“You Haven’t Been to Manila Until You’ve Been to Greenhills!”

That is what everyone told me. I can’t say I’ve been to Manila until I have been to Greenhills. So I’ve lived in Makati for a little over a month now. Now I can officially say I’ve been to Manila because I’ve been to Greenhills. The famous shopping mall in Metro Manila where you can buy jewelery (especially pearls), Knockoff designer purses, shoes, clothes, phones, bootleg DVDs, etc. It is the place to stock up on souvenirs and gifts for all your friends and family back home.

http://www.greenhills.com.ph/

Greenhills is bargain central. Never pay the price that they first tell you. You always bargain. I had learned a few words in Tagalog that I thought would be useful on this trip.

Macano = How much?

Mahal (exaggerate the “hal”)= Too much

I still can’t remember discount LOL but I need to make sure that I learn that one for next time. My friend from work went with me for my first experience. She was able to speak to the vendors on my behalf even though I did use some of my Tagalog as well. When you speak Tagalog to the vendors they seem to give you a better deal. Also, the more you buy the bigger the discount 🙂

*Cultural Moment*

I bought a purse and was the first customer. In Filipino culture if you’re the first customer they see this as luck and for hopefully a good sales day for them. You often get a discount for being the first customer (I’m always down for a deal). When I gave the lady my money she took the money and touched it over the rest of her purses and rubbed the money all over her body. The hubby had told me he had read about this, but I thought it would only happen in the provinces. I guess my assumptions were incorrect.

It’s hard to describe the Greenhills shopping experience without being there and seeing it for yourself, but it is basically like a big indoor flea market. People beckoning for you to come buy their products and telling you they will give you a good deal. One lady said “you promised you would come back and buy from me” when I passed her shop. It was just like being in Tijuana 🙂

I realized I spent a crap load of money in a short amount of time as I saw so many things I liked. There were a few shops that I really liked that I will definitely shop at again. Let’s just hope I can find them in the maze of vendors that is Greenhills.

Since most of the items I purchased were gifts for friends and family that read this blog you only get a sneak preview of the items. I did take a picture of some jade bracelets I bought for myself though 🙂 

  

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Expat = Rich…Ummm…No!

If only expat life was all peaches and roses. Most people think expats are living the high life getting an expat premium and tons of extra allowances to live in another country. Yes, I did get an expat assignment in a great country where most people speak English and I can find a ton of American brands, but expat life isn’t just a bowl of cherries. You have to get used to a whole new country, culture and a whole new life. Not only are you looked upon as a “foreigner” but they assume because you are a “foreigner” that you’re rich.

So my friends and family know that me and the hubby are not rich. We are simple folk and try to be frugal. We make our own compost, we rip a paper towel in half to share, we rarely go out to eat, we grow our own vegetables to save on money, I cut the hubby’s hair myself and use Groupon, LivingSocial or Restaurant.com when we want to do something extra special.

Living in the Philippines is definitely something to get used to as a lot of places many locals try to take advantage of us. Whether it’s charging more for a service than locals pay, trying to scam us on something like parking or expecting I want to pay an extra 20 PHP ($0.47) for imported nail polish. I may be splurging more than I would be back home, mainly on travel since when am I ever going to be living in Asia ever again?!? However, I’m still not going to fork out 3,000 PHP ($70) for a gym membership at my work or eat dinner out every night. I wish I had a ton of disposable income but we do have a mortgage back home, pets, and a house that’s in the middle of being remodeled.

So here’s to trying to be frugal on an expat assignment while still trying to enjoy all that the assignment has to offer! Let’s just hope we come home with more money then when we left!

Batangas Trip

I will make sure not to bore you in this blog with work stuff. Plus, I’m in HR and most of the stuff is confidential anyways :), but I will mention little work bits here and there. After all, work is the whole reason I am here in the beautiful Philippines.

As you know I arrived in Manila on Saturday morning. I specifically rushed to get to Manila this past weekend so I could make it to this two-day offsite meeting for the group I will be supporting. It’s amazing to think that I was offered to take this assignment about mid December and here I am two months later already living in Manila! Crazy, but such is life! NEWho, we set off early Monday morning via Coasters (bus/van. Kind of like shuttle buses in the US) to Pico De Loro in Batangas (if you have read some of my earlier posts you know I went to Batangas during my business trip in January and never posted. Yes, that post is still to come). The ride up to Batangas was shorter than last time as it was on a Monday and not on the weekend. Pico De Loro Resort was beautiful! I don’t have many pics:

  1. I was working
  2. I left my USB cord to upload my pictures from my camera back in Cali so have to wait for the hubby to bring it when he comes. I searched all over Makati and apparently Fuji is not popular as I went to about 15 stores to try to find this darn cord and no luck. So I’m stuck with my trusty iPhone camera.
  3. iPhone cameras kinda suck, well sometimes. So I tend not to take too many pics with the camera so you’re kind of SOL for the next week and a half.

