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Well, perhaps not entirely disillusioned but certainly disappointed.

The Philippines is such a spectacularly beautiful country, blessed with endless beaches and the tropical climate to enjoy them, populated by kind, friendly and joyful people. Then how come it has become such a third-world hell-hole where sewage flows in the streets, the air thick with the noxious fumes belched out by decrepit trucks and jeepneys and the landscape littered with the detritus of modern "civilization"?

How can it be that here in Europe we have had sewage and rainwater run-off systems built over 2,000 years ago (the Roman Acquincum), yet the Philippines, a country in the monsoon belt where heavy rains predictably fall six months out of the year, there aren't many and thus floods are so common that people expect them?

How can people care so little about their surroundings as to destroy them with continuous air, water and noise pollution and incessant littering? How is it possible to tolerate the dirty, hungry, homeless children sleeping in the foul debris in front of crowded fast-food stores and spending their waking hours begging for leftovers?

How can it be that the people do not demand the very basic necessities of reliable infrastructure like clean water, electricity, roads and bridges, public transportation, sanitation? How can a large and populous country like the Philippines which has some natural resources, not learn from its more successful neighbors, like Singapore?

I love the people of the Philippines and also its many scenic splendors. But I find it increasingly difficult to accept its many shortcomings. I have limited this post to only the most glaring irritants and in a future missive I might address some others, like its rampant corruption and steadfast resolve to refuse to evolve.

The Debate on Syria (Politics)

I am dismayed, nay, shocked at the irrelevant drivel the mainstream media puts out about the civil war raging in Syria. The verbal diarrhea has reached epic proportions, a discourse devoid of facts, historical context and factual evidence.

There are three critically important questions which must be asked and answered before any military engagement:

  1. Who is the enemy?
  2. What is the objective, or what does "victory" look like?
  3. What are the long-term consequences?

These questions are not being asked, much less answered. Yes, there was sarin gas used in Syria, this much we know. The verifiable evidence (see the video below) points to the rebels (freedom fighters or terrorists, depending on your perspective) having used them. The "intelligence" briefing issued forth by the US government contains only opinions, conjecture and innuendo but no verifiable facts.

How does a bunch of lunatics, who have been killing each other for centuries in the Middle East, threaten the national security of the United States? If some nefarious characters have the (however slight) capability to cause us harm justifies strong military response, then all male members of Congress should be arrested for rape and all female members should be detained for prostitution — they have the capability!

For further contemplation, I suggest you read this short essay on the topic: "Is The US Going To War With Syria Over A Natural Gas Pipeline?".

To gain additional perspective and to put the matter into the proper context, please watch this short video:

Thanks for reading my rant, I had to get this off my chest. I value your comments and feedback, I learn a lot from my readers. By the way, if you have an interest in protecting your privacy, I highly recommend an unbreakable data encryption program for Windows called — check it out.

Back from Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar (Immigration, Travel)

We returned from our trip on January 16 and have been very busy ever since. I had to renew a vehicle registration with the attendant smog-test (what a joke; most vehicles here belch black exhaust like evil volcanos), stenciling the engine number, purchase of insurance, etc. This was the easy part. The difficulties began at the Bureau of Immigration (BI) in scenic Mandaue City.

I have permanent residency (visa 13-A) in the Philippines, which is granted at first for a one-year probationary period.  There is an incredible amount of paperwork involved, expenses of around 9,000 pesos, and an all day spent at the BI. For the privilege of being  permanent resident, I am now obligated to pay 1,620 peso departure tax when leaving the country (which only applies to Filipino citizens and permanent residents), plus 2,800 pesos for various exit clearance, documentary and expediting fees to immigration at passport control. This fee is graciously reduced to a mere 2,200 pesos for subsequent departures within the same calendar year. Needless to say, since we travel a great deal, these fees are quite onerous.

Back to my story with the BI. The time has come for me to apply for an Amendment of my visa for permanent resident, non-probationary status. This involves an incredible amount of paperwork, expenses of around 9,000 pesos, and an all day spent at the BI. I had to return a few days following the aforementioned ordeal for an interview with an immigration officer. My appointment was for 9:00 AM, and I showed up at 8:45 to ensure I would not miss my time slot (for which there are severe penalties). The immigration officer, and attorney, showed up at 10:30 without a word of apology or even as much as "good morning".

The officer sent me out to have some copies made of some of my documents, pay some more fees for an "annual report" required of all foreign residents, then proceeded to initial every page. He asked me no questions during my "interview". He informed me that the amendment process takes about three months and I am not allowed to leave the country in the meantime, or I must start the entire process all over again.

"We have plans and tickets to travel to Europe on March 14", I said with some concern. He asked, "Why are you going to Europe?" "To visit friends", I replied. After hemming and hawing for a while, he said, "Well, I could help expedite matters..." My wallet started to burn a hole in my pocket and my face acquired an uneasy twitch. "How much will such expediting cost?", asked I, naïvely. "Whatever you think", was the curt reply. I reached into my wallet and pulled out a 1,000 peso note, not having anything smaller on me by that time and handed it to him, cursing him silently. He scratched the top of his desk like a blackjack player asking for another card and said, "Another one -- courier and documentary fees, you see..." Thus another 1,000 pesos left the comfortable nest in my wallet and my diastolic blood pressure took another leap.

