Thursday, July 17, 2014

Literally going up in the world



I keep having to re-learn the lesson that comfortable living requires spending at least a little of the money I'm defensively hoarding. It goes against my instincts, since saving money is supposed to be one of the few silver linings I get from living in this place. You've already taken the libraries and basic human courtesy, don't take the savings away from me too.

It is possible to a rent a small 'house' in Davao City for the equivalent of £22.73 per month (1,700 pesos). I know, I did it. But that arousing price tag required making so many sacrifices to comfort and hygiene that it was hardly 'living' at all, at least through the spoiled perspective of my first world upbringing, all la-de-da with indoor toilets and a reliable water supply.

Compared to that, the studio apartment we moved on to seemed like Wayne Manor. It was just the one room and right next to an inappropriately noisy car repair yard, but it was at least close to a supermarket and the water came out of the tap about 70% of the time, so for £160.50 (12,000 pesos, including bills) I was sold. But then the bugs came, and the rat/s, and the afternoon-long power cuts, and I could no longer shelter myself from the hardships of this country by spending 99% of my existence indoors. The Philippines had got in.

When we escaped to Thailand for a month and visited friends in their properly nice condominium in Koh Samui, I couldn't face going back to the bugs.




So my girlfriend found us a nice place in another part of Davao without any of these annoyances (so far), where I can finally enjoy peace and quiet (by Philippines standards anyway) and actually feel like I'm on a tropical island when I look out of the window (admittedly, one of the spoiled, urban bits). I knew they were hiding the trees somewhere. Most surprisingly of all, I've learned that it's possible for the human body to be a comfortable temperature indoors without having to run air conditioners and powerful fans 24 hours a day, thanks to a modern invention called fresh air. That's good news for the environment, even better news for my electricity bill.

It would be inelegant to tell you how much this My First Condo starter kit costs. It's £200.67 per month (15,000 pesos), which is the going rate in my preferred high-end-of-budget bracket, though that's without the monthly Wi-Fi and utility bills that will bring it closer to what I was paying a few years ago to share a similarly utilitarian flat with two other people in Edinburgh. But I did get to live in Edinburgh, so that was fair enough.

Maybe now the quality of my day-to-day life has been taken up a notch I'll finally be able to find other things to like about this country too, beyond the moderate savings. I heard that disparaging grunt! Don't spoil this rare window of optimism for me. I stayed in a lousy hotel on my first couple of nights back and at one low point made a list of the numerous things that had already pissed me off in the 48 hours since landing, I'll spare you that.

I know a suburban condo next to a petrol station isn't exactly the height of luxury, but until we work out what exactly we're doing with our lives, and I invest in a nice subdivision house here or we relocate to another part of the world, I'm perfectly content to be a number in a vertical human storage unit. I'm climbing the property ladder one step at a time, even if this time it involved ascending several storeys in the non-metaphorical real world. The minor earthquakes are more enjoyable from this height, and if the pests and power cuts do catch up with me, at least there's a convenient suicide window.

Since I'm probably not going to write any blogs for a while, I should clarify that last bit was a joke. Don't worry, I'm probably fine. As fine as I get.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Singapore confidential



My partner understandably gets a bit annoyed when I discuss personal things about her life in this blog, even when those things directly affect and entangle with my life. So I'll respect her wishes and not discuss the reason behind our annual trip to Singapore.

At least I got to enjoy my annual almond drink before we left, nyum nyum nyum!


Thursday, July 10, 2014

26 ways to enjoy tedious bus journeys (if you are a bit strange)



I don't normally bother offering tips or advice unless it benefits me in some way, like if I'm trying to work out what I think about an issue or just letting off steam about taxi drivers. Seriously, what a load of knobs.

Still, coming up with the following list and then needlessly alphabetising it helped to fill some of the dead time when being driven across Thailand in a cramped minibus, trying to ignore the stranger's head intermittently perching on my rigid shoulder and the topless man in the row in front complaining about the country to his local girlfriend to an excessive degree that made my own rants look like tourist board propaganda by comparison ('Why do they need so many f-ing drains?' 'Because of flooding.' 'But a hundred on one f-ing street?' 'Yes, there are typhoons and flooding.' 'Well, still.')

If you think you would be perfectly content passing the time talking to the people you like, playing with your phone or just sleeping, this list isn't for you. This is just for freaks.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Loudness wars: Thailand vs. Philippines



Krabi Town was our unceremonious final port of call in Thailand, for the singular reason that the airport was the closest one I could find to Koh Samui operating cheap flights to Singapore, so we stayed a few nights beforehand. There was no question of us waking up late and missing our flight, thanks to the helpful public service of vans driving around residential streets blaring unintelligible adverts directly into every building from the early hours of the morning.

I know they won't be unintelligible to locals - though with the muffled distortion of a loudspeaker system pushed to its limits I'm not so sure - but wouldn't that be even worse? Is it more annoying having to endure someone's obnoxious phone conversation on a bus if you're able to understand the depth of its inanity, or if it's a load of foreign sounds making you ill-disposed towards an entire nation? (Or several if you're not sure where they're from).

