Friday, December 30, 2011

Davao Weather Forecast

One of the more common questions that I get asked by friends and family back in Canada has to do with the weather here.  That question has both a simple answer and a more complicated one.  I will start with the simple answer.

It is hot and sunny. Always.

Seriously, it is.  Weather forecasters are the butt of many jokes in Canada, because it seems practically impossible there to forecast what the weather will be the next day, let alone the next week.  Here it is a bit different.  The forecast looks like this all the time:

Hot and sunny.  High of 33C.  Possibility of limited cloud cover.  Chance of late day rain or thunderstorm. Little wind.  Humidity between 80-95%.

This goes for pretty much any day.  There are some days which vary a bit.  Some days it only gets up to 31C.  Other days it may rain a bit for most of the day.  Some days it is cloudy all day.  Those are the days that we look forward to because 33C with 90% humidity feels pretty hot at times.  (There was one day that I can remember that I considered taking a sweater with me when I went out, but by the time I left it had warmed up!).  

We have actually gotten so used to the heat here that it has just become normal.  The other day Kerri was telling me that she was feeling a bit cold.  It was a cloudy day and was noticeably cooler then normal.  I checked the temperature on a thermometer to discover that it had cooled down to... (wait for it...) 29 DEGREES CELSIUS!  I think she even had goosebumps.  I ran to get her a sweater (okay, not really, but she was quite comfortable wearing jeans that day).

As for typhoons and tropical storms, we are located close enough to the equator that we are not located in a typhoon-prone area.  We did have a tropical storm warning here recently, but it turned out to just be one day of rain for us.  Usually when there is a typhoon or tropical storm in the Philippines it is quite a ways north of where we are.  In fact, for us here it seems that when a typhoon is passing through the northern Philippines our weather is not bad at all, often it is warmer and less rain than normal (which is a different kind of bad weather!).

Now, I can totally understand the curiosity which people back in Canada have about the weather here.  Coming from a temperate climate (which really means a cold climate, but they can't call it that or no one would live there!) one of the most noticeable differences here is the lack of variation in the weather.  It is the same day in and day out, week after week, month after month.  The concept of seasons is difficult to apply here.  It's like perpetual summer (which is mostly good...).

Back in Canada we had seasons.  It went from Summer (a week or so of hot dry weather) to Fall (becoming cold) to Winter (COLD! How cold? How does -40 sound?) to Spring (still cold, but with lots of snow too!).  There was a bit of a pattern to it every year, unless Spring didn't feel like showing up, or sometimes Summer stayed for 2 weeks.  Some years it snowed lots before Christmas, other years it all waited until after.  But regardless there was a change of the seasons.

The change of the seasons brought a whole topic of conversation.  How many times have you had a conversation that went something like this: (fill in the blanks)

Me: Sure is (hot/cold/rainy/windy) today, eh?

You: Yes it is.  Nice change from last week though.  It was too (hot/cold/rainy/windy) last week.

Me: I agree.  Hard to believe that it is already the end of (spring/summer/fall/winter).

You: No kidding. (Spring/Summer/Fall/Winter) is just around the corner, eh?

Me: Sure hope it is better than last year.  Remember how (hot/cold/rainy/dry/windy) it was last year?

You: Yeah.  I heard that this year they are saying it is supposed to be a (long/short) (hot/cold/rainy/dry/windy) (spring/summer/fall/winter).

Me: (Hope so/Hope not).  After the (spring/summer/fall/winter) we have had it would be nice if it would (warm up/cool off/dry out/rain more).
That type of conversation is one which takes place in every Canadian workplace, social gathering, family get together, and church function.  Put two Canadians in a room and they always have something to talk about (and often complain about!).  I would imagine it would be similar in many other countries as well (except substitute "eh?" with the local catchphrase).

That kind of conversation doesn't seem to be as popular here.  Probably because it would go something like this:

Toto: Sure is hot today.

Tata: Yes it is.  Just like yesterday. and the day before.  And last week.

Toto: Now what do we talk about?

So please feel free to ask how the weather has been for us, but know that inside I am (laughing/crying/rolling my eyes).

Monday, December 19, 2011

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas...or not.

Seems hard to believe that it is the middle of December already.  That means that we have been here for 5 1/2 months.  In many ways that time has flown by, in other ways it feels like a lifetime. 

It also means that Christmas is just around the corner.  Is it just me or did it seem to sneak up this year?  Perhaps it has been the busyness of life that has made it seem like that.  I mean, our life right now is crazy busy.  We were told before we came that the program would be intense.  That is the understatement of the year.  It's like saying that the Titanic had a little leak.  We are just managing to keep up with the pace of life that we are faced with.  So maybe that has something to do with it not feeling like Christmas should be here already.

Or, perhaps it is because outside it doesn't look at all like what Christmas has always looked like for us.  It is so strange to look outside and see palm trees every day.  There is no change.  No fall leading into winter.  No shorter days and colder mornings.  No frost on the car windows.  No snow, winter clothes, shoveling sidewalks, putting snow tires on the car, warming up the car, plugging in the car so it will start the next day, digging the car out of a snowdrift, getting your tongue stuck to a frozen pole.  All those wonderful memories of winter, Canadian-style (okay, maybe not all of them are fond memories...).  It has been really strange to anticipate the "winter" months, thinking that there are lots of things to get done before the snow comes, only to realize "Hey, wait.  I'm in the tropics."

Perhaps it is partly due to the extended Christmas season here.  I have been hearing Christmas music in the malls since August (seriously!).  Christmas displays have been up since September.  There have been Christmas lights up since at least then as well.  Kids have been out caroling on the streets for at least a month.  Don't get me wrong, I really appreciate how much Christmas is loved and celebrated here, but I am so used to the progression from back-to-school season into Halloween season into Christmas season.  I know that as of November 1 Christmas stuff will start appearing in the stores, Christmas songs and carols will start to be played on the radio, and Christmas lights and decorations will start to be displayed on people's houses.  This year it has been very different, and I think the length of time has something to do with it.

Maybe it is because our house doesn't look Christmas-y like it has every year for the past decade.  We have a tree up (a 3' tall sad looking Charlie Brown tree) with some of our decorations on it.  The kids have made a few decorations as well.  But otherwise it doesn't look all that festive.  We used to have boxes (and boxes and boxes) of Christmas decorations which I had to haul out of storage each year (not my favorite day of the year!).  We would decorate the whole house with lots of stuff accumulated over the years, some more sentimental than others, but all of it was ours.  It was a part of what made it feel like Christmas in our house.

Or perhaps it has to do with the distance that we are separated from family and friends.  Because that was always the most important part of the Christmas celebration - time with family and friends.  Our Christmas traditions changed a few times over the years, but even when the traditions changed the people stayed the same (with a few additions due to marriages and births).  Whether it was Christmas Eve at our house after church, Christmas day spent at various locations, Boxing Day with Kerri's family, or any of the family get-togethers leading up to Christmas, it was all about the family and friends; the quality time together.  This year that cannot happen.  It is not a matter of a quick trip in the car to visit.  No, instead we are oceans and worlds apart.