I must now monitor the BI website to see when my status gets updated, then visit the BI again in Mandaue to apply for another ACR-I (Alien Control Registration - Immigration) Card at a great expense (about 7,000 pesos), all day at the BI and reams of additional paperwork. Then I have to wait for about two to three weeks for the card to be issued. No, they do not notify, I have to go to BI and check. I keep asking if is all worth it.

Bangkok WatNow, about our trip. We had a great time, especially in Phuket, Phi Phi Island and in Northern Thailand. Bangkok is a huge city, notorious for its traffic jams, so we had to learn the public transit system. Mercifully, they have signs posted in English as well as Thai. There are lots of sites to see as well as some great shopping. The air was really polluted, so we were looking forward to our flight to Phuket.

Phuket is a marvelous, magical and visually spectacular place, where huge cliffs seem to erupt from the Andaman Sea. The beaches are clean with fine sand and warm waters. We have visited many nearby islands, one inhabited primarily by primates of lower form (monkeys). We were based on Patong Beach, which is the liveliest part of Phuket Island, but had a chance to visit Karon Beach as well. Karon is the "quiet" beach -- just as beautiful but not as lively as Patong. In all, Phuket was a pleasant adventure.

Beach on Phi Phi IslandWe headed into Phuket Town to the pier to take a boat to Phi Phi Island, where we spent a few days (Ko Phi Phi Don). Very scenic, quite small but the people are friendly and the service is great. We returned to Phuket quite relaxed and ready to fly to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia because out Thai visa was starting to run out.

Kuala Lumpur (KL) was a surprise. The city is booming, construction cranes are everywhere, the malls are jammed with people lugging full shopping bags with Gucci, Rado, Louis Vuitton, etc. logos on them. The city is cleaner than other parts of Malaysia (Johor Bahru, for example) we have seen. It is vibrant and thriving, public transportation (subways, sky trains, buses running on multi-lane freeways) is excellent.

In the Shadow of Petronas' TowersWe visited the Petronas Towers and the surrounding City Park. A marvel of modern architecture and oil industry greed, the towers are truly a sight to behold. From KL we flew Air Asia to Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand.

Chiang Mai is a very pleasant, large city and the commercial center of northern Thailand. We rented a scooter and scooted all over Chiang Mai. We spent a whole day at an elephant sanctuary just north of the city, riding and swimming with the elephants. Chiang Mai has many beautiful, ornate temples well worth visiting. We spent nine fun- and adventure-filled days in Chiang Mai and got to know the place well. The days were warm but the weather cooled down at night so we did not even turn on the air conditioner.

From Chiang Mai we took a bus further north to Chiang Rai, located at the foot of the Himalayas, near the Myanmar (Burma) and Laos borders. The weather was even more pleasant in Chiang Rai. It is a smaller but still bustling city, very pleasant and livable, with many attractions and even friendlier, kinder people than in Bangkok or southern Thailand.

Elephant RideWe spent a day in Myanmar, just to renew our Thai visas upon our return. Things are very cheap in Myanmar -- a carton of Marlboro Lights (duty-free export made in Switzerland) cost 150 Thai Baht, or about US$5. One cannot even buy a pack for that in most US states.. My wife was in shopper's heaven, buying up souvenirs like there is no tomorrow.

Our stay in Chiang Rai was the most relaxing. Our hotel was superb, the service and food were exceptional. We spent nine days in Chiang Rai as well, then flew to back to Bangkok, onward to Singapore and back to Cebu.

I got back to working on my project and I am happy to say and I am nearly finished! Yey! It has come together well and also looking very good. I hope to publish it to Windows Store before leaving for Europe, God and the BI willing...

Another trip (Travel)

It has been a while since my last post (I have been very busy working on my Windows 8 project which is coming along great), so it is time to update my loyal followers, friends and family. It is also my birthday today, albeit I'd rather forget it than remember the relentless passing of time. As another editorial note, I have updated my post The Filipina Wife, so you may want to take a look.

Christmas is not the time be in the Philippines. First of all the "season" begins in late August and lasts until Valentine's day -- stores playing "Jingle Bells" and other yuletide favorites non-stop, clerks wearing Santa caps or reindeer antlers and decorations go up for nearly a half a year. Around December 20 or so, the fireworks begin and go on every night well into the New Year. It is a loud (louder than usual), raucous time here. Major roads are closed to all traffic near churches that have "special" services and life is disrupted in many ways.

Perhaps the only times more lively than Christmas are New Year's Eve and the local (city-wide) fiesta called "Sinulog". The place reminded of a war zone during these times: gunpowder smoke fills the air, loud explosions continue throughout the day and night, music blares from wall-size speakers that can make your eardrums bleed -- fun times!

