Manila, Part 3

20130323_174852Another update on my trip to Manila. I spent Saturday morning at the birthday party for a one-year old child. It seems to be celebrated much the same as in Australia. It was held at Jolibees, which is a local version of McDonalds in their party room. First there were the usual games involving what I thought was pass the parcel – but was actually a clever ruse to “randomly” pick the foreigner out and get them up to the front of the room so they could dance for everybody…

20130324_143142There is a video, somewhere, out there on the Internet, of me dancing badly to Gangnam Style in front of a six-foot tall poster of Barbie. No, I am not giving you the link.

Saturday was very hot during the middle of the day, and the dancing wore me out a little, so I slept through most of Saturday afternoon. In the evening I went out and did some shopping (I needed more clean clothes) and had dinner. For dinner I had stir-fry¬†broccoli¬†and mushrooms with rice. I’ve been making more of a concerted effort over the last few days to eat more fresh food, especially vegetables. I think it is why I had been feeling so terrible late last week – bad nutrition and bad sleep do not go well together.

20130324_142029On Sunday I went to the Manila Ocean Park, a combination aquarium and theme park. I had a great time, mostly because tourist attractions are designed so that you don’t have to use your brain, which was exactly what I was after. I saw quite a few eagles and so on, as well as my first view of the ocean in a week, which was great! The other interesting thing in the aquarium was the “snow village”, which looked suspiciously like somebody had copied it right out of a book on Santa Claus! The cold felt just like Tasmania in winter, and I loved it!

At work I’ve been playing with a lot of cool stuff. I’ve been particularly impressed by the Aerohive Enterprise-class wireless network equipment I’ve been setting up. 20130324_144822The Private PSK feature is very handy – basically you can have a single SSID with multiple passwords, so you can revoke an individual’s password without having to go around and change everybody’s stored password on their machine. Such a simple idea, it’s a wonder nobody thought of it earlier. I’ve also been spending a lot of time setting up VLANs on semi-managed switches. Last time I ever recommend Netgear switches, I’ve discovered the VLAN support on them, while it works fine, is very annoying to manage due to an abysmal user interface.

A Week in Manila

So… a week in Manila. I’ve been working very hard on the job I’m doing here (network infrastructure upgrades) which is both very challenging and very rewarding. I just hope I can get it all done before I go home.

My work colleagues are a really great bunch of people. In fact, in general, people here in the Philippines are just amazingly nice. Tomorrow I’m going to the birthday party of the child of one of my colleagues, who is turning one. It’ll be nice to spend some time socially with people.
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My boss (from Australia) has left the country now, so the next week will be more challenging as I won’t have him for support – but at the same time my life will be a lot easier because of it (he’s very intense). I’ve spent a few evenings with him, the most memorable of which was one where we went to the barber together. We went in and I just said ‘yes’ to everything – which resulted in a shave, a haircut, manicure, pedicure, scalp treatment (not sure what the treatment was for, but whatever), foot scrub, and a facial with the cucumbers and stuff. Happy to try everything once, but I have honestly no idea why people bother with that. The shave was also a disappointment, the razor was a bit blunt and they used chemical goo instead of traditional lather, so I now have terrible razor burn.
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I’ve also, naturally, been eating a lot of food. There are two things that I have found incredibly difficult to find. Tea is the first. Being a former US colony (so I am told, haven’t fact checked that) they have little tea to be found. I have been surviving on Starbucks chai lattes (about three or four a day). Today I found a shop that sells tea leaves retail, but it is the most expensive tea shop I’ve ever seen in my life. One of my work colleagues is going to get some at a suburban supermarket and bring it to work on Monday, which will be a godsend. The other thing which is surprisingly hard to find is traditional Filipino food. I have seen exactly one Filipino-style restaurant (amazing food, but the service was terrible) in the time I’ve been here, and I had to really search for it. Most restaurants serve everything but Filipino food, as they all seem to have a theme. Japanese, Korean, Italian, Persian, etc. I ate in an Italian restaurant the other day which had foods named after actors and characters from movies and TV shows. I could have had a “Joey Tribbiani Four Cheese Pizza” but decided against it and had a carbonara (sadly I can’t remember the actor it was named for) underneath a poster of Frank Sinatra. As far as the lower end of the food spectrum goes, Filipino stuff becomes easier to find at lunchtime on weekdays as carts with street food appear and open up offering all kinds of good things. The vendors don’t speak brilliant English, and as I am not fluent in Tagalog I couldn’t tell you what they were – but most of them revolved around the concept of frying dead things and putting them on sticks. I have also had a Balut, which is fertilised duck egg. While there is nothing wrong with it, it’s a bit like black pudding – if you know what it is you don’t feel like eating it. Unfortunately I’ve also eaten my share of takeaway food. There are US food chains everywhere. EVERYWHERE. There are probably seven Starbucks and three McDonalds, as well as numerous other chains, within a 100m radius of the office. When people say they are going down to Starbucks (and there is no other choice for coffee here, weirdly), they actually have to qualify which one.
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Unfortunately due to the fact that I’ve been working all week I haven’t done as much as I would have liked. This weekend I’m hoping to make it to a couple of museums etc, as well as go to the Makati Ocean Park, which is a combination aquarium and theme park.

