22 April 2008

Winnie's wedding

The main reason for us going to the Philippines at the time we did was that we wanted to attend the wedding of Winnie, an old friend of Minnie. So, on Friday the 18th, we drove to Subic, the place Winnie chose for her wedding. Subic used to be a big American naval military base, and is therefore more like an U.S. town than a Filipino town. The biggest difference is the traffic, here are lots of stop signs (like in the U.S.), and you actually have to follow the traffic rules, which certainly isn't the case most places in the Phils...

On friday evening Minnie and I went out to eat in an Italian restaurant called "A Tavola", which was recommended by Cookie. From outside the place didn't really look that nice, but inside it really had a nice feel of old rustic place. Minnie wasn't that hungry so she just ordered a bruschetta, while I ordered spaghetti bolognese. My bolognese was really good, and when Minnie tried it she got so excited about it that she ordered one for herself as well :)

The day after was the day of the wedding. Minnie and her girlfriends were off to the salon for the makeup artists, making sure their dresses were perfect and other preparations for the big event, while my preparations consisted of sleeping a bit late, eating a rich breakfast, watching tv and relaxing, and using 5 minutes to try on my barong (traditional Filipino formal outfit for men). Its easier for us guys :)

We were getting worried about the bride though. She was doing so much of the preparations on her own, and had been super busy since Thursday. From Thursday till Saturday she had only slept one hour. We were just hoping she wouldn't collapse of tiredness in the wedding. However, when i got to see Winnie, I couldn't tell that she had slept so little before the wedding, and it didn't seem to bother her during the wedding ceremony and reception either.

The wedding reception gave me two good examples of the differences between Norway and the Phils, the first being the climate. If having a party indoors in the Phils, especially during summer, air conditioning is very important. Sadly, the air con broke down in the house the reception was held. To add to the crisis, the owners of the house had no contingency plan either, not even fans... With a lot of people in not that big a room, it got very warm and stuffy, resulting in a lot of guests leaving shortly after the dinner. I know Winnie felt really bad about this, but at least her close friends (which were the group I were in that evening) and family stayed so the party didn't die all together.

The second big difference is how the filipinos party compared to Norwegians. It's amazing to see for a Norwegian how filipinos are partying hard from the first dance, while Norwegians needs to marinate in alcohol for a couple of hours first... This meant that a lot of the guests, including Minnie, had a blast from the first song the band played, while I just sat by the table drinking wine and beer. After a couple of hours I had drunk enough to dare take part in the dance floor in the same way as the other guests. Then the other big difference in partying showed itself, the party was at its end and it was only 10pm! I was just getting started... To sum up: Filipinos party intense over a short time, while Norwegians takes a long time to warm up, but the party lasts much longer.

I really liked Subic, its a good place for spending a long weekend I think, both because of the American standard on everything and the number of activities available. The plan was to leave first thing in the morning the day after the wedding, but I made a deal with the other girls riding in the same car as us that we'd stay until lunch and I'll be treating that lunch. So, the day after, I had time to go go-karting, which I love :)

What I did not predict though, was how big the lunch were going to become... I think the word "feast" is more correct than "lunch", hehe... However, with Filipino prices it's still OK to treat even a feast, and we did have fun, especially since the newly weds decided to join us. You'll see in the picture that the table is cramped with plates of various foods, but that still isn't all the food we had...

I had a good time in Subic, attending my first catholic wedding, karting and everything. I also hope that Winnie will be able to remember the good times we had with her in the reception, not only the problems caused by the air-con failing, when she in the future think back to her wedding reception.

15 April 2008

Lazy days in Boracay

After recovering from our disappointment when arriving here in Boracay, we have now been able to enjoy 5 days here in Boracay, with lots of relaxing, sunbathing, swimming, shakes and food. We have also experienced the wet and windy side of Boracay...

Our days have fallen into a routine of sorts now. It starts with us getting up at around 8.30, dressing up in swim wear and heading of for breakfast. After breakfast we look for a spot on the beach with no algae and use this for sunbathing and swimming until around 11. We avoid being in the sun at 12, as the sun is very strong here at that time. It just gets too hot...

After the morning swim and sunbathing, we go back to our room and freshen up and get in our regular beach wear, and usually rest a bit. Then we're off to lunch, and after lunch walking around the D'mall (the "mall" here in Bora), going to our favourite internet cafe, getting a massage (applies for Minnie only) or just walk around the beach a bit.