Like honour and constructive criticism, noise pollution is a foreign concept in Thailand, one you'd have to be foreign (this means Caucasian, obviously) to make a noise about. It's hardly a therapeutic break from my regular life of exile in the Philippines, which is similarly selfishly cacophonous. I haven't done an unscientific comparison between the two countries based on my limited and disproportionate experiences, but it's the sort of thing I would do, isn't it? Go on then.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Where's my goddamn fanny?



I said we didn't do anything touristy during our stay in Koh Samui, hence the intentionally boring last post.

But I had some unfinished business from my first visit to this place in 2011, and since my desire to force myself out of the resort to do literally something during my fortnight on the island chimed with Oliver's desire to do something during his significantly longer stay, tracking down a rock supposedly shaped like lady parts was as good a flimsy motivation as any.

I'll take what I can get.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Samui twoui



After a few days of self-imposed sightseeing in Phuket, we travelled to Koh Samui with the aim of spending a couple of weeks not doing very much, since I'd already done the mandatory day trips the first time round.

The plan was basically to transfer my regular, pleasantly boring life from a dull subdivision in the urban Philippines to a more scenic beachside resort on a Thai island, even if it was the most developed and tourist-sullied Thaisland north of Phuket. But if it had been a lesser-visited, undeveloped outpost I would have just complained about intermittent electricity and bad Wi-Fi wouldn't I? Paradise isn't worth it.

It wasn't exactly business as usual though, as Oliver and Shana staying on the island meant I actually had some social interaction with people older than five for a change. I also did my best to destroy any chance of serenity by finally taking legal action against the people who owe me a lot of money, which involved spending a lot more money and running around looking for an internet cafe with a scanner and a little less time reading at the beach and splashing in the sea.

Some people go on holiday to leave the stresses of life behind. I negotiate legal contracts.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

They love failing to perform for your amusement



I love a good zoo, but as this is Thailand I'll settle for a crappy one with depressingly cramped cages and inhumane shows in which malnourished animals are forced to perform inappropriate feats for the amusement of braying crowds.

I've unintentionally patronised my share of animal rights atrocities in this country, such as guys beating the crap out of crocodiles, elephants forced to fight and play football (those were the same place, that's good value) and tigers jumping through rings of fire, but this time was different. These parrots weren't having any of it, and watching their flustered handlers struggle to fill the dead air as the stars refused to open compartments, overturn bowls and pick numbers off a board was like being in an amusingly awkward scene from Curb Your Enthusiasm. The animals were fighting back in the most effective way they could without subsequently being destroyed - by making their handlers look like complete knobs.

If only they were chickens, I could make a quality pun about them staging a coup/coop that would also bag me a few extra searches by people looking for a slightly out of date Thailand keyword, but unfortunately they had to be beautiful macaws instead. Even more regrettably, they started doing what they were told after a while, presumably following a few 'stern discussions' backstage. Those bruised wings will heal in no time.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Chalong and thanks for all the honey



Since I missed Phuket off my enthusiastic criss-crossing of Thailand the first time around in 2011, I was keen to try to recapture that youthful, cynical optimism before the rest of Southeast Asia suffocated the optimism part with its repetitive temples, endless stuffy weather and ubiquitous taxi driver scum.

You can already tell it didn't exactly work, but it was fun to climb aboard the lazy tourist conveyor belt for another round. Here's everything there is to see in Phuket, or more accurately, the itinerary in the leaflet that looked slightly better than the others that were basically the same because it swapped inhumane elephant riding for an only slightly inhumane bird show (coming next time). Now I don't ever need to go back to Phuket.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Karon Eileen



While it might have been more entertaining to read about me getting hassled by transsexual prostitutes every time I left my hotel, I selfishly avoided Phuket's party capital Patong to stay in its quieter neighbour Karon, and my week was the better for it. I'm not as dedicated to your amusement at the expense of my happiness as I used to be.

I also didn't go parasailing or whatever that is in the photo, but it looks fun, doesn't it? "Wheee!" etc. Here are some tame holiday snaps.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Out of the frying pan, into a similar albeit slightly higher quality frying pan



When foreign dignitaries who drew the short straw and ended up stationed in North Korea are given 'sanity leave' every few months to calm down in a less mental country, they wouldn't ship them to Somalia would they? So I probably should have chosen somewhere other than Thailand for my eagerly-anticipated escape from the ongoing nightmare of Southeast Asia's armpit.

My first experiences after landing in Phuket were the unhappy ending to a typically stressful day spent transiting in Manila, my least favourite city east of Cairo. But the next day things brightened up and this island didn't turn out to be anywhere near as awful as I'd always assumed it was going to be, having deliberately avoided its lure on every previous trip to Thailand before buckling under an attractive promo flight that would take me to roughly the area I wanted to be.

While the Philippines keeps providing new examples of why it would be a bad place to settle down and hope in vain for a stress-free life, Phuket has reminded me why Thailand is such an appealing option for expats, even the ones who aren't bitterly divorced senior citizens with loose morals. Thailand wins the contest by a long way, though it does help that I'm 500 miles away from Bangkok right now or it could be a closer call.