Video

Reuniting with my family in the Philippines

I’m here in Manila! Cavite to be exact! I’m visiting again after two and a half years away due to the pandemic. I documented my first two days in a traditional video blog episode below.

Feels great to be back in the Philippines. I hope I can get to doing the ten things I wrote about earlier on.

Suggestions welcome! If there’s a new museum, cafe, restaurant that you’d recommend I go see. 🙂

10 things I’m looking forward to doing in the Philippines

I’m visiting the Philippines again after more than two years away. This is the longest I haven’t visited the Philippines. I’m staying for a record 35 days and grateful my company allows me to work remotely. There are a couple of things I’m looking forward to doing. I made a list of ten!

See my family again. I haven’t seen them since Christmas 2019. But I’ve historically had more video chats with my mom in the past two years than at any point previously. I think we’re updated with each other’s lives. It’s the physical presence of enjoying dinner safely together in one room. I’m anxious though as each time I come home, I notice my parents looking physically older each time.

Enjoy bulalo and sisig in Tagaytay. There many glorious provinces in the Philippines and Cavite is… Cavite. Filled with industrial estates and regular roads, it’s not exactly as scenic or easy to traverse compared with other provinces like in the Bicol region or on my favourite island of Bohol. The Cavite-Laguna Expressway looks promising (and I’m convinced it can reshape the orientation of the province for everyday citizens and commuters), but is only a fraction complete. However, there’s trusty Tagaytay. The highlight of the province which earns its keep from views of neighbouring Batangas. My favourite thing to do here is enjoying a hot bowl of bulalo together with a sizzling platter of pork sisig.

Enjoy a rooftop bar in Makati. I don’t think I’ll be comfortable yet to walk inside one of Metro Manila’s crowded shopping centers during this pandemic. Instead I’d opt for a nice rooftop view where I can see the metropolis again after being away for almost three years. There are a few rooftop bars that were recently featured in an article from Nolisoli (Northern Living / Southern Living) which hopefully I can visit together with my friend who’s an editor at that same publication. I’m now seven months without alcohol (and plan to keep it that way). I’d love to try mocktails or order some barbecued snacks.

See the development of SMDC Light 2 Residences. Last year I invested in a unit at SMDC’s Light 2 Residences in Boni, Mandaluyong. I didn’t need to physically view the area since I was already convinced about the location and its proximity to the major business districts in the metropolis. Plus, I passed by Boni en route to Quezon City back when I worked in the Philippines. However, I’d love to visit Light Mall and Light Residences which are next to the construction site. I’ve watched YouTube videos of the development and I’ve followed posts on Skyscraper City so I’m familiar with how it looks like today. But I’d like to see it in person!

Visit the lot in La Union. Last month I filed paperwork to buy a small piece of land in La Union province. A group of friends purchased adjacent lots and helped take videos and photos of the lot to share with me. I still want to see it in person and also meet with the lot owner. This is also why I’ll be spending some time in La Union on my trip.

Spend time at the beach. Half of my trip to the Philippines will be by the beach. I’ve booked a co-working space near a beach and I’ve also booked some locations to stay at during the three weeks I’ve planned for. Without alcohol, I want to try coffee shops and beachfront eateries. I’m bringing at least two books so I can enjoy reading them while there. I rave about Philippine beaches and I want to experience it myself.

Spend my birthday with family time at a villa. The family is joining me in La Union and we booked a villa to stay at for my birthday. I’m not as keen to take the family to crowded restaurants so I’m hoping to make it a creative stay at the villa… with movies, video games, board games… simple bonding by the small pool. I’m looking for a projector we can rent so we can watch movies and truly catch up with each other. The last time we did something similar was when I turned 30 and we spent time island hopping in Coron.

Reunite with some friends. I miss so many of my friends in the Philippines but thankfully we’ve managed to keep in touch online in the past two years. There’s a handful I’d love to make time to meet when I’m in Makati. Plus, I haven’t seen one of my godchildren yet… so it’ll be something I’m looking forward to. Which reminds me… I should be buying a gift already for my inaanak.

