Sunday, May 15, 2016

Philippines Vacation - Days 11, 12, and 13 (Rod Marfil, Tim Ho Wan, NKTI, Auntie Fermonaira, Auntie Faida, Tes Marfil

Dinner with Auntie Faida
Day 11 – Rodrigo Marfil then Dinner at Tim Ho Wan           
Thursday, Day 11 - The day after checking out the condo in Cubao, my brother Larry was off from work and he drove me around Quezon City to show me where places I knew used to be. He also took me to an area with high rise condos and shopping centers way past Ateneo de Manila University. The name of the location escapes me now. He brought me there because Ninette mentioned the previous night that some of her colleagues may be moving and selling their condos. Nice location but I had already made up my mind about not buying.
Rod Marfil at FilMar Auto Trends
We then visited one of our cousins- Rodrigo Marfil at his automotive repair shop. I didn’t recognize him at first because he had lost so much weight. Apparently, he got sick a few years back and never gained his normal weight back. Last time I saw him was in high school where he was the bass and snare drummer for the Notre Dame of Jolo Boy’s Department band. His claim to fame at the time was that he was never absent from school from elementary all through high school. After reminiscing briefly about our days in Jolo, we bid him goodbye. Interesting note: Rod and all of his brothers and sisters have been single all their lives.
Tim Ho Wan dimsum
Larry and Ninette had planned on doing some grocery shopping in Trinoma, another shopping center a few miles away. I thought we were going to do that, then go home to have dinner. I asked them if we could find a place for a snack between then and dinner but they said that we were going to have dinner at a place called Tim Ho Wan, a Michelin Star awardee. Larry went to do the grocery shopping while Ninette and I went to SM (Shoemart) so I could buy more pastillas to take back to the U.S. 
Afterwards, we proceeded to Tim Ho Wan and was seated shortly thereafter. While waiting for Larry, we checked out the menu and Ninette told me what their specialty was. The award they received was mainly due to their meat bun (bao or pao or siopao) which instead of having a soft covering, had a crusty one. Larry was stuck in the grocery store so we ordered ahead. Larry arrived a few minutes later. I had been hankering for congee for a while now, so I had that for starters. We ordered the meat buns, chicken feet, and others that I no longer remember. If I find the receipt later, I’ll just add it to the list. I had to agree that the crusty bun was very good and it was the first time I’ve tried what they call Adidas (the chicken feet). Well, that was indeed a great meal and while I’m no foodie, I think the Michelin star was well deserved. We brought home some of the meat buns for the others who weren’t able to join us.

Day 12 - NKTI & Lunch with Auntie Ferm
On Friday, day 12, we took Pilaring (Ninette’s mom) to see a doctor at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute for blood tests and an X-ray since she had been having an ongoing cough. NKTI was where Larry had his dialysis and kidney transplant 2 years ago. Ninette is his donor. While Pilaring’s tests were being done, I did my workout by walking along the perimeter of the hospital and even ventured out in the traffic of East Avenue. Then I went inside the hospital to look for Larry, Pilaring, and Vangie.
Lunch with Auntie Ferm and Alain
For lunch, we had arranged to meet with Auntie Fermonaira Carpizo Labiano at a Thai restaurant in SM Aura. Auntie Ferm is a retired nurse from Abu Dhabi who now lives near SM Aura. She is a very animated woman whose walk reminded me so much of her mom, Lola Taram. A few minutes later, one of her sons, Alain, arrived and joined us. Auntie Ferm seemed to know everyone in the mall and joked with the owner of the restaurant and the servers, and did the same when we later went for coffee at another restaurant. She cooked and brought us a special Tausug dish called pianggang which we took home afterwards. Thank you so much for the pianggang Auntie Ferm, as we rarely get the chance to eat it anymore.
After saying out goodbyes, we went to pick up Robynne from her school in Makati, then returned home.

Day 13 - Early Dinner with Auntie Faida
On Saturday, Day 13, I pretty much lost track of what I did in the morning, but in mid afternoon, Larry and I drove to Maharlika Village in Taguig to meet with Auntie Faida Carpizo, an older sister of Auntie Ferm. She was going to serve us more Tausug food along with another cousin, Tes Marfil who lived with her. She first served us daral for snacks and when Tes came later, she had the satti and pastil. They also had cucumbers and sambal, plus more pianggang cooked by Auntie Faida this time. Our cousin Farid, who owns the house came home shortly along with Alain whom we met the previous day. I haven’t seen Farid since he was a little boy and still living with his parents in Quezon City back in the early 70’s. With smiles all around, photos were taken and the food was enjoyed by all. Thanks for the feast, Auntie Faida, Tes, and Farid.
Satti, pianggang, pastil, and sambal

