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.
Now, 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.
We 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.
We 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.
We 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 Ching 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...
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.
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.
We 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.
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.
As I reflected on the 2012 Presidential race after watching the last Iowa GOP debate, it came to mind that the bread has been scarce but circuses abundant.
Political rhetorics aside, it is quite amusing to watch the GOP contenders compete with one another on who is most consistent conservative. If that was the sole criterion, Ron Paul would have already won. No one can compete with Dr. Paul on consistency.
As for the Democrats, is there not a single person in the entire Democratic Party who thinks that they might be able to do a better job than President Obama? You could randomly pick a senior from any high school in the land I am sure they would be no worse as president.
I came across this short video about Dr. Paul's foreign policy of non-intervention. I think it is well worth watching.
Dante Alighieri could not label Circles 8 and 9 of Inferno (Hell) properly because cell phones did not yet exist in the year 1300 when the Divine Comedy begins. Circles 8 and 9 are reserved for souls guilty of sins of malice (fraud and treachery) and should more properly be labeled "Verizon".
I have been through nine circles of Hell with Verizon Wireless. My two-year contract is up with them today, Wednesday, December 7, 2011, which is a red-lettered day on my calendar for this very reason.About a week ago I sent customer "service" a nice email requesting to cancel my service upon contract expiration. I have included all my relevant information, even my SSN. I cannot cancel via their web site; they require me to call them so they may verify my true identity.