Why The Philippines?

Philippines SEP 08 - 0025

This is a question my wife has asked me on more than one occasion.  It seems to boggle her mind that I would really look forward to moving there.  The Philippines is a ‘poor’ country and many Filipinos strive to find ways to leave and find what they consider a better life abroad.  There’s something of a joke that the primary export of the Philippines is human beings, as a labor force.  With so many of her countrymen trying to get out of the Philippines she finds it curious and a bit odd that I’m so excited about moving there.

Just to clarify, I’m not going there with some wealthy expat package lined up.  I’m moving there for other reasons, which I’ll get into later in this post.  But, for all intents and purposes, when I move to the Philippines I’ll be living pretty much as the average Filipino does.  That will have both its ups and downs, but I look at this as a great opportunity rather than a disadvantage.  The easy answer is that I’m moving to Manila to go to college, but there’s more to it than that.

I spent the first part of my life in the US Army.  I was actually enlisted in the US Army Reserves before I even finished high school and shortly after I applied for and was accepted to active duty.  During that time I had a few odd jobs on the side, but my service in the Army was the only ‘real’ job I’ve held.  I wouldn’t call service in the Army a waste of time, but it can seriously set you back if you don’t intend to see it all the way through, or if you later decide that you’ve had enough and don’t want to do 20 years for a retirement.  I didn’t completely gimp myself.  During the last year and a half I was in, I realized I wasn’t going to make a career of it after all and managed to squeeze in almost 2 years worth the college credit hours through CLEP tests, sit down courses and online courses through Park University and the University of Maryland UC.  Those college credits paid off by giving me enough points to get promoted to Sergeant before getting out, and by giving me a leg up on getting a degree.  I earned a scholarship while in the Army that will pay 100% of my tuition.  There’s a time limit on it, and it’s hard to go to school full time and still make it financially, but I’m in a position to make it happen now and I want to take advantage of this opportunity, because it may never come again.

In the US, it’s possible to get a decent job based on military service alone, but outside of the US that’s nearly impossible.  I’ve found that out the hard way.  Having a degree on top of my military service would make me look real good though, both to peers and to potential employers.  It’s a nice thing to be able to say you have a tertiary education and a piece of paper to prove it.  I want that.  I am by no means an idiot, but just saying you’re smart or good at something isn’t going to win you a job interview or a high paying executive position.  People want proof.  They want evidence that you’ll be a good, solid investment.  Even if your degree isn’t necessarily applicable, it will show that you’re at least smart enough to learn.

Eventually I’ll make my way back to the US, and I think that having lived abroad for a number of years and having a degree from a foreign, but US accredited university, will give me an advantage.  The work climate in the US right now seems to be focused on finding people that can interact in multiracial groups of people from diverse backgrounds, and having lived abroad and having gone to school abroad would be a clear indicator that I at least have experience with getting along with people who are different than I am.  That’s also something you learn in the Army, though to a lesser degree.

The time I spend in the Philippines will also be an opportunity for me to enrich myself on a personal level by gaining a greater understanding of the world around me.  The Philippines is a place rich with history and culture in a way the US can’t quite match, now or in hundreds of more years.  The US is a melting pot of cultures and while that has its advantages, it causes the US to lack any sort of distinctiveness, politics and war aside.  So, it’s a very thrilling prospect for me to live in a country that has so much history behind it, to learn about the people living there and to experience it all first hand.

It’s also an opportunity to connect with my wife’s family in a way that a short visit just can’t accommodate.  My wife is from the Philippines and we’ve visited a few times but the visits are brief and while we try to mix in sight-seeing with visiting time with her folks, the whole thing always feels rushed.  Living there will give me more time to hang out with them and get to know them.  It’ll also give my wife an opportunity to reconnect with her family before we move on to other things and other places.  I’m also hoping she’ll be able to finish her second degree, a master’s degree, or medical school while we’re there.

So, moving to Manila and going to college will provide me with a lot of advantages in terms of future employment when I return to the US, as well as being personally enriching for both my wife and I.  I think both reasons have equal value because living life isn’t just about the job you hold or your income; it’s about family, experiencing the world, learning, progressing, understanding and eventually contributing to society.  This move will be a win-win situation all around.

The focus of this blog will be whether or not we achieve these goals, how we make it happen or how we fail, and the adventures we encounter along the way.

3 Days in Kuala Lumpur: Part 4: Finding Our Hotel

If you remember from the first post, we booked a place at Hotel Chinatown 2, on Jalan Petaling. One of the things that appealed to us about the place is that it’s near the center of town, close to a train station, and there are lots of shops around it, or so we had read.

Our hotel:

And, unfortunately, the airport:

I’ve never seen a city where the airport is as far away as it is in Kuala Lumpur. We were actually worried about the fare from the airport into the city itself. It’s a long way! In fact, the ride from the airport to our hotel in Kuala Lumpur wound up taking longer than the flight from Singapore to the airport there in Malaysia. Weird right?

