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.

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?

I’m Almost Gone

One day down with the packers and movers, one more day to go.

Despite getting rid of the fridge, oven, sofa, dining room set, outdoor furniture set and assorted other stuff, they’re guessing now that everything will not fit into a 20 foot container. Given another week I could probably get rid of enough stuff to make that happen, but I don’t have another week.

Then I come to the madness of Philippines visas. The tough part is trying to get information. So, for example, if you go to the website of the Philippines consulate in Hong Kong or the Philippines Department of Immigration, it will tell you all about how to apply for a 13(A) visa (the one I need). But nowhere does it tell you what that visa gets you. Nothing about how long it’s good for, nothing about the right to work once you’ve got it. Zilch. I should probably have done the visa three months ago but other things were taking up my time and attention.

Search around the web and one gets conflicting information. As near as I can figure it out, the first visa is good for one year. After that it gets renewed, either for ten years or infinity, that’s not so clear. Some sites indicate you can work with that, others indicate that I would still need to obtain some sort of employment visa or certificate. And then apparently I will need to get an ACR I-card, some ID card with a smart chip that all foreigners resident over one year are required to carry.

Here’s where it gets really kind of wacky. If you’re already in Manila and you apply there, apparently it’s a painful process that can take several months. If you do it before you get to Manila, it’s a different story – just a few days once you have all of the papers assembled.

The first painful bit is that they require a certificate of no criminal conviction from the police. You can’t go to the HK Police and just ask for that. You have to get a form from the requestor, then go to the police HQ. They will not send it to you and will not notify you when it’s done. You just have to wait 3-4 weeks and go back to the consulate to ask if they got it yet.

But it’s more painful to do that from Manila because the police require you to send in certain kinds of ID if you’re not applying in person. For example, I’d have to find some place in Manila to fingerprint me and attest that they’re certified to do so and swear that they are my fingerprints. Stuff like that.

The other annoying thing is that they request a significant medical exam – that’s what it says on the form, “significant,” without giving any definition of what they mean by that word, except to say that they want blood, stool and urine tests and a chest x-ray.

I couldn’t do it in Hong Kong (yet) because all of our original documents were sitting with a bank in Manila while our mortgage application was being processed. I only just got them back last week. The police form has been applied for here. So it appears it would actually be less painful for me to travel back and forth, HK/Manila, to complete the process here rather than starting it all over again there.  So while I wasn’t originally planning a HK trip until March, it looks like I could be back for a short visit in February.

Fun, fun, fun.

This will be my last post as a Hong Kong resident. I expect there will be one or a few more posts here until I get the new site set up.

 

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.

As The Days Dwindle Down

Just ten days to go before we leave Hong Kong.

Car, fridge, oven, outdoor furniture, sofa all sold off. Whatever CDs, DVDs, books not sold by now will be taken with us and we’ll deal with it at some later point. I’m only in the office this week, next week home to do final packing before the movers arrive on Wednesday.

It definitely feels weird but I’m ready for it and just want it to all be over and behind me so I can get on with things. I think most of you know what I mean.

Stress? Yes, a bit.

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?

Advice Needed: Selling a Car in Hong Kong?

A lot of you have given me some great advice and tips in the past. Maybe someone can help me out here.

As you already know, I’m leaving Hong Kong soon and moving to Manila. One thing (among many) that I need to do before I leave is sell my car. Obviously I want to try and get as good a price as possible for it but when it comes right down to it, one way or another it needs to be sold within another month and hopefully sooner.

So I’ve got the post on this blog. I’ve got an ad on Chinese language web site Car8. (I was unable to post one on the other major Chinese site that I know of, 28 Car, because Google Translate doesn’t handle that site so well. I’ve got an ad on Craig’s List. I’ve posted the ad to the Facebook Hong Kong Buy & Sell group. I’m a bit hesitant to post on Asiaxpat or Geoxpat because they charge for ads (relatively small amounts though).

