Find My iPhone – Please!

I’m just back from 6 days in Manila. On the 4th day, I did something that I haven’t done in at least 5 years, maybe 10 – I left my iPhone in a taxi.

Over the years I’ve trained myself to always look back at the taxi seat before closing the door. This time, for whatever reason, I didn’t do that. We got out of the cab, went to a coffee shop, I reached into my pocket to pull out my 2 phones, and only 1 was there. I checked all of my pockets and then called the hotel and asked them to search my room – but I already knew I’d taken it with me when I left the hotel in the morning.

We tried calling the phone at least 27 times but no answer.  We sent an SMS message to the phone in Tagalog offering a reward if returned.

As soon as we could, back to the hotel. After searching the room myself, I called 3 to cancel the SIM card. I went to the “find my iphone” and hit all the settings – play sound, “lost mode,” erase phone. I set the message with my Hong Kong number and an offer of a “big reward” if returned. And then, just to be safe, I proceeded to change the passwords to most of my major accounts – email, iTunes, Facebook, Twitter and so on.

So bye bye iPhone 5S, 64 gig, gold color.

I didn’t lose any data worth mentioning. The phone was backed up to my computer right before I left for the trip. Photos were stored on iCloud. So pretty much just the most recent call logs and SMS messages. And since the phone was password/fingerprint locked – and remotely erased – I believe/hope that my data has not been compromised. So the only real damage – I believe – is the loss of something that cost US$900.

And now my wife finally has an answer to the question she has asked me 100 times – “why do you have a password on your iPhone?”

I don’t want to go out and buy a new iPhone 5S (or try to find a used one in Mong Kok, if that’s possible) because the iPhone 6 is rumored to be announced next month.  So we reversed the “hand me down” order. Every time I’d get a new phone, my old one would go to my wife and her old one would go to her daughter. So for now, the daughter’s iPhone 4S back to my wife, my wife’s iPhone 5 back to me and bought some sort of phone for the daughter.

I got back to Hong Kong on Wednesday. Finally tonight (Thursday night) on my way home from work, Find My iPhone beeped. My phone had been turned on. It is sitting at the Ever Commonwealth Mall, just off Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City.

Supposedly once an iPhone has been put into lost mode, the phone is essentially bricked and cannot be used or erased until you enter your iTunes account and password. But I am relatively certain that hackers have found ways to get around this – especially in the Philippines.

Going back to the iPhone 5 from the 5S, I find I am really missing that fingerprint sensor. Instead of just touching a finger to the button, now I have to hit the button, swipe and enter a passcode every time. (Well, you all know this already.)

Such is life. We become so attached to our gadgets that the loss of one can seem almost catastrophic, even though it’s really just a few steps above trivial. Fortunately Apple (and Google) build in some safeguards for when this happens, and hopefully those work. Life goes on.

 

Please Don’t Make Me Fly Philippines Airlines Again & Other Tales

And it’s not because they’re a bad airline. It’s because they fly into and out of Manila’s NAIA Terminal 2, which is a disaster.

See, my Manila trip this week was a business trip. My company normally books Cathay Pacific for the route.  Cathay Pacific flies into and out of NAIA terminal 1, as do most international flights. So it’s not only a crappy old terminal but the lines at immigration can be ridiculously long and slow moving.

I asked my company if I could fly Cebu Pacific instead. It flies into and out of Terminal 3, which is a new terminal and not heavily used. You zoom through immigration. Plus it’s the closest terminal to where I’d be staying. And it’s a “budget” airline. The ticket price would have been at least HK$1,000 cheaper than CX.

But I was told this is against company policy. We are not allowed to book our own travel. The company only uses a single travel agent and that agent can’t book Cebu Pacific. And, no, they can’t make an exception for me, even if it would save the company money.

As it turns out, there were no available flights on Cathay for my return flight, so they booked me on Philippines Airlines instead. Same price as Cathay.

Hong Kong to Manila

Philippines Airlines doesn’t get to use Terminal 1 at HKIA, it uses Terminal 2, which is not really a terminal, it’s a series of check-in counters surrounded by a crappy over-priced shopping mall. After you check in, you have to go down two sets of escalators, walk under the train tracks, and up three sets of escalators to get to Terminal 1 to go through immigration and security and go to the gate.

On arrival at NAIA Terminal 2, it took one hour to get my luggage.  The staff said the bags were being x-rayed, and apparently this was one bag at a time, and I don’t know why this was even necessary. Weren’t the bags x-rayed before they were put on the plane? Did they think that terrorists somehow snuck on the plane in mid-air and hid bombs in the suitcases?