Before we left, we’d gotten some directions from the hotel’s website and saw a list of what prices we could expect for the various means of transportation. We had a few different options, all of which were about 80 ringgit, meaning none of them were appealing. Luckily, Malaysia has a similar system to the Philippines when it comes to transportation. Private buses. As we wandered down the length of the airport we saw waiting areas with lots of buses pulled up to them. I got excited and we went on ahead to check it out.

Buses like these probably aren’t the safest mode of transportation, but we’ve used them in the Philippines and we didn’t see why we shouldn’t use them in Malaysia as well. The best part of the deal? The cost was 8 ringgits per person. So, 16 ringgits total for my wife and I to get to Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown. That’s a lot better than an average of 80 ringgit.

After getting on the bus we worried for a little while that we’d been taken in, and that the bus wasn’t actually going past Jalan Petaling, but the guy seemed pretty sure, and the ticket he gave us looked pretty official. There was even an office address and a phone number. Just to be on the safe side though I asked the guy that sat down across from us if the bus passed by Jalan Petaling. He said it did, so we went ahead and kicked back and got comfortable.

The bus had great air conditioning and the ride was smooth, if a bit long. I think I dozed off for a little while, because I don’t remember some parts of the trip that I saw later on the way back. Thankfully, it went without incident, and after about 50 minutes the bus was making it’s first stop in town, about one block from Jalan Petaling. We actually went right past the entrance to Jalan Petaling, so we were sure we were in the right spot.

After getting off the bus, we walked down the street, over a foot bridge, and onto Jalan Petaling itself. As we made our way through the crowd, looking for our hotel, my wife told me she was shocked. I asked her why. She told me it was because she’d never seen so many white people in one place before. I looked around and it was true. The place was packed with foreigners, most of whom seemed to be blonde-haired and blue-eyed.  Australians perhaps?

After about a block we decided to stop and ask a police officer we saw for directions. His English was a bit rough but he was able to point us in the right direction and we found our way to our hotel.

3 Days in Kuala Lumpur: Part 1: Preparations

(Someone didn’t want to be left behind!)

Getting ready for this trip was a lot easier than most of the other trips we’ve taken, probably because it was short and relatively inexpensive.  We only spent two nights in Kuala Lumpur, so the packing was easy.  We didn’t even pack check-in bags.  We just had two medium-sized carry-ons.  That was the first time I’ve ever taken a flight and not had check-in bags.  It was actually really nice, not having to worry about waiting on the baggage to reach the carousels, and it saved us some money.  Tiger Airways charges extra for checked in bags.  I think that’s starting to be a fairly common practice with all airlines though.  I remember reading something recently about a few airlines in the US taking up the practice as well, which came as quite a shock as it had been free for as long as I could remember.

The first thing we did to get ready for this trip was to book the tickets.  We decided to take Tiger Airways because it offered the lowest price.  Some people prefer to fly in style; we prefer to save our money so we can spend it at our destination.  The flight from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur is only 30 to 40 minutes, so the quality of the seats or service on the plane wasn’t really a factor anyways.  How much comfort do you need on such a short flight?

The next thing we did was find a hotel room to book.  I’d never tried to book a room over the internet before, so I wasn’t sure where to begin, or what site to trust.  The first website I came across mentioned a cheaply priced hotel called Hotel Chinatown 2.  It had a lot of customer reviews on it.  All of them said the place is a good deal for the money you spend, that the rooms seem a bit small, and that the air conditioning is cold.  Some also complained about thin walls.  We thought about it and realized that we were only going to spend two nights there.  And it really would just be the nights.  During the day and the evening we would be out and about, checking out Kuala Lumpur, so who cares if it’s a bit noisy, or a bit small?  At least the air conditioning would be cold, right?  We did a little more research (i.e. Googling) to assure ourselves that the hotel was actually real and not just some rip-off, and when we were both satisfied, we found a booking site that uses secure transactions and paid a 10% down-payment and a booking fee of 2 USD.

The next thing, and last thing, that we had to worry about was our cats.  We love them, but every time we want to go on a trip, they’re a problem.  I had sent a text to the lady that normally watches them for us, but she hadn’t responded.  On Sunday, the day before our trip, my wife also sent a message, but again, no response.  Not wanting to wait until the last minute, hoping we’d get a reply to our texts, I went ahead and asked the maid if she could watch the cats for us.  I was surprised at how happy she was to help out.  So, I guess things turned out for the best.  The cats didn’t have to be transported to someone else’s house for cat-sitting and we got to save time and money.  If you’re not familiar with cats, not having to move them is a good thing because cats really freak out in new environments they get dumped into, especially if there are other cats.  It can cause a lot of stress and can even be hazardous to their health.

The night before our trip we were both excited and stayed up late.  I don’t think I managed to get to sleep until 4:30 am, and then I was up again at 8 am to make sure we were ready to leave on time.  Well, 8 am is when I actually got out of bed.  My cats got noisy and woke me up at 6:45 am.  I never managed to get back to sleep.  I guess they knew something was up and they wanted us to know they didn’t like it.  Not a good start right?  Even so, I was pumped about our trip and didn’t let it slow me down.  (That would come later.)  Despite getting up early, we didn’t manage to get out the door until almost 10:30 am, so we had to take a cab to get to the airport in time for our flight.