I finally have a laptop so I can now full you in on the crazy time that has been my move to Manila. It has been almost two weeks and it has been a non-stop round of inoculations, indoctrinations, orientations and everything else in between. So …where to begin? At the beginning I suppose!
I flew into Manila Thursday 5th February at 10pm after waiting weeks for the company I now work for to finalize confirmation they actually wanted me and then the more finite details (…contract, accommodation, visas etc etc ) and they were still finalizing them via email as I sat inside departures at Ponchentong Airport, Cambodia. In actual fact securing a role with this company has been years in the making. I have been speaking to the Senior Directors of this Global Property Company ( GPC ) in Singapore since 2010 or so and every time we would get close, I would end up getting a job locally and we would miss each other. Finally some months ago we started talking again and with one of their accounts, a LARGE petroleum company ( LPC ) , in dire need of some management and with me coming to a loose end yet again…the time was nigh. When they pitched The Philippines at me years ago for some reason I gagged and told them it was not my first choice. I had heard nothing but bad things about Manila with its traffic and pollution and ever present dangers but years later…fed up to the back teeth with the fickleness of employment in Cambodia, I decided to take the plunge and come for the 6 month contract they offered. I have left the family at home as it was just too much to close everything down for a 6 month stint. Kids would have to leave school, our great villa would have to go, our dogs ?? And then what in 6 months? We head back maybe? So no…..I wanted to suck it and see first. So here I am.
I arrived at the airport and after reading many reports on the internet of how awful the taxis are here and how they will start ripping you off the moment you walk out of the airport…imagine my surprise when I jump in a brand new metered taxi and a smiling Pinoy greets me in perfect English with “ Welcome to Manila ! Where to sir ? “. 250php ( $6 ) and 20 mins later and I was dropped off in downtown Makati at the front door of the condo complex I had booked via airbnb. I was soon met by the English owner and whisked up to the 19th floor and before I knew it I was sucking on a cold San Miguel beer in my new digs. Initially I was a bit stunned. The place was a lot smaller in reality than in the photos I had seen and….it needed a bloody good clean. There was that awful deodorizer smell emanating from every nook and the owner set about telling me what didn’t work – the oven, the clothes washing machine etc. I opened the fridge and the freezer was frozen over and he had left bits and bobs in there. Bloody hell. However, I could see all it needs is my touch and decided it was too early to stress. I had to work very next day and dropped into bed exhausted.
At 8am the following day I have to meet my new boss and the Regional Head of my new client, both of whom have flown down from Singapore and both of whom are staying at a very nice hotel right opposite our office which is in the nicest building in downtown Makati. I navigate to the hotel from my condo using google maps on my phone and I am really enjoying the wide footpaths and the tree lined avenues. I arrive feeling only a little sweaty and I am waiting to meet the client when I suddenly realize the brand new tailored super light cotton pale blue business shirt I was wearing had sucked up every ounce of body moisture under my suit jacket and was now drenched ! I looked bloody horrible! I ran to the bathroom with minutes to spare and locked myself in and hit the hand dryer which dried the shirt in moments thank god. Rule number one; Manila is deceptively humid and pale blue shirts are a no no.
I met my boss for the first time (we had spoken many times on the phone as we sorted out my employ) and I liked him straight away. A laconic Californian from LA, he was just a few years older than me but a straight shooter. We ate breakfast and chatted and the client arrived and the client was also a very straight shooter but from India. Unfortunately he is not a happy camper for various reasons but I was spared the brunt as I am the new guy. After breakfast we walk to the office and I start meeting person after person after person. I am eventually left with my assigned HR rep and he starts “onboarding” me. By the end of the day I am shattered with information overload and I walk home through Makati CBD to the condo which takes about 15 mins. The downtown area is a grid of streets so it is virtually impossible to get lost. That night I head to Handlebar in Poblocion for a steak bbq and I am asleep again early but even after just one day in Manila…I am starting to get a very good vibe about this adventure.
My first Saturday is spent in ethics training. GPC ( Global Property Company who I work for – remember ? ) have won yearly awards for being one of the world’s most ethical companies to work for and they take it seriously – but not sickeningly so. After the training session I am taken by my HR man to MyHealth which is a Govt accredited health clinic and they start processing me for my employment visa. I have blood taken and have to pee on demand and…get this….poo on demand too. When was the last time someone gave you a little jar and said “go…poo…now…”. Very weird. I was not to know this but the health check would eventually take 5 separate visits and test my patience to the hilt. Saturday disappeared and Sunday was a trip to the Mall for some apartment basics (the owner neglected to mention there were no glasses, no pots etc. ) and some other light shopping. I got to explore the condo complex more and discovered a great gym and an awesome 27m pool with kids pool as well. Turns out my huge picture window faces just the right way to get awesome district views with mountains on the horizon and a great view of traffic below at night without being too sunny or hot during the day. The initial shock wears off quickly as I realize how well my little 30m2 studio is located and the polished floors and wood fittings and furniture give the place an air of gentleman’s den about it which was why I chose it.
