Living in the Philippines was a daily adventure. Even something as simple as going shopping presented new and interesting challenges. This is part two of a two-part series.
Credit cards were one of the things I missed most while living in the Philippines. Almost nowhere accepted credit cards except for the major stores in the local SM Supermall. Several restaurants and the local hospital also declined my to accept my credit card even though they had prominently displayed signs proclaiming that they accepted credit cards. When I asked about the signage, the only response I ever got was nervous laughter and a stare as they waited for me to find the cash.
Everything is smaller there. Cereal boxes are maybe 10 ounces. The largest soft drink at McDonald's could only be generously be called a small in America. And drinks at the supermarket are sold almost exclusively on an individual basis. There are no six-packs of beer or 12-packs of Coke. Cans and bottles are sold individually with relatively high per-unit prices. On the flip side, Red Horse, a very strong local beer, sold for 70 pesos per liter (about 3 cans of beer for less than $1.75) at any 7-Eleven. That's a deal not likely to be matched in America ever.
On Clark Air Base, duty-free stores were prolific. People often associate the words "duty-free" with bargains. After my experience with these stores I can assure you that is not the case. The prices in the stores are not good. However, these stores often offer imported products that cannot be obtained anywhere else. In that sense, "duty-free" stores would be more accurately described as foreign specialty stores. the only things you should buy their are items you can't get anywhere else. Their prices are, across the board, higher than standard stores.
Duty-free stores in the Clark Freeport Zone catered to Americans. They sold American goods and accepted American dollars. This is very convenient when you're reluctant to use a local ATM due to outrageous exchange and ATM usage fees. The catch is that the exchange rate offered at these duty free stores is often worse than what you'd get from your bank. The exchange rate was often around ₱41-42PHP/USD at these stores when the market rate was closer to ₱44-45PHP/USD. That's about a 7% fee compared with the 0-5% fees typically charged by American banks.
Although buying individual bottles/cans of drinks in stores was usually somewhat costly, I found vending machines to be very affordable. Compared to American vending machines where a can of soda runs about $1 USD and larger bottles go from $1.25-$2.50 USD depending on the brand, Filippino vending machines were a steal. A bottle of Gatorade was only ₱25 PHP or $0.56 USD, and vending machine coffee was about ₱12 PHP per cup. (The coffee quality wasn't great, but it worked in a pinch.) Although you still pay slightly more for the luxury of buying a single item, the ridiculous markup usually present on American vending machine items was nowhere to be found.
Want to read more about shopping in the Philippines? Check out the other part of this series:
Photo of Quiapo, Manila by shankar s.
Living in the Philippines was a daily adventure. Even something as simple as going shopping presented new and interesting challenges. This is part one of a two-part series.
I'd never bartered before visiting the Philippines. It took me several months to become accustomed to the idea, but by the end of my rotation there I was able to negotiate some pretty good deals. Eventually I was even able to turn my biggest bartering weakness, being foreign, into an advantage.
Vendors in the Philippines see young white males like myself as walking bags of money. They're keenly aware of the naivety of young foreigners like myself and they try their best to take advantage of it. Prices for me, I came to find out eventually, were often initially set at double to triple the price that would be quoted to a local. Knowing this, my first counter offer, when unaware of the actual cost of the item in question, was half.
Oftentimes half the initially quoted price was still higher than I should have paid, but it was usually the lowest most vendors were willing to settle for. Maximizing the price they got from a foreigner was a mark of pride for them, so accepting a reasonable offer was akin to losing face. Knowing this, I'd offer to buy multiple or give the impression that my other foreign friends would also buy from the vendor if the price was lowered. Whether the future purchases materialized or not, my foreignness was often enough to convince the shop owner to accept my reasonable offer.
