Today, we have a guest post from John Coldwell. John is from Canada, via Austria and is now living in the Philippines, at least for the time being. It’s been a couple of years, but John has written here on LiP before, and we are happy to have him back, at least for one article. If you enjoy John’s article, perhaps we could convince him to hang around and become a regular contributor to LiP! Welcome back, John, and I hope we’ll be seeing more of you! MindanaoBob
Many of you will remember me as the Canadian guy who took a six week trip around the Philippines in the Spring of 2010 visiting friends of Bob Martin and exploring out of the way places. I was looking for a place to call home down here in the Philippines. I wrote a short blurb about it before the trip for Live in the Philippines. I wanted to write another story upon my return, but just never got the time as I got into my own website production.
I found many nice places in the six week trip, a few outstanding, but I returned to my life in Austria and never thought much about returning here until early this year. I was asked by my Canadian friend in Ilocos Sur, Luzon if I would come down from up there in the cold and baby-sit his house until it was sold. He was pulling the pin after thirteen years in the Philippines and going back to Canada with his Philippine wife and child.
The house had been for sale for more than a year but people had no money, people wanted a deal, people wanted to pay monthly, but no people wanted to buy it outright, so the family made a decision, and so did I. I would come down there for however long it took to sell the house – one month, one year, or?
I am here now, and have been since early March 2012. This is my fourth trip to the Philippines – the first three were as a tourist. The first two trips I only stayed the twenty-one day passport visa time. The third trip in 2010 I purchased a Visa in Austria from the Philippine Embassy in Vienna for six weeks.
On this trip now I decided to just arrive and see what happenes. I am now on my second Tourist Visa extension which is good until near the end of June. One has to make them every two months. The house still hasn’t sold.
I had less than a week to learn all the ins and outs of the house, transportation, where you pay bills, where you buy this, who to contact for this repair, who do you contact for drinking water, what to do if the power goes off. After one week I was alone! I mean really alone. My female friend had gone back to Austria, and I was dumped into life in the middle of a barangay on the side of the South China Sea.
My nearest town was Candon City, Ilocos Sur. I was about thirty minutes from there by tricycle. The house I was in was right on the ocean. You can see photos on my Facebook page. I was at the end of the barangay with roosters on one side who wake me every morning at 04:30 (not mine) chickens on the lawn who don’t cause too much trouble (not mine), small bats in the forest of coconut palms who terrorize the bugs at night (also not mine, but useful), and a whole flotilla of Bancas (local high-speed pontooned fishing boats) which roar out and in at all hours of the day or night. I worked thirty-two years on lighthouses in Canada – this was something really different! I was not a tourist anymore!
One thing I desperately needed was my T-4 slip for Canadian Income Tax which I knew had been sent to Austria. I had it forwarded to here and waited, and waited. Nothing showed in the mailbox. Hmmm! So I took a tricycle into the Post Office on a Wednesday and inquired. Yes sir, Mr. Coldwell, a letter arrived for you. The postman has it. When did he get I asked? Oh sir, he took it Monday. We will tell him you are looking for it. This is Wednesday, so he has had it for three days. Hmmm.
Later Wednesday afternoon I hear the gate open and a motorcycle comes in. The postman with my letter. I told him I had just returned from town looking for the letter. So sorry sir, but my motorcycle broke down on Monday, and I had to go get it repaired on Tuesday and picked it up today. OK, I got my letter, got my taxes done and mailed on time – no harm done.
When my freind left, of course some of the bills were due which I tried to dutifully pay. The first was the Globe Internet. The bill comes in the mailbox at the gate after the thirteenth of the month, I was told, and must be paid before the end of the month. I had never seen the postman, and by the twenty-eighth I was getting worried. I went into town, located the Globe office, was escorted to a clerk at a terminal as I had no bill. I did have an old one which fortunately had an account number. I explained that these people had left and the bill had not arrived in my mailbox. Ok, we will fix that sir. No problem. That was the March bill.
I just paid the April bill the same way as still nothing had come in the mailbox. Going to the office, explaining the problem of no bill again, I was told we will fix that sir, and a piece of paper with my name and address on it was given to a man in the office. The bill paid I headed home. Two days later I was visiting a neighbour when a motorcycle stopped, a man came running over and gave me an envelope. He left just as quickly. It was the same postman. I checked the envelope and found inside my Globe bill for March! It is now the first of May and I still have not received my April bill, or seen the postman again.
But I must say the Post Office personnel were very helpful. Sir, just give us your cell phone number and we will text you when a letter comes in. That way we don’t have to bother the postman. It got me wondering what the postman does! Anyways, a few days later I got a text that I had a letter from Canada and dropped in to pick up a letter from my daughter. Post office, not the postman, all sorted.
Next bill was the electric. A group of electric bills were all delivered together near the end of the month to a local Ilocano neighbour. His wife used to be the nanny for my friend’s daughter. She delivered the bills to us. We returned the bill to her with cash, and she went and paid them all and returned the receipts. Cool! But I wondered what would happen if I had to pay it myself so asked if i could go along and see how and where it was done. I had never seen the office of the local electric company. Oh no sir, I don’t go there. The lines are too long, I go to the Bank of Commerce and pay it there. So off we went to the Bank of Commerce.
This is a small local Philippine bank. Upon entering the door was opened by a uniformed guard with a shotgun hanging off one shoulder. On the other side of the cramped doorway was another similarly equipped guard. In front of the one teller was a bank of three rows of plastic garden chairs, a total of about thirty seats in all. Hmmmm, lines are smaller here, eh? There were about 10 people waiting.
Occassionally a person would go up to the teller, give some money, and leave, then I noticed that recent arrivals were going up and paying and we were still sitting. I queried the nanny – I don’t know sir. Just then an announcement was made that the teller would be arriving in ten minutes. – we had been waiting nearly twenty by then. The bank opens at 09:00. It was now 09:45 as we arrived after opening time. Who the other teller guy was I don’t know. By this time, people were still streaming in and taking seats. The seats were almost all taken. The teller arrives. A very pretty middle-aged Filipina.
She was very efficient and we started really moving along, hopping from chair to another chair (like musical chairs) until we were about in the third chair from her just waiting to spring up there and pay our bill. Just then she stood, said something, and disappeared. What did she say? She said she will be back in ten minutes! This is in a bank with only one teller and all the chairs full!
Maybe she has LBM I said. Well, that did it. The nanny just broke up laughing much to the consternation of a few patrons. The nanny had just got over a case of LBM a day or so earlier thanks to me having Immodium on hand and she really saw the humour in my remark. LBM, not to be impolit is Loose Bowel Movement or diarrhea. Sorry, it just came out. Why else would she be taking ten minute breaks every few minutes?
Ten minutes later she was back and we exited quickly after paying the bills.
So, between the missing postman, and the LBM Teller, I managed to see how bills are paid in the Philippines. I’ll know next month. Know what? Know to plan ahead and allow plenty of time!
By the way, if I run into any other minor things that make life interesting in the Philippines i will be sure to let you know. I love it here. How about you?