Christmas this year will look very different.  I know that it will be good - the four of us are here together - but it will be different.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Cost of Living in Davao Part 2

Statistically, the most viewed blog post on our website has been the one I wrote a while back about the cost of living here in Davao City.  In fact, it is still getting regular hits from people who, I assume, are looking for more information before they come to live or visit here.

Now that we have been here for 5 months, I feel that I have an even better grasp of what things cost here, so I present a continuing list of prices here.  These prices will vary somewhat, depending on circumstances of course, but it should give you a pretty good idea of what to expect.  (All prices are in Philippine Pesos, and converted to Canadian Dollars.  For those of you in other countries the exchange will be a bit different.  Sorry!)

Monthly electricity bill (using aircon some of the time): Approx P3500 ($82)

Monthly water bill: Approx P250 ($5.86)

Monthly internet (kind of high speed, sometimes reliable): P995 ($23.32)

A used vehicle (obviously will vary considerably, but we bought pretty much the cheapest vehicle we could find, so that is our reference point.  See our post from August 2011,, for more details): P120000+ ($2818.89.  This was much more than we had expected.  Vehicle prices seem to be even higher than back in Canada...)

Gas for a vehicle: P55/liter ($1.29/liter).  Diesel: P44/liter ($1.03).  While this is cheaper than we had been used to in Canada it was higher than we expected, and a shock for our American friends who were used to much less!

Two games of bowing for a family of four: P120 ($2.82)

2 liters of Coke: P44.55 ($1.04)

2 pizzas from a really great pizza place (delivered, including a tip): P600 ($14.05)

Tires for our van (pretty much the smallest tires ever made): P2000/each ($46.83)

Cost to get a wheel removed from the van, tire removed from the rim, new tire installed, and wheel put back on the van: P30/each ($0.70.  Yes, that is right.)

Starbucks Peppermint Mocha Frappuccino (tall): P160 ($3.74)

Movie admission at one of the nicest theaters in Davao: P135/person ($3.16)

Men's haircut (complete with shampoo, scalp and neck massage, straight-blade razor shave - best haircut ever.  Including a tip): P150 ($3.51)

A small jar of Cheez Whiz: P70.05 ($1.64)

1 liter of milk (processed for a longer shelf life, the most common stuff here): P62.70 ($1.47)

Jello pudding powder: P51.75 ($1.21)

Chicken breast (bone-in): P116/kg ($2.71/kg)

Kitten food (1.4kg): P274.15 ($6.41)

Loaf of good bread: P26.00 ($0.61)

All purpose flour: P48.50/kg ($1.13/kg)

Good quality rice (2kg bag): P78.50 ($1.84)

As you can see, some things here are quite a bit less expensive than back in Canada, especially when it comes to services.  Other things are a lot more than we had expected before we came here, most notably vehicles and imported consumer goods.

I will continue to list various prices every so often.  If there are any particular things you are interested in knowing prices for please feel free to send me a message below!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Construction, Philippines style!

As many of you know, I have a construction work background from back in Canada.  So, of course seeing how construction is done here fascinates me.  I will say right from the start, that after seeing how things are done here compared to how they are done in Canada I have come to the conclusion that one place is not necessarily better than the other, the methods and materials are just different.

However the differences are pretty huge at times.  So here I present my take on some of the major differences between what I am used to in Canadian single-family residential construction and what I have observed here.

Difference #1 - Materials
One of the first things I noticed was the difference in building materials that are used in single family residential construction. I am used to seeing concrete basements/foundations, wood framing (sometimes metal instead of wood), fiberglass batt insulation, drywall panels on the walls, carpet/hardwood/laminate/linoleum/tile floors, laminate/granite countertops, asphalt shingles, vinyl siding, and wood/composite decks.  This is pretty much standard, no matter whether a starter home or a higher-end house.  Granted, in really high-end houses higher quality materials are often used, but overall the materials are roughly the same.  And the best thing - all of it can be found in one place if necessary (Hello Home Depot!).

Here, it's a bit different.  In a middle-to-upper class house the main structural material is concrete.  Concrete walls, concrete floors, concrete everywhere.  That makes for some very strong buildings!  Then, to dress up the concrete there are a variety of materials used.  Tile is extremely common here.  Almost any horizontal surface (and some vertical ones) get covered in tile.  Lots of marble.  That seems to be the most common kind of stonework here.

The other main material is metal.  Metal is used to reinforce the concrete and for the roofing material.  Metal bars on the windows and metal spikes on the top of the fences and gates (very welcoming and inviting isn't it?).

Wood is used sometimes too.  Wood for the kitchen cabinets (if they aren't concrete!).  Wood trimwork.  Our whole house is done up in wood paneling and wood tongue-and-groove on the ceilings.  It's kind of like being in a log cabin.  Feels like we're back in Canada!

Now, that is a mid-to-upper class house (mainly expats and rich Filipinos).  A typical Filipino house is built a bit differently.  The main building material used is wood.  The wood for the structure is generally rough-sawn coconut lumber which can be found at many different lumber shops throughout the city.  It is relatively inexpensive and very sustainable.  Coconut trees tend to grow quite quickly.  The other type of wood used extensively is bamboo.  Bamboo is quite strong, especially for the weight of it.  It grows insanely quickly, and can be found all over the place.  It can be used as a whole log for structure (best part - it can be pretty much any length.  Try finding a 20' long 2x4 at Home Depot!), or split and nailed for use as walls and floors.  It is probably the most environmentally friendly building material on the planet, as it is super-renewable and extremely versatile.  If only we could figure out a way to grow it in our cold Canadian climate...

The rest of the house is usually a mixture of other materials.  And when I say a mixture, I mean it can be quite a conglomeration of different things.  Corrugated metal sheeting is often used for the roof and frequently the walls.  Plastic sheets, or even cardboard, can be substituted if metal sheets are not available or prohibitively expensive.  In some places many of the houses are quite colorful due to the reuse of old plastic banners as material for the walls.  Cost effective and environmentally friendly!

Difference #2 -Tools
Coming from a construction contractor background, tools were a VERY important part of my job.  If the tools didn't work then neither did I, so generally I would buy top quality.  Having the right tool for the job was not just a luxury but a necessity.  My partner and I, between the two of us, had pretty much every tool imaginable, and needed a truck and trailer to haul them all around in.  That way whether we were faced with needing to modify a cabinet for a custom fit, redo a bunch of plumbing to reinstall a sink in a new countertop, or simply to get a job done as quickly and efficiently as possible, we had the tool we needed.  In addition to my work tools though, I also had a pretty extensive set of tools just for doing jobs around the house. My tools were a big part of my life.

