not going to pretend that it is some kind of South Pacific island paradise.   I understand that there is crime, corruption and poverty, not to mention an infrastructure badly in need of renewal and upgrade. I know it is the natural disaster capital of the world. I’ve been traveling there on a regular basis since 1997 and I believe I have a good idea of what I am getting into and what the challenges will be.

If I was a millionaire, I might have chosen another destination. Tokyo or Paris or London or even New York. On the other hand, I’m comfortable there, I can find more of the things that I like there (even if some of them are relatively trivial, like Krispy Kreme or Dean & DeLuca), and I can go out at night for a fraction of the cost of going out in Hong Kong.  English is more widely used there and American brands are more widely available. I’m married to a Filipina so a permanent visa is not an issue.

I will still have the same job with the same company and I expect to be returning to Hong Kong every month or two for the foreseeable future, which means lots of opportunities to see friends and I can maintain my PR status.

I’ll still keep writing and photographing but I don’t think it will make sense to have a site called “Hongkie Town” when I’m based in Manila. (I don’t have an idea yet for a clever (or a stupid) name for a Manila blog. Any suggestions?)

I want to keep all of the Hongkie Town content online and available but the odds are that I will move it to a different hosting arrangement. This domain is for sale (along with honkietown.com, the most frequent misspelling of hongkietown.com) if anyone is interested in it.

(I’ll also be selling off quite a bit of stuff before the move – CDs, DVDs, books, furniture, appliances, car, the usual “expat leaving” stuff.)

So there you have it. In less than two months I’ll be saying so long Hong Kong, and thanks for all the fish. It’s been a slice. And thanks to all of you who have kept coming back here and reading my stuff and leaving your comments.