There are armed guards everywhere. If you are in a public place, and turn around 360 degrees, you will see at least two of them. They are at the entrance to every major building. They are in the parks, and there is one at each end of the underpasses under major streets. All of them are armed. Most have pistols, but some have machine pistols or machine guns (probably 1% of guards have automatic weapons). They check the bags of all the Filipino people who enter buildings, but as a westerner they give my bags only a passing look – it’s weird to be the recipient of reverse racism. I’m not a fan. The reason for the armed guards, so I’m told, is because of religious tensions between the Catholic majority and a minority of Muslims who live in the south of the country, and they are scared of terrorist attacks.

Neither my phone nor the work iPhone I was given work properly here (due to different 3G bands) so I have bought a new phone, a Samsung Galaxy S3 mini. It’s quite nice. Still getting used to a different keyboard layout though. 3G here is generally very reliable, much better than Hobart. The wifi in the hotel I’m staying at is slow as anything, but at least it works. I was expecting much worse in this regard.

On Sundays there are Catholic masses everywhere. There is a chapel in a shopping mall near where I am staying. They have mass in the foyer of a McDonalds. They have mass in an ATM vestibule in a bank. With that said, I’m yet to see an actual church, so it may simply be out of necessity – there are no other spaces.

That’s all I can think of now. See you later.

First Impressions of Manila

20130317_165734First impressions of Manila: Everything is either really clean and shiny, or old and dirty. Very obvious that a lot of cash has come into the country in the last decade or so. Apart from airport taxi drivers that have no idea where they are going, everything here is very safe and comfortable.

Everything is broadly similar to Australia in that it is fairly westernised (in the city, at least) but the culture is very different. Because labour is so cheap, everybody works really hard to compete because if they don’t… no food on the table. I was surprised also at how much like Sydney it is. Smoggy, all the drivers are insane (in Hobart the least used part of a vehicle is the horn, here it is the most used), and there are 7-Elevens everywhere. Some of the poles carrying electricity and phone cables are amazing – there must be junctions of 100 cables onto one pole in some places.

20130319_124238I haven’t forgotten to pack anything really important, but I did need to go out and buy toothpaste. Very glad I won’t have to cart 40kg of computer equipment back with me though, that was insanely heavy (and I was stressing out when it took an hour to get through to the carousel). The flight over, while smooth and on-time, was the most mind-numbing experience I’ve had in a long time. If I can afford it, seriously considering upgrading to business on the way back – just for something different.

The heat here is very different to Hobart (duh?), it’s only 8:30 in the morning and already at least thirty degrees. Not sure what I’m going to get up to today – probably just walk around a lot and see what’s what (I’ve never been one for tourist things, and my boss says there aren’t really many anyway).