More Idiots in Hong Kong

So an anti-gay-rights pro-bigotry pro-hatred group called up 611 people and got 415.48 of them to agree with them. I wonder how those 611 were chosen and I wonder how the questions were phrased.

From today’s SCMP:

Almost 70 per cent of people believe society should tolerate anti-homosexual attitudes

The Family School Sexual Orientation Discrimination Ordinance Concern Group, an anti-gay-rights group which commissioned the research, said the Equal Opportunities Commission should respect people’s opinions and halt a review of anti-discrimination laws which could extend protection to gay couples in a “de facto marriage”.

The survey, based on interviews with 611 adults, was conducted by Polytechnic University researchers in November.

Some 68 per cent of respondents agreed that society should tolerate different opinions, including those against homosexuality, while only 15 per cent disagreed, the study showed. And 57 per cent disagreed with the idea that schools should teach pupils that “both homosexual and heterosexual love are beautiful”.

At present, the city has no law against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.


Roger Wong Wai-ming, the head of the family school group, said the government and the EOC should not “deprive” people of their “freedom of speech” by passing laws to protect gay rights.

Yes, idiots should have the same right to freedom of speech as anyone else. But not if they are using those freedoms to deny the same freedoms to others.


A Short Rant About Hong Kong Taxes

I just paid my Hong Kong income tax for what will likely be the last time (because I’m leaving Hong Kong).

On the one hand, it’s easy to think about how low Hong Kong taxes are relative to most other places. It’s a flat tax, the entire form is four pages and most people do not need to hire an accountant to complete the form for them.

On the other hand, I think about John Tsang and where our tax dollars go and don’t go. (Tsang, btw, earns more than HK$3.6 million per year, as of 2013. He certainly doesn’t earn it.)

Hong Kong has amassed equity reserves that are the envy of the world. Every year, those reserves grow, because Hong Kong taxes are too high. It goes to the ludicrously unnecessary Hong Kong-Macau-Zhuhai bridge. It goes to that high speed rail that has gone way over budget and that no one needs. It went to that ridiculous new eyesore of a cruise ship terminal that even the cruise ship companies wouldn’t pay for.

It does not go to the elderly who scrounge through garbage bins looking for discarded beer cans and bits of cardboard that they can bring to a recycling center so that they can afford a tin of cat food for dinner. It does not go to the people in Hong Kong who are so poor that they live in cages in Sham Shui Po.

Taxes should be lowered – Hong Kong is in no danger of running out of money as the government makes huge amounts on real estate transactions and doesn’t need to spend money to support a military force – or the spending should ensure more equitable distribution. Raise the floor so that the minimum income for paying tax is higher and/or take some of those tens of billions of dollars sitting around and do something for the poor for a change.

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!

My Best Photos of 2014

The numbers aren’t good. If we’re talking sheer quantity, in 2012 I shot 18,455 photos, 12,031 in 2013 and just 7,228 in 2014. I put the blame on a full time job, a really long daily commute and a few personal issues – not the least of which was fracturing an ankle and doing major damage to an elbow in a fall in September. All of this added up to shooting far less than I would have liked. Also 2014 was the year in which I totally walked away from trying to do any kind of street photography – I just saw so many horrendously bad examples of street photos on various groups on Facebook that it left a sour taste in my mouth.

Even so, I did come away from the year having shot a few fun events and having some images I quite like. So here’s my year in photography.

In January the band Operator had a CD launch party at Backstage in Central. They were supported by Bank Job and The Sleeves.







Also in January I had a chance to shoot with Hong Kong model Yumi at PASM. Recently she seems to be having some success as a DJ.





In February one of my photos of Hong Kong singer Faye Wan (taken late 2013) was displayed in a photo exhibition in Soho.



I had this idea for a year-long photo project, Hong Kong Women With Tattoos – or Hong Kong Ink, perhaps? It ended up being far more time consuming than I had expected and I was also having trouble finding women with larger tattoos to model for me. I shot Hui in March and this was a fun shoot.





At the end of March, there was a festival of local bands called Friday Night Rocks timed to coincide with the annual Hong Kong Rugby Sevens.This show featured a large variety of terrific Hong Kong bands along with one band from Korea. Below – Hey Joe Trio, Shotgun Politics, Galaxy Express (2), Dr. Eggs.











In April, also for my tattoo project, I shot Ines in the studio. A strong woman with a great story.



Also in April, guitar great Robben Ford played a show in Shatin and I was able to get a “three songs, no flash” pass for that.





At the end of August, I attended Hong Kong’s 2nd International Tattoo Convention.