 

I do have to share that I had my first videoke experience. It took me a few hours to get the nerves up and a few less people (About 20. Our entire group consisted of about 60 people). When most people had gone to bed the group finally convinced me to sing. They took a ton of pictures so I’m sure I will have pics to share eventually.

So what was my first song you ask? What else then Madonna’s “Like a Prayer.” First of all I suck at knowing names of songs. Until I hear the song then I will be like “ohhhhh I know that song.” So I chose a classic. So lessons learned from my first videoke experience:

  • I suck at singing
  • I suck at singing
  • I suck at singing
  • Oh and I suck at singing

apparently in the Filipino culture they don’t care if you suck at singing. They just enjoy hearing the songs and enjoying the companionship of being with friends. My team was very supportive as they all sang and danced with me even as my voice cracked and basically ran out like I had been at a concert yelling at the top of my lungs for hours. I’m sure this is only the first of many videoke experiences here in the Philippines.

On our way back from Batangas we suddenly pulled over. I saw a uniformed guard pointing to the coasters and we all pulled off to the side. Everyone started talking in Tagalog really fast and were pulling out their phones. I’m thinking “oh crap, what is going on?! Are we all going to get hauled off the coaster and have our IDs checked? Am I going to jail already after only being in the Philippines for a few days?” Also there was a guy holding all these knives. I was really confused. Little did I know we were stopping at the famous Rowena’s Cafe in Tagaytay. The armed guard was just security for the cafe directing traffic, my co-workers were pulling out their phones to text and/or call people to see what they wanted and the guy holding all the knives was selling them LOL. Boy did I feel stupid. Luckily all those thoughts were just running through my head and the perplexion didn’t show on my face.

So apparently this is the place to stop off to get Rowena’s famous blueberry tarts and other sweets and snacks. It was a mad rush and when I walked in everyone was picking up sweets and already pushing to the counter to pay for their orders. I wish I would have taken a picture as it was an interesting sight. I was too amazed at what was going on to take a picture.

Instead of blueberry my eye went directly to the chocolate tarts (if you know me, then you know I love me some chocolate). Not thinking we still had about two hours to get back to Makati so by the time I got back home my chocolate tarts were kind of melted. I ate one of them and man was it good! I stuck the rest in the fridge and have been enjoying one every day since. Definitely will have to stop by there again for more goodies as there was a ton of sweets and snacks there that I will want to try.

Another adventure in the Philippines comes to an end. Until next time…

That’s Today’s Thoughts (TTT)

I’m Home Makati

So after a cheap suitcase that I had to return and buck up and buy the Samsonite and decreasing one of my suitcases by 30 pounds in order to make the 70 pound bag limit I made it to Manila! Check out just some of my products that I shipped even though I left a pile of stuff sitting on the bed back in Cali hoping the hubby can squeeze it in his luggage when he comes in two weeks or if they can cram it in the tiny carton they give us to ship air. The sight was rather hilarious as I would take a few items out the suitcase, zip it up then ask the hubby to step on the scale with the bag so that I could see if I was within the weight limit (I think he did this about 7 times). We tried putting the bag on the scale, but you couldn’t see the number so we just would minus his weight holding the bag to figure out how much it weighed. We were hoping our scale was right and luckily it was right on. At the airport my two bags made out at 69.2 and 69.7! Yayyyy us!

So after my 14 hour flight (Side Note – I watched two very random movies, Sex in the City 2 and Harry Potter: Order of the Phoenix LOL) with a stop in Guam in good ole’ business class (I heart business class) I landed in Manila and breezed through immigration and customs. I was picked up by the manager of the transportation company and my new driver Mackie at the airport. We headed to my new home The Ascott, which is a nice serviced apartment that sits on top of Glorietta 4, one of the malls. They booked me starting at check-in for that day, which should have really been the day before since I arrived at 5:45 AM! So the apartment wasn’t ready. They put me in a temporary apartment until 1 PM. At first I was irritated as I sat around most of the day cause I just wanted to get to my apartment and get settled in. When they called me to tell me my room was ready all my complaints went out the door. The apartment is on a high floor (as requested wih a great view) and the layout is a little larger then the one they showed me when I was here in January. Mainly the kitchen size is increased, which was one of the things I was worried about, but now it is the perfect size.

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After doing a bit of unpacking (I need to go buy hangers in order to really unpack) I ventured down to what else but the mall! I wandered around aimlessly, but ended up getting a mani and a serious pedi at Let’s Face It Salon (nail’s, facials, massages, scrubs, microdermabrasion, threading, etc.). When I say serious I mean one where I paid to have a callus gel mask and a foot special cause the bottom of my feet needed a lot of work. I used to get pedis back home in Cali only once every six months or so because any money to save for the remodel of the house is a dollar closer to it being finished. I was there for around 3 1/2 hours and it cost me about $22. Now that my feet are a lot smoother I can get a normal mani/pedi for only about $5 each time.