We planned to be away. We leave for Bangkok on December 11 and will return on January 15, 2013. In addition to Bangkok, we will visit Phuket, Ko Phi Phi Don, ride the elephants at Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai (in northern Thailand, near the Myanmar and Laos borders) and may take a little time out to visit Angkor Wat at Siem Riep in Cambodia. If I can find some reasonable air fares, we might hop over to Bali, Indonesia for a change of scenery, but as of now, the fares are really expensive (double and triple the usual) near the holidays. I will post pictures as I have the time.

Long Stay in Europe (Travel)

We have been in Europe now for a month and a half and having a wonderful time. We have explored most of Hungary, spent a couple of weeks in Budapest, visited Esztergom (with a brief peek into Slovakia), Vác, Pécs, Kalocsa, Szeged (twice), the lake Balaton (Siófok), the thermal baths of Mórahalom and Igal -- to mention just a few places.

We have spent an incredible week in France. Four days in Paris is barely enough to get a flavor of the city and we could have easily spent months on the French Riviera instead of just three days. Even though it is the most expensive part of the world, we found a hotel in Nice that did not break our budget but was clean and comfortable, right in the heart of the city. We made side trips to the beaches of Ventimiglia, Italy and to the opulence of Monte Carlo, Monaco. If I weren't lucky enough to win 100 Euros at the Casino Royale, it would have been too expensive. We also visited the historic town of Eze -- stunningly mideval.

We are getting ready for a trip to the German Alps and plan to visit many of Ludwig II's castles (Neuschwanstein, Hochenschwangau, Linderhof, Chiemsee, etc.) and some historical sites around Munich and Garmisch-Partenkirchen (like the passion play town of Oberammergau and the church of Weisskirche). We will also explore Salzburg, Austria.

Cheche has been posting many pictures on her Facebook page, so I will not upload them here.

Travel Plans (Lifestyle)

It has been some five months since my last post. As I wrote earlier, I am busy finishing up a new project, an exciting new Metro style application for Windows 8. It really is great fun to be working with HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript and the WinRT class libraries, although I have done most of my past development in C#, XAML and WPF. I found that I can do more and with greater ease in HTML5. I want to become more proficient with SVG (markup language for graphics).

Schengen MapWe are making travel plans. We will be traveling to Europe for a 3-month stay beginning June 2012 (next month!) and we are really looking forward to our second trip there in two years. We will visit Paris, Germany, Hungary and other places as time allows. Unfortunately Qatar Airways has discontinued its direct service to Cebu from Doha, so we will be flying Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong and then Qatar to Doha then onward to Budapest. Qatar has excellent service, it is truly a five-star airline.

December and January are challenging times to be in Cebu. The Christmas rush begins here in early September (or late August in some places) and the celebrations culminate in the second half of December. Celebrations do not imply genteel cocktail parties or elegant dinners but massive fireworks with so much noise that cities are turned into veritable war zones. Sleep is near impossible as the explosions continue well into the early morning hours. Even before all the Christmas presents have been unwrapped, the new year festivities begin. Even more fireworks, but not in some public park but everywhere. Streets get littered with the detritus of massive explosions and the air is pungent with gunpowder smoke — sometimes so thick that visibility is reduced to mere inches.

What could possibly follow this kind of mayhem? You would think some peace and quiet would be welcomed by the populace but that is not the Cebuano way. The biggest festival of the year in Cebu is Sinulog which takes place on the second or third weekend in January. Families gather for massive feasts, people travel here from far-away places, there are parades all over the region, people dancing in the streets, major arterials are closed off to traffic and (drumroll, please) enormous fireworks all night long. Last year we were unfortunate to get caught in the midst of all that as we were returning on the fast ferry from Bohol on a Saturday evening. We were wondering around downtown Cebu for hours trying to find a ride — any ride, taxi, jeepney, bus, anything — home, to no avail. We vowed "never again".

So we will be gone for a month from mid-December to mid-January, traveling around Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia and Indonesia. But that trip is far off, so more detail will follow later.

I am getting connected to the local techie and start-up community. This past weekend I was at a Startup Weekend in Cebu at the University of the Philippines in Lahug, Cebu City. It was well attended, had great sponsors and I had a chance to meet some really talented and fascinating people. I hoe to find the time to write about that in another post.

The Philippine Art of Bill Presentment (Lifestyle)

A year ago last December 1 we rented a 2 br apartment in a large complex on V. Rama Ave, Guadalupe, Cebu. We had PLDT set us up with a landline and broadband DSL. We have not received a bill by the end of January, so I called PLDT. By way of an answer, I received the motto of the Philippines: "Wait for awhile". I repeated the same experience at the end of February and at the end of March, with the same results.

In early April, our phone and internet service was summarily disconnected. I called PLDT again and they read me the riot act about not paying my bill. I asked when were the bills delivered. "Ahem, hmm, they were not. But you are still responsible for paying." It turns out that the PLDT installer has recorded the wrong address. I nearly lost my composure. I told the agent that in the civilized world if this happened, the company would make an attempt to contact me via email or phone or both and correct my address of record.

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