Saturday, November 14, 2009


Ok, I need to go on a mini rant here for a post because I am feeling way out of place. I don't know how I am supposed to relate to these people I am teaching. I live, eat and breathe travel and almost all of the students (and staff) have just arrived here for their first trip ever away from Korea, or have never left the Philippines in the case of the other tutors. Thus, there is a huge mentality gap to go with the cultural gap because many of them don't even want to travel. Funny that because the students are supposed to continue to Australia after here and a few have already told me they don't want to go anymore.
Imagine that they've just arrived from Korea (which they have). They are still eating Korean food for all 3 meals, cooked by a Korean. I eat the same food. They complain about the heat (well, ya, Korea isn't tropical but this weather doesn't phase me much anymore). Half the students are sick most of the time. And the other half are sick the rest of the time. It's crazy how wimpy they are. Then again, half the Filipino tutors are sick as well..... hmmm......
But, the most ridiculous and impossible thing for me to deal with is the cleanliness paranoia. I think they must all be hypochondriacs or something because they have way too much hand sanitizer going on around here. All well and good to be clean, but they judge me based on it. We have a cleaning staff of 3 that do our laundry, serve the food and mop the floors. I'd eat off the floors in the hallway (no I haven't actually done it). They are not dirty to me at all. I want to walk from my room to the water cooler in the hall, a grand total of about 10 steps, in bare feet and they completely freak out. They think I'm some sort of sick animal or depraved lunatic. Heaven forbid I should not have shoes on right up until the moment I go to sleep. Honestly, if it were up to me, I'd go barefoot everywhere, even to my classes. I was barefoot everywhere in Koh Tao and at home in Singapore. It's terrible to have to put on shoes to walk down the hall just so I don't give someone a heart attack.
Ok, I think I'm ranted out. Whew!

Still learning

I am slowly learning more and more about this place that I live in now. Each weekend I try and find something new, even if it is just finding the closest driving range. Unfortunately it seems that the students currently enrolled at the school are a bunch of deadbeats because they really don't do anything other than study.
I know I've already mentioned how short the Filipinos are but I was out the other day and walked into a Dunkin' Donuts (don't ask) and noticed a job ad posted on the wall. I remember seeing the same thing in Manila when we were here back in Feb too. It said they were hiring for counter staff and cashiers and one of the requirements listed was that applicants must be at least 5'2" tall! This is certainly not an issue at home but it is a necessary point to make out here. The funniest thing about it is that the current president of the Philippines would be disqualified from working at a fast food joint because she is only 4'10"!
They have an election next year too, and apparently some people around here are a little excited because it is a well known and accepted fact that there's a lot of "bribe" money to be made during elections as you can make thousands of pesos from various party groups' representatives as they try to buy your vote. Too bad I can't sell my vote too :(
And then, to top it all off this week, I went to the mall and had a look at the movie theatre. Each movie is charged a different price. I have no idea what they base the ticket prices on but there is actually quite a large range in prices for various movies (some are as much as double another) but also in odd pricing increments. This is the first time I have ever seen this being done.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


It was one of the things that we'd missed on the first trip to the Philippines and I'd wanted to do, so this time around I made no mistake and went out to see some cockfighting. Call me sick and twisted for going (most of the Koreans do) but cockfighting is a huge "sport" here in the Philippines and I wouldn't be a very good traveller if I missed out on an easy chance for some more cultural exploration. Maybe I am seriously lacking in stimulation these days or am just twisted but I actually found it rather interesting and ended staying for almost 4 hours, watching a total of I think 27 fights.
If I had to guess I'd say that my interest actually stem from 1. the fact that it is controversial, 2. I can still remember reading about cockfighting in the US deep south in the book "Roots", and 3. I have just finished reading "Iberia" (dad, it's not that bad once you get to know Michener and his style, I'm sad I have no more of his books to read.) and it talked a lot about bullfighting in Spain. I suspect that in many ways they are the same and so I was trying to see the "art" of bullfighting in Spain through the cockfighting pits of Iloilo. Clearly I'm nuts, but it kind of worked.....
I was actually really lucky in the whole affair because it turns out that there is a cockfighting stadium within walking distance of the school and it's one of the largest in the country. I was the only westerner there (of course) and it didn't take too long for me to get confused as to what was going on. Sure, the obvious stuff was obvious like the part with the roosters but the culture behind it all was still a mystery. So I sat and watched and waited. It didn't take too long until a local guy (as you can imagine it's almost all men there) sat beside me and proceeded to explain many aspects of the sport over the course of the following 2 hours. I think in part he stayed on talking to me because he was betting and winning (unlike the previous day) and considered me some sort of lucky charm, haha.
It turns out that while generally cockfighting is done on Sunday afternoons (and this was a Sunday), I was actually sitting in on the semi-finals of a nationwide 10-stag competition (derby). I saw 27 fights in 4 hours and there were 86 total scheduled for that day alone! 10-stag means that you have to have at least 10 different roosters to enter into the competition and stags are young birds. These ones were 10-11 months old, while the real fighting cocks are usually 3-4 years old. I was told that competitions like this are done to ensure the breeding lines are vicious and strong enough to bother maintaining. It has all hit the big-time now with massive breeding farms, special breeding lines and feed, and millions of dollars in prize money to be won. Gotta make sure you're breeding the right birds...
Before each fight the handlers come to the cockpit with their bird and a warm-up one. The warm-up bird is held by another handler and is used to rile up the other bird so that it gets in the proper mood. A few pecks back and forth, and then it's time to unwrap the wicked-looking razor attached to the left leg/foot and let the 2 contestants go at it. There is a 10 minute time limit to each fight. Apparently the older cocks are tougher and can go that long. The ones I saw lasted anywhere from 15 to 90 seconds with most being over in about 30. That's pretty fast. Of course the loser is going to die, though not necessarily on the spot. The winner often dies too from it's wounds, especially with these younger ones. In the event that both birds are too injured to continue fighting, they are continually dropped in front of each other by the "referee" (like in any boxing match to restart the fight) until one bird no longer shows that it can fight back. Even if neither can move, if one can still show aggression and a willingness to try to attack, it wins. Ties do happen on occasion too. After a quick sweep up of the feathers and blood, it's time to bring out the next cocks for warm up.
The gambling in the few minutes before the fight begins is intense. All I can say is that it sort of reminded me of watching Thai-boxing in Bangkok, with all the people on the cement upper bleachers furiously gambling away and being so loud cheering on their fighters. Same idea, but here cockfighting exists I think for the sole purpose of giving people an excuse to gamble. The guys with ringside seats are simply betting a lot more. In fact, there is a mandatory minimum fee that the entrants have to gamble on each of their birds which is set at the beginning of each competition.
While basketball and boxing are the most popular sports in the country, the popularity of cockfighting lies in the fact that anyone can do it. I've mentioned before that you can see roosters tied up in many people's yards all over the country. If there are major cockfighting competitions, there are also informal matches every Sunday as well with neighbours pitting their birds against each other with a variety of bets and handicaps thrown in to make it interesting or fair.
Anyway, I learned something, it had atmosphere, it had character, I was satisfied.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Pay day :)