Oh, and there was no air conditioning there either. Finally one woman, Asian, started screaming at one of the staff there. She was holding her young son. “How can you do this to us? Look at the babies! Look at the babies!” Well, she may have been right, but she was screaming at a guy who just worked the luggage belt.

So someone else, Caucasian with an eastern European accent, started screaming at her. “Don’t use that bad language! What’s wrong with you? You come here and you think you can yell at people because this is the Philippines? You wait like everybody else!”

Bags arrived, entertainment over.

Then you walk past customs and you’re immediately outside.  Where there are no ATMs. There are only currency exchange counters giving you crappy rates. I changed just enough to cover my taxi ride to the hotel, since I already knew there’s an HSBC in the same building.

And then there are no meter taxis. Only “coupon” taxis, which charge on average 2 to 3 times over what a metered taxi would cost for a ride into town. And even if I’m getting reimbursed for the taxi fare, something in me won’t let me pay those kind of stupid rates. So I had to schlep upstairs to the departure area and grab a taxi that had just dropped people off.

Manila to Hong Kong

The World Economic Forum is meeting in Manila. Roads are closed and there’s gridlock everywhere. Even worse than usual. But I know this in advance and so I head to the airport plenty early.  At one point, when the taxi was stuck in bumper to bumper traffic on EDSA just before Makati, the driver turned to me and asked me what time is my flight. “Don’t worry,” I told him. “We’ve got plenty of time. You can see I’m sitting here relaxed and not nervous.”  It ended up taking 90 minutes, which was the exact amount I thought it might take.

But once I got to the airport, it took more than an hour to check in and go through immigration. And yes, you guessed it, no air conditioning.  It was 35 degrees outside and within 30 minutes I was a sweaty mess. I think I would not have wanted to sit next to me on the plane.

So you line up to check in. Then another line to pay your airport tax, because apparently they can’t figure out how to collect this when you pay for your plane ticket, like almost every other airport in the entire world. That was a short line.

Then onto the miles long line for immigration.  The sign simply said “Immigration” with an arrow. After 10 minutes on the line, a guard told me that line was for FIlipinos only and not for foreigners, and that I had to go all the way to the other end of the terminal. “Where’s the sign that says this line is Filipino only?” I asked. I knew it was pointless, he’s just the guy standing there, not the guy in charge of signs.

The foreigner line was even longer. I’d say easily 100 people on the line for just two counters. And then for some reason they let a tour group of about 20 people cut the line. All I could do was stand there and sweat.

The only saving graces were that once I finally got through immigration, the security line moved fast and there was a well-air-conditioned smoking room right next to my boarding gate.

Hey, don’t get me wrong. I know the Philippines is a poor country, the government is rife with corruption and a lot of people avoid paying their taxes, leaving precious little left over for decent infrastructure.

But on this trip I also went to the new SM Aura mall at the Fort, which was huge and modern and everything worked perfectly. I went to Greenbelt, which is always a great place for shopping, eating, drinking, hanging out.  And at the SM Mega Mall they added an entire new higher end building and even though it wasn’t finished yet, the bits that were working were all world class.

Maybe what they need to do in Manila is let SM and Ayala build the airport?

Telephone

Oh, since I was asking about some roaming alternatives in a previous post, I guess I should let you know that I went the path of least resistance and decided to only go with a local SIM card. The problem then was that I had to go to 6 different 7-11s and Mini-stops till I found one that had the nano SIM that fits the iPhone 5s. It was from SMART and half the time I couldn’t connect to the Internet at all (even with good reception) and when I could get online, it was mostly so slow that it was next to useless. So a waste of money, but just a couple hundred pesos, around US$5, no big loss.

A Fun Taxi Ride

Taxi rides in Manila are always fun. Actually I never have a problem getting a driver who will use the meter (except when it’s raining). Mostly they’re nice and we have good conversations.

Thursday night, I waited to go out until almost 9 PM. I was hoping that the traffic around Ortigas and along EDSA might have died down by then. But with the World Economic Forum and lots of road construction, it was still seriously bad. I had to wait 15 minutes for a taxi, and the driver told me it was gridlock everywhere and that I was lucky to get a cab in just 15 minutes, at the malls they’re waiting 2 hours.

So, yes, he hit the meter right away, but he didn’t want to take EDSA and he didn’t want to take C-5. He took me through back streets and barangays, down roads filled with kids playing ball in the street and cats lying out in the middle of the road scratching themselves. Every time we’d hit a main street he’d cry out, “Oh my god, traff-eek!” But I had to say to him, “You really know Manila!”