It was not an uncommon occurrence to find myself in one of the local hardware stores looking at new tools, testing new tools, and buying new tools.  Some we found were not worth the money, while others proved their worth the first time we used them.  And, of course, being a tool guy there was always something new that would be really nice to have.  Especially if it was cordless.  Cordless tools are great.  Everything should be cordless.  Cordless drills, cordless impact drivers, cordless jigsaws, cordless routers, cordless vacuums, cordless miter saws, cordless reciprocating saws...if only they could come up with a cordless battery charger!

So coming here I had to sell all my tools.  I miss my tools.  I know they have found a good home, but it still is so hard to say goodbye.  I still cry myself to sleep over that.  Being a tool guy I did send over a small toolkit in one of the boxes we shipped.  That has been a lifesaver at times!  But needless to say, my tool selection has become a whole lot more limited than I am used to.

I have discovered that having very few tools seems to be the norm.  When we first got settled into our house the landlord had a couple of minor maintenance issues to take care of.  He told me that his handyman would stop by to take care of it.  I assumed that the person coming would be well equipped to handle the small jobs that were to be done.  Imagine my shock when the handyman arrived riding his bike, just a small backpack on his back!  Out of that backpack he pulled a hammer, pliers, and a couple of screwdrivers.  That was it.  It was enough to get the job done.

After seeing that I figured that I should get a few tools myself, so off to the hardware store I went.  Now I am used to very well stocked hardware stores.  Walking into Hillhurst Hardware in Calgary (the greatest hardware store in the entire city, perhaps the world!  Check them out!) is like going to Tool Disneyland.  Their wall of tools, mostly cordless ones, is breathtaking.  Just thinking of it is making me weep.  Anyways, so I go into one of the hardware stores close by to buy a few basic tools.  First thing I noticed: no cordless tools!  Then I noticed that the entire power tool section was a bit smaller than I am used to seeing.  Which was fine for me, as I didn't actually need to get power tools.

So I went an aisle over where the hand tools are.  Again, not as much selection as I expected but a hammer is a hammer right?  Wrong.  Back in Calgary I actually had four different hammers, not including my favorite one which I lost tragically at work one day.  Each hammer not only had a different role, but each had a special place in my heart.  Each one was hand picked after holding and testing many different ones.  I knew each one by feel, knew the weight and balance and how it would swing.  My hammers had become an extension of my arm in so many ways.  So here I was faced with the dilemma of finding a new hammer.  Do I get the really good imported one similar to what I had?  Or should I be more sensible and buy an inexpensive basic hammer, because that should be adequate for what I will be using it for?  In the end I went with the less expensive one.  It's okay, but it's not the same.  Then I repeated the same process for pliers, adjustable wrenches, and screwdrivers.  In the end I put together a very basic toolkit:

Not quite what I am used to, but it works.  Kind of.  Most of the time.

One complaint though.  I try not to complain about things, but I hate Phillips head screws.  For those of you who are not tool people, Phillips is the cross-shaped screw head and matching screwdriver.  It is the most common type of screw in the world.  But it shouldn't be.  I miss Robertson screws!  This great CANADIAN invention features a square hole in the screw head and a square tip on the screwdriver to match it.  The screwdriver does not slip and does not strip the head.  It should be the worldwide standard, but unfortunately they cannot be found here, at least nowhere I have found.  I got some shipped to me (along with my beloved Makita 18v lithium ion cordless drill and impact driver!) just because I was getting really frustrated with the ones I was forced to work with.  ROBERTSON IS THE BEST!  GO CANADA!

Difference #3 -Safety
The other big difference I noticed here has been the refreshingly relaxed attitude towards jobsite safety.  Not that safety isn't a concern, but that people here seem to have a more balanced approach to safety.  Back in Canada I was used to some very strict safety requirements.  Most of them make sense; eye protection, hearing protection, steel toed boots.  Even fall protection when the potential for a dangerous fall exists.  Unfortunately it seems to be taken too far sometimes.  Wearing a hard hat while standing in the middle of an open field with nothing even remotely close to being suspended above you?  Yes, it is required on some sites.  Filling out site hazard reports detailing every possible contingency, no matter how remote the chance?  What happened to common sense?

Here safety is much more of a fluid concept.  While on the bigger jobsites it seems like the safety standards are quite high, other places it is not the case.  Some of the things I have seen here would have Occupational Health and Safety officers crying in their coffees.  I was watching some guys moving large concrete bricks wearing open toed sandals or flip-flops.  People walking on the tops of walls 30+ feet up with no fall protection.  And my favorite: a guy painting the outside trim on the house across the street, up on about a 12' scaffold with only a thin plank spanning the opening, stood up on a rickety chair trying to reach just a bit higher...

Or, leaning a ladder against overhead power lines to get up to do work on them...

Ahhh, the differences!

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Before we moved to the Philippines and I began volunteering at Mercy Maternity Center, I had the privilege of being a birth doula and attending four births, three of whom were friends of mine.  Each of the births were different but all went well with good outcomes.  In the three months that I have been at the clinic I have seen 24 births and not all have been as smooth and easy as the ones I first attended.

I have come to realize that birth is not always neat and tidy with good outcomes.  Most of the time babies are born healthy, and crying and all is well with both them and the mom, however sometimes it's not so good.  I have seen a woman who labored so beautifully and delivered a healthy baby boy only to be faced with retained placental membranes and have to be transported to the hospital while her baby boy stayed with us until his bantay (the mom's "watcher" or labor support) was able to take him to see her later on.  There was another mama who again labored well but delivered a very blue baby boy due to thick meconium aspiration and this time it was him to had to be transported to the hospital while his mama stayed with us. There was a third woman who labored long and hard and the baby ended up with a shoulder dystocia (the head is born but the body is firmly stuck) that lasted over two minutes.  Thankfully in the end each of these babies and their mamas were okay, but it was pretty scary when everything was going on.  That's when the adrenaline is pumping like crazy, the intense praying is happening and the thoughts of "please God don't let this baby die" or "come on baby just breathe" are racing through your mind.
I am so thankful that during all of the craziness we have amazing midwives, who although faced with intense pressure, are able to stay calm and make wise decisions for both the moms and the babies in each situation.

As scary and intense as birth can be, I'm always amazed and in awe at how God created life and the miracle that it really truly is.


"Doula-ing" this woman through her contractions

This little one scared us by being blue and floppy, but thankfully came around

Helping this woman through labor
The power team with our shoulder dystocia baby

The mama, bata (baby), bantay (watcher), lola (grandma) and the power team!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Slapping, squishing and spraying

We knew that when we came here we would be leaving the temperate (read: bitterly cold) climate of western Canada and would be arriving in a tropical (read: hot and humid) climate of Davao City.  Of course, going along with the change in climate come changes in the wildlife endemic to the region.  Some of that wildlife is quite fascinating.  The aquatic life is like you see in diving videos and those really crazy expensive hard to maintain salt water aquariums back in Canada - bright colors, beautiful designs, huge variety.  I have had the opportunity to be chased by a couple of the largest clownfish I have ever seen.  They were defending their home, which they felt I was getting too close to.  I have fed parrotfish right out of my hand while snorkeling. I have poked myself with a sea urchin and had starfish clinging to my hands.  Pretty cool stuff.  Others are a bit more mundane, but still different than I am used to.  Water buffalo, stray dogs, geckos, rats.