As a mid-day light meal we go to Jonah's for shakes. I call this a meal on purpose, as the shakes at Jonah's are so filling that it actually serves as a light meal. We usually end up staying at Jonah's till sunset, which always is a wonderful sight, even after seeing it how many times...

After the sunset, we typically go back to our room for a rest again, before going out for dinner later in the evening (typically around 8). After dinner we find a place to sit down for a couple of beers, or in Minnie's case a mango margarita, and enjoying the cool evening breeze.

Does it sound boring? Well, I guess you can tell we really have been relaxing while being here :) And it hasn't been boring either, mostly because I'm sharing the time here with my best friend and wife, Minnie.

We have done a couple of activities that breaks from the routine though. Before we went here we had decided that we were going to rent a jet ski, like we did last time we were in Boracay. This time we rented a more powerful jet ski than we've tried before, an 1100cc Yamaha Waverunner. This thing was fast! When I was able to do full speed, I felt the wind push the skin of my cheeks backwards, the feel of power and speed was great. Minnie told me after she really loved that feeling of power and speed as well, she's such a power freak :)

On sunday evening we went on a long walk along the beach towards the north end. We decided to follow the small path that leads from the north tip of the main beach until a small secluded beach. On the way we passed by Sea Wind, the resort where we got married, saw all the new and large resorts built at this end of the beach, including Discovery Shores, the new resort for the very rich here in Bora and we passed by a water snake (no idea if it was dangerous...). Since this being quite far from our resort, and we are here to relax after all :), we took a tricycle back to our resort.

Yesterday was quite a big break from our routine though, as strong winds and very heavy rain made us stay a lot of the day in our room. It's always special for a Norwegian like me to experience heavy tropical rainfall, the intensity and volume of rain is way beyond the weather at home. However, today, the weather was all back to normal, with sun and breeze only. The only signs of yesterday's violent rainfall were that a river had dug out a lot of sand at the beach close to our resort, and that the seawater was colder today.

Today is our last full day here at Boracay for now, and we will treat ourself witht the buffet at Sea Wind for dinner tonight, just as we did on our last evening on our previous stay...

13 April 2008

Mixed emotions on our first day in Boracay

Friday Minnie and I arrived at Boracay, the part of our vacation I think have been looking the most forward to. I've been here three times before, which all were amazing. Of course, our last visit will always be the most special, that being our wedding and all :)

After a one hour boat ride from Bacolod to Ilo Ilo, and a four hour drive from Ilo Ilo (we rented our own car with driver this time, soo much better than a regular minibus-ride), we arrived at Caticlan. This is from where the boats take you over to Boracay. A woman from the resort we're staying at met us there and helped us through all the tickets other practicalities with great efficiency :). As I were to change from my regular shoes to my flip-flops (because of the wading a shore from the boat), I was told this wasn't necessary as we weren't gonna get wet. We weren't going to do the wonderful entrance to Boracay by wading from the boat onto the beach...

After the boat ride to the island, a short drive and the last walk to our resort (through a thick crowd of people), we finally were at our room. I was a bit put off by all the people, way more than I have experienced before at Boracay. I did know that there were going to be more people this time, since it is summer in the Philippines now, and thereby peak season, but it still was a bit of a shock.

Our room is quite small, and very narrow, but has all the facilities we need, including a fridge. We weren't really expected a grand room anyhow, since we got it quite cheap. After settling down in the room we went for a walk on the beach, and discovering that the water at the beach was full of green algae :( I was starting to feel a bit down, so far I hadn't felt any of the Bora magic I always experienced on my previous visits. I was even thinking that it might not have been a good idea to book for a stay as long as five nights. Minnie was also disappointed I think, saying that we just have to make the best of it...

The picture below was taken the day after our arrival, and show all the algae, but not how crowded it was.

After that disappointment, we decided to head over to Jonah's for a shake. Anyone who know a bit about Boracay, know that there is no shakes like Jonah's shakes. From this point on things starting to pick up :) Arriving at Jonah's, while looking for a table, we hear someone screaming out "Minnie!". Some of Minnie's Manila friends, also guests at our wedding, was there :) Check this picture from the wedding to see why it was so nice to see them again ;)

After a good time at Jonah's, where the shakes were as amazing as they always have been, we were feeling a bit happier about our Boracay trip. We also got to experience the amazing sunset!

After the sun had set, Minnie and I went on a nice walk along the beach towards the north tip, towards the Sea Wind Resort where we had our wedding. We were starting to feel that Bora magic now, enjoying the cooling breeze and the calming sound of the waves splashing on the beach. As we came close to Sea Wind I couldn't help to start feeling a bit emotional, thinking about the amazing time I had here on our previous visit. Not only the wedding itself, even though that was the best time of my life, but also the days after with my family and friends from Norway.