And then we got to Rockwell. And all of a sudden he practically started crying. “My stomach hungry, sir! My stomach hungry!”

No, he wasn’t trying to hit me up for money. He wanted me to get out of the taxi in Rockwell and switch to another so he could go eat. “So many other taxi here sir, easy for you. My stomach hungry!” At first I refused. I tried telling him that I hadn’t had dinner yet either. That didn’t mean anything to him.  Then as we turned onto the road that leads from Rockwell to Burgos, and it was bumper to bumper, he started up with the “Oh my god, my stomach hungry sir!” again. So finally I paid him and got out.

So I get another taxi and finally reached Greenbelt. There was a massive line of people standing there at 10 PM waiting for taxis. I felt lucky to have reached there while some restaurants were still open. I had no idea what I wanted to eat and ended up having some surprisingly good pasta. Then I thought I’d go and have a drink or two over at Sticky Fingers, but the cover band there seemed to have received a list of all the songs I hate and by the time they got to 99 Red Balloons, I couldn’t take it any more and got out of there as fast as I could.

Fortunately, by midnight, things had gotten somewhat back to normal.  I had to fight off the swarm of ladyboy hookers who congregate around Landmark late at night, as always,  and the first taxi driver that stopped for me had no idea where I was going but the second one was the best driver I had the entire trip and I told him that, handing him 200 pesos and telling him to keep the change (the meter was at around 113).

Anyway, I’m glad to be home.

 

China, Hong Kong and The Philippines

As scenes of the devastation in the Philippines take over the media, it’s yet another horror story in a long line of tragedies.

The thing is, with climate change, these Pacific storms are getting stronger and more frequent. This will happen again next year and the year after and the year after that. The Philippines will continue to be devastated by storm after storm because outside of Manila most of the infrastructure sucks (and even Manila needs quite a bit of work) and the government is too corrupt and too intent on lining their own pockets to actually fix things in a country with abundant natural resources and a somewhat decent education system.

In the meantime, there is the tragedy at hand. It is worth noting that while Australia and the UK have each donated US$9 million, global power China has sneezed in Manila’s direction with $100,000, which I’m sure will go a long way towards repairing the probable trillion dollars worth of destruction there.

Locally, let’s not forget Hong Kong’s fearless leader, C.Y. Leung, who has been threatening sanctions against the Philippines because President Noynoy Aquino so far has refused to issue an official apology for the bus massacre several years ago.  Leung has given Aquino 30 days to apologize and pay up or he will put his sanctions into place.  Now, following the massive devastation in the islands, Leung notes that the Philippines has not asked for an extension of that 30 day deadline.  Apparently it hasn’t occurred to the fucktoad that they might be a bit busy at the moment or that they might be a bit short of ready cash.

PCCW – Is My Long Wait Almost Over?

On Thursday I had a missed call from PCCW, a “duty manager” saying that they could install my Netvigator internet service. I called the guy back 4 times today and got voicemail 4 times. Finally he called me back after 9 PM.

He said there was now one line to the house and that they could install the internet service now and the NOW-TV and land line later. How much later? He didn’t know.

So I said to him, if there’s just one line, do the NOW-TV first and I’ll wait for the internet. He said, the line is not the right kind of line for the NOW-TV and if I want that first I have to wait for them to change the line. How much longer would I have to wait?

Then he typed for awhile and said, “Oh, it’s okay, we can use that line for the NOW-TV.” Then he typed some more and said, “Oh, it’s okay, we can install the Internet and the NOW-TV at the same time.”

Which is going to be this Sunday morning. If it really happens.

And as it happens, Sunday morning is when I’m flying off to the U.S. Odds are I won’t be here when the installation dude shows up. But my gf is thrilled – now she’ll have her GMA-TV again and she can watch Eat Bulaga* every day while I’m away – and after I get back too.

In terms of the Internet, Netvigator’s service will be 2 to 3 times slower than the 4G service I’ve been using for the past 8 months. But the 4G service is volatile, for lack of a better word. Some days it’s slick and silky, but others not so much. In the past week it’s been very unstable, cutting out frequently and often slowing down. Presumably Netvigator will be more consistent, even if it’s just a crappy 8 Mbps compared to the 1,000 Mbps people in the more urban areas of HK receive – at the same price.

* Presumably they won’t be mentioning the scandal or sex tape featuring Eat Bulaga’s rotund (and married) Wally Bayola and EB Babe Yosh Rivera, but it’s on Youtube for anyone who cares to dig around a bit.

wally-bayola-and-eb-babe-yosh-scandal2

Bolitas – The Secret Weapon of the Filipinos

Can’t sleep tonight. Came across this article on The Atlantic that’s titled The Strange Sexual Quirk of Filipino Seafarers. I can’t deny that the title aroused my interest. Although I must admit that while there are many Filipino things I love, I have no interest in seamen. Even so, I read on to discover exactly what the quirk is.

