Archive for March, 2010

A trip too far?

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

Wow, I really suck at this regular update thing!

Last weekend I was in Shanghai, it’ll get it’s own post in due course, although I have to confess I wasn’t at my best. Just back from China and on the back of several big nights out (courtesy of various visitors to the office) I was feeling under the weather, generally worn out and arriving in a foreign country after midnight (breaking one of my self-imposed travel rules) just wasn’t the best feeling. Made worse when the taxi pulled up to the hotel to reveal an entrance that was properly shut and chained — fortunately the real entrance was round the corner but it’s still not the sort of thing I wanted to deal with at that point in time.

Sitting in the hotel I questioned my sanity for shoehorning this trip in, I actually wanted nothing more than to be in my flat in Manila. Sleeping. Which, given my love/hate relationship with Manila this year, was a pretty interesting feeling. Still, I made the best of it and discovered some cracking places in Shanghai, details soon.

But a weekend of sightseeing (and occasionally drinking) really didn’t help my overall wellness, and I was even more worn out by the time I got back to Manila. So I’ve spent the last week and a half sitting around watching TV and sleeping.

I feel pretty much back to normal now, which is good since I head to Sydney in two days! I still really can’t get my head around the fact I’m going, it’s been booked for so long that it’s just been a ‘thing’ and now here it is. I’ve done hardly any of my normal research for this trip, but that doesn’t matter, it’s not a flying weekend visit. There I’ve got plenty of time to settle in, look around and decide what to do. Plus I have friends around Sydney so I know I’m going to be getting at least some guidance while I’m there.

Even better is that this is a proper holiday, previously I’ve been darting away for the weekend or cramming in some travel during work trips. So I’ve had my work laptop and pretty much been ‘on-call’ but this time, although I’ve agreed to ‘keep an eye’ on my e-mail, I’m officially out of the office and out of contact. It’ll be an interesting feeling, I hope I can let go.

Of course that just means I’ll have a pile of work to return to and it’ll be just under three weeks before I’m away again. But I’m enjoying my work, I’d rather be busy than bored. And I’m more busy than normal because, although neither my salary or my official job title has changed yet, I’ve been promoted. I’m now looking after a team of fifteen people, which is a little scary and also means that the last flicker of a chance of me doing any proper engineering has pretty much died now. I’m sure I’ll find a way to keep my hand in — I have an evil plan.

Overall, despite my body’s protests and my insane schedule, I’m having fun. To go from, earlier in the year, wondering what I was doing in Manila to, on my last trip, not being able to wait to go back means that something must be going right over here.

Hopefully I’ll be able to throw something interesting up here when I’m in Sydney — otherwise I’ll be playing a bit of extreme catch-up when I get back.

Manila: Food I

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

So let’s do a proper Manila post. Food in the Philippines get’s a pretty bad rap, and some of it is deserved but a lot isn’t. I’m going to talk about real Filipino food in a different post but for now I’m going to concentrate on food in general.

I’ve mentioned before that I live in a little enclave of Manila called Eastwood City. It’s difficult to describe if you’ve not been here but it’s around a kilometre square of hi-rise buildings, restaurants, shops, etc. When you look at Manila on a map it’s a small area, you have to zoom right in on Google Maps to see it.

Within this tiny bit of Manila is packed a huge range of food outlets. From fast food to fine dining, everything is here and within a couple of minutes walk. One night I worked out you could eat out every night for a month and never have to visit the same place, if you were happy with fast food for lunch some days you could probably do lunch and dinner for a month and still never have to repeat yourself. And you wouldn’t be eating the same thing all the time, there’s a huge range of places here. From decent Philippines fare, to Japanese, to French, to Mexican, to Greek, to Chinese, and then back to the Philippines. You’d not only never have to eat in the same place twice, you’d never have to eat the same thing twice in a month.

It’s not all good, there are a few places that I’d never go to again but there’s far more that serve excellent food at decent prices. The cheapest places will do you a decent meal for a couple of quid, the average seems to be around eight pounds for two courses plus a drink and you’d be really hard pushed to break thirty pounds per person for a full three course meal with wine even in the best place in Eastwood (and it’s totally worth it).

Eastwood is pretty expensive, it caters to business people and well-off locals, but even so you’d have trouble spending more than fifty pounds per head at the most ridiculously pretentious restaurant in Manila (unless you start cracking into the wine cellar — in which case all bets are off). You can easily knock a third off Eastwood prices at other similar places in the city and you can probably at least half them if you pick an out of the way restaurant that doesn’t live in one of the main ‘destinations’, and once you get out of Manila it only gets cheaper.

Eastwood isn’t unique in Manila, there are a handful of other similar areas with the same concentration of eateries, and there are literally dozens of malls which have food courts and a smattering of other places to eat.

So, is any of it good? Well, as I said above, yes — some of it is excellent. But unless you know a local and/or know what you like it’s a little hit and miss. And, to be honest, it’s somewhat more miss than hit, I think that is part of the reason that people have a bad impression of food in the Philippines.

