Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Movin On Up

to the East side to some fucking other side of Manilaaa.

That's right, peeps, we finally got a moving date! Friday (2pm sharp) we are gonna be kickin it in our new digs in Makati. See ya, Fort Bonafacio. I sure won't miss your long ass commute! My views may not be as good, but I think we are going to be very, very happy in our new neighborhood. Now if I can just our HHE to come it would make my fucking year! You hear that, Magical Pony Gods*??!!

*They are the patron saints of traveling things, too, right?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Not Dead, Just Busy

We're still alive, I swear! Work has become incredibly busy for both Husband and I (he's already in the swing of taking field trips around the country to visit people in prison and check out dead bodies - sooo grateful for my nice, air conditioned workload!). Last weekend we attempted our fist vacay away from the city to Batangas, but we got snowed by a freakin' typhoon and ended up coming home a day early to avoid paying an extra night of hotel when we couldn't really access the beach (the resort we stayed at  was actually located on a cliff and had a boat that was supposed to take us to a private island with a beach, but no boats were running because of the typhoon, so essentially we were paying to stay at a place with a pool and bad food). The trip did not start out well because we foolishly tried to leave Manila after work on Friday. Lesson learned - Never drive in Manila on a Friday night!!!! It took us about 2 hours just to get on the freeway to get out of the city, then another 2 -2 1/2 hours to get to our destination, which is only about 70km away because it was late and dark with windy roads, no street signs, bad directions, and typhoon rains...well, getting there was not easy! We spent Sat lounging at the pool, which did have a water slide the kids loved, and swimming in the resort's  small diving pool with coral and fish that you could snorkel in. So it wasn't a complete loss. Plus the drive home was absolutely gorgeous. The cliffside towns with their colorful buildings and the fantastic views of the beaches at the bottom of the mountains was just breathtaking. I can't wait to take more of these trips, but I think we'll be waiting until our car comes and we can get someone else to do the driving (or just fly!).

On the health side, I'm just about 100% better. Husband, on the other hand has started having these weird heart palpitations. It was getting very frequent and kind of starting to freak him out, so he went to Med and they did an EKG and some other tests and then sent him off to St Lukes Hospital to get check out. He ended up having to wear a heart monitor around for a day to keep track of how often the palpitations to occur. End result: heart is in "fair" condition. Not exactly the big answers he was looking for, but the palpitations seem to have decreased since he's cut out caffeine and taken the other steps the doctors suggested. So I guess it isn't such a big thing to worry about. The best part about the whole situation was trying convince J and A that Daddy was not actually a robot. ("Is Daddy a robot, Mama?? Tell me for real!!")

We were planning to head to Subic this weekend but decided to put it off because I've heard nothing but lousy things about the beach there (not far enough away from Manila Bay to get away from all the garbage in the water :( I've heard Tagaytay is a fantastic day trip, though, so we plan to go there next weekend. We had a ladies night out yesterday and one of my girlfriends mentioned there is some awesome furniture at a place in Tagaytay, so who knows what we'll come home with! Anyway, here's some pics of our trip last weekend since I haven't posted a lot of pics lately.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Food Shopping in Manila

Happy Philippine Independence Day, ya'll! I love getting local and American holidays off. Sometimes it does pay to work for the government! ;) In celebration, I'm posting what I hope will be some helpful information for newcomers and old expats alike in the Manila area. As you know, I've been battling all sorts of stomach ailments since our arrival here in May. MED pinpointed at least two different gross, nasty parasites that had taken up residence in my body and gave me some neat-o, powerful druggies to kick their asses out (one had to be ordered from the Philippines National Research Institute, that's the kind of overachiever I am - no normal parasites for me!). I am definitely feeling better, and I am foraying back into the world of eating. I am quite wary of eating out right now, plus Manila (and the Philippines in general) is not exactly known for its cuisine (it is the anti-Asia when it comes to eating :( We did, however, discover a really excellent and authentic (and extremely expensive) Japanese restaurant on the side of one of the Greenbelt Malls (Tsukiji), which was absolutely delicious. Their lunch menu looks much more reasonable price-wise, so we may venture over there for a lunch sometime. In the meantime, I have taken to cooking all of our meals...well, I have taken to directing L, our Yaya, in how to cook all of our meals. It is the most awesome thing in the world to come home to an already cooked meal after a long day at work (thanks to traffic, Husband and I leave at 0630 and get home at about 1730-1800). This is definitely one of the biggest benefits of living in the Philippines. Local help is affordable and, if you can find the right fit (which I think we have with L) it can be a pleasure. We are really, really looking forward to moving into our permanent house and completing our set up! Anyway, here's a bit about what I've learned so far about food shopping in Manila:

Manila has a variety of grocery options for locals and expats alike. So far, Husband and I have been to several different outdoor markets, all sorts of different grocery chains, S&R, which is the local version of Costco (complete with some Kirkland brand items), and a variety of smaller deli and specialty stores which sell *duh* specialty goods that you can't necessarily get at supermarkets here. Below is a listing of markets that I, personally, have been to. There are so many, many more, but a girl can only shop so much!

