Dumaguete, Philippines — After the February 6, 2012 Earthquake

Nearly two days after the earthquake, and we are still experiencing aftershocks.  I was awakened this morning by one right before 6:00am, and I just felt another slight tremor at 8:48am.  Multiple sources, including PHIVOLCS, report more than 1,000 (mostly minor) aftershocks since the initial earthquake, but the strongest of these measured 6.2  early Monday evening.  Aftershocks could continue

President Aquino will be in Dumaguete today (his 52nd birthday) to assess the damage and meet with local officials.  According to the Department of Public Works and Highways 11 bridges are impassable along the Dumaguete North Road in Negros, and some sections of this road have cracks or debris from resulting landslides blocking passage.  Specifically within Dumaguete, five bridges have been classified as impassable due to damages:  the Martilo Bridge km 64+800 (La Libertad); Pangaloan Bridge (Jimalalud); Oyangon Bridge ; San Jose Bridge km 101+669; and Bateria Bridge.

The new Robinson’s Mall in Dumaguete had minor structural damage, with some cracking in the walls.  [I have since learned that Robinson’s Movie Theatre is temporarily closed due to ceiling damage.]  I don’t know yet about Lee Plaza or Hypermart.  I will be going out later today to have a look around.

For more information, including maps and related videos, please visit the following link from GMA:  http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/247178/news/regions/aftershocks-dim-hopes-of-finding-survivors-in-quake-hit-negros-oriental

Please keep the Filipino people in your thoughts as they face yet another difficult time, and pray for those still missing following  multiple landslides (currently 71 from two barangays).

Earthquake in Dumaguete, Philippines — February 6, 2012

An earthquake struck the central Philippines this morning at 11:49am PHT, about half an hour after the NY Giants Super Bowl victory.  This was incredible – the entire house was rumbling, walls were shaking and the floor felt like it was going out from under my feet.  It sounded similar to thunder, and I’m guessing it lasted for about 30 seconds, maybe a little more.  Cell service was down for awhile, as everyone was trying to call or text everyone they knew to make sure loved ones were ok.

We lost power in our barangay immediately following the earthquake, so we turned on our battery-powered radio for news.  After a few minutes reports started coming in that this earthquake measured 6.9 on the Richter scale, and the epicentre was a mere 44 miles from our home city of Dumaguete!

The earthquake was just off the coast between Negros and the nearby island of Cebu.  A number of small aftershocks followed, and then it seemed quiet.   I took a trike downtown around 1:30pm to run a few errands and was surprised to see virtually every trike just packed with people.  I learned that the schools had been closed and watched as businesses shut down, their outdoor security gates being locked up tight.  All of these students and employees were heading for home.

Rumors were flying that the seawall down along Rizal Boulevard had already been breached and that water was beginning to fill the streets.  As I was having no luck finding a trike, I decided to walk down to the Boulevard to see for myself.  Delighted to discover this was not true, I resumed my search for a ride home.  Hopping in a trike after a 30-minute wait, I joined the sea of cars, trikes, motorcycles and bicycles, many people heeding advice to evacuate for higher ground due to the possibility of a tsunami.  I was so impressed as my incredibly patient driver just battled the bumper-to-bumper traffic without a single complaint, and I arrived home in about 45 minutes (a trip that normally takes no more than about eight minutes).

While I was downtown I did not see any destruction first-hand, but I heard on the news this evening that there was some damage, including three bridges that are considered “impassable” (I don’t know yet which bridges these are).  Thankfully there is no more talk of a tsunami, but sadly, as of this post there are 13 known fatalities here in Negros, including some elementary school students.  Periodic aftershocks continue, even into this evening.  Most are not significant, but the last one about 90 minutes ago was enough to make me sway a bit as I stood.  I checked in with a friend who lives in Banilad on the island of Cebu, and he said that there was no damage there but that they are still experiencing aftershocks, as well.  I do hope these are over now – it’s even more unsettling after dark.

* * *

Please visit again for follow-up posts providing more details as I learn them.

Tropical Storm Sendong (“Washi”) – December 17, 2011

Another first for me here in the Philippines, as Tropical Storm Sendong (international name: Washi) took an unexpected turn and came much closer to Dumaguete than expected.  Our power went out shortly after 6:00am, and the rain and winds quickly followed, increasing in intensity.  We had to close the doors and windows to keep the rain out, and as the skies continued to darken, we lit candles in order to see our way around the house.