Sort out my balikbayan boxes and my Cavite room. I’ve sent 2-3 balikbayan boxes to Cavite in the past two years and I’d need to do some organising of which items to hand-down and which items to keep. My room in Cavite is overdue a renovation and I’ll take this opportunity to study the space and see what I can do to make it better for my parents who actually sleep in it.

Meet with journalists / get sh*t done. Since I’m already in Manila, I’ve asked my company if I can turn my last week in the Philippines into a networking trip. I’ve met numerous journalists in the past two years, and it would be great to meet some in-person over coffee. I wouldn’t mind a newsroom tour as well!

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Other things I’d be curious to see or do include popping by the new SM City Tanza which is opening in a few months. It’s a large shopping mall that’s five minutes away from our family home. I haven’t booked anything yet, but it would be great to cap the trip with a stay at a hotel in BGC or Makati with my family. Since it might be a few months until I get to see them again. I’m thinking Grand Hyatt Manila? Suggestions are welcome!

I’m sure I’ve missed many other things I can do. Send your suggestions!

I bought a piece of land

I’ve started the process of owning a piece of land!

My friends in the Philippines took photos of the lot

One of my life goals is to own a piece of land before I turn 40. The paperwork will take about a year. If there are no problems, I’ll be 38 when I hold onto a title.

Where is it? It’s in La Union, a hilly coastal province in Northern Philippines. It’s about 20 minutes away from a popular surfing enclave facing the West Philippine Sea. The coast is facing the west which means it has postcard-perfect sunsets. I couldn’t stop from scanning through people’s Instagram stories of the sunset in the area. It’s glorious to think that I can own something that’s 20 minutes away from that kind of view. I wouldn’t be lying if I said this was like a dream coming true.

What happens next? There’s much to get done including paving a right-of-way and installing a proper drainage to the area. I’m thinking of putting up a small wire fencing around the lot. If I can afford better, I’ll put up a proper wall to secure the perimeter. I’m already studying possibilities including which architects from my personal circle to work with. I’m also part of a group so it’s really about saving and helping pay for common area expenses (right-of-way, drainage, etc.).

What’s my motivation? I like the feeling that I’m responsible for something tangible beyond saving up for another iPhone or going on a vacation. I like the feeling that the money I’m earning from my career can now slowly be funnelled into things that are more future-oriented like retirement. To think, I’ve been paying rent for twenty years. I want to put aside money that goes into something that I can build a house on in the future. The idea excites me. And in hard times, it’s good to envision a future.

What’s my plan for the lot? It’s residential. Perhaps a vacation house up north. Or in this era of teleworking, an actual house to live and work from. It’s near the beaches and near the planned extension of a popular expressway that links up to the ones leading to Metro Manila (about 5 hours away). I’m studying the roads that will be developed in the area. The group is treating the area as a retirement commune.

YouTube already knows the kinds of videos I enjoy watching since this pandemic started. I’ve been obsessed with watching videos about tiny homes, country houses, tropical villas, and life living off-the-grid. I don’t think I’ll be living off-the-grid, but I’m happy an idea is being planted today.

We have to start somewhere. ❤️

I’ll write about my experience buying land and I’ll document that journey here.

Thank you heaps to my friends T&M, R, TJ&M for helping with the initial paperwork in La Union this month (May 2022). Thank you to my parents and my brother for their support.

Super Typhoon Mangkhut

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The perfect eye. Mangkhut is about to slam into extreme northern Luzon.

Luckily for those in Manila and provinces in the south of Luzon island, the super typhoon isn’t going to be a direct hit. It’s a different story right now for the people up north who are bracing for the strongest typhoon yet of 2018.

I haven’t been in a typhoon in years since I am in the Philippines usually in December. It was business-as-usual for me today. I met up with my high school friends at SM Mall of Asia. We even went to the Manila International Book Fair.