Taxis in Manila love to barter. About 50% of taxis will claim their meter is broken or refuse your fare if you request to use the meter. (This is actually somewhat reasonable as the meter starts at about 50 cents and goes up less than 1 dollar per mile, if I recall correctly. One day I took a trip across the city of Manila in rush hour traffic for less than $20.) The proportion of metered/bartered taxis depends on time of day, location, and your patience.
Airport taxis are the worst of the lot. At MNL, there are yellow metered taxis that come so slowly that you have to wait in line for hours in order to get one. Going to Malate from MNL, a trip of about 8km, I was quoted around $30 USD from the aggressive, non-metered taxi drivers waiting outside the terminal. I tried to barter with them, but none would go lower than about $24 USD. I walked away from the airport determined to snag a taxi on a surface street. As I walked, cabbies continued to accost me, and their prices steadily declined as I got further away from the terminal. Eventually I accepted one cabby's offer of ₱300 PHP or about $7 USD.
Photo of Bonifacio Global City by Roberto Verzo
Photo by Earl McGehee
UT Austin is home to the UT Tower and some other beautiful buildings. This campus is very large. Make sure to find the Turtle pond next to UT Tower, the sculpture of a pair of balls, and the fountain with the flying horses.
Photo by Stuart Seeger
The Capitol in Austin is free to enter. Take a walk on the grounds and admire the interior of the building. For bonus points, count how many "Lone Stars" you can find.
Photo by A Yee
I haven't been here yet.
Photo by Shane Pope
Lady Bird Lake is named after Lady Bird Johnson, former First Lady of the United States. It's the portion of the Colorado River that runs through Austin just south of Caesar Chavez St. It's also commonly called Town Lake.
Photo by Todd Dwyer
South Congress is home to numerous weird shops including Uncommon Objects and Lucy in Disguise as well as several food trucks such as Hey Cupcake!
Photo by bigbirdz
"The Drag" is the nickname for the stretch of Guadalupe St between W 21st St and W 27th St. It forms the western border of UT Austin. There are several restaurants and book stores on the Drag.
Photo by me and the sysop
Toy Joy is an Austin classic. They sell all kinds of toys, and it's a lot of fun to wander the shop discovering everything they have to offer. It has moved to 2nd St from it's old location on Guadalupe St, so the image above isn't representative of what the shop currently looks like.
Photo by Jane Hammons
Bring some food and you can have a picnic here. There are several short walking trails. Peacocks abound. Be careful in the parking lot because sometimes there will be peacocks wandering there. Wedding receptions are sometimes held here.
Photo by Lars Plougmann
Climb about a hundred stairs to the top of Mount Bonnell for a view of the Colorado River and Austin's skyline. Great views during the day, at night, and for sunrise/sunset.
Photo by vxla
Technically, Salt Lick is in Driftwood, not Austin. It's a humongous barbecue restaurant that offers all you can eat barbecue and sides for $25. You can also order plates/sandwiches for about $10 to $20. Tasty. Cash only!
Photo by Gary J. Wood
Sixth Street is home to a number of bars and clubs that are constantly changing to appeal to the the UT Austin student body. Most patrons are college-aged. For a more mature crowd, try 4th St. or East 6th Street. (I-35 divides the east and west sides of 6th St.) Most 6th St bars are between the Driskill Hotel (at Brazos and 6th) and I-35. This part of 6th St is also known as "Dirty 6th".
Photo by SandraHintzman
I've never been here. I've heard that there is often a wait on Summer weekends to get in. Check the Hamilton Pool Preserve's website before going to make sure it's open for swimming.
Photo by Matthew Rutledge
Zilker Park is a huge greenspace that's great for flying kites are having picnics. You can see the Austin skyline from the park. Zilker park is also home to the music festival Austin City Limits in October every year.
Photo by Alex Archambault
Barton Springs is a natural spring near Zilker Park. Since the water comers from deep underground, it's very clean and the same cool temperature year-round. You can swim here for free in the winter, and in the summer, admission is about $3. Life guards are present when admission is charged.
