I’ve been at my new job for two weeks now. I was hoping to push my start date back to January 2nd (in order to get a few things ready) but they wanted me in there ASAP and three weeks of pay in December ain’t nothing to sneeze at, so I started on December 11th. So far I have nothing to complain about job-wise. The company (which I previously worked for in 2011 and 2012) has grown tremendously, I like my manager and the people in the teams I’m managing (there are three), and there’s a lot of getting up to speed, learning new tools and techniques, which is something I’ve always found fun (nerd alert?).
My only complaint has been my commute.
Fortunately I do not have to be in the office at 9 AM. The village (or “sub-division”) I live in is huge. More than 1,000 homes, just three exit gates, and during morning rush hours it can take an hour just to get past the main exit. I can leave at 9 AM, which means that traffic has dissipated, and there’s still one more hour before trucks can hit the roads, meaning that I can do the 12 kilometers to the office in roughly 45 minutes.
But … I don’t have a car yet.
We sold our car back in September. I was convinced that my next job would not be in Manila. We had no trouble finding a buyer for the car – there was even something of a bidding war. We ended up getting far more than I owed the bank.
Now that I’m back in Manila, and my job is here, and I have to be in the office five days a week, I need a car again.
I thought about buying a used car. But unlike Hong Kong or the U.S., as far as I’ve been able to determine, it’s almost impossible to find used car dealers who offer any sort of warranty. (Toyota has “certified used cars.” Most other brands are not doing that. I don’t know why – well, sure I do. It’s cheap. The used car lots I checked in Pasig all told me their cars are sold “as is.”) I don’t know enough about cars to be able to figure out the condition on my own, and I don’t know any mechanics here whom I could trust. So, new car it is.
Once I figured out what I wanted to get, which wasn’t too difficult, the problem became the bank loan. The dealer was offering various incentives to get the loan placed through them rather than directly with the bank.
They were doing the loan through BPI – Bank of Philippine Islands. In a normal world, that should have meant no problems at all. After all, my mortgage is with BPI. Never missed a payment, never been late. My last car loan was with BPI. Never missed a payment, never been late. My Philippines credit card is with BPI. Never missed a payment, never been late, pay off 100% each month.
But this is the Philippines, where they never do things the easy way if there’s a harder way to be found. My credit history with them seemed to mean nothing. And the fact that I was starting a new job added extra layers of difficulty.
They wanted to see my employment contract. No problem. They wanted to see copies of pay slips. I told them 27 times that it was a new job and I wouldn’t be getting my first pay until mid-January. They sent someone up to my office TWICE to verify my employment. They sent an email to my branch of BPI, the branch where my account is based, and then told me they were waiting for days for them to respond. Oh, and because I’m a foreigner, my wife had to sign for the loan, not me.
BPI may advertise that you can get car loan approvals within hours but they don’t mention that doesn’t include foreigners. In the end, it took them two weeks to approve the loan. At that point, there were no longer any cars in stock. That’s because people are going crazy buying cars in the Philippines this month due to a tax increase that takes effect in January. I’m told right now that my car is in the latest shipment and should be ready on Wednesday or Thursday. I’m not really believing it. (I asked the guy which color I’m getting, “cosmic blue metallic” or “modern steel metallic” and he replied, “Yes Sir!”)
In the meantime, I’ve had to get to and from the office every day.
Mornings were easy. I found a neighbor who was willing to drive me to BGC every morning at 9 AM. But getting home has been a nightmare. Every night, it has taken me up to an hour just to get an Uber or Grab to come pick me up. I don’t want to have to deal with arguing with taxi drivers about using the meter but actually, with “surge pricing” Uber and Grab are probably working out to cost more than a metered taxi ride (with Grab consistently being noticeably higher).
The drivers don’t want to go to Pasig due to the insane odd/even laws affecting some of the streets around my village. And presumably some of them see where I’m going and just don’t want to go there because they think they it’s too isolated and they won’t get another fare nearby.
So every night I leave my office around 7, find a place outside to sit, and spend the next hour working my phone, switching between Uber and Grab for up to an hour before I find a ride.
Once I get picked up, it’s usually an hour to get home, which wouldn’t be so bad if these guys didn’t all listen to horrifically bad radio stations. Manila radio stations seem to have a competition for the most annoying jingle. One is some annoying kid screeching “WIN RADIO! WIN RADIO! WIN RADIO!”. Another has some woman moaning “Oh my god, what ees the meaning of theese?” And they play this nonsense over and over again, it feels like every 3 minutes. And in between the jingles and ads there’s the occasional music, and regardless of whether it’s western or local pop, it’s almost always sad love songs, nothing but love songs. I hate to do it but I put on my headphones and listen to Marc Maron and Tim Ferriss podcasts so I can survive the ride.
Last week the CEO was in town. That meant I needed to actually be in the office before 9 AM for a couple of days. So I did my first AirBnb. It wasn’t bad – an apartment in a good building, 10 minutes walk to the office, for US$50 a night. (Hotels in the area are US$150 per night and up. AirBnb’s start around $40 or $50 a night and ascend from there.) The only problem was that I was promised towels and never got them. On my arrival, the “staff” promised to return at 8 PM with towels. She never returned. I got stuck waiting there all night and in the morning had to use a t-shirt as a towel. The owner, who also never responded to my messages, finally replied two days later with the old “ay, sorry! family emergency in the province!” line, and promised me a discount the next time I stay.
Well, you know me. I don’t seem to be happy unless I have something to complain about. But let’s face it, these complaints are trivial. I have a job! I’m working again!
That means a very happy holiday season for me. And I hope all of you out there have a great holiday too, whether you’re celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, or just happy to have a few days off!