There are also some cultural differences that piss off people, I’ve heard my fellow ex-pats complain about a couple of things that really don’t bother me but I think they contribute to the opinion of food on these islands.

First is that food isn’t generally severed piping hot, it’s a hot country and the locals are used to food coming out kinda lukewarm. You get used to it, and it’s never really been a problem for me except for the occasional steak that’s a little too cool for my liking, but it’s the primary complaint you’ll see on-line if you start researching Philippines food.

The second complaint I’ve heard is that dishes come out at the same time or in the wrong order. I can’t really get behind this, restaurants here are used to people ordering things to share and re-ordering as necessary rather than following the western three course tradition. It’s unusual the first time you get your soup after you’re halfway through your steak, but it’s one of these things you get used to. I’m bewildered by ex-pats that have lived here for years and still complain about it but that, sadly, does seem to be a pattern with some ex-pats here — or maybe it’s just a safe common ground they think they can talk about.

Also, in general, food is generally served ridiculously fast, I’ve had servers apologise to me when my food has taken more than ten minutes. I think this is something that the country inherited from the states, but frankly I don’t mind taking time over my meal and I’m used to a decent meal taking a while. I’d prefer that things took longer, but the the speed of service seems completely unrelated to the quality of the food. Some of the worst food I’ve had took ages and some of the best has been almost instant.

I was going to talk about the difficulty of cooking for myself in the Philippines but I think I’ll save it for another time. I do try and cook in the apartment most of the time, you get bored of eating out all the time.

So finally I’ll talk about my problems with the eating out in Eastwood. I could find you a decent example of whatever you wanted within five minutes walk apart from two things. I haven’t found a decent burger in Eastwood, everything is fast food style. But worse I haven’t found a decent curry in Manila, the one area lacking in the food in the city is spice. Philippines food isn’t particularly spicy, it leans more to the sweet/sour angle, and so almost all restaurants tone down their dishes for the local palette. I sure there are places that would satisfy me but they tend to be harder to find.

But these are concerns that should only worry the people that come to live here, those of you coming for a visit should concentrate on trying out the native cuisine which also gets a bad rep but is, in my opinion, totally undeserved as long as you’re willing to stretch your taste buds a bit (or a lot, depending on what you’re eating). But more of that some other time when I’ve collected more photos.

Travellin’

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

Right, I know I missed a couple of posts there. Actually I only missed one but my post scheduled for the 28th didn’t work for some reason. It was a tech-post, I’ve retro-posted it anyway. No excuse for that, I have an excuse for last weekend as I was off travelling again.

First stop was one of my favourite cities: Hong Kong. I love Hong Kong. It’s pretty close to my perfect city, big enough to have lots of interesting things to do. Small enough to be easy to navigate. It’s got a brilliant mix of western and eastern influences and it’s just one of those cities where you can find something for everyone.

But there’s no way I could live there. Not only would the language barrier be too much but it’s just way too expensive. The money I spent in 36hours there would have done me a month in Manila. Maybe a slight exaggeration but it’s close.

After that I was in Shenzhen, China for work. It’s one of the big cities in southern China that attracts a lot of business due to the proximity to Hong Kong. Unlike that other nearby city I’ve been to, Guangzhou, it’s pretty nice. It’s only been around in it’s present form 30 years and so it has decent roads, and public transport. This makes it all a little too spread out for my tastes, but it’s fun for a few days. Since I was working I didn’t get any chance to do anything interesting, although the guys I was with did take a detour to pick up a really impressive looking knock-off iPhone. If it turns out to work even half as impressively as it looks then it’s a pretty good buy for £40 or so.

Being in China again did make me appreciate living in Manila, even though you’ll not hear much English spoken here pretty much everyone can speak English. In Shenzhen we were lucky to find a handful of people who could understand us, even in the touristy places. Maybe I’ll stay for a weekend next time I’m their and do a bit of sightseeing, but I get the impression it’s pretty much all businesses and shopping centres catering to people on a day trip from Hong Kong.

After all that I’ve been living a pretty quiet life, actually cooking for a change and trying to save money after Hong Kong.

Which is good because I’m off to Shanghai next weekend, completely random bonus holiday as my Chinese visa was only good for three months and work don’t need me to go back. So I figured, why not?

After that I’m back for a bit and then it’s Australia, for a proper holiday not just a mad long weekend.

For a while it was looking like I was going to end up doing a stupid round-the-world trip after that, heading to the US and then Europe and basically travelling for all of May. But the US part of that, at least, has been delayed. Which is good, I like travelling but that might have been a bit much, the organisation involved would have been insane, but it would pretty much have guaranteed me a weekend in Vegas on the way between two of my stops.

Hopefully I’ll have time to queue up a post for next weekend when I’m in Shanghai. Hopefully it’ll have more content.