The next week is a blur of meetings and more trips to the health clinic and conference calls and more meetings and acronyms and new corporate jargon and more meetings and opening bank accounts and round and round. Each night I go home, swim some laps, skype with the wife and kids and then flop down on bed. The skype calls are very hard for two reasons; a) of course…I miss my family like mad and b) the kids cannot stay still for longer than 10 seconds or hold the phone screen still so the calls are like being on a rollercoaster and I get off each one feeling queasy. I discover I have a great supermarket called Rustan’s right across the road with the best fresh fruit,veg and meat I have seen in years, a hardware super shop, a Starbucks, a laundry, a burrito cantina, a curry house and a New York style cold cuts deli all within 200m of my condo. I am in Manila heaven. Within two weeks I have bought a mountain bike, orientated myself within a 4km radius, walked to and for work every day, figured out the currency conversions and learnt my first Tagalog words SALAMAT!
I sat down one night and made a list of what I like and what I do not like about Manila and what I miss about home / Cambodia. Here is what I came up with and bear in mind I have never been here before so had no preconceptions, I have only moved around the Makati and immediate areas ( close to the CBD ) and I have been living in Cambodia for eight years ;
What I like about The Philippines / Manila thus far
• The Filipinos; They are very polite and very helpful and in the workplace – especially mine…they are very professional PLUS they speak great English 😉
• The footpaths. EVERYONE walks around in the CBD because they can. Huge wide well-kept footpaths with underground intersection crossings and many are tree lined. Do you know how long it has been since I actively walked anywhere? The first few days my shins and calve muscles absolutely killed but after buying REAL Nike runners and then REAL Rockport work shoes, I am now a walking my machine and I am loving it. I can feel the kg dropping as I pound the pavement to work every day and between my Makati based work sites.
• Biking. In line with above….I bought a mountain bike for the weekends and I am now blasting around the empty CBD with ease. The roads are empty and flat and well-sealed and again….my body is thanking me for the exercise. Try biking in Phnom Penh. Suicide.
• The convenience. After so many years of struggling to find everything from hardware to clothes to shoes etc…. Manila is a godsend. I can get anything I need at the supermalls or in the shops right outside my Condo and all the products are the real deal from OEM outlets. Basically. Manila is shopping heaven and I have smashed it my first couple of weeks.
• Condo living. My space is not big but it is super functional, super clean, super safe, SUPER QUIET and I have a pool, a gym and a concierge who will do anything I want. $1000 per month.
• I cannot imagine a place where you can feel safer than Makati where every single security guard on every corner at every bank, starbucks and office building etc has either an automatic M16 / AR15 assault rifle or a pump action shotgun IN ADDITION to his 9mm handgun. The city is cocked, locked and ready to rock should any shit go down and there are bomb dogs everywhere too.
• Taxis. Easy. Cheap. Aircon.
• Good Health clinics everywhere for general medical, dental, optical etc.
• Working at GPC ( Global Property Company who I work for – remember ? ). So…I know…early days but it is really nice to be working in a professional environment for a global entity again. I am no stranger to it but it has been a while and it is good to be challenged again after some years of sedentary postions. I am now dealing with a multitude of issues across multiple sites with many stakeholders, client contacts, vendors, and internal parties of all ages and nationalities. Pretty much every day I am on several conference calls across the region in which will be Australians, Americans, Singaporeans, Chinese, Filipinos, Indians etc etc. It is quite something but I can tell you…..conference calling over IP technology is no better now than it was in 2001. I will be lying if I said I have not been a tad terrified in my first week or so. Things are very structured and reporting lines are many and varied and there is much to learn on the process front . I just hope I do not drop the F bomb the more comfortable I get. GPC is a leader in its field and I feel very fortunate to have been given this opportunity. Hunts – you the man ;-). I am enjoying being well dressed, globally hooked up and on a mission every day and time flies to the extent I can drop a 10 hour + day and not even notice it.I like that.
What I do NOT like about The Philippines / Manila thus far
• No Bumguns in the dunny !! I serioulsly miss the ubiqutous bumgun we all have in Cambodia.
What I miss about Cambodia thus far
• My wife and kids, extended Khmer family and close crew of good mates .
• My dogs
• Our farm “Waratah”
• Being able to speak the local language
• The little street food vendors that pass the house every afternoon.
• Beers at Kandal house with my mates.
• Easy to grab motodops and tuk tuks
What I do NOT miss about Cambodia thus far
• The heat
• The dirt
• The rubbish everywhere
• The lack of footpaths
• The lack of any decent shopping options
• The lack of good supermarkets ( I mean GOOD….Lucky Lucky is amateur compared to Rustan’s Fresh here in Manila )
• The disorderly traffic.
• The mongrel dogs everywhere barking at night.
• The ME FIRST attitude of Khmers in cars and shops. ( they actually give way here in The Philippines )
That is a loose initial list.I am sure it will change over time.
So here I am, living alone in Manila. A small world away from my lovely little family, learning some new ropes and making my way in a foreign land again. Life is an adventure and it feels like 2007 all over again when I moved to Cambodia. I really needed this change and I look forward to seeing how it will pan out. For you guys it means much more content after a boring year or so where I really had not much to say in Cambodia. Stay with me.It will get better I promise.