Tuesday, February 8, 2011

First Quarter Down

In honor of our 6 month anniversary of arriving in Manila (January 31), our one year anniversary of arriving in DC to join the FS (February 14), and the winter bidding cycle, here's my six-month perspective on Manila as a FS post:
Strengths:
1) Community - The Embassy has wonderful leadership and is staffed by a great group of people, creating a friendly work environment despite the heavy workload in the consular section. The social community is inclusive and supportive, and there are plenty of opportunities to make friends.
2) Travel - The Philippines is a beautiful country, and Manila is well located for Southeast Asian travel. Domestic travel can be either cheap or expensive, depending on where you stay.
3) Food - Although Filipino food and Americans don't usually mix well, there are good restaurants in Makati and the Fort.
4) Domestic help - Imagine a life where your house is always clean, dinner is ready, and there's no such thing as laundry nights. And most importantly, you can afford it. Drivers are helpful in dealing with the traffic and parking problems, and can multi-task as professional dog walkers, errand runners, and bag schleppers. 
5) Safety - There are certain places in the country where you cannot go, and there is a travel warning in the Philippines, but Manila is generally as safe as any other mega-city. 
6) Availability of goods - Unless you shop like a local, and it's difficult to shop like a local, you will pay US equivalent or higher prices for most of your groceries and household basics. Manila has a 5% COLA. However, you have access to many familiar US, Australian, and European goods, which helps if you are already overwhelmed by the city. When you can't think straight because you battled an hour of traffic getting to the grocery store, at last you will find a few familiar labels on the shelves. You won't find everything you want, but you'll find most of it. Local and imported fruits and veggies are generally plentiful, depending on the season. 
7) Good deals -  Restaurant dining and home food delivery is extremely affordable, particularly if you are used to paying D.C. prices. High-quality and skilled crafts, furniture, jewelry and clothing is wonderfully inexpensive at markets such as Greenhills, and travel can be cheap. You can have incredibly fresh, organic vegetables delivered nearly to your door for less than $100/month--take that, Whole Foods. Massages are the best deal in town, even at the Sofitel.
8) EFM employment - Most spouses who want to work are able to find a job at the Embassy, and most enjoy their work.

Challenges:
1) Air quality: The air quality here is poor, which makes it difficult to spend very much time outside. In addition to the pollution caused by smoke-spewing buses, cars, and jeepneys, there's always an interesting smell heading your way on the next breeze.
2) Traffic: Planning a night out is always a challenge. It could take 15 minutes to get to your destination, or it could take over an hour, and the traffic is unpredictable. For this reason, most people spend a lot of time at home or at the homes of their friends. In addition, driving in Manila is difficult, and requires your full attention when you are behind the wheel. The rule of the road is that there are no rules.
3) Nothing is easy: The only easy way to run an errand in Manila is to ask your driver to run it for you. From the traffic to finding what you need to dealing with salespeople, hilarity inevitably ensues.
4) Noise: Fireworks go off year round and at all times of the day and night, cars backfire, horns blare, scooters buzz, and there is the occasional parade.
5) Walk-ability: What walk-ability?
6) Money: Yes, you can save money, but not as much as you'd think. Good mental health requires escaping from the city approximately once/month, which can get expensive.

4 comments:

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  2. Love your post! It's in this week's State Dept. Blog Round Up:
    http://oglesandobservations.wordpress.com/2011/02/11/weekly-state-department-blog-round-up-for-february-11-2011/

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  3. Just saw this linked on the new BRU -- walkability is completely different if you live in Makati/Fort vs Seafront, as you know (we walk EVERYWHERE, except to the embassy), so Manila is very very walkable if you stay away from the compound.

    And making friends is not easy because the embassy rarely provides social opportunities for those of us without kids. You did write this 1.5 years ago, so I wonder if it changed after my arrival in April 11? (And by then, you were no longer new, so you wouldn't notice the change?) I arrived just as a new CLO came on board, so I wonder if things are different. And I have hosted coffees, joined book club, and all of that, and I still find it the hardest place I ever lived at to make friends. It was nice going to R&R in DC, seeing all the amazing people I left behind, and realizing "ok, it isn't me!" I hang out mainly with Brazilians here, as the Americans I've met have kept their distance. Part of it might've been our fault for not being too proactive when we arrived, but we were brand new in town, in temp housing, no car, so what did we know?

    And no fireworks and random noises here in Makati, unless it's close to New Years! :)

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