And then there is the insect population here.  For those of you who may not be aware of it, I don't like bugs all that much.  Most I can put up with as long as I know that I can simply step on them.  They are a nuisance, but not too bad.  Some bugs though, I cannot stand.  Mainly spiders.  I'm not sure where my hatred of spiders came from, but I think it has something to do with watching the movie Arachnophobia when I was a kid.  Since then I have hated to see a spider or to even know that spiders are around.  So of course, coming here I had to come to terms with the fact that not only would there be spiders, but they would probably be a bit bigger than I was used to.

I am happy to report that up to this point I have not come across any big spiders.  I have heard stories of ones that others have seen.  Ones big enough to carry off a small water buffalo.  Ones with legs longer than my arm span.  Ones that are so quick that you hardly see them until they are close enough to leap at you and sink their big long fangs into your neck.  Okay, I am going to give myself nightmares.  As you can imagine, I really appreciate hearing all these stories (insert sarcasm here) and feel so much better knowing that they are harmless (Yeah, I believe that!  They are just waiting for me to drift off to sleep so they can leap out and sink their big long fangs into...okay I really need to stop that).

However, there is one thing that I have noticed about the spiders here.  They jump.  I don't mean they hop a bit.  I mean that when you try to squish them they are able to leap out of the way, preserving their sorry little spider life.  It's almost like they have this ability to see the future and they already know that there is a shoe hurtling through space on a collision course with them.  They then have the ability to slow down the passage of time around themselves in order to gather their strength to make a tremendous leap out of the way.  And it seems that all spiders there are able to do this, whether big or small.  They can all jump.

Well, in addition to the spiders there are several other types of bugs which have become an ongoing frustration to me.  One of those is ants.  Apparently there are 400 species of ants in the Philippines (I have no idea how they would have figured that out, or why they would bother).  I think that about 398 species live in our yard, and the other two prefer to stay inside our house out of the elements.  Now I don't fear ants like I fear spiders, but I still don't want them in my house.  We have two main types that I am constantly battling to keep out.  The first is the normal reddish type.  These aren't usually a big deal.  I try to be diligent to spray around the doors with bug killer to keep them from coming in.  Every so often they like to show up and let me know that I have been too lax in doing that.  Not a big problem though.

The other kind are the little tiny ones.  These are the smallest ants I have ever seen.  They are about 1/10 the size of a typical ant, and they seem to appear out of nowhere.  They like to hang around the kitchen, waiting for one of us to be foolish enough to leave some food out.  They aren't too particular.  They appear to eat just about anything.  Leave a few bread crumbs on the cutting board, ants.  Leave some food on a plate from supper, ants.  Forget to tightly close a container, ants.  They are very frustrating, but because of their size they don't move very fast, so it is easy to clean up a whole trail of them with a paper towel.

In addition to the ants we also have another type of bug that likes to be inside our house.  I don't know what they are, but they look like a really small beetle.  Unfortunately it was kind of my fault that they are in the house.  Let me explain.  When we moved in our landlord had left a bed frame in the master bedroom.  We certainly appreciated that so we didn't have to go out and buy one.  Unfortunately the section on which the mattress rests is a woven material, and over the years it had stretched out a bit.  Okay, a lot.  So every night it would feel like we were sleeping on the side of a hill.  Imagine sleeping in a hammock with your spouse.  That is kind of the way it felt.  It's not that I don't like to cuddle with Kerri, but I like a bit of space too.  So after waking up day after day with a sore back and neck (from sleeping all night trying to roll myself uphill) I decided it was time to do something about it.

Now, back in Canada we had a great bed.  It was the most comfortable, supportive, amazing bed in the history of sleep systems.  We had gotten it from IKEA.  It consisted of a polyurethane foam mattress and a bed base instead of a box spring.  It was so amazing that had we had an IKEA here that would have been our first purchase.  But alas, no IKEA.  Or anything really close to it.  So we got a foam mattress, which is actually pretty good.  I figured that being kind of a handy guy, that I could build some kind of bed base like we had before.  I figured that all I would need would be a couple of good supportive 2x4's for a frame and some thinner slats for the mattress to rest on.  So I went down to the neighborhood Home Depot equivalent, a store which advertises lumber for sale.  Their selection was a bit smaller than I was expecting, but I found some bundles of split bamboo that I thought would work quite nicely (and it was cheap!).  So I came home with a bunch of bamboo and some 1.5" nails.  I cut the bamboo with my saw (a hacksaw) and then proceeded to nail it all together.  I found my tools a bit lacking compared to what I was accustomed to, but I got it done.

Fast forward a month or so.  I began to notice that there was a lot of dust in our room, especially under the bed.  I didn't give it too much thought at the time.  It continued for a while and I thought that I should investigate.  I checked under the bed and found little piles of sawdust on the bed frame.  Then I noticed these tiny little brown beetle type bugs.  I put two and two together and figured out what had happened.  You may recall from a previous blog that we had gotten bamboo furniture for our house, which I was encouraged to douse in diesel fuel and let sit for a couple days before bringing into the house.  I knew that was to prevent bugs from eating the bamboo.  It never occurred to me that it might be a good idea to do the same with the bamboo I was using for the bed.  Oops.  So now I am fighting an ongoing battle with these dumb little beetles.  I spray them with bug killer, they die, they are gone for a few days, then they come back.  I think I might have to break down and take apart the bed and diesel it.  The beetles need to go.

In addition to these, we also have mosquitoes.  Again, these are not like Canadian mosquitoes, even Winnipeg-summertime mosquitoes.  The ones here are tiny, so you don't even feel them bite you.  They are hard to see and harder to kill because they are very quick.  And, unlike the ones I am used to that will bite you, sit there while they drink their fill, then proceed to fly away to have babies, the ones here bite you, drink a bit, bite you again in a different spot, drink a bit more, bite you again, laugh at you for a while, then bite you again just because they can.  Just today I got bitten by the same mosquito 4 times before I managed to kill it.  Aargh!

Add in cockroaches (which we rarely have in our house thankfully!), wasps, flies, centipedes, and these little bug things that like to collect bits of grass which they then stick to themselves until they look like little porcupines, and you have lots of slapping, squishing and spraying going on here.  The joys of the tropics!

P.S.  I was going to try to get pictures of some of these bugs to post here, but would rather just squish the bugs when I see them than go search for the camera.  Sorry!  Maybe later...

Monday, October 24, 2011

Steve's Weight Loss Plan

There have been many things about living in the Philippines which we had not anticipated before we came here.  One of the most unexpected, unintended results was weight loss.

