In Transit: Jakarta to Manila

I am writing this at Soekarno Hatta Airport in Jakarta waiting for Cebu Pacific counters to open. My flight is in four hours bound for Manila. For the first time in my not so young life, an airline counter is closed for check-in for an international flight (THAT’S IN FOUR HOURS).

Keeping my composure – or at least trying to by writing my thoughts down – I decided to look for a place where I can sit down and chill. I walked around looking for McDonald’s (what else) because they have cheap and good coffee. It does not exist in this airport so I settled for the next best thing: Starbucks Old Town White Coffee A&W. Another mystery to me: How can A&W exist in this place and not McDonald’s?

I went in anyway. I saw power outlets by their tables so that’s definitely a place to go. It had wifi too (but at this time of writing it’s not working). Like any A&W, it came in stark brown and orange theme, with the rootbeer float on display. Unlike any other A&W outlets (in MNL anyway), the bear mascot is still there! Flashback to 1994 when I was seven and I popped my root beer float cherry – that bear was a witness to it.

What I’m saying is, this joint is a freaking time warp. The place feels like it’s stuck in the late 90’s or mid 00’s the latest. It’s ancient and worn but it’s clean and, well, friendly. Too friendly in fact that it doesn’t care almost. I like that. I like places that give customers independence and that is rare in Asia.

Too many a commercial establishment have that badger of a staff constantly staring at you and asking if you’re all right. I don’t like that, although I know the management means well, like trying to force a slave on you, but man I see it as invasion of privacy.

So I’m back here, charging my phone, writing this down and just… watching.

The default hairstyle of flight attendants are French Twists. They don’t give out spoons and forks here, which is weird for me. On my part I ordered myself root beer (in honor of the memory that is A&W), brownies and perkedel – which turned out to be the Indonesian version of bubble and squeak/potato croquette, which doesn’t really need cutlery for me – but I got served spoons, or plastic hooks which resemble spoons. Innovative product design perhaps, but it kinda reminds me of the stool collection sampling tool you get at the lab.

The rest of the population in the midst is ordering fried chicken and rice. Everyone is eating by hand. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not by any means squeamish but I am a bit culture shocked. It’s so different. Back at home – you can only eat by hand at home. I get two spoons for scooping out my float and brownies (the bigger spoon on the picture is for the drink – I’m spooning a drink and I can’t fork the cake) but… no spoon and fork for… a proper meal. It’s cool though. Again, product design. Their rice is packed in a paper pocket, like a sandwich so that you won’t have any problems with grains sticking on your fingers. The rice is shaped like a burger bun so you actually bite into it like a burger. The chicken, well, is still a chicken and will forever be finger food. I’ll only comment if they will give out sticks to pick french fries with (which I saw in the school I’m working for – WTF).

I see promotional posters that say “True Love Comes In Pair” for the brownies. Shame how one letter can change the whole feel of an international brand, but oh well, remember remember – it’s not their first language so don’t judge.

Okay let’s go to set meals. The Good Friends Meal is for 4 people with 4 pieces of rice, 4 glasses of drinks and 8 pieces of chicken with 2 desserts. 2 desserts and 8 pieces of chicken. Hm. The Good Family Meal, arguably for the family, comes with “9 Chicken”. No rice, no dessert, no drinks, just 9 Chicken. I don’t know about you but their promotion guy is a bit funky in my opinion.

But after that’s all said and done, I have to say: it’s nice here. It’s not the perfect place that’s for sure but it’s real and that’s what matters. It gives great food (tell you what: root beer and fresh brownies – what can go wrong?), snappy and smiley service, and clean surroundings. For a place that serves people who are tired, anxious, jetlagged and fucked over by plane companies, this place gives out the comfort that travelers need.

Advertisements

McDonald’s Is Home

There is nothing more ubiquitous in the world like McDonald’s. It’s everywhere, it’s everyone’s favourite, and it’s amazing. It may be scoffed upon by “foodists” but I don’t care. McDonald’s is a refuge from all things strange and unwelcome.

Why the sudden love for McDonald’s today, you ask?

Well, I was supposed to post an article about my assessment style but it didn’t feel right. I was preparing to leave this house tonight, cleaning the fridge and whatnot when my boyfriend woke up and I took advantage of it by spending some quality time with him before he got back to sleep. I missed him yesterday. I have this thing where I just have to speak with him daily or else I feel bad, like I didn’t do my duty; I missed out on fun kinda thing. I genuinely miss him, and it’s hard with time zones, especially if you’re both tired from a grueling work week. You may say that it’s too much, the daily dose of him, but it works for us, and that’s how it is.