Minnie and I even went up to the bar in Sea Wind to see if Melchior, our favorite waiter from last time, was working there. Sadly we didn't see him, but Sea Wind looked just the same as when we left it in November 2006, they were even having the same evening buffet we enjoyed back then. It was really special for us to revisit this place again, together. Sea Wind will always have a special place in our hearts...

PS: The next day we found that not all parts of the beach was full of algae, and we have been able to swim in wonderful, algae free, waters. We are now really enjoying our stay in Boracay, all disappointments from the first day forgotten :)

12 April 2008

Tour of Negros Occidental

Minnie grew up in Bacolod city, the capitol of Negros Occidental, and we flew there from Manila Wednesday (April 2) to visit Minnie's parents and meet up with her old friends. I was joking with Minnie on the way there that I should use a stop-watch to check how long it takes from we arrive at her parents place to her mom offers me mango. Guess what? They were ready on the table when we arrived, offered right away :) My mom-in-law is very proud of the mangoes in Bacolod. This is with a good reason, they are sooo sweet :)

We had planned to visit some sites around Bacolod while there, so on Thursday we left for a trip to a town not far from Bacolod called Silay. This city once were the capitol of Negros Occidental, and has a rich history. At the street called Cinco de Noviembre (spanish for 5th of November, after the uprising against the Spanish on this date in 1898) there are a lot of Spanish-style houses. Most of the are in very poor condition because of lack of maintenance, but there are two exceptions, which both are museums.

We visited Balay Negrense first, a big old mansion. Our guide was an old lady, which knew so much and also were really nice. It was a very interesting visit, learning and understanding more of Filipino history. Afterwards we went to home of Ramon Hofileña, a retired swimming trunks model and manic collector of all sorts :) He is a very colorful character, but also a very nice and interesting person.

In addition to it being his residence, his house also serves as a museum. He actually shows you around his private residence, even showing his bedroom. Quite an odd feeling, but this guy has collected so many things over the years, and this is really what visiting his house is all about. The most important part of his collection is paintings. He has a very strong interest and passion for Filipino art, and most of the rooms in his house are full of art pieces. He even had a piece of Lloyd's dad, Larry Tronco, which amazed Minnie. Other things found in his house are copies of the worlds first pocket books (issued to U.S. soldiers in WW2), meteorite stones, the worlds smallest dolls, Ming dynasty jars and much more. A visit to "Mon", as he insisted we call him, is highly recommended :)

On saturday we went to a beach in a town called Sipalay, with a stop on the way in the house of some of Minnie's relatives. The stop was nice for me, making me able to have a very non-touristy experience of a typical Filipino rural household. I even got to pump water from the well :) Arriving at the beach we (finally) got to enjoy the lazy beach life, eating and drinking and watching the sunset. In the morning after we went swimming and sunbathing, the first time this vacation :)

On Wednesday the 9th, we went on another tour. This time my parents-in-law had picked the sites. First we visited Victorias Milling Company, said to be the worlds largest integrated sugar mill and refinery. We were taken on tour through one of the mills, seeing how sugar was made from the sugar canes arriving on trucks (no pictures allowed though). We saw the extracting of juice from the sugar canes, how the juice was purified and crystallized into brown sugar. We got to taste the sugar on the conveyor belt, which tastes just like brown sugar, not surprising :), but still hot from the processing. After the tour we went to see the church on the factory area, famous for it's mural depicting an angry Christ.

Leaving Victorias, we headed to a resort/butterfly house for lunch. This place were really pretty and relaxing, reminding me of the spirit of the Negros people :). After lunch we drove to a site called "The ruins", which is the ruins of an old mansion built in the 1930's. The mansion was burned by the resistance movement in WW2, to prevent it from being used as headquarters by the Japanese. Still, the concrete skeleton of this mansion, which must've been really wonderful in its time, still stands in amazingly good condition. Work is now being done to preserve the ruins, and it has already become a stunning site. Surrounded by a beautiful garden, it's very pretty and romantic. The owner of the place was there and gave us a nice and interesting tour. We all had a great time and were very pleased with the day when we went back :)

02 April 2008

Cheap labor

One of the biggest difference between Norway and the Philippines is the cost of labor. My first days in Manila have given a couple of good examples at that. At one of the restaurants we went to, there were two waiters involved in taking an order. One, first, to receive the order, and then another a minute after to go through and confirm the order. In Norway the waiters are so busy it sometimes can be hard to just get the attention from one so you can place the order.