Now, for those of you reading this who know Kerri and I you know that we have never been big people.  Being overweight has never been a big issue for us.  That being said, over the years each of us has managed to slowly increase our body mass.  Nothing really noticeable, just a steady gain.

At first, when we got married, I attributed my gradual weight gain to being married and having a wonderful wife who was preparing an abundance of tasty meals.  I was not the least bit concerned with it.

Then, later on I began to work in construction, and found that because I was working a physical job I needed to eat more.  I calculated my calorie intake for a typical day to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 million calories, mainly in the form of Slurpees and Wendy's double cheeseburger meals.  Thankfully, I have been blessed with a fast metabolism and actually managed to burn off all 3 million of those calories each day.

Then, when I decided to quit construction and go back to school I had to reign in the Slurpee/fast food consumption.  What I didn't realize was that all the exercise I was getting while working was helping to keep everything in good shape.  Take away the exercise and muscles begin to droop.  Who knew?

So I was beginning to develop what we term a "Ministry Gut".  This condition is something which has been known to affect both pastors and Bible college students.  It is similar to other common conditions, including the "Accountant Gut", the "Computer Technician Gut", and others in the "Sit at a desk all day" family of gut conditions.  It can be recognized by a steady increase in pant size and the need to buy new, longer belts.  It is often assumed by sufferers of this condition that their clothes have begun to shrink.  (While often confused with the common condition of "Where-did-this-gut-appear-from?-I-used-to-be-able-to-drink-lots-of-beer-without-gaining-an-ounce Gut", Ministry Gut has been verified by modern science to be an unrelated issue.  Usually.  But that's for another blog.)

So over time, my physique gradually morphed from a skinny one (albeit with good muscle tone if I do say so myself) to a somewhat softer, slightly rounder one.  I can remember several times during Bible college thinking to myself, "Self, maybe you should get out and get some exercise while I say here and finish reading the 4000 pages that I have to have read for tomorrow."  It never worked.

So, I came to the Philippines at the highest weight of my entire 33 years on this planet.

Well, over the next couple of months I noticed that my clothes were getting a bit baggy.  I assumed that they were stretching out from being hung on the clothesline to dry.  (Seriously - this is what I assumed)  Then in a moment of brilliance, I realized that even if they were stretching somewhat in length, they probably wouldn't stretch in width.  Especially the waist size in the shorts.  Not something that usually gets bigger.  That is when I came to the realization that maybe I was getting smaller. (Go ahead, insert the jokes about my height here)

So, I have decided to share with the world my weight loss plan.  I have titled it "Steve's Weight Loss Plan".  I realize that is not a very creative title, but it does kind of sum up what it's all about.  I am hoping that it will become the next fad diet, the next Air Diet or Three-Day Hot Dog Diet (those really do exist).  I am thinking of marketing my plan.  If you would be interested in a franchise please let me know. Maybe this will solve all our concerns with raising support for our time here...

Here, for the first time ever in the history of the universe, I present

(You have to use your imagination for the deep, booming announcer voice and the flashing lights and fireworks, sorry.  I can't find the button to insert those into my blog.  I did the best I could.  Yes, that is red, bold, underlined AND italicized!)

  • Step 1:  Sell everything you own and move yourself (and family if applicable) halfway around the world to a place that you have never been to.  The stress which you are faced with will help to curb your appetite.  Note: for the weight loss to be fully effective you must choose a hot, humid location, preferably a third world country - more on that later.

  • Step 2:  Do NOT buy a vehicle for the first couple of months that you live in the new locale.  This will ensure that you get plenty of exercise when you have to walk everywhere.

  • Step 3:  Sweat constantly.  Try to stay hydrated - this will be an ongoing battle which you probably will lose.  This is kind of the point behind choosing a hot, humid environment.

  • Step 4:  Eat a local diet.  Living in a third world country is kind of key here.  Here in the Philippines that consists of rice, fresh fruit, rice, fresh vegetables, rice, eggs, rice, fish, and maybe some more rice.  (I have heard people say that rice is fattening.  Perhaps it's the stuff with the rice that is the problem.  Just saying...)  The specifics of the food selection will vary depending on region.  That is why this diet may be less effective if you move to somewhere like Italy or Britain.  A diet consisting of large meals of pasta or lots of deep fried foods may not have the desired effect.

  • Step 5:  Sweat some more.  That can help to kill any sort of appetite you may still have left.

  • Step 6:  Continue the above steps for the next several years.

So far this plan has worked well for me.  Perhaps too well.  I need to go buy some new shorts and have begun to use a new hole in my belt.  Except it's smaller this time.

Oh, and if you are interested in a franchise let me know.  I even have a satisfied customer.  Here is her unsolicited endorsement of STEVE'S WEIGHT LOSS PLAN:

"Steve, none of my clothes fit anymore.  They are all too big!  I need to go buy new clothes." - Kerri from Davao City

Need I say more?

Monday, October 17, 2011

A rough weekend

We all tend to have expectations about things.  We make assumptions based on what we know, even when what we know is not very much.  Sometimes those assumptions are conscious, other times they are subconscious.  Sometimes it can be difficult to verbalize those assumptions.  Sometimes those assumptions come back to bite you in the butt.

By this point you are probably thinking, "Okay, so what?  What does this have to do with a rough weekend?"  I realize you probably don't read this blog to necessarily hear my philosophizing, so should probably just get on with it and explain about our weekend.

Kerri and I celebrated our 13th anniversary a week ago.  In the past we have gone away for at least one night to celebrate every anniversary.  Often it was somewhere close to home, but other times it has involved a longer trip.  We have been blessed to have family close by who have been more than willing to look after the kids for us.  Obviously this year it is a bit different.  We couldn't very well expect that anyone would make the trip here (20+ hours of flying) just so that Kerri and I could go away overnight.  So we figured we would take the kids with us.  No problem.  Instead of a nice relaxing romantic getaway, it would be a nice relaxing family getaway.

I began to make plans a while ago, but right from the start found it to be quite difficult to plan for a couple reasons.

First, it can be very hard to find information about things here.  Back in Canada I had a real knack for finding the best little obscure hotels that you wouldn't normally find, and some great places to go and visit and spend a weekend.  I found some absolutely amazing hotels at great prices.  Some of our best memories from the last 13 years have been those trips.  It was just a matter of knowing where to look online to find them.  After a couple of hours on the internet I could have a whole weekend planned out; a great hotel booked, a good idea of what activities and restaurants there were close by, and an expectation of what it would all cost.  Very quickly into my planning here I found that would not be the case.  While there are many great places to go and explore in the Davao area, I kept finding it difficult to find information about them.  There are many resorts which would probably be great to go to and stay at, but either they don't have websites or the websites they have don't have as much information as I am accustomed to.