Anyway, I was lying in bed waking up from a nap and thought how lucky I was to have been served breakfast in bed two years ago, by him. Or how we would have breakfast in the Malaysian border when we went for visa runs. All of them having Egg McMuffins. Or how we would have lunch at the mall over Fillet-O-Fish.  I keep imagining how it would be like when we are together, how we have so many memories together.

There is a McDonald’s here in this neighborhood and if Ash were here I’m pretty sure where we will go during our midnight cravings. I never went once. It kinda feels sacrilegious to go there without him.

But that’s it. I think. You never really go to McDonald’s because you want food, especially delicious food. You go there because it’s convenient and it is home, meaning, it’s familiar and you have had lots of memories in it. It is actually a place where you make memories – from your high school saving up your allowance to buy a CD dinner stops, to medschool McDonald’s midnight cramming, to romantic breakfasts with the love of your life, that fastfood is always there.

It’s always close to you, it’s always fresh, it’s always clean, and it’s always cheap; You go from Naga, Manila, Bangkok to Hatyai, Malaysia to Indonesia, it’s all the same. Like an airport, McDonald’s is a neutral ground. You almost have your own McDonald’s decorum that is different from the rest of the shops (if you’re traveling abroad, you might catch yourself letting your guard down in McD’s). I know it doesn’t, but I can almost say it looks after you.

I like how globalisation works like this: in a way that the world gets really tiny, that my McD’s can be your McD’s. We all have that middle ground and it’s not pretentious at all: just solid, usual, fastfood grub.

I am going back home to the Philippines in a few hours, and trust me, I think I’ll find myself in a McDonald’s later. I am not excited about it, to be honest. I want my man to be with me more than ever but hey, what I’m doing is for us anyway. However, someday, I wish that we will continue our McD’s ritual. It’s fun, down-to-earth and yeah, feels like home.

Acquiring A Schengen Visa: Proof of Financial Capability Part 1, Funds Transfer

Getting a Schengen Visa is not a walk in the park. It involves serious strategic planning for those not coming from US, UK, Canada, NZ/Aus, especially if you don’t have a residence permit in Indonesia (but working) — meaning you can’t have a bank account.

Now Schengen requirements state that I have to have proof of financial capability to show that you can support yourself while in the EU (for Spain you would need €64, 53/day times the total duration of the stay times the total of the applicants. The total is €580, 77 per person for the duration of less than 9 days [data from Spanish embassy]; for Portugal it’s €40.00 per day plus €75.00 per entry into the country [data from Portuguese embassy]). Bank statements must show the name and address of owner(s). Electronic printouts are accepted; proof of regular income, e.g. pay slips of the last three months;. ! That means payslips (check), bank transaction slips (no banking activity here, so nope), OR bank certificates (nope). I’m screwed, but not royally. I have an active bank account in the Philippines so hey, I’ll wire my money there! Ha, but I can’t have a bank certificate because the bank needs my “personal appearance” in order to do it and also logistically, I can’t withdraw my money because my debit card is expired.

What do I do? Go bank to where the banks are: Philippines. I’ll do that next week, hoooray! Progress for my Schengen Visa!

I had 40 million Rupiahs this morning. I don’t want to [physically] carry it to me to the because: a) it’s too risky (what if my bag got lost, what if someone picked my pocket, what if what if what if!), b) it’s too bulky c) I don’t know if Philippine Foreign Exchange Counters would have a favorable exchange rate for the Rupiah; I know we had a hard time exchanging the currency in Thailand. And I’m sure black markets who have a really good rate for these kinds of transactions, won’t have the Rupiah exchange readily available.

I was also thinking of just bringing cash to Sokarno Hatta International Airport and have the Currency Exchange Counter there exchange my bills, but I doubt if they will welcome my Rp 40M transaction. Maybe they will, I don’t know, but I don’t want to risk it because I only have 4 days in the Philippines and I don’t want to waste any time on doubts, second thoughts. and Rupiah-Dollar-Peso hunting in case the airport guy tells me I can only exchange Rp 10M for the day. I want to arrive with all my papers ready to sign and cards waiting to be picked up (heads up to UnionBank for excellent customer service, I have been transacting business with my banker globally via iMessage, I highly recommend it).