When you shop in a mall here, there are typically two or three person at each register. The first one enters all the items to the register and receives your card. The second one goes through the receipt and controls the sums, and then processes your card. There might also be a third one for putting your items in a bag. In Norway there's only one person at the register, and at the grocery store you must be quick to put your items in your bags to avoid delaying the next customer.

However, what I think is the clearest example of the cost of labor in the Philippines was at the driving range I went too. When I was there I had a dedicated golf teacher training me. This would be very pricey in Norway. In addition there was a separate person to place a new golf ball ready for me after each shot. So I had two people working for me for one hour. The cost? 700 pesos, just below 100 Norwegian kroner, total. I think I would have to multiply the cost by ten and then some for the same lesson in Norway.


On Sunday we finally arrived in Manila, after a lengthy and tiring trip. After dropping off our suitcases, taking a shower and changing clothes (those long trips really makes you feel dirty…) we were off to lunch with Valerie, Minnie’s sister, and Tin Tin, a close friend of Minnie. We ate at Italiannis at the mall called "The Fort", where we took the picture below.

Tin Tin said she was going to treat us to this lunch since it just recently was her birthday. For me it’s still a bit strange that the one who is celebrated is treating, shouldn’t it be all the others treating the one who is celebrated? Anyhow, this is the custom in the Philippines, meaning that Minnie and I got a free lunch.

In the evening the same day we met up with Cookie, one of Minnie’s bosses in her last job in the Philippines, at a restaurant serving Filipino-style food. The food was really good and interesting. I’m always eager to learn about Filipino food and culture, which I certainly did at this meal. Cookie had decided she was going to treat us this meal, so again we got a free meal. 2 out of 2 so far…

The day after we went to the office where Minnie used to work before, meeting up with lots of her old colleagues. It was touching to see how they were so happy to see her, and I know Minnie was so happy to see them as well. After some time in the office, we went off to lunch with Danna and Andrea, two of her colleagues and friends. Again we had a nice lunch, this time at a Greek restaurant, and again we were treated. This time by Andrea, which wouldn’t hear anything of us paying for the lunch, paid it. 3 out of 3 so far…

Minnie and I did some shopping after lunch, and then went back to the office for the five thirsty (which of course happens at 5.30pm). The five thirsty is the time when some of Minnie’s old colleagues goes down to the food court in the 12th floor to drink a bit. We went with them and had some beer and a drink. The first round was paid by a colleague, I suggested to pay for the second round, but was denied this. So again we ended up paying nothing. 4 out of 4 so far…

Later that evening we met up with the most of the Minnie’s old gang from the office for dinner. We had a really good time, lots of laughs (which always is the case around Filipinos), and ate good food. This time Minnie had decided to pay for the dinner, but knew she had to be a bit cunning about it. She therefore quietly went up to the desk to pay, without letting anyone else know. Sadly she had a problem with her card and therefore came back to the table. Andrea now realized what we were trying and pretty much ran after a waiter demanding to pay the bill. This was getting a bit funny, but the result was once again that we got a free meal. 5 out of 5 so far…

On Tuesday we met up with Olive, the sister of Cecilia, one of Minnie’s Filipino friends in Norway. Again we had a good lunch, giving Olive gifts from Cecilia, talking about how it is Norway and so on. Olive is a manager at her office, something she sort of brought with her to the lunch, suggesting what we should order, taking care of the ordering, making sure we had everything we wanted and so on. Naturally, she also wanted to pay for the lunch. Another free meal, 6 out of 6 so far…

Tuesday evening we again met up with former colleagues of Minnie for dinner, this time at “The Old Spaghetti House”. This place is owned by Cookie, which we met up with at Monday. She sadly couldn’t be with us because of a strong allergic reaction to the crabs she had for dinner the evening before. However, we again had a really nice time, with good food and lots of laughs. There was one main big difference though, we finally got to treat!

So, after eating out 7 times these 3 days, we ended up paying one time. And, for a Norwegian, the bill for that one time was very small too. Including 7 main courses, 5 beers, 2 appetizers and a big dessert, it was 1600 pesos total, or about 200 Norwegian kroner. That is what one main course at a mid-range restaurant in Norway costs…

Just add shopping, a trip to a driving range and a couple of other events, and you pretty much describe how we spent our first days in Manila. This story also show shows two of the great qualities of Filipinos: they are really fun to be with and they are extremely generous :)