Second, I have known in previous years what Kerri has been expecting from a getaway.  It has generally involved a nice, quiet hotel, good choices for food, and relaxing activities (rock climbing, window shopping, walking around, etc.).  I was able to plan some great times because I knew that was her expectation.  This year I really had no idea what she was wanting, because she didn't really know what she was wanting.  She had a picture in her mind of a quiet resort, a nice beach, and a hammock, but other details were a bit more obscure.  (Kerri and I have already discussed this, so hopefully I won't get myself in too much trouble for putting it in here!)

So with those things as obstacles, I attempted to plan a nice, relaxing family getaway weekend.  I looked into several different resorts close to Davao, got recommendations from several people about where to go, and checked reviews of different places online.  I sent out emails and text messages to different places to see what was available and to check prices.  About the only thing I did not do was to go out to each place I was considering to check it out.  Perhaps in hindsight that would have been good, but I decided not to because of the cost to go, the time required, and the lack of a clear idea what I was looking for, it probably would have been a waste.  I would have come back with a list like this:

Resort #1 - Nice scenery, lots of palm trees, nice beach, warm ocean to swim in.
Resort #2 - Nice scenery, lots of palm trees, nice beach, warm ocean to swim in.
Resort #3 - Nice scenery, lots of palm trees, nice beach, warm ocean to swim in.
You get the point.

So I booked a resort (or thought I did - keep reading!).  I chose based on some good reviews, a decent website with what looked like good pictures, and a list of good amenities.  After packing up what we needed on Saturday morning we set out to go.  We drove to the ferry port and crossed over to Samal Island, the place where the resort was located.  We got off the ferry and went in search of the resort.  We turned right.  We drove down the main road around the island, searching for signs for this particular resort.  We came to a place that I knew was further down than where we wanted to go.  We turned around, thinking that maybe we should have turned left.  We drove some more.  We came to another place that I knew was further than our resort was.  We stopped to ask a local person where it was. She told us to go back to the ferry port.  It should be right there.  We turned around.  We drove back to the ferry port.  We asked someone else where it was.  They pointed it out.  We had driven right by it, but before we had turned right or left.  Need to pay more attention I guess (to be fair, as we were driving by it Julia did mention a sign, but I assumed that it was just an advertisement, not the actual place!).

We stopped and went in to check in out.  We went to the front desk to check in, but they had record of a reservation being made.  However, they did have several rooms available that we could stay in.  The staff very graciously showed us the different rooms so that we could choose which we would like.  I could tell from Kerri's reaction that this particular resort was not what she was expecting.  It was busier than she was hoping for, and did not want to stay there.  Considering that we didn't actually have a reservation, we left to find something else. (For any Davaoenos who may be reading this and can figure out which resort I am referring to, I want to say that we have nothing against that particular resort.  It seems like a great place, the rooms were quite nice, and everything was clean and well maintained.  It just was not what we were looking for!)

So we decided to head to another resort a little ways away which had been highly recommended to us by several different people (for our friends who recommended this resort, we understand why you would recommend it, but it just wasn't what we were looking for).  By this point it was getting late in the afternoon, and I figured that we had better decide on a place soon, or it would be getting dark.  We arrived at the next resort, which seemed like a really nice place.  We were the only people there, so they had plenty of rooms available for us.  We agreed to stay there and went for a swim while the resort staff set up our room.  By this point it was getting to be supper time, and we were all getting hungry.  I asked one of the staff about a menu, and was told that they don't have a menu for us to choose from.  The food selection is set for us.  And it would take about an hour and a half until dinner was to be served.  This would be fine, had it been just Kerri and I, but our kids were a bit more selective about what they wanted to eat and wanted to eat right away.  After explaining to them the way it was we went and showered off and got dressed.

This led to the next little problem.  Before any of us had a chance to take a shower a cockroach was found in our bathroom.  Now I know that cockroaches are harmless, and that you can find them pretty much anywhere, but that was not something we wanted to see.  It was in the toilet.  Who knew that cockroaches could swim so well?  It took quite a while to get it injured enough that it couldn't swim so that we could actually flush it down the toilet.  Then a bit later another was found.  And another.  Each was about 3" long.  The kids were very concerned about this and informed us that they were not going to sleep on the floor.  Instead they decided that it would be a good idea to share our bed.  I didn't agree, but knew very well that my opinion did not really count at that point.
Our family bed that night!

Trying to flush a cockroach down the toilet!

Supper came a bit later.  Next problem.  The meal which was served to us consisted of a delicious chicken soup, bread, rice, cucumber/tomato salad, bananas, and as the main course: freshly caught fish, fried and served whole; head and everything.  This was not at all what Daniel wanted to eat, and he was quite upset with the idea that this was to be his supper.  We did get him to eat some of it, but none of us really loved the meal.

Our meal, complete with fish heads.

After supper we sat outside and watched as a really big group of people arrived.  They seemed to keep coming and coming.  By the time they all arrived there must have been 5000 of them (okay, maybe 30, but it seemed like 5000).  Unfortunately they were not the quietest group of people.  We heard them up until quite late.  It was very annoying.

When we went in to get ready for bed I was sent into the bathroom to check for cockroaches.  I found three more.  Not what I was hoping for.  Two were in the sink (eating the soap) and one was on the floor.  I tried to kill them, but they are very fast and they all found a place to hide.  Dumb cockroaches.  It was all we could do to get the kids to go into the bathroom to brush their teeth and use the toilet.  Then we all piled into the bed and fell asleep listening to the soothing sounds of people partying, crickets chirping incessantly, and the air conditioner getting ready to take off to orbit the Earth.  Not the ingredients for the most restful night's sleep.

The next morning, after brief periods of blissful sleep, we were awoken to the sounds of people starting to party again.  At 6:00.  Not happy.  They all left shortly after though.  Breakfast was served.  Again, a set menu.  This time though it was more appealing to all of us.  While at breakfast we decided as a family to leave the resort to go to another that we had been to before and spend the day there.  We knew that there was a great beach and a great restaurant there.  So we packed up and left.  Or tried to leave.

On the way in we had gone down a really steep, really loose road.  I hadn't thought much of it at the time.  We made it down fine.  Going up was another story.  For those of you who have read our previous blog post about our lovely vehicle, which we have dubbed our unicorn, you will know that it doesn't have much power.  Or traction apparently.  We started up the hill, got a little ways up, and the back wheels (the drive wheels) slipped.  No more momentum.  We backed down and took a bit of a run at it.  We made it a bit higher when the same thing happened.  Back down again, and back up again.  By this point most of the staff were there watching, cheering us on, probably laughing at the crazy white people who couldn't get up the hill.  Two of them waited halfway up the hill for us to help push us when we stopped.  We did eventually make it up and were able to leave.  I guess unicorns aren't mountain goats.

We went to the other resort (the third of the weekend) and had a great time.  Nice and relaxing, great food, and some of the loudest bad karaoke we have ever heard.  By this point we were just happy to be able to salvage a bit of the weekend for the kids.  We stayed for a while and then headed back.  The trip back was pretty uneventful, thankfully.