So what I thought was to wire money to my account. I went to the bank here, BCA, which was conveniently located in front of my grocery shopping mecca. I messaged my banker in the Philippines. She said she was in a meeting and will get back to me later. So I messaged my mother (second time today, the first time was I told her I was resting because I was having a weird, flu-like attack and she told me to go out and finish this bank business “it would do you well not to think you’re ill”, she said) telling her that I need to know the details of her bank account so that she can be my dummy in this whole affair.

Now I’d like to think I know banking, money and how the commerce works. I have been signing checks, checking SWIFT codes, wiring money and negotiating (impossible rates lol) with banks and tellers for my parents ever since they decided I can do so, and that was when I was 16. So ten years experience with tough Philippine banking under my belt gives me confidence to saunter and make my chaching speeches in banks (given they speak English).

So mother. Dummy. Clearing time for international wiring for the Philippines takes 2-4 days because it’s a “slow country” (Thailand isn’t a slow country so it’s instant, that’s why I love it there) by international banking classification. I timed it, today is actually an opportune time for me to transact the wire, as it can be received on Friday and they can wire it to my name via Western Union on Monday morning when I arrive Manila. I can then withdraw the money from Western Union from China Bank (next door to UnionBank in The Fort), and deposit it to my account; have my banker furnish me my bank certificate, boom. Part one of banking journey done!

My mother denied my request. She told me not to use her account because “it’s from Bank of the Philippine Islands”, meaning it would take 1 week for the bank to clear it because they don’t have any international partners except Wells Fargo, so it would use at least 3 banks to process the wire, meaning it will cost time and money. What a crappy diplomatic system this bank has. So I told my mother “screw it, I’ll Western Union this to myself!” and she replied, “Isn’t that money laundering?!”

Fucking hell, who launders Rp 40M?! Really??

But of course, respect for my mama wins, and she makes sense, I don’t wanna get jailed for money laundering too, over Rp 40M, just play it safe, I told myself.

She suggested to wire it to her, I’m like okay cool, but I have to pay Rp 750,000 so I have to readjust my budget. Wait. So while recomputing my budget (I tend to be very organized with the ins and outs of my money and be pretty strict about it), she messaged, “can’t you just bring in cash? I’m sure the customs won’t look at you, you don’t have $10,000 anyway” and $10, 000 is the maximum hand carry-able cash you can have to enter (I think) ANY country. And I told her my worries about the Rupiah – Peso conversion hunt which I don’t really have time to be concerned about.

Then chaching moment! I thought of a solution that was GLARING. SIMPLE. SMART. EFFICIENT.

It reminded me of A’s story about how the Native Americans didn’t see the ships of Europeans getting near the shore because they are not expecting to see it there.

Me: “Ma, I’ll just buy US dollars.”

Ma: “Yeah, you better, it’s easier hahahahaha”

Me: “Puta! It’s that simple, I feel so stupid”

Ma: “Money matters and banking do that”

In the end, that’s what I did. And I earned! Instead of RP 12,930 that xe.com reported as the rate, I got Rp 13, 230 for $1 rate. Not that it greatly matters but I know that a cent counts in these kinds of transactions. They ended up rounding my Rupiahs to $3,000 and returning an excess of Rp 630, 000. I will encash that in the airport currency exchange kiosk when I get there. So I signed a ton of paperwork speaking sadikit of Bahasa Inggris, waited for at least thirty minutes and then boom. Got what I wanted. Happy days! Man I never felt so accomplished haha! It’s the little things.

Next step, Philippines.

Cost of Living: Manila

We started with Thailand, now we are going to the Philippines to sustain this cost of living articles. Manila, the country’s capital, isn’t very popular to backpackers nor expats. I think this is because of the geographical location: It’s a ballache to go to the Philppines. You have to fly and fights are costly.

However, Manila is very different to the rest of Southeast Asia because of this coincidence. It’s the only catholic country and it is far more “Anglocized” than the rest of its neighbors, meaning, you can’t make money as an English teacher here. Maybe that’s also the reason why we don’t have a lot of backpackers.

It’s also a bit costly. When the boyfriend and I were living there, we did not save anything even if we had the Thailand lifestyle (most often that not anyway) where we eat out mor because we did not have a fully functional kitchen. Here goes!