Many Filipino sailors make small incisions in their penises and slide tiny plastic or stone balls — the size of M&M’s — underneath the skin in order to enhance sexual pleasure for prostitutes and other women they encounter in port cities, especially in Rio de Janeiro. “This ‘secret weapon of the Filipinos,’ as a second mate phrased it, has therefore obviously something to do,” Lamvik wrote in his thesis, “‘with the fact that ‘the Filipinos are so small, and the Brazilian women are so big’ as another second mate put it.”

According to University of California, Santa Cruz labor sociologist Steve McKay, who traveled extensively on container ships with Filipino crews in 2005 for his research on the masculine identity in the shipping market, raw materials for the bolitas can range from tiles to plastic chopsticks or toothbrushes. A designated crew member boils them in hot water to sterilize them, and then performs the procedure. There are also different preferred locations for insertion. Some have one on top or bottom, and others have both. One shipmate told McKay that others have four, one on top and bottom and on both sides, “like the sign of the cross.” Another said: “I have a friend at home, you know what his nickname is?” McKay recalled. “Seven.”

The bit about Brazilian women being big, how does that enter into the picture? Read the entire story. It’s a pretty good one.

Not in Honky-Tonk Type Places

There’s a decent-ish article in the NY Times this week on Filipino musicians working abroad.

In 2002 alone, more than 40,000 entertainers left the Philippines to work overseas, primarily in Japan. After allegations of prostitution among some entertainers, however, the Japanese government found that many of the female musicians could not actually play a musical instrument, and that many of the vocalists did not have much of a voice.

After the crackdown, the number of performers who left the Philippines to work overseas dropped to 4,050 in 2006, from 43,818 in 2004. The figure now hovers around 1,500 to 2,000 a year, government statistics show, with Japan remaining the top destination, followed by Malaysia, South Korea and China.

“We only allow musicians and entertainers to work in legitimate establishments such as cruise ships and major hotels,” said Yolanda E. Paragua, a senior official with thePhilippine Overseas Employment Administration. “Not in honky-tonk type places.”

In the past, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration held auditions to verify the legitimacy of musicians seeking to work overseas, said Celso J. Hernandez, the head of the agency’s operations and surveillance division.

After the Japanese crackdown, however, the Philippine government discontinued the practice. These days, the government relies on vetting by licensed recruitment agencies, although it still examines the musicians’ paperwork.

I would have thought that Hong Kong would figure prominently in the article given the number of Filipino musicians and bands appearing nightly here in hotels and bars (and, um, honky-tonks). But it would seem that in terms of the numbers, other countries import more than HK does.

The article does get into the whole thing about Filipinos working abroad and how it has become a necessary component of their economy.  There are no statistics about the total number of people living abroad (and supporting the economy by sending chunks of their income home to families) but there are some recent numbers.

According to the employment agency, about 1.6 million people left the Philippines in 2011 to work overseas. About 369,000 of them went to work on ships, with the remainder employed in a range of fields, including as nurses, waiters, welders, plumbers and caregivers.

But the sector that draws the most people from the Philippines overseas is, by far, household services. In 2011, 142,486 people left the country to work as domestic helpers. Nurses made up the second-largest group, at 17,198.

The Philippine government began helping workers go abroad as a stopgap measure to address high unemployment in the 1970s. Today, it continues to say that the phenomenon is a temporary one. “We are not promoting overseas employment. We are managing it,” Mrs. Paragua said. “It would be best if workers could just stay here and earn a good salary.”

As with most so-called “stopgap measures,” once started it’s hard to stop.  And while the Philippines’ economy has been on the upswing in the past few years, it still has a long way to go before humans stop becoming one of their biggest exports.

Good to Not Be in Manila Now

I guess you know that recently I’ve been contemplating a move to Manila.  I almost bought a place there earlier this year but held off for a variety of reasons.

At the moment, Manila and other parts of the Philippines are suffering through catastrophic flooding.  One-third of Metro Manila, with a population greater than 16 million, is flooded out.  At least 50 people have died, at least another 250,000 have been evacuated.

As horrendous as all this is, this is a semi-regular event in the Philippines.  Two years ago two storms killed over 900 people there.

I gotta say this – and I know that some people may hate me for it, but it’s my honest opinion – I have a lot of Filipino friends in real life and on Facebook.  The ones on Facebook are all posting similar status updates.

