Things to be grateful for 4/19 – 4/25

Dapper relaxing on the table

1. Our cats are still happy and healthy.

April 21st, 2020 tornado warning alert for the Bronx, New York City

2. We did not get wrecked by a tornado on Tuesday.

IRS “Get My Payment” tool success message

3. We finally stopped getting the “Payment Status Not Available” error and were able to enter our direct deposit information with the IRS for the stimulus deposits.

4. I talked to our ISP and got an upgrade from 100 Mbs to 300 Mbs and we’re paying $20 less a month than before. The price is locked in for two years. I’m not even sure what to do with all of that bandwidth. It might be my imagination, but streamed shows on Netflix seem to be clearer.

5. We have our health. Based on symptoms posted online, we think we probably had mild cases of COVID-19 in February. We were both experiencing the same weird symptoms at the same time, like both having weird lower back pain, muscle aches, fatigue, etc. Our social circle includes someone who had recently traveled to Hubei Province in China. I guess things could have been a lot worse for us. We’re still doing fine, though, even though we know quite a few people who aren’t.

6. I rediscovered and am having fun with some PS4 games I haven’t played in about 6 years. I never even finished GTA V and I haven’t finished the cop story in Need For Speed Rivals.

7. I’ve been seeing a lot online about mental health issues during this crisis. I was thinking about that a few days ago, wondering how being stuck inside is complicating the usual rise in mental health problems during the winter months. It’s already so gray, cold, and depressing outside and now we can’t even go outside. It felt great to just open the windows yesterday and I’m enjoying walking around in crowds in GTA V. LOL. Anyway, staying strong mentally.

Ordinary men hate solitude. But the master makes use of it, embracing his aloneness, realizing he is one with the whole universe.

Lao Tzu

Scammer Smurf and Friends

I should have known better, but while my wife and I were out today, I managed to get us stuck in a tourist trap.  We were in Times Square, waiting to meet up with family for lunch at Olive Garden and I saw a person dressed up as a Smurf, so I asked my wife if she wanted her picture taken.  She thought it would be fun, so we walked over, took the photo and started to walk away when the smurf-person stopped us and held up a bag.  I looked inside and saw some dollar bills, so I dropped a dollar in.  I started to turn away, but then the smurf demanded not just one, but two dollars.

Later, as we were sitting inside the Olive Garden, I saw Scammer Smurf and his little friends congregating outside, scheming together and preying on tourists and other unwary pedestrians.

I think I fell for this because the last time I was in Times Square I had my photo taken with a person dressed as an M&M in front of the M&M store without being harassed for money.  Like I said, though, I should have known.

I guess the moral of this story is:  While in New York City, beware of cartoon characters carrying bags and posing for photos.

Opportunistic Freelance Filipino Parking Attendants

That’s the best way I could think of to describe this particular practice in the Philippines.

Parking Attendant in front of Antipolo McDonald's

The guy in red is trying to direct cars on how and where to park at the McDonald’s I was in when I took the photo.

Depending on where you go, there might be a parking lot available for your car.  Most places you just have to park along the street, but the franchise establishments usually have at least a few parking spots, like Max’s Chicken and McDonald’s, where the above photo was taken.

These restaurants don’t hire people to stand out in the parking lot and direct people about where to park.  This opportunity, however, has been coopted by people looking to make a buck doing whatever they can.  So, it’s not uncommon to see randomly dressed people standing in or near the road trying to direct people as to where they can park.  Then, they try to use hand gestures to tell you how to park and later, when you’re leaving, when it’s safe to back out into the road.

For this service, they expect a tip.  Is their service necessary?  Probably not except in the most bizarre of parking arrangements.  What they’ve done, however, is position themselves so that you feel like a complete jackass if you ignore them and drive off.

So, as an addition to the other costs of owning an automobile in the Philippines, you can expect to feel obligated to dish out a few pesos here and there to people who have become self-appointed parking attendants.

“You Will Die!” … Over 20 Philippine Pesos

Something I’ve been having issues with since coming to the Philippines earlier this month (and really on every trip to the Philippines before this) is being overcharged.  You can get around that by going to stores where the prices are clearly marked on the items before buying them, but then you miss out on all the good deals keep your wallet thick.  This problem goes for the markets and for services, like public transportation.

If you’re not familiar with the Philippines there are tricycles, which are a motorcycle with a sidecar, that are used for short-range transportation.  The prices are set by organizations and the local government and those prices are posted inside the vehicles with a sticker.  Set routes to neighborhoods outside the town proper are set by the organizations.  Even so, I’m constantly arguing with people that are trying to overcharge me, like I have pesos falling out of my butt every evening and can afford to just give away extra on every transaction I make.

Tonight, we came out of the grocery store with a buggy full of items and got into a tricycle.  We needed transport over about 1 km (or less) of distance to pick up our laundry.  Our bags were too heavy to walk that far, especially given how crowded the streets are in the evenings in Antipolo.  So, the fare should have been 20 pesos.  That’s the standard.  When we pulled up in front of the laundry place, my wife handed the driver 20 pesos and the jackass started demanding 40.  The night before we took the same route and the jackass in that tricycle was demanding 30.  I like to call this the “white tax”.  While arguing with the guy I quickly pulled all of our stuff out of the sidecar in case he tried to take off with our things.  Then we ignored him and went inside.

When we got our laundry we packed it away into a bag we had bought.  We’d actually taken our laundry to the cleaner in black plastic trash bags because we hadn’t found a proper bag for it yet.  When I looked out the window, this prick was still sitting there watching us, as if he expected us to come out and say sorry and then pay him what he was demanding.

I told my wife to ignore him and not give him anything more than what he was owed.  I’m not in the Philippines to make everyone rich at the expense of our livelihood.  So, when we walked out and started up the street, he started his tricycle and shot past us screaming “You will die!”  Ya, good job dude.  We wrote down his plate number and we’re going to report him in the morning.  The fines for tricycle drivers who attempt to overcharge are pretty steep.  I hope he enjoys his 1000 peso fine for trying to be a prick.

When you live on the local economy you can’t afford to let people nickel and dime you to death, and even if I had a huge wad of cash, I wouldn’t be handing it out for free, or to someone who tried to rip me off.  I’m nobody’s chump.