Market Market! - Okay, so this is actually one of the Metro Market stores which happens to be located in the basement of Market!Market!, but it is the only Metro store I've been to and everyone just calls it Market!Market! anyway. IMO, the best selection of Asian grocery items (Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, you name it) of any of the Manila markets. Plus, upstairs and outside of the mall is an actual outdoor market where you can buy all sorts of things. Be warned, though, as a Westerner you will never get a good price here even if you can bargain in Tagalog. They tried to charge me P50 (about $1) for one stinkin' kiwi fruit. I wouldn't even pay that in the States! But, you can get some organic produce (I forget the name of the farm that owns that particular stall) and organic eggs and dairy from other vendors. Plus, sometimes they have live music outside and a wide variety of other types of local food goods to peruse. We're big fans of Market Maket! in general :)

SM Hypermart - This was the first grocery store I ever visited in Manila (where my sponsors took me), and I spent about 3 hours just perusing the aisles and trying to figure out where everything was (they have their own way of categorizing food here which doesn't necessarily correspond with what we're used to in the U.S., so I picked up quite a few items not realizing there were other options a few aisles down and resulted in having to dig through my cart to take other items back. Kind of a PITA.) It is large, convenient, and has a wide variety of products, but the quality can be questionable (particularly the meat and fish, which I would not recommend buying here).

Rustans - The priciest of the grocery store options also contains the most ex-pat friendly variety of food selection. Many items are still very affordable by Western standards, but it is a bit of a price boost compared to other stores in Manila. It is a great place to stock up on Western comfort items (spaghetti sauce*, mustard, etc.).

Robinsons - Standard grocery chain similar to SM. Reasonable prices, reasonable selection. Again, I wouldn't necessarily go here for meat or produce.

PhilGrocer.com - If you're too lazy and/or sick of fighting crowds and standing in line for an hour,** you can also have your groceries delivered to you at home anywhere in the Metro Manila area. As with U.S. grocery delivery services, I'd advise using a service like this only for canned/boxed/otherwise prepared items. I've never had much like ordering meat or fruit/veg from a delivery service since they usually won't be as picky as I am.

S&R - Manila's carbon copy of Costco, S&R is just as much of a time and money suck (love it!). You can find all sorts of things here from industrial sized Skippy peanut butter to genuinely Kirkland brand mega-mixed nuts. You can also get all the other sorts of items you can get at your standard Costco like electronics, furniture, and other assorted goods. S&R has the best quality meat of all the stores I've been to so far, although I would not buy produce here since it is overpriced and not of very good quality for the most part.

Santi's Deli - For cheese and cold cuts. Do not buy those items in regular Filipino grocery stores if you can avoid it!

Terry's Selection - For wine, sweets, and all sorts of imported delicacies. Also has a sit-down bistro.

Sinan's Butchery - Love this place so super conveniently located in San Antonio village - a mere five minutes or so down the road from our San Lorenzo 'hood. Great selection of imported beef, lamb, and free range chickens (strangely pork-free, maybe they're halal?) for very reasonable prices. The cuts are quite large, but you can order ahead if you have something specific you'd like them to do. Also has the Brera Delicatessen located next store which has some Italian specialty items and a decent selection of cheeses, organic dairy products, and cold cuts.

I'v also managed to find some local, organic places that deliver (anything and everything is delivered here in Manila, but that's a topic for another post). Shusaesh Farms is a Japanese-owned organic farm in Bulacan that we've ordered from a couple of times. Their produce is of very good quality and I find the price to be very reasonable. A small box (P450 + delivery charge) for our current family of 5 was delivered on Tuesday and lasted the rest of the week. Another place that will be delivering to us later this week is Down to Earth. I've ordered some of their local, grassed beef and pork and a few veggie and fruit options. I didn't want to go overboard until I could assess the quality. ----NOTE: As with all service-related things in the Philippines, expect to contact a business and not receive a reply for anywhere from several days to a week. This can be frustrating for those of us used to doing things at the American rate of speed, but that's just how it is here in the Islands.

Another great resource for food shopping in Manila is Market Manila. In addition to posts about different places to shop in Manila, this blog had lots of recipes for local produce and meat, as well as a section entitled, "Where can I find/Buy....?" which is really helpful if you're desperate for some of those items I list below!

