Typhoon Conson Not So Bad, But Meralco Dropped the Ball

I just finished (sort of) my first experience with typhoons, and my first typhoon in the Philippines.  It has been, and is continuing to be, an interesting few days.  I don’t have any interesting photos to share, because there wasn’t really anything interesting to take photos of.  Honestly, this typhoon was no worse than the average hurricane I experienced in Georgia.  There were branches laying around, lots of leaves that needed sweeping up and on the ridges some of the smaller trees (3 – 5 inch diameter trunks) had snapped off from the high winds.  There wasn’t a lot of rain.  No more than an average storm anyway.  I was underwhelmed.  That was my experience in the Antipolo area, which is east of Metro Manila.  Being up in the mountains, it seems to be shielded from the brunt of bad weather.  It didn’t flood here during Ondoy either, from what my in-laws tell me.  Unfortunately, after finally having a chance today to look at the news online, it seems like other people weren’t so lucky.  It’s a bit hard for me to find sympathy for the fishermen who didn’t come ashore when they knew a typhoon was coming, or for the guy that drowned while trying to save a herd of pigs in a lake, though I think I can understand his reasoning.  I do feel bad for the other people that died though.  I have a feeling most of them live in houses that aren’t built very well, and then there were the accidents like the carpenters that had a concrete wall collapse on top of them.  So, don’t take this the wrong way.  I’m not downplaying their deaths.  I’m just relating my own experience during this event.

With the storm being so relatively mundane (compared to Ondoy), I can’t help but wonder why the power went out for so long!?  Really, what’s going on with you guys Meralco?  The night the typhoon hit the greater Manila area, the power began to flicker.  I wasn’t too surprised about that, since the power lines are on poles here.  I also wasn’t too surprised when the power went out entirely at around 1 AM.  In fact, we were watching a zombie movie called Dead Snow on my laptop at the time.  It’s supposedly one of the greatest zombie movies ever, and what better time to watch it than on a dark, stormy night?

We went to bed around 3 AM, with the sounds of the wind howling and the rain sheeting down to rock us to sleep.  When morning came two and a half hours later, the sky was a little overcast, but it was clear.  There was still no electricity but I was cool with that.  I’d figured the work crews wouldn’t head out until morning.  There was no running water.  That was disappointing.  So, we went back to sleep.

Later that day we got up and went to my brother-in-law’s shop to have a light lunch.  Still no electricity.

We sat around all afternoon, chatting, reading, getting in some of that quality bonding time, but there was still no electricity when the sun started to go down.

When it got too dark to see, we brought out candles. By then my laptop battery was almost completely drained and I wanted to conserve the battery on my iPhone, just in case.  So, there was nothing to do but sleep.  We used the last of the water we’d stocked up on to wash up and then at 7:30 PM we went to bed.

Around 1 AM we got up and checked, but there was still no electricity.

At 5 AM this morning we were up again, because we had to be in Eastwood by 9 AM.  Still no electricity.

By then, the fact that there was no electricity was really working my nerves.  We’d found out from family and friends that the power had been off all yesterday in Pasig and in Mandaluyong as well.  Why was there such a widespread outage for such a low key storm?  A friend told us that even after Ondoy, the power was up and running after just 3 or 4 hours.  It seems absurd that the power outage would last that long with such a relatively light storm.

The power being up 3 to 4 hours after Ondoy could be misinformation, but on our way to Eastwood we passed a news stand and one of the papers had a front page article showing a housewife trying to prepare a meal by candle light.  The title said something like, “Welcome back to the Dark Ages”.  Given how sarcastic the title was, I think our sentiments about the power situation were shared by quite a few people.

While in Eastwood I ran my iPhone battery all the way down while reading a book on the iBooks application.  My other cell phone was almost dead too by the time we headed home.  So was my wife’s phone.  We’re job hunting, so that’s not a good thing.  It sucked to think about heading home to a house with no electricity, no water, and nothing to do once it got dark.

So, on the way back from Eastwood we kept an eye on storefronts and house windows, to see if we could see light.  Things were looking good but we were still holding our breath for what we might see in our own neighborhood, which is a little ways outside Antipolo.  And… there was light!  When we crested the last ridge before our neighborhood (which sits in a valley), we could see house lights everywhere and we breathed a sigh of relief.  At least we could recharge our gear and have some entertainment.

Fortunately, we hadn’t restocked our fridge yet.  There wasn’t much of anything in it to go bad, except for some milk.  Maybe the eggs are bad now too.  I don’t know.  Unfortunately, I think we may have just lost a month’s profit on business related foodstuffs we had in our freezer.  Things that are supposed to remain frozen don’t do too well in the Philippines heat when the power is out for 30 to 40 hours.  I don’t know what time the electricity came back on today, but it wasn’t soon enough.

Meralco… you disappoint.

Air Conditioning: US vs Singapore & Philippines

Living in the US, I got accustomed to central air conditioning.  Besides the fact that it’s generally cooler in the US than it is in Singapore, the idea of having your air conditioner on all day long is culturally acceptable in most parts of the country.  The air conditioner is simply set to maintain a certain temperature.  It’s a set and forget type of deal, and some even have timers that will automatically disable it during the hours when no one is in the house.  When someone is in the house though, it’s on, and that’s just normal.

Imagine my surprise when I found out that the same air conditioning usage patterns aren’t only uncommon, but are seen as socially unacceptable, or at the least unusual or a waste of money, in Asia?  Doesn’t make sense right?  Especially since it’s so much hotter here.  Besides that, houses in the US are built with insulation in mind.  The buildings I’ve been in here in Singapore and in the Philippines seem to be plain cinder block and plaster, with no sort of insulation at all.  That means the buildings build up heat during the day and then maintain it through the majority of the night. The place I’m living now stays at an average of 33 C (91.4 F) all day long, and all night long too.  We’ve even come in at 1 AM, having left the window cracked all day, and seen that it still read 32 C on the temperature gauge on the AC remote.

A typical family in Singapore (based on what I’ve seen) will only turn on the air conditioner at night, after they’ve showered, when they’re about to get in bed.  During the rest of the day and evening, they simply leave the windows open and use a lot of fans.  Also, the air conditioners here aren’t central, with vents in each room.  They’re either window mounted units, or they’re the type that mount outside and have smaller ‘control’ units inside the bedrooms.

That’s another thing I wanted to mention.  The air conditioners in Singapore are typically only located in bedrooms.  From what I’ve seen myself, and heard from my wife, it’s basically the same in the Philippines, if the family even owns an air conditioner at all.  The difference there, though, is that most parts of the Philippines are a lot cooler than Singapore.

At my last place, I would run the air conditioner almost non-stop.  I wasn’t acclimated to the weather here and it was just so damn hot all the time that it seemed impractical to open the windows.  Plus, the air conditioner provided with the room was a piece of shit (see the photo below). Who wants to sit in their own house sweating like they’re in a sauna?  Not to mention that high temperatures can’t be good for electronics.

(This POS, tiny AC was meant to cool a master’s bedroom. Even blasting on maximum, with the temperature set to the minimum, the room would rarely cool below 30 C (86 F))

Another thing to note is that I read on Jonna Wibelius blog, SHE in China, that in China they only turn on the air conditioners during certain seasons.  It reminded me of the way they did it in schools in the US.  I remember days when it was incredibly hot, but the scheduled day for the air conditioners to be turned on hadn’t arrived yet.  The same with the heaters.

I’m constantly finding new things that amaze me about the differences between Asian and American culture, what is and isn’t considered socially acceptable, and the way people live here.