“Pray for the Philippines.”

“Dear Jesus, We fervently pray for your intercession so that our nation will be spared from the threatening flood. Save us from further…”

I’ve seen dozens of posts like these.  Oh Lord!  Oh Jesus!  Save us!

I haven’t seen a single post along the lines of, “what the hell is wrong with our government, why do we elect such inept leaders and corrupt officials, why is it 2012 and the infrastructure of the country hasn’t changed in 40 years, why aren’t we better prepared for these, why aren’t we better warned when these are coming, why are these storms just an inconvenience in Hong Kong or Taiwan but deadly here?”

And as long as people keep running to Jesus and not holding their leaders accountable, this is just going to repeat and repeat and repeat, which is just the way the corrupt scum who run the country want it to stay.

Hey, I’ll agree with people who say, “Now is not the time, now is the time to pull together and make sure everyone’s safe and then later we can address this.”  Except that “later” never seems to come.

Oh, and on a vaguely related topic:

Manny Pacquiao, who was elected to the Filipino parliament last year, has sided with the local Church against a new government bill to introduce free contraception and information about safe sex.

“God said go forth and multiply,” he said, after a meeting with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. “He did not say go and have just one or two children.”

Mr Pacquiao, 32, is the fourth of six children, although his parents separated when he was young after his mother found out his father was living with another woman. [Believe it or not, there is still no legal divorce in the Philippines.  Only annulments, which are so expensive that most of the population can’t afford them.]

The reproductive health bill, which would also introduce reproductive health and sexuality classes in schools, appears to have the support of the people. Many Filipinos believe that the country’s crushing poverty, which has seen a third of the population survive on a dollar a day, is the result of a rapidly-growing population.

Pacquiao is one of the richest people in the Philippines.  He’s in Congress.  He has a weekly TV show.  He rakes in the dough from appearing in ads for almost anything and everything sold there (except condoms).  He lives in a country in which families have 5 children that they can’t afford to feed or send to school and instead send the kids out begging in the streets ensuring that the cycle of poverty will never end.

I’m never wearing my limited edition Manny Pacquiao watch again.  And I’m glad he lost his last fight.

Some Manila and Some Whinging

I know I still owe part 3 of the NYC taxi story.  And probably a lot of other posts as well.  I’ve been busy.  And I’ve been tired.  Crazy tired.  I don’t really know why but I suppose it’s long past time to get serious about dealing with my obstructive sleep apnea, especially given an article in the Times over the weekend about new links found between apnea and cancer.

Anywho, we were in Manila over the weekend.  It’s summer in The Philippines and it was hotter than fuck and I think the heat got to me on my last day there.  It certainly couldn’t have been that I got drunk on Sunday night – and it’s so rare for me to drink alcohol these days that it doesn’t really take much to get me drunk.  We were at Cafe Havana, one of my usual spots there.  They had a decent salsa band playing there.  Let’s see, drums, congas, keyboard, guitar, bass, trumpet, trombone, timbales and a female singer with the requisite large breasts.  (I was listening to some Fania All-Stars yesterday, the Live at the Cheetah album, it don’t get no better than that, and I was wondering why these bar bands have such a limited repertoire.  Well, gotta keep the customer satisfied.)  We bought drinks for a lot of other people. That’s easy to do in Manila, where the cost of a fancy concoction is about half the price of a beer in Lan Kwai Fong.  And apparently at some point my gf got me to dance, which is something I never do.  It ain’t a pretty sight, that’s for sure.

Anyway, we were there looking to get a place to live.  It started on our last trip, when we viewed a new Rockwell development.  This time a bunch of places from Ayala and Century (yes, we even looked at the joint that they got Paris Hilton to advertise).  Well, I know where I want to live.  It’s in the Fort, aka Bonifacio Global City.  Unfortunately, the place we saw and loved and can afford won’t be ready for occupancy until 2017 and while I don’t plan to leave Hong Kong in the near future, 5 years is too far off.

Oh, should mention, a place we ate at Saturday night, I think it’s called Seconds, or 2nds, it’s in the Fort, just off Bonifacio High Street, right next to Agave.  (The Agave in the Philippines is apparently not affiliated with the ones in Hong Kong.  One way to know that is that the ones in Manila feature “bottomless” margaritas for roughly HK$50, if memory serves.  I shit you not.)  Anywho, very nicely designed place, Filipino food made high end with a tiny bit of a fusion-y twist.  Comfortable place.  Dinner for 4, including a bottle of very nice Spanish wine, worked out to around HK$600.