Thank you to Ajarn.com by the way for inspiring this post.

Currency references: 33 Baht to one US Dollar
50 Baht to one Pound Sterling
37 Baht to one Euro
25 Baht to one Australian Dollar
0.74 Baht to one Philippine Peso

Working in Manila, PH

Monthly Earnings: 38,200

Q1. How much do you earn from teaching per month?

I took home around 38,200 baht a month from my job as a Teaching Assistant in a British School in Paranaque, Metro Manila.I assisted EYFS, KS1 and KS2 classes.

Q2. How much of that can you realistically save per month?

Before I met A, I saved 12 to 15k a month. When we got together, we splurged on food and halved expenses with him. We lived life in Makati restaurants and Salcedo Village, so none. Haha!

Q3. How much do you pay for your accommodation and what do you live in exactly (house, apartment, condo)?

I rented a room with its own bathroom for 7,500. The payment included electric and water bills. The room is a tiny 7sq meter thing.

Q4. What do you spend a month on the following things?

a) Transportation

P1000 to P4000 a month, depending on how late I wake up in the morning. P4000 a month if I take a cab, and P1000 if I take the MRT or bus – not recommended. I use the cab. With A, we use the cab too, so P4000 a month.

b) Utility bills

As mentioned earlier, bills were part of my rent. A’s bills were paid for by the school as he was an expat. I usually pay P2000 for internet though, with wifi (dongle).

c) Food – both restaurants and supermarket shopping

P6000 because I put a P1500 budget every week. Sometimes it reaches to P10000 though. I never scrimp on food.

d) Nightlife and drinking

Oh this cost a lot as we probably have an average expenditure of P2000 per night out and we went out a lot! Maybe 15,000. Jesus Christ. Ridic!

e) Books, computers

Zero expenses because… piracy!

Q5. How would you summarize your standard of living in one sentence?

EXPENSIVE AS F*UCK. I won’t be back here.

Q6. What do you consider to be a real ‘bargain’ here?

Erm, friendship? LOL probably electronics and electronic services like repairs and open-lining your phones. Greenbelt is heaven for those kinda stuff.

Q7. In your opinion, how much money does anyone need to earn here in order to survive?

For the Philippines I think P75,000 would be comfortable. P50,000 is fine, but there will be cutbacks. If you are an expat I think P150k should be your minimum because apartments here like the one A had in Makati (normal, 35 sq meter studio) cost P75000 per month to rent! Ridiculous!

How To Reserve Flights For Your Schengen Visa Application (Without Paying The Actual Flight)

As you know, I’m on the hunt on my DIY Acquiring the Schengen Visa Adventure (read: no travel agents). So I’m collecting information and this has taken to me to many wonderful places in the internet. As promised, any gold nugget of information will be shared.

Well I found this website called Dream Euro Trip and it’s owned by a very vivacious schoolmate (yay University of the Philippines!) and he has some wonderful resources on how to actually go to EU, which, as Filipinos, can be a daunting task. I hate that part of my passport because we are stereotyped as illegal immigrants and most countries are cautious of us now. ARRRRGH! PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don’t be illegal! But then again I understand the point of illegals because if acquiring a Schengen Visa is difficult and then you are suddenly in Spain, will you be willing to submit yourself to the uncertainty of being granted a visa or not, now that you’re in the place? It’s a vicious cycle.

Anyway, I will post his article here, where he offers his service for that requirement called flight reservation. Do you know how to do it? Well I had to ask several people first, but now, fret not because it’s here and it’s online!

How To Book Roundtrip Flight Reservation For Visa Application Without Paying The Actual Flight

by DJ Yabis, originally posted here

If you’re applying for a Schengen visa (or any other visa for that matter), most of the time the embassy requires you to submit a flight reservation or a flight confirmation and you wonder what exactly that is. I’ve been getting a lot of emails about this from readers and I might as well just create a blogpost to explain it and help you get one easily without paying the actual flight cost and without leaving your house (check the end of the post how to do it!).

