The year 2017 was about to end, and with it, my membership with the Retired Activities Office. The RAO, as it is known, is located in Olongapo, near the Subic Freeport. That meant that a trip down from the mountains to the seaside was in order.
It’s about a 6-hour drive for us, no matter how we slice it. We left Bayombong at about 0430. The plan was to arrive in Olongapo during the morning business hours and still have enough time to return home that evening. We rolled through the darkness and rain in the Cagayan Valley to the Caraballo Sur, that ridge of mountains that connects the southern ends of the Cordillera and Sierra Madre mountain ranges.
Traveling the winding road through Santa Fe to the Balite / Dalton Pass and down the other side is an adventure. I’m always reminded of a lyric from an old C.J. McCall recording about two long-haul truckers crossing the Rockies at Wolf Creek Pass.
“One turn looked like a can of worms.
The next one looked like a malaria germ.”
But the road that was a muddy, pothole-filled construction zone last June is now paved and smooth. We crossed without too much excitement. A bit more driving through the rural lowlands and we were on the SCTX (Subic Clark Tarlac Expressway) for the cruise into Subic Freeport and up to Olongapo.
The Retired Activities Office (RAO) is a volunteer organization recognized by the US embassy and all branches of the US armed forces. They assist US military retirees and their dependents who live in the Philippines by providing several different services. Among them are assistance with retirement pay, Tricare, Medicare, medical facilities, and up to date legislative news. They also provide a secure post office box under the FPO/APO system that military folks are familiar with. This is important to me since my health care insurance is provided by Tricare. Tricare will not send my medications to my local address. They will, however, ship to an FPO/APO box. Problem solved. All these and more are covered with an annual dues payment of 3,375 Philippine pesos.
While I was there, I asked for assistance in applying for my social security benefit. Digital troglodyte that I am, I’ve managed to lock myself out of the Social Security website. The young volunteer at the desk simply said “Oh. You need to call the Social Security Office.” And disappeared. She reappeared a moment later, at the window to the secure post office room. She simply handed me a telephone receiver. I took it, and found that a nice lady from the Social security office was on the line. The lady on the phone asked me a few questions to confirm that I really was me, then gave me a couple of options. The first was to go to the embassy in Manila for an attempt to straighten out my online issues. The second was an appointment for a telephone interview that would end with me being signed up for my social security benefits and waiting for the check. You get 3 guesses which one I chose. We had rolled up at about 1030. Forty-five minutes later, we were done.
I’ve known for quite some time that the longtime LiP writer, Paul Thompson, the Sage of Dinalupihan, lives near the Subic Freeport. I had earlier told him of my plans and suggested that we meet for lunch. He responded that “the Sit-N-Bull has the best chow in the barrio.” So we planned to meet there once my business at the RAO was concluded.
I asked the volunteer at the door for directions, and he pointed out the place, only a couple blocks away. He seemed a bit alarmed when I started walking the other direction. The fellow still seemed concerned when I explained that I was going to get my car. He only went back inside when he saw us driving way in the appropriate direction. Text messages had been sent to Paul, but I had received no response. So we waited outside for a while. After waiting some more, with no response, we went inside.
The place was dominated by a bar that ran the length of the room. A few tall tables were spaced along the side. We sat down and tried again to contact Paul. It looked like it could take a while, so we ordered burgers and settled in. Our meal came, and the burgers lived up to their reputation. Should you find yourself in Olongapo, Sit-N-Bulls does have pretty good chow. By the time we had finished eating, I discovered that I had made a classic new-guy mistake. My cell phone was out of load. None of my text messages had reached Paul’s phone.
Once I got reloaded, I gave Paul a call. He was at home, but he had been in Olongapo. Turns out that Sit-N-Bull has two locations, a restaurant, and a bar. We were in the bar, trying to text Paul with an empty phone. Paul was in the restaurant, a block away, enjoying the shrimp platter. We had a good laugh at the crossed wires and agreed to meet again another day. With that, the mystery was solved, and we headed back toward the mountains of Nueva Vizcaya.
I’ll close with a reminder to any readers who are retired US military personnel of any branch of the service. The Retired Activities Office is a valuable resource, not to be overlooked if you plan on living in the Philippines. Oh, and the chow at Sit-N-Bull’s is good at both the restaurant and the bar. Paul told me that it is all prepared at the restaurant. Food ordered at the bar is prepared, then hiked the block and a half down the street to be delivered hot to the customers at the bar.
As of this writing, the telephone interview with the US Social Security office has taken place. I’ll give an update on that in a future article.