The end of the story?  I wish.  I realize that this is quite a long blog post.  I really didn't plan to make it a long post.  Normally I am a man of few words, but for whatever reason I can go on and on when I blog.  Sorry.  I understand if you want to be done reading this.  Please come back later and finish the story though.

On the way back we decided that it would be a good idea to order pizza and watch a movie with the kids before they had to go to bed, then Kerri and I planned to relax and watch a few episodes of one of our favorite TV shows that we have on DVD.  To go along with this Kerri really wanted peanut M&M's and crunchy cheezies.  Instead of getting pizza from the great little pizza place we normally get it from, we decided to get it from Pizza Hut (yes, we do have a Pizza Hut here).  Since the Pizza Hut is at one of the malls which is close to home, I decided rather than getting it delivered I would go pick it up.  That way I could go to the grocery store to get the other goodies while it was being prepared.

I made my way to the mall, fighting the typical Sunday evening traffic.  I arrived there and proceeded to drive into the parkade to park.  Now you must understand that I hate the parkade at this particular mall.  No, hate is not a strong enough word.  I despise that parkade.  I abhor that parkade.  I detest that parkade.  It is an abomination of vehicular storage.  Why?  Because you cannot see if there are empty spots unless you go down an aisle.  But if you get down an aisle and find that there are no spots you are forced to back out of the aisle because they are so narrow you cannot turn around.  Even a unicorn cannot turn around in that amount of space.  Which is okay, provided the person behind you has not turned down the same aisle. Normally I just forget trying to get a space on a lower level and go up to the top level and can find a spot fairly easily.  That works if it happens to be a weekday at 10:00AM when the mall opens.  Otherwise good luck.  So after finding a spot way up on the roof and making my way back down and into the mall, I then had to descend from the 4th floor to the basement and then go all the way across the mall to get to the Pizza Hut.  I think that some of you in North America are actually closer to that particular Pizza Hut than I was when I parked my van!

I got into the mall to find it was absolutely packed.  I don't mean there were a few people window shopping.  I mean push-and-shove-if-you-want-to-ever-get-through-and-ever-hope-to-leave-before-Christmas packed.  Imagine the busiest mall in your city on the last Saturday before Christmas and take all those people and squeeze them into a phone booth.  That is what it felt like.  Now I don't like crowds all that much, so I was a bit edgy (okay, truthfully I really felt like I was going to punch someone).  I ordered the pizza and went to the grocery store (thankfully not quite so busy there).  I found a big bag of M&M's and a bag of cheezies (but not the right ones - they were sold out of those).  I went to the cashier, and after waiting in line for what felt like an eternity, my 2 items were scanned.  The M&M's, to my surprise, rang in at almost 1200 pesos.  To put that in perspective, that is about $28.  I just about choked on my tongue.  I told the cashier that I didn't want to pay that much for those.  She had to get a supervisor to void that from the transaction, which took another eternity.  By this point I could feel by blood pressure getting ready to cause my head to pop right off.

I went and picked up the pizzas, which turned out to be just slightly larger than a postage stamp.  By this point I didn't care at all.  I just wanted to be anywhere but there.  So then I had to try to cross through the hordes of people to get back to my van.  I was really hoping that God would either part the people like He parted the Red Sea for Moses, or at least let me walk on people's heads like Jesus walking on water.  Neither happened.  I had to push my way through the crowds carrying pizza boxes to get out.

I got to my van and decided to go to another mall, which I prefer, in order to get M&M's and maybe the right kind of cheezies.  I made my way there in a foul mood.  I had heard that there are times, when it is just not a good day, that you should avoid the malls.  It's just best for everyone involved.  But, I just had to go to one more.  I went into the grocery store there, got the things I needed, and left, just daring anyone to say the wrong thing to me.  I am not an aggressive person, but I just needed to unload on someone.  By God's grace everyone around me left me alone and I was able to get home with my Christian integrity intact (although I am sure people could tell I was having a bad day).  I came home and things improved (thankfully).  I talked with Kerri while the kids watched their movie, then we got them to bed and were able to just relax, watch some TV shows, eat tiny pizza and hard-fought M&M's and cheezies.  It was a good end to a bad weekend.

I know that one day we will look back on all this and laugh.  Today is not that day.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Looking Back

It has now been three months since we arrived here in Davao City and it's kind of fun to look back and reflect on our time here.  I remember stepping out of the Davao airport and looking across the street at the security guards holding very large guns, and instinctively pulling the kids a little closer and trying to walk a little closer to Steve, not sure if I should make eye contact with the guards or not.  Now three months later, guards with guns are just a normal part of life anywhere we go, really not a big deal. 

I remember the drive from the airport to our friends' house and thinking how there was no way on earth that I was ever going to attempt driving here and really didn't know if I even wanted to leave the house and have to be in a vehicle even if I wasn't the one driving.  That one took a little longer, however now I'm the one behind the wheel, honking my horn, moving into oncoming traffic in order to get around another vehicle and not really giving it a second thought.

I remember my first time on a jeepney trying to figure out how it worked - how do you know which jeepney to take? where do you pay the fare?  how do you know where to get off? how do you let the driver know where you want to get off?  Now I know which jeepney I want to take, I know how to pay and make sure I get my change, I know where to get off  and I know how to let the drive know I need him to stop.

I remember hearing Visayan all around me and thinking it's going to take forever before I can actually understand and speak any little bit of this language.  Now I'm the one using (limited)Visayan in the birth room and clinic and the best part is that for the most part my Visayan is understood.  I'm still working on understanding the answers I get to my questions, but I know it will come.

I remember getting a tour of the prenatal room and seeing one of the interns casually get a tetanus injection to give to one of the buntis and thinking, wow I wonder how long it will take for me to feel that comfortable doing that, and now that's me, doing prenatal check ups on my own and giving injections.

It's amazing to look back and see how much I've learned in these last three months and knowing that there's a lot more to learn, but knowing that it too will come.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Water Woes

One thing which I kind of assumed before coming here was that certain things would just be the same as it is in Canada.  After all, that is the only place I have lived, so that was all I knew.  Upon getting here I discovered that is not necessarily the case.  Things which were simply everyday things were suddenly done in a whole new way.  One of those things, which I came to discover, was having a shower.

For those of you who are reading this who may have never been to Canada or the USA, let me describe a typical plumbing setup.  First, you have a really big hot water tank in the house.

This is used to warm the water which comes into the house, because it is very cold, especially in the winter!  The hot water tank has a gas or electric heater to warm the water up until it is quite hot.  The hot water is then stored in the tank until it is needed for washing dishes, doing laundry, or having a shower.  Not the most efficient system, but that is how it is in most homes.

When it is time for a shower you have both cold and hot water which come out of the faucet and can be adjusted to control the temperature.  One of the greatest pleasures in life in Canada is a hot shower on a cold day!