I could probably write several blog posts about my apartment-hunting experiences there.  And perhaps I will, maybe better off once the whole thing is settled and done, should that ever happen.

I’ve noticed a linguistic change in the Philippines lately.  Not sure if this is new or if I’ve only just noticed it.  I did note that in the past few years, people went from addressing you as “sir” to “sir <your name>.” as in, “Hello, Sir Spike.”  I don’t recall people doing this years ago but it seems everyone does it now.  It makes me feel weird.  I’ve only just gotten used to being called “Sir” and now apparently I’ve been promoting to a Knight of the Round Table.  Spike, OBE.  Or I guess in this case, OPE, Order of the Philippine Empire?

And now, apparently a lot of people, instead of saying a simple “goodbye,” choose instead to say, “god bless.”  Not just one or two people. I’m hearing this everywhere.  It’s in almost every email I get from there.  The flight attendants said it on the plane as we were getting ready to “de-plane.” To which I said, out loud, “no thanks.”  Really, shouldn’t we get a “god bless” before the plane takes off?  By the time it lands, do we still need it?

We could have extended our trip by an extra night and gone to see Lady Gaga, who played there Monday night and I guess also tonight.  She was not an instant sell-out there.  I don’t think the shows sold out completely.  I saw ads from one of the phone companies offering buy one, get one free deals on tickets.  There are those protesting her concerts there.  Not to the extent that they did in Indonesia, where her permit was revoked and the concerts were cancelled.  But some bible-toting whack jobs eager for publicity spouting forth about how her “values are not their own.”  Because apparently if you don’t believe what they believe, you’ve lost your freedom of expression?  Or because if they think your beliefs are different from theirs and challenge theirs, then you don’t belong because they’re so insecure in their beliefs that you threaten them? Splendid.  Oh, they announced that police would attend the concert so that they can make sure there’s no nudity or anything lewd.  They probably just wanted some free tickets.

Louis C.K.’s got this famous stand-up bit about everyone being a crybaby about technology, how everyone complains and everything is wonderful.  He includes people complaining about airlines and flights.  You’re making a trip in hours that used to take years, a trip in which half the people used to die before the trip completed.  “You’re sitting in a chair in the sky” or something like that.  Not sure if he really believes it or if it’s just comedy fodder.  It’s funny.

But, ya know, I almost always fly Cebu Pacific to and from the Philippines these days.  Okay, they’re a budget carrier.  You don’t get food or even water on the flight unless you pay for it.  You don’t get to check in luggage unless you pay for it. And always right after the flight takes off, just as you’re settling in for a good naps, the stewardesses (“the ladies on the plane” as George Carlin liked to call them) get on the P.A. and lead everyone in some mindless game for 10 minutes.  “Who can show me … a pencil?”  “Oh, you’ve got a pencil, you win a toy.”  Yeesh.

Cebu Pacific always plays music when you’re getting on board and off.  And for the past several months, the song they’ve played is what seems like an endless remix of Rihanna’s S&M.

‘Cause I may be bad, but I’m perfectly good at it

Sex in the air, I don’t care, I love the smell of it

Sticks and stones may break my bones

But chains and whips excite me

Oh, I love the feeling you bring to me, oh, you turn me on

It’s exactly what I’ve been yearning for, give it to me strong

And meet me in my boudoir, make my body say ah ah ah

I like it-like it

So this is okay for a “family crowd” of children and old people boarding an airplane but Lady Gaga performing her songs within a closed arena that you have to pay to get into is a threat?  I don’t get it.

I wonder if any Cebu Pacific flights ever leave on time.  Our flight to Manila was an hour late.  Our return flight was just under 2 hours late.  We sat there by the gate, listened to the announcements, delay this, delay that and then, of course, Gate Change!  200 people standing up and having to walk all the way down to the other side of the terminal.  Apparently that was easier than bringing the plane to us.

My arrival in Hong Kong was my first time to arrive at HK’s newer Terminal 2.  I was thinking to myself, “Okay, the flight was late and bumpy and noisy and I’m tired as fuck.  But landing at Terminal 2 is a plus because the car park is outside terminal 2 and this will save us shitloads of walking.”   (Yes, I drove to the airport.  Three days’ parking there costs HK$300.  Add in gas and tolls and it’s still cheaper than round trip taxis from where I live, which would cost HK$700.)