Photo by Kumar Appaiah
Auditorium Shores is home to free outdoor concerts. It's the place to be in Austin on the 4th of July when fireworks aren't banned by due to dry weather. There's a great view of the Austin skyline here with the Colorado River in the foreground.
Photo by fletcherjcm
I've never been here. I've heard the food is bad and expensive but the view at sunset is fantastic.
Photo by Eric
The Congress St bridge is home to millions of bats in the summer. In the winter, these bats migrate to Mexico. The bats eat lots of insects like mosquitoes and keep the Town Lake an enjoyable place to be. The bats start leaving the bridge before sunset and slowly stream out for hours.
Photo by Stuart Seeger
A burglar recently broke into my brother's house. They stole some jewelry and electronics including a camcorder with videos of their baby daughter. Hopefully they backed up those family memories to a safe place.
This event made me start thinking about what if this had happened to me? What would I care about losing, and how can I protect myself?
The worst case scenario would be if someone stole my laptop/phone, and gained access to my email account. I've had the same Gmail account since 2005, so my entire life is stored there. Every online account I have uses that email address for password resets. My email probably has enough information in it to get access to my banking, investment, and social networking accounts.
I've already enabled 2-factor authentication on my email and several other online accounts. (And I suggest you do the same for all the sites that support 2-factor authentication.) This way, even if someone steals my passwords, they can't access any of my accounts without my phone (by generating a new PIN) or my computers (which are already authenticated and don't need a PIN).
To prevent thieves from accessing my email, I've added a password to my phone. Currently it only asks for the password after 30 minutes of inactivity. This has three benefits: 1) if I'm mugged, the thief won't even know it is password protected if I've used it recently, 2) it's unlikely the thief will get much data off of it before setting it down for 30 minutes and getting locked out (everyone sleeps, after all), and 3) I don't have to constantly enter my PIN every time I want to use my phone.
On the computer side, both my laptop and my desktop are encrypted with BitLocker. BitLocker is dead simple to use, and I highly recommend you enable it on your computer if you have it. The way I have BitLocker set up, it asks for a password before booting. Until this password is entered, the data on the hard drive is completely inaccessible even if the thief puts the hard drive in another computer!
Finally, I encrypted my phone today. I don't know how much data is accessible on locked but unencrypted phones. Regardless, that data is now safe, too.
The window of opportunity for a thief to steal my data is very small. If my desktop is unplugged, then he can't access my data. If my laptop is turned off (which happens in about 1-2 hours due to its excellent battery life), then he can't access my data. If my phone is left alone for 30 minutes, then he can't access my data.
If you're like me and you stay signed in to all your online accounts, then you can't afford not to encrypt your phone and computers. If you don't, then why bother having passwords on any of your accounts at all? They don't matter if the thief steals your laptop that is already signed in!
Photo of Bletchley Park by Katherine
One technique I find extremely useful when writing a letter, essay, or research paper is to search through the paper for a portion of a word. Suppose I'm interested in finding a section of my paper that uses the word "converter", or maybe it was "conversion"? I don't remember, so I hit Ctrl+F and type "conver". This brings up both "converter" and "conversion".
Unfortunately, Korean words are represented by syllable blocks, and each block is a single Unicode character. The Korean word for Korea is two syllables long and six letters long: 한국.
The find functions in both Google Chrome and Notepad++ treat syllable blocks as letters, not groups of letters. If I search for "하" in either application, the word 한국 isn't highlighted despite containing the character sequence "하" as its first two letters. (If you're wondering, here are the six letters individually: ㅎ ㅏ ㄴ ㄱ ㅜ ㄱ.)
This causes a bit of a problem when searching through Korean text. For example, it's impossible to find all forms of the basic Korean verb 하다 (to do) because many of its forms share no important syllable blocks at all: 합니다 (do - formal), 해요 (do - polite), and 할 거예요 (will do - polite).
Photo of Sejong the Great by Katie Haugland