Jun 6, 2009

Philippines brain dump

I just spent the Dragon Boat festival plus some personal vacation days in beautiful Philippines, mostly in Manila and Boracay. I don't know much about the Philippines and the culture there, but I think I picked up quite a bit in the few days I was there. Here's a brain dump, in case you're going.

Some of this information is based on personal experience, other information is based on what I picked up from local friends. Leave me a comment if I got something really wrong.

  • Jeepneys: Look out for speeding jeepneys when crossing the street. There's no real reason to take a jeepney, but they're fun to take pictures of an look at.

  • Tipping: Taxis don't expect it, but if your cab fare is P90, just give the driver P100 and don't expect change. Most of the sit down restaurants include a service fee that goes to the waitstaff. You can also maybe you throw in a P20 in cash before you leave and you'll be fine. P50 to the bellhop taking your luggage to the room in a decent hotel is appropriate.

  • Acronyms: They use quite a few acronyms to save space. For example, GMA is the president, EDSA is a major road, MILF are some bad guys with guns (not "moms you'd like to F").
  • Weapons: In Beijing, the bank security guards look like junior high school boys dressed up for Halloween. They might carry a plastic police baton, but nothing too harsh. Filipino security guards have either a .45 revolver, .357 revolver, or a pump action shot gun. They're at every bank and at many stores. It's more firepower than you're used to seeing in China. I didn't see any automatic weapons though.

    [photo credit]

  • Malls: Locals hang out a lot in malls. If you know where to go, you can find many decent places to eat there too.
  • High end restaurants: Look in the nicer 5-star hotels to find the top end restaurants. Sort of like Vegas.
  • Pace of life: Don't be in a big hurry. To pay the bill, to get your food at a restaurant, to book an airline ticket, to get through customs in the airport, anywhere. Allow yourself double the time to do anything and don't be in a rush, or you'll have a stressful time.
  • 7-11: I think that each country's 7-11 convenience stores can tell you a lot about the culture. Beijing's 7-11s are pretty barren. They'll have some dry, under-sweetened cakes, some precanned coffee in a glass warming case, and rancid Korean food on skewers dipped in soup is what you see. Manila's 7-11s have coffee, donuts, Slurpees, local foods, and even a seating area.
  • Bathrooms: If you need to relieve yourself, you ask for the "comfort room". The word "bathroom" is probably going to be ignored unless you're staying in a 5-star hotel.
  • Butt sprayers: I love the fact that Thai bathrooms and Filipino bathrooms typically have a hose with a sprayer hanging beside the toilet. You wipe yourself, and then you can do a little extra spraying with the hose to make sure you're extra clean. Contrary to what you may imagine, it's easy to make sure the spray stays confined to the toilet bowl. It doesn't make a mess at all. You'll feel a lot better with the makeshift bidet than with just toilet paper alone. It's almost as good as if you'd taken a shower.
  • Paying the bill: Saying "bill", you're guaranteed to get the waiter's attention. "Check" works sometimes, but less reliably.
  • Being a sloppy eater: I've developed a bad habit of spitting out bones from meat, and shells from crab and shrimp, and putting them directly on the table or tablecloth. Not appreciated in the Philippines.
  • Conversational starter: When I met random Filipinos, one of the first questions they'd ask is, "What's your name?" I started telling people my name is Ernesto Garcia (making sure to trill my r's), and for the most part they believed me.
  • Airlines: If you're hopping around the Philippines, Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines are the safer, more reliable airlines. Zest and SE Air seem ok to me, but they're not as recommended by a knowledgeable local friend.

  • General: I used to consider Thai food my favorite southeast Asian food. After this trip, I think it's been outdone by Filipino food. Problem is, you probably can't find the fresh local ingredients outside of the Philippines to enjoy it anywhere else. Note that if you're not a fan of pork, you'll probably not enjoy as many of the dishes. The local pork is very good.
  • Beer: the local, non-export San Miguel beer is very well made, I found it very European tasting, and less watery than Chinese beers. The high-alcohol content Red Horse beer was a little harsh tasting for me, but I can imagine enjoying it if I were a study abroad student in the Philippines. Here's some links to the Beeradvocate.com reviews for the most common local brews you encounter in the Phillipines:

  • Shakey's Pizza: this chain is everywhere. They have a really decent thin crust, although a bit on the small side. Never had them in California or elsewhere in the US. Wikipedia says they're bigger in the Philippines now than in the US, so I guess that's why.
  • Halo-halo: shaved ice, lots of random fruit mixed in, sweet evaporated milk and possibly ice cream poured over the top. Really depends on where you go for it, need to ask a local. It could vary as much as DQ varies from Coldstone.
  • Lechon: whole roasted pig, very tasty. You can get it just about anywhere. Obviously not the whole pig, unless you're feeding a huge group.

  • Sisig: best food ever. I only knew about this dish from watching No Reservations in the Philippines, and I wasn't sure how it would taste. Just an absolutely excellent dish, and the one I sampled was just at an average run of the mill restaurant.

  • ChicharrĂ³n: they eat lots of pork rinds in the Philipines, they taste just like any other ones I've had.


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