Just last week, I shot some of the bands appearing at the Wanch at a memorial concert for Hong Kong singer/songwriter Sue Shearman. Sue died from cancer at a crazy young age and the evening was called Well Fuck You Cancer and once again highlighted the amazing diversity of the independent music scene in Hong Kong. Below – Dark Himaya (2), Kestrels and Kites.








So there you have it. I’m hoping that my move to Manila in 2015 will provide more opportunities for shooting. I won’t have a studio affiliation there as I do in Hong Kong but I’m hoping to meet many of the local photographers and to find some clubs that present some unique local bands.

Films I Watched in 2014

Not that many. My wife works nights and Saturdays (and sometimes Sundays) and I tend to wait for her to watch films, except for those things I know will have no appeal to her. Anyway, to refresh my memory I used this list from Wikipedia.

I’d say this was a pretty godawful year for films, or maybe I just watched the wrong ones. In previous years there was always something I never heard of that came out of left field that would become my favorite film of the year – Holy Motors in 2012, The Great Beauty in 2013. I guess that from what I saw so far this year, I’d have to pick Grand Budapest Hotel as my top film, yet I wouldn’t rank it as high as either of those two films. Still, I’ve watched it three times now and loved it more each time.


It strikes me as more than a little bit odd that I watched so few films this year. In no small part that’s because there were fewer films that interest me. And much of my time was spent with TV series – True Detective, Fargo, Justified, Walking Dead, Boardwalk Empire, House of Cards, The Leftovers, Ray Donovan, Sherlock. Is there any doubt that we’re in a new golden age of TV?

So, those few I did see, in order of release date:

Jack Ryan – Shadow Recruit. I really do not understand how Kenneth Branagh has sunk to this level.

The Raid 2. I know this and the first Raid film have their fans. For me they’re both kind of meh.

Robocop. Like the first but with better special effects and a worse script and worse acting.

The Lego Movie. People love this! I made it halfway through.

The Monuments Men. A star-studded disaster from George Clooney.

3 Days to Kill. With a screenplay by Luc Besson and directed by McG, I should have known better, except that Kevin Costner still is capable of some interesting work.

Grand Budapest Hotel. My favorite film of the year so far. Funny, smart, sad, unique.

Chef.  While this is slight and sit-commy, I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. I suppose it’s the emphasis on the love of food combined with a terrific soundtrack.

Neighbors. I am a Seth Rogen fan but this wore out its welcome long before it got to the end.

Noah. I really don’t know what to think about this one. I didn’t hate it. I didn’t love it. I just felt kind of lost.

Muppets Most Wanted. I loved the Jason Segel reboot but couldn’t make it all the way through this sequel.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Both of the Captain America films are far better than they have any right to be. I’ll watch the next one too.

Godzilla. Another movie that I have (so far) not been able to watch to the end.

X-Men: Days of Future Past. Getting a bit tiresome at this stage.

Edge of Tomorrow. Tom Cruise’s first decent movie (not counting the Mission: Impossible series) in years.

Maleficent. Yawn.

A Million Ways to Die in the West. Horrible beyond belief.

22 Jump Street. Consistently entertaining, Shadoe Stevens’ daughter is gorgeous, the best part is the end credit sequence.

Jersey Boys. Clint Eastwood sucks all the life out of the Four Seasons story.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. I wanted to like it since I liked the last one. This one’s a step down.

Sex Tape. No where near as god awful as the reviews suggested, but not very good either.

Guardians of the Galaxy. The top grossing film of the year so far in the U.S. (Transformers is #1 globally). I liked it!

Lucy. More Luc Besson nonsense. Stupid stupid stupid.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. I expected to hate it. I didn’t. But it doesn’t really offer anything beyond the first film.

The Equalizer. Denzel Washington is consistently watchable. There’s nothing really new here but as far as brainless entertainment goes, this is one of the best.

Gone Girl. Very well done, as David Fincher films always are. I just have this feeling that now that I know all of the plot twists, it wouldn’t hold up to repeated viewings the way films like Social Network and Zodiac Killer do.

Interstellar. I loved it, but I don’t think it was entirely successful. Let’s say I loved it for being a $200 million non-franchise film that tried to be about ideas and not just things blowing up.

In total, that’s just 27 films. And out of those 27, just 9 that I liked. Pretty shabby.

Special Mention: The Trip to Italy. I haven’t seen this. But I watched the TV series – which was amazing and even better than The Trip –  and this is just the 6 episodes edited down for international consumption. So I have little doubt that I love this. I hope they’ll do a third one.

Special Mention 2: Only Lovers Left Alive. A late 2013 release that I didn’t see until 2014. Always loved Jim Jarmusch and this languid vampire tale ranks up there with his best.

Planning to watch: Frank, Boyhood, Magic in the Moonlight, God Help the Girl, Get On Up, Birdman, Top Five, Rosewater, The Theory of Everything, Inherent Vice, Fury, A Most Violent Year, American Sniper, The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies, Unbroken.