Outside it’s gusty. The rains at the moment aren’t torrential. You can get a sense of the typhoon by the way the trees are moving. I acknowledge that my family lives comfortably here in Cavite. I can’t imagine a typhoon, whether a direct hit or not, in a house with a crappy roof. I can’t imagine how it would be like to live in an area prone to flooding. I can’t imagine how it would be like to be worried about loved ones who still have to commute in this weather. I know I am lucky. And a typhoon like Mangkhut is a reminder of that.

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Stay safe, Philippines.

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Visit my fave resource of typhoon information: maybagyo.com

Video

Review: Boracay Haven Resort

Boracay Haven Resort was our team’s lodging during the 11th Boracay International Dragon Boat Festival (BIDBF) from 20-22 April 2017.

I think it’s the best one I stayed at during a dragon boat race. This is third year in a row I participated at the BIDBF.

  • 2015, La Carmela de Boracay – the expansions give the resort a “mass tourism” taste to it, I did not enjoy my stay here.
  • 2016, Deparis Beach Resort – rustic, centrally located, great restaurant area

I was happy with Boracay Haven Resort. Its location is right at the heart of Station 2 (next to Henann Garden Resort and the McDonalds). It’s only a two minute walk to the beach down a reasonably sized alley.

I also liked the breakfast buffet spread. I wasn’t expecting much but what was on offer was tasty enough. The pool is a refreshing amenity. Great to take a dip before or after a trip to the beach. The whole idea of Boracay is to get wet and stay wet.

7 Reasons to Love Robinsons Place General Trias

When Robinson’s Place General Trias opened in 2016, it brought with it the excitement and convenience of having a mall just five minutes away from home. Gone are the days of spending almost an hour getting to SM Bacoor or SM Dasmarinas. Even getting to nearby SM Rosario (ten minutes away from my family’s house) takes about 15 minutes due to traffic along EPZA.

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Seven reasons I’m thrilled about this new mall nearby:

  1. Wonderful dining options in an “al fresco” setting. Great to see two all-time favourites “Shakey’s Pizza” and “Gerry’s Grill”. There are plenty of other choices like Kuya J, a sisig restaurant, a Chinese restaurant, etc.
  2. Family agrees that Robinson’s cinemas here are good. I counted six cinemas. The lobby is quite spacious.
  3. Robinson’s Supermarket is the right size. I don’t like walking a mile to get from one side of the supermarket to the other.
  4. Great selection of mall standards. Bench, Mang Inasal, Potato Corner, Chowking, Jollibee, Greenwich, Pennshoppe, Levi’s, BDO, hardware stores, Daiso, furniture shops…
  5. Wide open spaces, a roof park, the al fresco area. It does not feel stuffy or boxed at all.
  6. Select government services are available like LTO and Phil Post. I understand that it is possible to do renewals here for driver’s license.
  7. Location at Tejero. The mall does not contribute to the centuries-old traffic problems of nearby Tejero. But it’s location just a few steps from an intersection of Tanza, Rosario, and General Trias… is ultimately convenient.

What do you think about Robinson’s Place General Trias?

Location of Robinson’s Place General Trias

My Experience: Annual Report 2017, ACR I-Card Renewal and Waiver

Surprise, it’s faster this year!

I got my ACR I-Card Annual Report completed in less than 30 minutes. It’s a pleasant surprise because I did it on the first working day of 2017. That’s a record-breaking completion after having doing this for several years.

This is assuming you have all your papers in good standing. For this, I open this journal entry with a “good job” Bureau of Immigration – Manila!

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Displayed with large texts because there are many elderly who file for this each year.

ANNUAL REPORT 2017

Like in recent years, the Annual Report steps are displayed in large texts. It’s streamlined effectively into three steps: EVALUATION, ASSESSMENT, and PAYMENT.

I noticed this year they created a PAYMENT counter at the open area outside of the main building. This helps ease traffic for the people doing the annual report. No longer having to crowd inside the main building and queuing side by side with the rest of the public who are paying for other transactions at the bureau. Good job.