Ok for the record, I am in the Philippines still. I work at a Korean school. That means that I am teaching only Korean students and the management and ownership is Korean. They are all adults from about 20 to 30 years old. As part of my deal I am given a private room at the school and 3 Korean meals a day. I don't like spicy food, but thus far I have managed quite well. There is always something not spicy that I can eat and I leave the Kimchi alone... The students actually think it's pretty funny that I have such a wimpy mouth.
So ya, I get room and board, free laundry, free access to the internet in the office when they aren't busy and finally a small salary. I make a whopping 250 pesos/hr. That works out to a little over $5/hr. It actually less than the going rate for a native-speaker but I don't really care. I have a lot of freedom and it's not like I need a ton of money. I need the experience and job.... Actually, it's a lot by local standards anyway. The minimum wage in Manila is about 380 pesos/day and here in Iloilo it is as low as 230! That's for 8 hrs of work, ouch! So, as you can imagine, things are pretty cheap around here and I do earn enough to enjoy myself (well, if I felt like spending anyway). I am probably just going to save up and spend my long weekends and Christmas break running around in other parts of the country.
Last night I discovered the local bowling alley. Some of the students took me. It was pretty funny. It's a normal 10-pin place but they use small balls, like 5-pins size, so you can really whip them down there and have fun with it. They also have people standing at the back to manually set up the pins too.
So things are generally good and we'll see how long it lasts. I have made no long-term or contractual commitments here....

Sunday, November 01, 2009

English Teacher

Well, here I am, "settled" into working life once again. Actually, not really. I am definitely not used to this yet. Granted I only work 4 hours a day but I suppose it's the fact that if I want to leave and visit somewhere else I can't. What is this responsibility? Why do you people live with so much of it?
Seriously though, I'm still getting used to it and really I couldn't ask for a better situation to get myself readjusted. The "academy" is tiny, with only about a dozen students at the moment. Most of the other teachers/tutors teach one on one, but I have group classes, with groups of up to 4 students at the moment. Given that not all students will show up to every class, it is not unusual to have groups of 1. There are most students set to arrive soon though so no doubt we will get busier. I need this time to sort of mess around and figure out what I'm teaching anyway. Management told me to teach something and keep the students happy and I can pretty much do whatever I want. Great, except I don't know what I'm doing, haha.
As the only native- English speaker around here I am supposed to know everything so I am also frantically trying to learn all those grammar rules that make English look impossibly hard, even for me. Nothing worse than telling a student his sentence is wrong and he says "But why? I'm using a gerund.". "Uh, well, it's just wrong" (meanwhile thinking "What the hell is a gerund?"). Ok, so I have since learned that a gerund is a type of verbal, when a verb form is used as a noun in a sentence (ya, whatever that means too), but I'd rather not get lost in the details.
I think that I'm supposed to be in charge of a conversation class so that means getting them to talk and correcting what's said. And I have to come up with lots of expressions and idioms to introduce to them too. You'd think this wouldn't be too difficult, and it's not, but Korean students are known for being tough and I'm new to all this.
The good news is that the boss likes me. Actually, she's the only friend I have at the moment and we spend so much time together that rumours are circulating. As the boss, she's generally disliked by everyone, including the assistant manager who is trying to cause all sorts of power struggles and get her fired. Office politics, fun fun :)
Don't ask me how long I'm going to be here teaching. I have no idea. I still think working is overrated and I will try to do as little as possible.... Really I'm just killing time and hoping for some offshore work.
Otherwise, this weekend was a long weekend here in the Philippines. They celebrate All Souls Day on the 1st of Nov. Filipinos are supposed to go visit the cemetery and pray for dead loved ones I guess. I don't know but unfortunately I didn't have enough time to plan anything exciting for the long weekend off. I do have plans for future weekends though so hopefully I'll have more to write about later.