Note of Advice: For some reason, stock and supply changes constantly and without warning. That means if you happen to note, say, Wasabi and Soy Sauce Almonds at S&R, snap up as many bags as your little arms can carry because they may or may not be there the next time you go back. This applies to all grocery stores in Manila. I have no idea why.

Things I Love
- Patis (fish sauce) - aisles upon aisles of different brands to explore tasting!
- Mangos!!!
- All sort of new and interesting fruits and veggies to try (from Ampalaya to Mangosteen to Ube, there is always something I haven't seen before to test my tastebuds!)
- Asian items - every supermarket has an amazing variety of Asian items regardless of country of origin. I can have just about anything I want from Japan, China, Korea....

Things I Miss Already
- goat cheese *sob*
- Veggies not indigenous to this area (brussels sprouts are non-existent, but you can find others such as cauliflower, bell peppers, and tomatoes for a premium***)
- blueberries and, well, pretty much every berry****
- boneless, skinless chicken breasts (there is no such thing as taking out bones or removing skin in this place!)

And to top all this off, some Filipino foodie blogs I've collected along the way:
Shoot First, Eat Later
CASA Veneracion

*Spaghetti sauce might seem like a strange thing to list, but I have learned the hard way that many Filipino items of things like that (especially sauces of any type) are overpoweringly chocked full of sugar. 
**Literally. Husband and I spent just over an hour just in line at Market Market! on one of our first shopping trips because we didn't know that prime grocery shopping time is after 7pm here.
***Red bell peppers go for as much as $3 for one pepper. 
****Technically you can get these here but they are so beyond ridiculously expensive that it's not worth it

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Somebody Eat Toad*

The Great Illness continues unabated. I've taken to looking something like one of those poor, starving children you see in the Sally Struthers commercials since my legs and arms are skinny, and my fat, distended belly sticks out making all work clothing choices relatively uncomfortable. In the last few days I've manages to keep down some rice and crackers. I even managed some soup for lunch the other day. One of my awesome neighbors baked me a fucking loaf of bread** (Challah, even!), and I managed a bit of that, as well. I've been to see Med, and I've got another appointment with them on Monday so they can finish the tests that will tell us what gross, nasty bacteria has taken over my body.

In other exciting news, Husband and I had our first driving experience in Manila. Another colleague from the PD section was kind enough to lend us her car while she and her family are on home leave for the month of June, but I had to drive it home from the Embassy. Well, okay, Husband had to drive it home from the Embassy. It was really stressful because it also happened to be the first day of the rainy season here (celebrated with a flash flood rain during which the fire alarm sounded and the Embassy had to evacuate - pure awesomeness), so the traffic was bad even by Manila standards (meaning it took us about an hour to go around 7km - it might have taken a bit less, but I got confused while navigating and we took a wrong turn, which did not endear me to Husband by any means). We did eventually make it to our destination and Husband has found that he actually enjoys driving in the wild west-style Manila traffic where one can merge seamlessly in and out of lanes without regard to other vehicles and feel free to honk your horn as much as you please. I, on the other hand, am more convinced than ever that I need to hire a driver asap!

By chance the current owners of the house we'll eventually being moving into in Makati invited us over that same evening so that we could take a look at the place before all of the furniture was removed. It also gave us a chance to meet and interview their current housekeeper and gardener in case we were interested in taking them on ourselves*** It was incredibly kind of them to allow us that opportunity. The house is really nice (the garden is small, but there is a pool and the grounds are really lush and lovely) with plenty of space for all of the kids, a large kitchen with tons of counter and storage space, and a maids quarters for our yaya (nanny) who will live-in with us. Seeing the house made me really excited about the prospect of actually settling down in our permanent quarters. The street is on the outskirts of the village, so it gets much less traffic than some of the other areas, meaning we might actually be able to let the kids outside to ride their bikes once and a while. We haven't seen many of our belongings for over a year now (since we joined the Foreign Service), and I can't wait to get all our stuff and set up a real house again instead of feeling like I'm always living out of a suitcase.

Also, as a total and complete aside, I find the most amusing part of the new-ish blogger layout is checking what search terms people use to stumble across my blog. It's slightly disturbing to think that not only are people searching for things like: pupucorner vĂȘtement, pu's fuck, and awesome playground equipment for your asshole, but that these search terms are actually contained somewhere in the vestiges of this crazy blog. Your welcome, world.

*Somewhere down the line I will do another post on Shit You Hear at Pu's Corner
**She is so fabulous, and I am inclined to kidnap and keep her in my closet when we move away to our new digs, but I have a feeling her husband and kids would be a bit lost without her, so I suppose I'll have to find someone else to make me baked goods :(
***We are. So now I've gone from no help to suddenly hiring three helpers (yaya, housekeeper, gardener) with a driver soon to be added. So weird!