Here’s what the embassies require from their official websites:

Details regarding the means of travel for the outward – and return journey (details regarding the airline), proof of reservation of a roundtrip ticket – German Embassy

Roundtrip flight booking (please do not purchase your ticket unless your visa is granted) – French Embassy

Copy of the roundtrip airline reservation with Passenger Registration Number (or reservation number) and travel itinerary. The reservation should prove that the stay in the Schengen area does not exceed 90 days. It is recommended not to buy the ticket until the visa is granted. – Dutch Embassy

Copy of your confirmed flight reservation – Belgian Embassy

What Is A Roundtrip Flight Itinerary, Flight Confirmation Or Flight Reservation?

I know a lot of you are confused about this. I was too! Some questions that ran in my mind were: Do I really need to book a flight? What if my visa is denied? Where can I get this flight confirmation? How do I get a confirmed flight reservation? Do I have to pay for the flight now? Do they need to see itineraries from Skycanner or something but they don’t need to see that I’ve actually booked and paid for those flights? How does one get a “confirmed airline reservation” without buying a ticket?

WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?!?

Please stop banging your head against the wall. It’s actually VERY EASY.

A flight confirmation, reservation, itinerary or whatever they call it is basically just a piece of paper that shows a flight itinerary which you can easily get from a travel agency. Not all travel agencies issue this though so it does take time and money to find a travel agency that will give you one. The travel agency has access to flights and can make the flight reservation for your Schengen visa purposes. Most of them charge differently for this and rarely do you find one that will issue it for free.

In short, it’s basically just a formality for visa application purposes.

Below is a sample of a flight reservation so you can imagine how it looks like. Note that the travel agency only “reserves” the flight for you so you don’t actually pay for the flight. It is recommended that you only book your actual flight AFTER your visa is approved. You can book your flight on your own or via the same travel agency. It doesn’t matter. You don’t have to actually take this flight. And you don’t need to cancel it after or anything like that. It’s just for the embassy.

Sample Flight Reservation For Your Visa Application

sample flight reservation for visa application

flight itinerary template for visa application

How Can I Find A Travel Agency That Can Issue Me A Flight Reservation/Confirmation/Itinerary?

Well you have to know a travel agency near you and ask. Repeat process until you find one which can create a flight reservation for you. Each travel agency charge differently for a flight reservation. I used to hop from one travel agency to the next in Malate just to have it. Under the scorching sun of Manila and the bitchy people at these agencies, it was no fun to do it!

How To Get A Flight Reservation For Schengen Visa Application Without Leaving Your House And Without Paying The Full Price

I HATE EMBASSIES AND VISA APPLICATIONS like you do so my goal in life is to make it less stressful and easier for everyone of us. If I can help one person everyday I am happy. Lots of good karma for me.

So I have created a solution to this flight reservation issue and partnered up with Travelta Tours and Travel, an authorised travel agency which can book your flight reservation and email it to you so you don’t have to waste time looking for a travel agency and you don’t have to waste money going around to find one. All you have to do is print it! Voila! You will receive something like the sample flight reservation I showed above. The flight reservation fee is 20 euros. 

This service is available to everyone around the world who needs to apply for a Schengen visa or any kind of visa.

Why is this amazing? Because you don’t need to go anywhere and waste your precious time, not to mention sweating under the scorching sun looking for a travel agency.

If you’re interested to avail of this service, here’s what you need to do:

1. Order the flight reservation online per person and pay using your credit card or Paypal (if you don’t have a Paypal account just click “Pay with my credit or debit card” at the bottom right of the page, no problem!).

2. Send an email to flights.ph@gmail.com with the Subject: Flight Confirmation – Your Full Name (for example, Flight Confirmation – Anna Batungbakal)

3. In the email, please attach a scanned copy of your passport or a photo of your passport (they need this info to create your flight reservation) and include your departure dates and destination(s), your visa interview appointment date and location. Note: Please DO NOT attach other things besides your passport. If you already paid, the travel agency will see it so no need to include your paypal confirmation. For example:

Hello!

I’ve just ordered the flight reservation service. I’ve attached my passport photo and below is my itinerary:

Manila – Frankfurt – January 12, 2015
Frankfurt – Manila – February 14, 2015 (OK, how sad is this that you’re flying on Valentines?)

My visa interview is on December 5, 2014 in Manila, Philippines.

xx,
Anna Batungbakal

4. The travel agency will process your flight reservation within 2 business days (not including weekends!). You will receive a PDF of your flight reservation and a link with your unique booking code via email which you can access anytime. If you book it on weekends, you will receive it on Monday. People rest, too, you know? So you better book it in advance and during the week!