So what’s not on my list that I need to check out? What did you love this year? What have I missed?

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.

Sony Embarrases America

So in case you’re one of the three people on the planet who don’t know about this yet ….

Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg directed a little film called The Interview, starring Rogen and James Franco. In the film Franco is a TV news guy, Rogen his producer, and they get a call to go to North Korea to interview Kim Jong-Un. The CIA then convinces them that during the interview, they should assassinate Kim. And, as we now know, in the film, they’re successful. The film was to be distributed by Sony Pictures.

When word of the film got out, North Korea called this film an act of war. As the release date got closer, Sony Pictures got hacked – big time. The first sign of this hack was when perfect quality DVD screeners of 5 other Sony films, some not yet released in theaters, appeared online. These included Fury with Brad Pitt, the new remake of Annie, and the very well reviewed new bio-pic Mr. Turner.

That was quickly followed by massive releases of internal Sony information – including salary information on Sony executives as well as huge numbers of internal emails containing all sorts of embarrasing information.

A group called the GOP – the Guardians of Peace – took credit for the massive hack and public release.

As the release date for the film got closer, the GOP started threatening violence. They announced that any theater screening the film would be the victim of an attack reminiscent of 9/11. Following this threat, 5 major theater chains in the US that had previously booked the film announced that they would no longer show it. And following that, Sony announced that they were canceling the film altogether – no release to theatrical, home video, cable, nothing. Sony would be writing off somewhere in the neighborhood of US$100 million.

Here’s the red band trailer for the film.

In the wake of all of this, Sony declared that North Korea was the source of the hack. The United States goverment has gone along with this, and now the FBI has said they believe it was North Korea. There have been newspaper headlines about the U.S. government considering what new sanctions they might apply against North Korea in retaliation.

Some theaters were going to substitute screenings of 2004’s Team America: World Police, from the South Park guys. And then Paramount got scared and wouldn’t release prints for screening.

So ….

The first thing is: It doesn’t matter if you’re a fan of Seth Rogen or not. It doesn’t matter if you were anxiously awaiting this film, if you thought it was going to turn out to be a piece of crap or if you never heard of it or couldn’t care less.

You might ask, why risk the lives of hundreds or even thousands of people over a movie? It’s just a movie.

But what has really happened is that major U.S. corporations have allowed themselves to be blackmailed and controlled by anonymous hackers, who may not even be a government organization, they might just be a bunch of kids. This is a first amendment issue. Even if you feel the theaters were justified, Sony had many, many other ways to release this film and give a big middle finger to North Korea and try to recoup some of their investment. Hell, given that they’re prepared to kiss $100 million goodbye, they could have just torrented the film.

Instead, expect plenty of others to try similar stunts in the future now that the precedent has been set. This year it’s a movie. Next year another movie, or a TV show, or a book, or just some expression of some minor idea that upsets the Grand Poobah of Absurdistan or some 14 year old kid spending too much time in his bedroom because he didn’t eat all his vegetables at dinner.

Marc Rogers, one of the world’s leading hackers and security experts, provides some analysis and comes to the conclusion that the hack was not the work of the North Korean government. He thinks it’s an inside job.

One thing I read that Rogers doesn’t mention in his article. Earlier this year Sony hired PricewaterhouseCooper to conduct an IT security audit. This audit, delivered to Sony in September, identified major security holes. It would have been impossible for a large corporation (or even most small or mid-sized ones) to fill in these holes in such a short period of time.  The hack, just two months later, went after some of these holes.

Meanwhile, everyone from George Clooney to Alan Dershowitz is weighing in on this. (Dershowitz: “This is Pearl Harbor on the First Amendment.”) (Michael Moore: “Dear Sony Hackers: now that u run Hollywood, I’d also like less romantic comedies, fewer Michael Bay movies and no more Transformers.”)(Bill Maher: “Is that all it takes – an anonymous threat and the numbers 911 – to throw free expression under the bus? #PussyNation“)(Neil Gaiman: “So SONY fight back by canceling The Interview, thus proving to the hackers that hacking & threats work very well? That may prove an error.”)

If you’d like to read a very geeky breakdown of the events, along with all sorts of relevant links, then check out this long article at Risk Based Security.

One thing is for sure – this is a big mess that will only get messier.

UPDATE: Sony ended up releasing the film on December 25th – but instead of thousands of screens in multiplexes, it went to 300 independent cinemas. They also released it online via Youtube and Google Play, which means it is now available via the “usual sources” worldwide. I watched about half of it last night – it’s okay, certainly not one of Rogen’s best and I found Franco’s character a bit tiresome pretty quickly, but it’s okay.

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:


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?


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.