Over the next few hours we listened to our battery-powered radio for updates to the storm activity here  in Dumaguete.  These reports were intermingled with Christmas and popular music.  We watched as the drainage systems along the road outside of our house began to overflow and water flooded into the street.  Three small trees were knocked over, blocking the road around the corner.  As ceiling leaks began to appear, we gathered towels and buckets to collect the water.  After a couple of hours, the radio went dead – I thought it was the batteries, but the station had lost power and went off the air.

By 10:00am the rain began to lighten, as did the skies, and our power was restored around 10:30am  (we were very lucky; most were without power for the remainder of the day).  We were extremely fortunate here in Barangay Daro, unlike many who lived by the Banica River.  An early news report yesterday noted that a family lost their five-year-old son and two-year-old daughter due to the floods; we have since learned that at least 50 families’ homes have been destroyed, and these families have been temporarily relocated to schools in Batinguel.

This morning we had bottled water delivery, as we are still without water service.  I asked Jon, the delivery man, about his family and house following the storm, and I was stunned to learn that his house, and all of their belongings, is completely gone.  Yet here he is, up the next morning, back at work.  Unbelievable.  My husband and I just looked at each other in shock, and my husband pulled P500 out of his wallet and respectfully offered it to Jon as a small token of assistance.  At first he politely declined, but we insisted, and he then graciously accepted it.

I never cease to be amazed by the strength and resiliency of the Filipino people.   Just this morning, only a day after this storm, our neighborhood church is in full swing — people are praying and singing Christmas carols… and today, they are proudly singing the Philippines National Anthem.

So many Filipinos lives have just been devastated by Sedong.  I encourage anyone that can offer assistance to please visit the following link to the Philippine Red Cross.  We have all heard standard fundraising efforts state that “no donation is too small,” but this is so true, especially here in the Philippines.  The daily cost of living here is dramatically less than in the U.S., Canada or Europe.  What you might consider a “small” donation will go incredibly far here, so please consider sharing some Christmas spirit for those so in need by donating to the Philippine Red Cross at http://www.redcross.org.ph/donatenow.

Current information from ABS-CBN News about Sendong may be found here:  http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/

After enjoying life in this incredible country for 2-1/2 years, this is something very near and dear to my heart, and I thank you for your generosity.

Merry Christmas, and a happy, healthy 2012 for all of us.

Malatapay Market

Malatapay Market runs from National Highway down to the sea

Every Wednesday the nearby town of Zamboangita comes alive with Malatapay Market, the well-known, outdoor market that takes place only one day per week.  Located just off the National Highway, it’s about a 25‑minute ride from Dumaguete.  I visited the Market for the second time just a couple of weeks ago with my friends, Edna and Rhiza, riding the Ceres Bus from Dumaguete (P25 each).  We knew we’d arrived when we saw all of the fruit and vegetable stands and many motorbikes parked along the highway.

Fresh-ground coffee, sold by the kilo

The Market begins at the National Highway and runs down a side road all the way to the sea.  Local vendors set up stands on both sides of this small road, selling home-grown fruits and vegetables, tobacco, chicken, meat, pork and “freshly-caught” seafood.   One man, using a homemade grinder, was selling his fresh-ground coffee by the kilo.

... very big eyes!

I was overwhelmed by the variety of seafood – everything from octopus and very large squid to assorted fish and crabs.  All around us people were bartering for the best price, purchases were weighed and bagged, and money was constantly changing hands.

Quite the selection of fish

Live octopus, anyone?

Many native crafts were displayed, including jewellery, artwork and wind chimes (I purchased a beautiful set of chimes to hang at our front door).  Still more vendors arranged tables underneath large tents selling plastic storage containers, an assortment of glassware and dishes, tools, pots & pans and cooking utensils.

I tried - unsuccessfully - to convince Rhiza to buy this hat!

There were racks of T-shirts, shorts, dresses, hats and baby clothes; tables full of slippers (what we call “flip‑flops” in the United States), watches, key chains, wallets and sunglasses.  A number of extremely persistent young men were walking around selling both loose and stringed pearls.

Boats at Malatapay, Zamboangita

Reaching the end of the road, we walked out past the boat houses to the sea.  It was a beautiful day allowing for a clear view of nearby Apo Island, a famous spot for diving enthusiasts.  Boats were lined up all along the beach, and we watched a couple of boys snorkeling just off the shore.