Extra notes

a. If you are flying from cities with multiple airports, please specify the airport as well if you have a preferred one.

b. This flight reservation fee is applicable for roundtrip flights only (or two flights to any destination). If you want us to reserve three or more flights, let us know via email.

That’s it! If you need rush processing or there are 3 or more of you, read below. If you have more questions, check the FAQ below or post on the comments and I’ll answer it.

I hope this helps. Be an angel and share this to your friends who are applying for a visa.

Rush Processing

If you’re desperate and really need the flight reservation within 24 hours, we can accommodate you. We will try to do everything to make the flight reservation as soon as possible.

Order the rush flight itinerary online  and follow the same instructions above. Don’t even email to ask if we can create one for you. Just order it. We see orders immediately and will act on it asap. We will refund you anyway if we can’t book your flight reservation before your visa interview.

Note: Travelta is based in the Philippines and follows the timezone of the Philippines for its work hours which is 9 AM – 6 PM.

Kicking Homesickness by Going Places: Koh Chang

*Featured Image and editing courtesy of Ashley Andrews, (c) 2014 :)) thank you! Xxxxx

When you’re an expat, it’s almost inevitable for you to feel homesick, or even worse, homeless at times. It generally occurs when you have a series of frustrating events happening at work, which – honesty world speaking – is the main reason for why you are living in such a place. You get to ask yourself, WTF am I doing here?

Then you go to a quiet corner of your mind and meditate on your reasons, thereby putting your goals and your purposes in place. You feel at peace, and hopefully realise that a) it’s only temporary, and b) it’s not a bad life, only a bad day.

Unfortunately, this moment of peace happens to me after I alienate my support group, which is annoying for me because I know I have scored bad karma points, leading me to tell myself (over and over again) to chill and relax.

That’s the reason why I told you to pack home.  Because in these moments of self-inflicted suffering, you have to be reminded of your purpose, of your direction. For me, these are pictures of my family and my boyfriend – cheesy as it may sound (better get used to it because I don’t mind being called cheesy), but I get my peace and strength from memories I have of them in my head.

Today is one of those days, and naturally I sat down in my bed, clicking through folders and folders of pictures of wonderful memories. I saw Koh Chang pictures.

Koh Chang is the second largest island of Thailand after Phuket (whodathunk Phuket was an island?! I overheard this factoid while doing a visa run and google confirmed it, ah the glory of eavesdropping) and it literally means Elephant Island as koh means island and chang means beer elephant. It is mountainous and it is a massive National Park, meaning it cannot be developed. Only 3% of the island can be developed and I think that’s why it remains so gorgeous.

It was my first taste of abroad, having my first valentine’s celebration with my man there too. There were so many firsts happening there in my life, like seeing elephants in a field (though sadly chained), dipping into a waterfall, falling off a tree, among others. The island was so significant for me, it feels like it’s home. Like, the type where you’d go to when you have a boo boo, and recharge there to feel safe. I’ve gone there three times this past two years, and it was always sweet. And recharging.

And recharge you do. Magic Garden is one of the best places to stay in as you feel right at home. I can lounge around in their bean bags and learn Spanish all day long. I can people watch there while lying down deep within the jungle with a bucket of gin and tonic. Another place to stay in is Little Eden, which actually lives up to its name. Rather pricey for the island, it’s clean and quiet and it offers very nice, new bungalows in the jungle. I’m proud to say there’s no TV there (my sort of place unless there’s a UFC fight), like Magic Garden. Oh and they make awesome food there. It may be funky sometimes (I give up expecting perfection when it comes to “Western” food in TH) but it’s always fresh and tasty. Case in point: I crave Magic Garden’s tofu burger like a pregnant woman sometimes. It’s that good. Oh the relish of that thing.

IMG_1049

White Sands Beach is the liveliest part of that island but I’m glad to say that it’s nowhere near as hedonistic to the party scene in Samui. It still has a nice laid-back vibe but I fear that it will go soon because Koh Chang is getting famous!

There are so many places in Thailand catering to tourists but none of them has got the real charm of Koh Chang, which is rustic and charming at best. It can be really cheap to stay in too, but I guess the best part of it is the authenticity it emanates. You know Thailand, most touristy places are manufactured: Koh San road, floating markets, Elephant Camps, the whole bohemian vibe of Chiang Mai, etc, to lure tourists in. Expats like me get disappointed in turn.