Meanwhile, Larry was getting phone calls from home about Pilaring having some sort of medical episode, so we had to leave Maharlika Village and head back to NKTI to meet with Ninette, Pilaring, Robynne, and Vangie at the doctor’s clinic. Pilaring’s lab results and X-ray indicated pneumonia so she was ordered to stay at home and rest. She was none too pleased with that since there were plans to go to Tagaytay the next day.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Philippines Vacation – Day 10: Checking Out a Condo in Cubao & Grab Car Rides

One Bedroom Specifications
Studio Specifications
The day after my visit to U.P., I had made an appointment to meet with a real estate agent in Cubao. Since everyone at home was working that day, they suggested that I try Grab Taxi or Grab Car which is an Uber or Lyft type service. I opted for the Grab Car since they charge a flat rate instead of the Grab Taxi where the regular taxi meter is used. Since I wasn’t familiar with the streets in the Philippines anymore, it was in my best interest to have the flat rate in case I got an unscrupulous taxi driver who might drive me around in circles. I downloaded the app and ordered a car to my location, it gave me the driver’s name, license plate number, and cell phone number. As soon as he arrived, we were off to Cubao. Since I was about an hour early, it gave me a chance to explore the surroundings and try to get my bearings. Cubao was a frequent hangout when I was still studying in U.P. I walked around Araneta Center and SM (Shoe Mart) before I got a call from the real estate agent whom I arranged to meet in front of Rustan’s Department Store across from the Kia Theater. Two of them showed up and they were going to take me to see two buildings but I said one was enough. We took a taxi and I was shown the building which was still being constructed, then we went some other place to look at the floor models. There I saw a bare studio, dressed up studio, a one bedroom, and a combined one bedroom and studio option. Well, the studio was so tiny that if you were claustrophobic, you would not even consider it. The one bedroom was slightly larger but the bed and sofa still had to be positioned flush against the wall to create more space. The combined one bedroom and studio was only about 2/3 the size on my current 1 bedroom condo in Long Beach. I took pictures and videos but since it’s one dimensional, it’s hard to really discern the smallness of the units. Next I found out that the price quoted was only for the condo unit and didn’t include a parking space. The realtor said the parking space costs almost as much as the condo itself. Nevertheless, we went to the business office to look at available units and do calculations on costs and amortizations. I had to keep using my calculator to convert pesos into dollars. I told the realtor that I would consult with my family later that day and decide whether it was feasible for me to buy a condo in the Philippines or not.
Studio Condo - bare and staged

One Bedroom Condo - staged

The two realtors brought me back to where we started from and upon getting my bearings, I walked towards the construction area of the condo building. It was only about half a mile at most from the Araneta Center and was close to a supermarket, eateries, entertainment areas, and most importantly, a gym, not to mention not too far from Larry and Ninette’s home. Cubao also has nice sidewalks to walk on which was a plus. It was also very close to the light rail system. Suffice it to say, I really liked the area.
Amaia Skies construction site
Over the next few hours, I kept on walking around and went in and out of several stores and malls. At SM, I even found pastillas candy which I had planned to taking back to the U.S. for presents. In the end, I bought a few bags of those plus a wallet for myself. I fired up the Grab Car app again and a car picked me up in front of the Kia Theater and drove me back to U.P. Professors Subdivision. The cost of the ride back home was cheaper because it was not peak time.
Grab Car ride
That evening, I told Larry and Ninette about the condo and discussed the pros and cons of buying one. The condo company required a reservation fee of about $300 after which I was supposed to make a down payment within 30 days. If I failed to make a down payment, the $300 would be lost forever. In recent years, I’ve always been cash poor since most of my savings are in retirement plans in which if I withdrew money before I turned 59 and a half, I would be penalized by paying a surcharge. Not only that, whatever I withdrew would be taxed. I had given this information to the realtors earlier too. If I decided to buy, I would also need to give Larry my Special Power of Attorney so he can sign papers for me and make payments on my behalf. There was also an added pressure of time. The condo company said that on April 1st, which was only two days away, the prices of the condos and possibly some other fees would be going up and they said this occurs every quarter of the year.
After so much consideration and in spite of liking the location of the condo which was going to be ready by 2017, the negatives outweighed the positives. I could not get over the terrible traffic, the heat, the mostly bad sidewalks in most places, and the lack of a parking space with the condo price. The added pressure of having to decide within two days didn’t help either because I don’t like to make rash judgments like that specially that costs a lot of money. I don’t think the Philippines is a cheap place to live in anymore if you want to live in an urban area. I spend much less here in the U.S. than what I would in the Philippines if I retired there. I already had second thoughts about retiring there when I wrote about it a year or so ago. Perhaps, I, like a lot of people have taken living in the U.S. for granted until we experience living somewhere else. It has made me appreciate my humble abode in a not so very good part of town more, where the sidewalks are much better and the drivers are mostly more disciplined and follow lane lines.