Heading back to the road, we saw two large tables with cooks serving the Filipino specialty, lechon.  Lechon is roasted pig and is the centerpiece to all major Filipino celebrations, from fiestas to weddings, graduations, baptisms, etc.  Anthony Bourdain himself has proclaimed that the best lechon he has ever tasted was here in the Philippines.  I spoke with the cook, asked if I could take his picture, and then requested he chop and bag up a kilo (including a generous amount of the popular, crispy skin, which my husband loves!) to bring home.

The famous "lechon" prepared for take-out

We noticed a crowd across the road and went to see what was happening.  It was an “auction” pen, where people were selling and buying livestock, from caribou to pigs, goats and chickens.

Caribou for sale!

... future lechon?

We continued down the road, stopping to purchase tomatoes, avocados, green beans, mangoes and bananas.  The prices were just incredible, and we each came home with bags of gorgeous fresh fruits and vegetables (along with my kilo of lechon and a set of wind chimes!).

Edna in the Jeepney, preparing for the ride back to Dumaguete

Rather than waiting for the Ceres bus, we hopped on a Jeepney (my first Jeepney ride!).  We climbed in the back and took our seats on the bench.  As is so common here in the Philippines, whether it’s on a Jeepney or a trike, I watched as Edna and most of the ten or so passengers did the sign of the cross before we started our journey.  I guess it’s a good thing, as the driver wasted no time getting us back to Dumaguete (there is really no official “speed limit” observed on the Highway, and the Ceres buses and Jeepneys just fly!)

Our driver let us out in downtown Dumaguete, where we hailed a trike and were back in Barangay Daro by about 2:30pm.  We had a terrific time and plan to make it a monthly event.  I highly recommend a stop at the Market for anyone that visits Dumaguete!

Dumaguete Trike Drivers

I have tremendous respect for Dumaguete’s trike drivers… these men work very hard, 12-15+ hours per day, driving all over the city.  I can go out as early as 5:00am and find a trike on the street and a driver happy to take me wherever I need to go.

Trikes downtown

The fare from my house to the heart of the city costs P8 (about $0.20), and the driver will take me door to door.  If I’m going to the ATM and ask the driver to wait and bring me back home, I have never had a driver said “no.”  They are happy to take a break while I wait in line, knowing they have earned a higher fare.  Being a chatty person, I always strike up a conversation with my driver as soon as I get in the trike.  It never ceases to amaze me how well we can communicate — English is so widely spoken here, and I throw in what little Visayan (the local dialect) I have learned, which makes the drivers smile.  “Oh, you speak Visayan?”  I respond with “gamay” (which means “little”), and they love it!  From there the standard “where are you from,” and “how long have you been here” questions come, along with “are you married,” “where is your husband,” and “do you have children?”  I recall reading — before we moved here — that Filipinos love to talk and learn about people, and this is absolutely true.  “How old are you,” a question that most would find offensive in the United States, seems to be commonplace here, and I never mind answering.

Often I ask my driver if he will make a few stops for me, and the answer is always sure!  We might stop at the ATM, the pet store and then a sari-sari before returning to my house.  Or it’s evening, and I take a trike to pick up (incredibly delicious) chicken for dinner at Jo’s Chicken.  I always bag up an extra piece of chicken and a drink for my driver.   If we stop at the sari-sari, I will grab an extra bottle of cold water for him.  Small tokens like this go a long way here, and the drivers are always so appreciative (and quite honestly surprised).

Sadly, many foreigners here have earned a reputation for being cheap when it comes to service, which absolutely appalls me.  We have been welcomed into this beautiful country with open arms, yet I have heard foreigners complain that a trike driver “ripped me off for P10.”  (Really?  Your driver, who works 12-15 hours per day to support his family, is ripping you off for a whole P10?   Have you taken a taxi in New York lately?)  I will proudly admit that my husband and I consistently over-tip trike drivers, servers at restaurants and anyone we have hired to do yardwork or a job inside the house.  We’ll buy them drinks and food – because we appreciate them, their hard work, their genuine smiles and the long hours they keep.

As a result, we have numerous drivers’ names and numbers stored in our cellphones.  If we send a text, asking if the driver is available (even as early as 4:30am the next morning) to take us to the pier to meet a ferry to Cebu, you know what?  They say yes.  I think they enjoy our company as much as we enjoy theirs — sure, they know they will be paid well, but my husband and I also know we will have wonderful, friendly service, so it’s a win-win for everyone.

Earthquake! July 12, 2011

We experienced the earthquake that hit the Visayas region of the Philippines today at 4:47am.  The United States Geological Survey measured the quake at 6.2 on the Richter Scale.  I’m certainly no earthquake expert, but that number seemed a bit high to me.  [I have sinced learned that the quake measured around 4.2 here in Dumaguete.]