I kept wandering around and didn’t have any idea where I was. I ended up at one of the SM malls and bought some lechon paksiw (check out a description and recipe to cook it http://panlasangpinoy.com/2010/03/07/lechon-paksiw-recipe/)  and bread to eat for dinner. Luckily I found SM as I found the Forever 21! I didn’t go in, but was happy to see it as I was wondering where it was. Since I didn’t know where I was in the mall I decided to try outside. Boy was that a good idea because I was literally right around the corner from our apartment. Inside the malls confuse me, but soon as I get outside I know exactly where I am. I ended my first day home in Manila eating my Filipino meal looking at the Makati night scene. TTT…

Forever and a Day

Yes it’s been forever and a day since I posted. Lots has been going on. I started about three posts and never finished them due to a sudden change in plans. I promise I will still post them but, for now just wanted to let you know I am back in Cali, have been for awhile.

Now I am preparing to head back to the Philippines. The hubby and I have been going to appointment after appointment to prepare for our upcoming move. I still don’t have an exact date, but I’m planning for February 16th if all goes well and the hubby trailing about a week or so after. So much to do and so little time! Thought I would have time to have a little going away dinner or happy hour, but I seriously don’t think I will have enough time to fit it in. With immunization, medical/dental appointments, work, shopping, packing, house storage, visa requirements, etc. I am a bit overwhelmed.

I didn’t realize how much work it would be to be an expat even before you become one! Well at least we have our pets to cheer us up during this chaotic time. See our kitty in the pic below. I guess she thought it was too cold and decided to steal Bella’s tank and lay on the heating pad (hidden underneath the sand) and sunbathe under the heat lamp. Oh Kitty Meow Meow (that’s what I call her) 🙂

Good Morning Ma’am

Everyone here calls me ma’am no matter what age they are. In the states this is more common in the South but I’m a California girl. Ma’am is not in my vocabulary! Everything is “good morning ma’am, good afternoon ma’am, thank you ma’am, no ma’am, yes ma’am.” I get it at the hotel, restaurants, on the streets by the policeman, at the mall and at work. I don’t know if I will ever get used to it as I’m used to this being a sign of respect to your elders. Sometimes I just want to say “you don’t have to call me ma’am. My name is Jess!” But of course I refrain. My driver to and from work calls me Jess so that is at least a break for the short 10 minute ride to work! So I say to you “Good Evening Ma’am.” TTT

First Day at Work and Adventure to the Greenbelt Mall

I am still getting used to having our van checked with mirrors and guards opening the van prior to entering any hotel, mall or the office as well as having my purse and any bag inspected before I go in as well.  You have armed guards with AKs outside main office buildings as well as K9’s (they have K9s outside the hotel as well. Sometimes they have a cute Jack Russell that makes me miss Chase).

Me missing Chase 😦

Besides the overload of security, my first day at work was great. It was nice to meet all the people that I have emailed and spoke to over the phone over the years. Everyone is so sweet and it is good to hear that people were excited when they saw my name that I was coming here.  I brought along some pasalubong’s (small homecoming gifts – Ghirardelli chocolates) that I handed out to folks when I met them. I’m trying to fit in with their culture as best as I can. So far the only word I really use most of the time is salamat, thank you, as everyone speaks English here I feel weird trying Tagalog since I’m sure I’m butchering it  🙂

The view from my office is amazing. On a clear day you can see the sea.  I have to get used to the constant honking I can hear from my desk even though I’m all the way up in a huge high rise.  It is definitely not like my quiet office back in the states. Well I have a cubicle, but I don’t mind that. As long as I have a place to put my crap I’m fine! I am in an area kind of off to the side so luckily it’s not too noisy. 

 

After work I finally ventured out to the Greenbelt mall which is right across from my hotel. I’m not a mall person in general, but I guess I have to start becoming one since that seems to be the thing that everyone does around here since it’s air conditioned. My hotel is across from the high end stores that I would never shop in back in the states like Gucci, Salvatore Ferragamo, Louis Vuitton, Prada, etc. So I just walked right through into the next mall that is cheaper. I hear there is a Forever 21 in one of them so I need to figure out which one so I can make it over there. I don’t know if they will have my size as I can barely fit into the US Forever 21 :p I went to the Landmark, which is one of the cheaper malls and I purchased a tote bag since I forgot to bring one. When we went to the beach this past weekend I had to take the hotel laundry bag so I wanted to make sure I didn’t have to do that again!

I ate outside in the middle of the Greenbelt 5 at Simply Thai. It was a beautiful setting as I sat and watched Fashion TV without sound while I ate and had a yummy Sangria. I didn’t have a plan when I went out and didn’t realize I was going to be sitting outside so I didn’t put bug spray on. Big mistake! I was bit all over my right arm and on my left leg! @Letty I need to order some more Avon bugspray/sunscreen!!! I’ll let you know how many bottles!

Outside seating area at Simply Thai (photo from restuarant Facebook page).

Since there are so many malls that are connected I got kind of turned around but luckily the waiter pointed me in the right direction to get back to the Greenbelt 3, the one closest to my hotel, and I found my way easily . I am sure I will be venturing out to other malls, including the famous Green Hills so I can purchase pearls and other really cheap items! That’s today’s thoughts…