MANILA - THE FIRST TWO WEEKS

I have been to Manila many times before, usually for work but have also been here for holidays a few times. This time is different. This time I have to set up a home as I am basing myself here for a few years.

 

The hotel I booked into at $11 a night was not exactly the bargain I had imagined. The area I am in is one of the oldest parts of Manila and in a couple of words is quite dodgy. There are a number of ‘Karaoke bars’ on the road of the hotel. I don’t think singing is the priority as the places have lots of girls out the front enticing the punters in to their establishments with their tight and skin showing outfits. This is not unusual, as I have seen red light districts before, but a bit of a novelty to watch it from your hotel room window.

A typical house in Manila - Photo courtesy of lonelyplanet.com

I did not expect the Ritz at that price, however since the place only opened two months prior, and I thought that it would be a nice clean place to stay, and for the most part it was, however it did have its teething problems. The biggest of which was that it was leaking water where the air conditioner meets the wall. Every time it rained, water came into the room, sometimes like a mini waterfall. I suppose being there during a Typhoon and floods did not help and also its proximity to the ocean. The staff were nice enough and offered to swap rooms, but because I had settled in for a few weeks, I opted for a few towels and used the bin as a make-shift water receptacle.

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Trying to stop the water coming in with my hankerchief

Exploring the local area was sometimes a challenge, having to look at the ground at every step to ensure I did not step in a hole or on a rusty pipe or slip on some slime. I even was offered ‘Ice’ from a local, and I don’t mean frozen water. I felt a bit uneasy when after I declined, he followed me for a bit. Begging is also rife, with every second child and often the adults asking for some money for some food, you try to do what you can, but if you gave money to everyone, you would go broke fairly quickly and sad to say the immunity builds up relatively fast.

Bicycle traffic jam

I had 18 days booked into the hotel to give me enough time to find an apartment. Units, apartments, condo, semi condo all mean different, quite specific things here, whilst back home, we often use them interchangeably. Being tech savvy, I like to do many things online, and of course looking for a place to live was no different, but quickly found that places were 30%-40% more expensive online, my theory was that people with internet could afford to pay more.

 

If you want to find a place to live in Manila, it is not necessary to use a real estate, the internet or classifieds to find available places. The best way is to find an area you want to live in and then walk around looking for a ‘for rent’ sign. Often there is a security guard that can tell you the price and give access to the place to have a look. I looked at a few places and after I found the perfect place, good location, right price and a decent enough place, but was disappointed to be denied because I was not employed. I even offered to pay six months’ rent in cash in advance, but was advised money was not the issue? A bit dumbfounded I continued my search, only to find a place a few days later, which was a good feeling.

It was easier to take pictures of the signs so I had the phone numbers for later

The place I found to live in, is in Guadalupe. It is on the outskirts of Makati, the CBD district of Metro Manila. It is a two bedroom apartment, on the third floor of a 3 floor complex of 6 units. It is nice enough, but did not realise it did not have any hot water. While I can try to live like a local in most respects, hot water was a necessity and I was not boiling water every time I wanted a shower. It did not seem to be a major hurdle however and got a hot water system installed for only P6000 (AUD $135) It works well, and because it instantly heats up the water as it goes through the unit I never run out of hot water.

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Another aspect of the apartment I found different to home was the lack of a stove, oven or anyway to cook food. Again, not a major problem, just another fun thing I had to try to figure out. Most of the locals have a gas cylinder connected to hotplates for cooking. A rice cooker, used not only to cook rice, but also boil broths and soup style dishes. The downside I saw to this was having to get the gas cylinder replaced whenever it ran out. Some of these were quite large and was not looking forward to carrying it up three flights of stairs, so I opted for an electric option. I bought a rice cooker, two electric hotplates and an electric fry pan and plan to get a microwave oven soon. It seems to be working so far, but I wait eagerly to get the first electric bill to see how much it will be. Check out Part Two of my Manila story by clicking here.

99 cooking dinner on the first night in the new place

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