Except, apparently, they don’t have immigration counters or baggage claim at Terminal 2.  I know, I can’t quite figure that out either.  And you know how you get from Terminal 2 to Terminal 1?  Get off the plane, go in the terminal, walk awhile, go down an escalator, get on a freaking bus, stand on the bus forever while it waits on the tarmac for all the planes to taxi by.  Get off at Terminal 1, go up another escalator, walk a bit more, then wait on a long line because there are only two machines working at the immigration counter.

So, yeah, maybe my mood is a little off today.

By the way, in case you missed it, you do want to listen to Amanda Palmer’s latest album, “Several Attempts to Cover Songs by the Velvet Underground and Lou Reed for Neil Gaiman as His Birthday Approaches.”  Yes, Neil Gaiman is also on the album (speaking, not singing, probably for the better).  I loved the title and, surprise!, I love the album as well.

And I also wanna recommend the new Saint Etienne album, Words and Music By Saint Etienne, which is an absolutely joyous celebration of pop music and its importance in our lives.

And the new album from Soulsavers, The Light the Dead See.  This time around the featured vocalist is Dave Gahan and it gets emotional.

And a new double live album from the Tedeschi Trucks Band called Everybody’s Talkin’ (first song is a cover of the Fred Neil classic).  And speaking of Allmans, the new double live Warren Haynes is a big improvement over his recent studio album.

Oh, I didn’t get to this one yet but soon will.  Lisa Marie Presley has a new album out.  Yeah, Elvis’s daughter.  Michael Jackson’s ex-wife.  It’s called Storm & Grace.  It’s produced by T Bone Burnett.  Word is it’s actually quite good.

And Father John Misty, a pseudonym for the drummer from Fleet Foxes, who has left the band, and has this new album out, Fear Fun.

And Clock Opera, Ways to Forget.

Still haven’t worked up the strength to try Damon Albarn’s Dr. Dee yet but Graham Coxon’s A+E is quite worthwhile.

 

Subic

So we’re in Manila for our annual physical and I had some other medical tests to take.  Once it was all done, I wanted to get away for awhile but didn’t feel like dealing with airports and airplanes and so I opted for Subic.  I’ve never been there but was curious about it for a variety of reasons, thinking that it might be somewhat like Clark but with the added attraction of being on the coast and having some beaches.  My gf had managed a restaurant up there many years ago and thought it might be fun to go back for a visit.  I didn’t do a whole lot of research on the place up front, just picked a hotel via the reviews on Trip Advisor, the #2 rated place was on Waterfront Road, which seemed like it would be a good place to be, and so we hopped in taxi for the three hour drive.

(Lesson learned – On the expressway between Clark and Subic, there’s this spot where you can see where the lava flowed down from Mount Pinatubo when it erupted roughly 20 years ago.  It was a sparkling clear day and one could see all the way over to the volcano very clearly … and I didn’t ask the driver to stop so I could take a picture.  Two days later, on the drive back to Manila, I did ask the driver to stop, but the view was nowhere near as clear or as special.  I am really kicking myself over this.)

Entering Subic and not quite sure of how to get to our chosen hotel, our taxi driver made the mistake of not making a left turn when he was in the left-hand lane, right where there was a group of cops standing next to signs that said “pull over area” or something like that and sure enough, we got pulled over and he got a ticket for lane-swerving on an almost empty road.

Then we found the hotel and it was like, why are we here?  Segara Suites is a gorgeous boutique hotel, the rooms were great, modern, flat screen TV & DVD, high thread count sheet, rainforest shower, nice pool, decent restaurant.  But the location?  Sure, Waterfront Road, all the way at the wrong end, where it was surrounded by warehouses and a commercial wharf.  No view, no beach.  (The staff later told us that thanks to its secluded location, it was a favorite rendezvous point for politicians.)

On checking in, I was required to sign a sheet stating that I’d read the house rules – which included “no partying” and a corkage fee if I was to bring any alcoholic beverages back to my room.  Already I’m not liking this very much.  Strong sun, no shade, so we called a taxi to take us the 7 or 8 blocks down to where there were some restaurants.  The 3 minute ride was 100 pesos.  We went to Giligan’s, a Filipino chain, and we could sit out by the local beach.  The only other customers in the place weren’t actually customers – 4 old Filipino guys who came over to us as soon as we sat down to try to sell us some bullshit trinkets. The music in the place was all sappy sad old songs of unrequited love, music to commit suicide to.  I was low on cash so I went to the ATM next door which was “unable to dispense cash at this time.”

Some friends drove over from Clark and joined us for dinner that night.  We drove around and every place we looked was dead dead dead.  After dinner we went to a “hot spot” on the beach called Pier One.  Live band (4 musicians, 5 (!) singers) playing the usual crappy pop.  We walked back to our hotel from there, my gf walking a lot faster than me and soon there was enough distance between us that girls sitting in the park along the beach started calling out to me.