Given the (lack of) response I’ve had so far, I may have to bite the bullet and try to sell the car to a dealer. The problem with that is that I’ll get a lot less money – I’m assuming anywhere from 25-50% less than doing it by private sale. But I may have no other choice.

So my question is, which dealer or dealers would give me the fairest deal? I don’t want to spend weeks going around from dealer to dealer, automall to automall, to get the best possible price. Years ago I sold off some cars to European Motors up in Sai Kung and I know they gave me a good no-bullshit deal, but the guy who had that business passed away.

So – used car dealers along Kam Tin Road? Automalls in Kowloon Bay? Wanchai? Tsuen Wan? The used car shops in Tin Hau? Consignment via CarCity? An ad in the SCMP?  Can anyone recommend (or recommend avoiding) anyone?

Thanks for any tips or ideas!

Rafael Hui’s Music & Video Collection For Sale; Mine Too

A few days ago, the SCMP reported that former government official and convicted felon is selling off his collection of 11,000 CDs, vinyl lps and video discs (LDs? DVDs?) now that he’s bankrupt and with debts of HK$75 million.

Hui gave up his entire music library, the fruit of a collection craze since the 1960s, to trustees John Lees and Mat Ng of JLA Asia after the High Court declared him bankrupt in November last year.

Ng, managing director of JLA Asia, said they had been advertising in newspapers and on a website to sell the music and film records, which were divided into 11 categories according to the genre. The trustees had also contacted individual collectors to inspect the huge collection.

“We have received some offers and are still open to accepting more offers,” Ng said.

“We prefer to find a single collector to buy the whole lot, but we may also split the collection into two or more batches if that can achieve a higher sale price.”

HMV Hong Kong product manager Michelle Tang said she had inspected the lot. “The collection is very old and in very bad condition. We have little interest to submit a bid,” she told the South China Morning Post. “Hui seemed to have bought the music for his own enjoyment.”

All these assets were part of the lavish lifestyle Hui testified to leading. He freely indulged in his fetish for classical music, resulting in the collection of 10,955 discs – mainly vinyl LPs – that includes 6,323 classical music albums, 965 titles on operas and ballet, 1,330 jazz and blues records and 835 rock and pop discs, many of which are Beatles albums from the 1960s.

There are also local discs, including 140 LPs by Canto-pop singers such as Alan Tam Wing-lun, Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing and Anita Mui Yim-fong.

The hobby cost him millions of dollars. He admitted spending HK$200,000 in a single day buying albums, and going on overseas trips for opera concerts that cost more than HK$200,000.

He said Hui liked to shop for records during lunchtime. Hong Kong Records, HMV and smaller shops in Admiralty and Wan Chai were his favourites.

An employee at one of the stores said Hui came at least once a week when he was in government, but had not visited since his arrest in 2012. “He spent almost HK$10,000 per visit. He likes to order whole collections or some rare copies of classical music, and he bought mainly vinyl.”

My collection isn’t quite as massive as Hui’s. I never spent HK$10,000 per visit to any shop, anywhere, at any time. But I did work in the music industry in the 80s and the home video industry in the 00’s, and wrote for various publications on and off since the 70s, so I’ve had periods in my life when a fair share of free stuff was coming my way. Even so, over the years, I spent way too much money feeding this particular addiction.

I sold off most of my vinyl in 2001, just before moving to Hong Kong for the second time. (I still have a few boxes, mostly oddball items and rarities, a bunch of picture discs and shaped discs, a few autographed records here and there.)

I’ve got somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,000 CDs and I’m trying to unload roughly 2,500 of them prior to my move to Manila. I’ve probably got around 3,000 DVDs and maybe another 500 or 1,000 Blu-Rays and am putting together a list of what I plan to sell of those. Then there are 200 or 300 laser discs – I’ve also mostly held on to a few real oddball items there, such as an edit of Godfather 1 and 2 that never appeared elsewhere on video and a once-very-sought-after THX demo disc, amongst others. No idea what I’ll be doing with those.

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 ….