I hope it could be done like this every year.

ACR I-CARD RENEWAL

Now, we move onto my ACR I-Card renewal. It has been five years since I experienced hell at this same building.

Let’s recall in 2012 the endless queues on those horrific January mornings. I remember the people holding ACR I-Cards that were printed WITHOUT EXPIRY DATES. Stories of people being held up at the airport because when the Immigration Officer (IO) checked their ACR I-Card, it was expired! And poor souls, true enough when you look at their cards… the expiry portion is BLANK! WTF talaga.

You can imagine the anxiety I have for my ACR I-Card Renewal going into 2017. However, I gave positive thoughts. The BI has improved over the years based on how they seem to improve the Annual Report each year. I can see improvements in efficiency. LORD. Salamat.

  • Total Cost: PHP 2,988.50
  • Total Time to Accomplish Submission of Documents: 4 hours

For the complete process for the ACR I-Card Renewal, visit this page on the BI website. It’s what I used to prepare my documents.

George’s Tips:

  1. Prepare all the documents and place them in the proper order.
  2. Put them into a folder 8×14 (see website for details).
  3. Have a pen, stapler, binder, …all of these extra stuff in your bag just in case.
  4. It helps to smile even if you must fake it. Nothing helps if you are mean to the people at the windows. Imagine they have to deal with hundreds of grumpy faces everyday.

I will admit… people need a stroke of luck when dealing with the BI. Sometimes your papers are all correct and in order. But with the shuffling between windows or photocopying… something can easily fall out of place. Or a misplaced document might not even be your fault. Andami kasing papel!

Luckily, no problems with my paperwork. I followed procedure. I went to the BI armed with information available on the BI website. I hope they keep that website updated with the processes. Kasi malaking tulong na po ito!

The renewal processing will take 3-4 weeks. I heard someone actually say one month. I have authorised my parents to claim it on my behalf. Again, visit the website for details!

Next… because I work in Singapore… I need a…

ACR I-CARD WAIVER

I don’t have the luxury of waiting 3 to 4 weeks for the release of my new ACR I-Card. While I believe this whole waiver could be streamlined if they changed the rule to “KEEP YOUR OLD CARD UNTIL THE NEW ONE IS ISSUED.” … sayang naman if BI can’t cash in on another process.

So I applied for my ACR I-Card Waiver. Which in itself takes three to four days to process. Their website says apply for the waiver at least 48 hours before your scheduled departure. Eh how!

Learn how you can apply for an ACR I-Card Waiver by visiting this page on the BI website. I used the information there to help me apply for mine.

Because of the website, I arrived prepared with my letter addressed to the commissioner (derecho talaga sa commissioner wow). You have to get the letter stamped and they do a check if you have any derogatory record.

  • Cost of Waiver including the Express Lane Fee: PHP 1,010.00
  • Total Cost including the Exit Permits, etc.: PHP 3,180.00
  • Total Duration (achieved with some running between windows): 1 hour

Included is the Exit Permit, Clearance, etc. which is normally paid at the airport prior to departure. The IO at the window issues me a six months waiver after I informed him I’ll be back in the Philippines in April. On the receipt it says “Grace Period”. I have to claim the waiver tomorrow or on Friday.

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OVERALL

It will take much to completely reform my view of the Bureau of Immigration in Manila. Because when I was a teenager, I remember a lady at one of the windows here asking for (about) my mom’s jewellery. Which is the most absurd thing di ba. Grabe, alahas talaga. Pwede ba Jollibee lang?

But over the years, processes seem to be improving at least in speed. Seeing younger faces at the BI gives me some hope. The saddest thing is having young and promising government officers be influenced by the ways of old. By the stinking system of yesteryear.

Continue improving, BI Manila. 🙂

I was like, why are you so obsessed with me? LOL. Read about my ACR I-Card experiences documented in 2014, 2015, and 2016.