Get the feeling that I wasn’t having a good time?  Back at the hotel, I told my gf we should get out the next day – the hotel was prepaid and I’m sure we would not have gotten our money back but I was really feeling as if going there was a huge mistake.

However, the next morning, after having a decent breakfast poolside, we decided to call a taxi and go to the Kamayan Beach Resort.  It’s a hotel with a private beach.  If you’re not staying at the hotel, you can pay 300 pesos per person to use the facilities and we figured it was worth that to sit on a beach where we wouldn’t get hassled by vendors every three seconds.  It turned out to be quite nice – not really remarkable in any sense of the word but pleasant, peaceful, stretched out on the sand for several hours and a little bit of swimming.

After the beach, we went to the town that adjoins Subic – Olongapo.  This place at least seemed to have some life to it. The town seems to be “owned” to some extent or another by one family.  The current mayor is James “Bong” Gordon Jr. and there’s a long line of Gordons running the town.  “Fighting for excellence!”  Signs all over the place with a quote from the first Gordon, “what this country needs is not a change of men but a change in men,” something like that, plus signs of how it was a “no firecracker zone.”  But at least it was lively.

Okay, maybe not so much on that particular street.

There was a small SM Mall there (with signs everywhere giving directions to a breast feeding clinic – hmmm).  And of course wonderful food.

(Her name, according to the poster, is Shamcey Supsup.)

That night, my gf said we should go up to Barrio Barreto, which is just north of Subic and is basically a mini-Angeles.  Lots of cheap beachfront hotels and a dozen or so girly bars.  We had dinner at a place she remembered, “The Coffee Shop – Home of the Jumbo Taco” (and it was a freaking huge taco, just 99 pesos, and not too bad).

After dinner, we hit one of the girly bars.  About 20 girls working inside, standing on stage, not even pretending to dance, just standing on stage.  It was pretty depressing.  My gf called down the one relatively cute girl from the pack and bought her a drink and started to ask her questions about how things worked there.  After the first round of drinks, she had this brilliant idea that we should barfine the girl and go off to the gay bar with dancing guys.  “I took you to a bar where you could watch sexy girls, it’s only fair that you take me to a bar where I can watch some guys.”

And so we did.  Her, me and our new friend.  This place wasn’t exactly Chippendales.  There were about 5 or 10 guys there taking turns dancing on stage.  Each guy had essentially the same dance moves, each one wearing a tight wife-beater shirt, shorts, kneepads (!).  My gf was disappointed that none of the guys there were tall or especially well built.  But she found some guy to sit with her and give her the rundown on the joint.  I kept looking at my watch, kept trying to get her out of there, but she wasn’t budging.  I ended up asking the DJ how come they weren’t playing Frankie Goes to Hollywood “Relax” – I would have thought that would be the song they’d play every 15 minutes.  The guy put it on to get me to shut up.  Finally there was a low rent Priscillia Queen of the Desert two guys in wigs and dresses lip syncing to records show.  I think we ended up staying in this joint for close to 2 hours.  And no, it was not my idea of a good time.

Probably needless to say, but I was pretty happy to get out of Subic the next morning.  I don’t think I’ll be rushing back there anytime soon either.

Thrilla in Manila

And this time it has nothing to do with Manny Pacquiao.  Former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo tried to leave the Philippines on Tuesday, ostensibly to seek medical treatment for a “bone ailment” but she was not allowed to leave the country because she’s under investigation and they were afraid that once she left she wouldn’t return.  So she went to a hospital (unnamed) and her lawyers went to the Supreme Court, which issued an order allowing her to travel, but then a lower court issued a warrant for her arrest which led to the government ignoring the Supreme Court’s travel order, which among other things makes the Philippines Supreme Court not seem very supreme at all.  Tonight, she was arrested in her hospital room on charges of election fraud.  She’s accused of having “direct knowledge” of election fraud in “an autonomous Muslim region in the southern Philippines, the country’s poorest and notoriously corrupt region, where ballot boxes are switched en masse and voters paid or threatened to abstain.” (quoted from the NY Times.)  The charges carry a maximum sentence of 40 years.

The president before GMA was Joseph Estrada, a former actor who went the Reagan route, was simultaneously elected President and Vice President, impeached on charges of corruption, tossed out of office when people took to the streets to protest, later found guilty, pardoned by GMA and ran for President again in 2010 – and actually got some votes.

All of this would almost be more entertaining than popular TV show Eat Bulaga if most of the country wasn’t living in poverty.