I had risen early and was already downstairs; my husband was upstairs still asleep.  Seated on the sofa, I suddenly noticed very light vibrations underneath my feet.  This feeling increased in intensity, and the sofa began swaying from left to right. I stood up and could feel the entire room moving, gently rocking back and forth.  Earlier I had opened our wooden front door (which opens inwards), and I watched as it also shifted back and forth.  I would guess the earthquake lasted for about :30 seconds.  (My dog, meanwhile, had freaked out and hidden himself under the table.)

Curious if the earthquake had woken up my husband, I was about to call to him when I saw he was already making his way down the stairs.  We couldn’t stop talking about it — he said the bed was moving, and his glass of water on the floor next to the bed actually tipped over.  We turned on the television hoping to hear reports and checked online for any news about the quake.  It took awhile for the news to come out – here is a link to the first report I found  on MSN.com:

http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/dyfi/events/us/c0004u5w/us/index.html

You can see where our hometown of Dumaguete is located at the bottom of the island.  Effects of the earthquake were felt on the nearby islands of Cebu and Mindanao.   While we did experience two very small “aftershocks” shortly after 5:00am, all is now quiet again.

If you have never experienced a minor earthquake, it’s an incredibly odd sensation… kind of exciting, actually — provided there are no injuries, of course.  I am relieved to add that there were no reports of injury or damage of any kind on the island of Negros.

Generating an Income in the Philippines

One of our biggest obstacles while contemplating our move to the Philippines was how we would generate a consistent income once we’d arrived.  We’re not old enough yet to collect a pension, and we knew our severance packages would carry us for only so long.  Years ago, this uncertainty would have been more than enough for us to put our dream on the proverbial “back burner,” where it would have disappeared into the black hole of unrealized  goals.  But not this time…

Avid followers of both Tony Robbins and Timothy Ferriss,  we decided now was the time to do whatever it takes to attain our life-changing goal.  As often noted by Tony Robbins, the literal definition of decide is “to cut off from,” meaning elimination of all other possibilities.  We decided to move to the Philippines; now it was time to act on this decision.  We joined online Boards, asked questions, and learned as much as we could learn.  We removed everything that did not support our goal, a technique learned from Timothy Ferriss, author of The Four-Hour Work Week.  We cut off access to anything that could be used as an excuse, leaving us no option but to actually do what had we decided to do — we now had no choice.

We got rid of our house, cars, furniture and winter clothes.  Accounts were settled and closed, and we made proper arrangements to maintain a U.S. mailing address.   Calendar out, we set our departure date and purchased plane tickets.  There was no turning back now.  An incredible feeling, really.  In essence, it took any potential “safety net” away from our decision, and there was nothing left to do but physically get on the plane, and address any new challenge as it arose.  We planned appropriately and had enough in the bank to allow us time to relax for bit and then find our home.  A few months passed, and it was now time to address the issue of income.

Without work visas we were not eligible for employment (but frankly, we didn’t want “jobs”).  Our aim was to earn enough money for monthly expenses, plus occasional travel, etc.  We had basic knowledge of the popular online freelancing options and knew that each of us possessed skills that would lend themselves well to work that appeared to be in demand.  After researching a number of sites, we decided upon oDesk and created very detailed profiles.  We took their free, skills-related tests to further bolster our profiles.  In a short period of time we each had our first client, and then another.  We now both have regular clients and work on continuing projects.  Talk about “flex time” — we work a few hours each day around our own schedule (nothing remotely close to the 9:00-5:00 routine), and with a little advance notice, we can inform our clients when we will not be available.

If you are wondering if these online freelancing sites actually work, the answer is a resounding “yes!”  You must be prepared to set aside significant time to perfect your profile and showcase your skills.  Spellcheck, spellcheck, spellcheck… there is no greater turnoff than reading a profile filled with typos (especially if a contractor is promoting themself as a Virtual Assistant, Writer or Editor!).

We receive payment from oDesk every Wednesday in U.S. Dollars and then make a direct transfer to our local, Philippines bank for only $0.99 cents per transaction.  Between the two of us, a “slow” week is $900 USD ($3,600 USD/month) or P160,000/month… not too bad, considering our two-bedroom, two-bathroom house is only P10,000/month.

For those of you considering relocation to the Philippines (or any other country, for that matter), I highly recommend you take a look at www.oDesk.com  (alternatively www.guru.com, where I also have a profile).  Enter search terms relative to your skills and expertise; I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the number of opportunities available. Good luck!

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