Now, when I came to Davao I just assumed it would be the same.  I quickly discovered that I was wrong.  Here, hot water is not really necessary. Why would you want to have a hot shower when it is always hot outside?  So here water comes into the house cold (relatively), dishes are washed in cold water, clothes are washed in cold water, and usually people are washed in cold water as well!  One of the greatest pleasures in Davao is a cold shower on a hot day!

Sometimes though, it is nice to have a slightly lukewarm shower instead of a really cold one.  In that case you need to have a water heater.  That is a small box which attaches to your shower and plugs in, which heats the water before it leaves the shower head.  On the right is a picture of the shower in our ensuite bathroom.  You can see the water heater mounted on the wall next to the shower head.  It plugs into an outlet up above (I know that water and electricity shouldn't mix, but it seems safe enough!).  The temperature is controlled by the knob on the heater.  Down below is a simple on/off valve to control the water. (The three knobs partway up don't actually do anything.  I assume they used to work, but they don't now.)  The only problem with this system is that the heater is activated only if there is a certain amount of water pressure present (more on that below!)

Note also the extra faucet at the bottom.  That serves a couple purposes - it makes a great foot wash, it is good for using when cleaning the bathroom, and it works well to fill buckets.  Why is filling buckets important?

I had read online before coming to Davao to check the water pressure in the house before renting it.  Low water pressure is a common thing here, especially in the mornings when more people are using water.  We hadn't had any real issues with water pressure (except when someone would flush the toilet when the shower was in use!) until recently.  We had a really big thunderstorm with lots of lightning.  I don't know what happened, but the next morning we had no water pressure.  None at all.  I assume that the lightning knocked out a pump somewhere.  So that morning we had to do what most people here do - have a bucket shower.

As you can see, it is a bucket of water with a dipper to pour it on yourself.  The water is cold (unless you heat up some water in a pot or kettle and add it to the bucket).  It certainly wakes you up in the morning!

The other thing we were able to do was to open the valves on our water tower tank.  We are fortunate to have a backup water supply in our yard.  Most people do not.  It is enough for a couple of days if necessary, and because it is elevated gravity provides some pressure to get it through the pipes.  Not enough pressure for a decent shower though, certainly not enough for the water heater to operate, so it is still often a bucket shower in the morning!

The tank will automatically refill later in the day when the water pressure is higher, so it stays full unless the city water is shut down completely.  Thankfully, they have somewhat fixed the problem, although we still do not have the same amount of pressure that we used to have, I guess that is something we will have to get used to!

I have learned to take a shower every evening, when the water pressure is good and I can actually turn on the water heater.

As you can see, it is a very different system from Canada - frustrating at times, but a lot more efficient than in Canada.  Who would have thought that having a shower would be a cause for culture shock? I guess I would rather have culture shock in the shower than a shock in the shower from the water heater!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Driving in Davao

One of the first things that I noticed upon arriving in Davao was the traffic.  Not so much the amount of it, but rather the way that traffic operates here.  We got off the plane, were picked up by some friends, and then were taken to their house.  By the time we got there I was a bit tense from the drive.  The way people drive here seemed crazy to me!  Now, we hadn't planned to buy a  vehicle before we came here, and after seeing the way traffic operates here I was very glad!  I didn't want to even attempt to drive in what seemed to me to be chaotic and confusing.

That was two months ago.  Since then I have had ample opportunity to observe traffic patterns and driving styles, and have come to understand a few things about driving here.  I came to realize that drivers here are quite good.  Accidents rarely happen, considerably less often than back in Canada.  Drivers are quite aware of everything that is going on around them.  There simply are a different set of rules that need to be followed here.  I think I have figured out most of those rules now.

When we got our van a few weeks ago I felt I was ready to try my luck at driving.  I had ridden in taxis and jeepneys a lot.  I had been a passenger in vehicles driven by people who have been here a long time.  I saw what to do and what not to do.  So after several weeks of experience I present to you the Rules of Driving in Davao (or at least what I have gathered so far!):

Rule 1
If there is a space available you are free to place your vehicle there.

Rule 2
The vehicle that gets into a space first has the right of way (see Rule 8 below for exceptions).

Rule 3
If the space which you wish to occupy is currently occupied you may ease your way into that space to encourage the other vehicle to depart from said space.

Rule 4
If the space is open in a lane normally used by oncoming traffic you may use that space.

Rule 5
If the space is in between two vehicles that are utilizing the lane markings painted on the road you may disregard the lane markings and occupy that space between the other vehicles.

Rule 6
If the space is on the sidewalk you may occupy it, providing you give warning to the pedestrians which may be occupying that space.

Rule 7
You shall give warning to other vehicles of your intent to occupy a given space by honking of your horn.

Rule 8
Size matters. The bigger the vehicle the more it has right-of-way.  The pecking order goes something like this: Buses - large trucks - large jeepneys - large SUV's - smaller trucks - smaller jeepneys - taxis - cars - tricycabs - motorcycles - bikes - pedestrians.

Rule 9
Pedestrians have no rights, except that you must avoid hitting one at all costs.

Rule 10
Pedestrians may appear from anywhere and be in any given space at any given time.  This often includes standing on a lane marker line in the middle of the road.  Avoid them.

Rule 11
Crosswalks are simply pretty designs painted on the roads and do not endow any form of right-of-way.  The same goes for traffic signals.  Just because the "walk" light is on does not mean that a pedestrian can walk, unless they happen to occupy that space before you do. (See Rule 2)

Rule 12
Seatbelts are optional.  Especially in the back seats where seatbelts may not even be present.

Rule 13
Passengers in a vehicle (including children) may occupy any seat, or where seats are not present, may occupy any space available.  The occupancy limit of any vehicle is based on the internal volume of the vehicle, the size of the passengers, and the availability of suitable locations on the external surfaces of the vehicle to allow passengers to sit, stand, or cling desperately to the sides.

Rule 14
All above rules are subject to multiple exceptions based on circumstance.  Be aware at all times of everything that is going on around you.

What seemed like chaos a few months ago has simply become normal now.  It is amazing to see how well traffic works here, especially since there are few traffic lights and fewer traffic signs.  I have yet to see a stop sign, and have seen few yield or merge signs.

But it really does work.  Everyone knows the rules and everyone abides by them.  I would say that traffic operates more smoothly and with less problems here than back in Canada.  Drivers here are much more laid back and aren't in such a hurry.  If the person in front of you is going really slow, you simply pull around them when you get a chance.  If someone squeezes into a space in front of you, you let them have that space.  Road rage may occur here, but if it does I have yet to see it.

I would suggest that drivers in North America could learn a few lessons from drivers here (Please leave your angry comments below).

I for one have learned to love the way that people drive here (mostly), and am interested to see how I handle driving back in Canada when we come back to visit.  I will be the guy ignoring the lines on the road and squeezing between the cars in the lanes.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Backyard Photo Shoot


I decided to take a few pictures this morning, as it was rainy and overcast today, so the light was quite good.  All these shots are from our yard.  Seeing as how a picture is worth a thousand words, I will let them speak for themselves.