Koh Chang is different because you feel like a local. No one hassles you to buy things, no one gives a fuck about who you are, and most importantly, the international-local population there is almost equal (like Samui) – hence perhaps the local feel. Oh and speaking of Samui, it kinda feels like a secret as most people go to Samui or Phuket when they go to Thailand.

One day, I’d like to go back there with my man. I don’t think I can go back there alone (the feels), but tonight, let’s. Even if it’s just in pictures.

Acquiring The Schengen Visa: Part 1, Requirements

Ah, the Schengen Visa. The golden ticket to Europe to those who are unfortunate to have been born in Second and Third World countries.

I am going to document my journey on getting this visa to help the others who can’t have proper information about it, because right now, doing it, I can’t seem to find answers to my questions.

Last night, I cleaned my inbox and I saw an email from the Spanish Embassy stating that I cannot apply for a visa here in Jakarta because I don’t have a residence permit. Man my heart broke into tiny little pieces. Since December, Schengen Visa going to Ash was all I’ve been thinking of. And now, 3 weeks shy of actually lodging an application to them, I am being told that I can’t. What a joke.

So guys, lesson. If you don’t have a residence permit in your foreign address, you are not eligible for a Schengen Visa.

Now what am I going to do? Fortunately, Philippines is a mere 5 hr plane ride away so I can go there and lodge my visa application there. So that’s what I’m gonna do. I don’t know how long a Spanish Schengen visa application will take me but I’m hoping it’s not going to take long (like 5 days? Is that even possible?). At least that’s one of the options, and so far the most obvious one. Any more ideas are welcome as long as it doesn’t involve chopping and boxes.

Anyway, these are the basic requirements for obtaining a Schengen Visa:

Schengen Visa Requirements for Filipinos

  • Fully accomplished and signed application form
  • Valid passport (valid at least 6 months from the date of travel)
  • Photocopy of valid passport and former visas (colored photocopy recommended)
  • Passport-sized photos in white background
  • NSO Authenticated Birth Certificate
  • NSO Authenticated Marriage Certificate (if married)
  • Invitation Letter addressed to the Embassy if a friend or relative will accommodate the stay of the applicant in his/her house or residence. In Spanish Embassy this is called the Carta de Invitacion. The letter of invitation however is required to be made by a National, Citizen or Foreign Resident in the country you are applying this visa. This letter of invitation must be supported and accompanied by a document of identity or permit of stay. This Invitation Letter usually has a format and can be downloaded from the embassy or consulate of the country you are applying your visa.
  • Roundtrip tickets (officially confirmed by the airline)
  • Detailed itinerary which includes departure and arrival time and dates
  • Hotel accommodations vouchers and booking receipts
  • Proof of Financial Capacity, Income and Sufficient Funds which include the following:

Bank Account SOA (Statement of Account for the last 3 months)

Bank Certification

Updated Passbook

Recent ITR (income Tax Return)

Credit card billing statements from last 3 months

  • Certification of Employment signed by your company (if employed)
  • Approved Leave of Absence
  • Travel Order (if working in the government)
  • Business Registration Certificate (if Self-employed)
  • Travel Insurance from Accredited Schengen insurance companies
  • Visa processing fee (per embassy requirement)
  • Affidavit of Support and Consent from both parents (for minors only)
  • DSWD Clearance for minors not travelling with parents (for minors only)

So there you go, hopefully, that will inspire you to go out there and explore. As for me, I’ve always been inspired to go to Europe hahaha! And nothing is gonna stop me from being with him, because that’s what you do for love. Lah!

Cost of Living: Thailand

I think it’s true if I say every expat wants to know if she can “survive in this new country with this salary”. It’s a smart question to ask after all, especially since your brain is still getting itself around the fact that your currency isn’t the same anymore. Truth be told, I still can’t get the fact that I’m a millionaire here in Indonesia (everyone is, don’t worry, I’m far from rich) because of their weird currency setup. It’s difficult paying your 2M groceries you know. All that paper. Damn. But I’m not complaining, gimme my millions!

Anyway, I think it’s worthy to have a cost of living article just to compare spending habits and lifestyles place to place. I know for a fact that my lifestyle has changed from being a yuppie, middle class bourgeois in Manila to being a backpacker teacher in Thailand to being a normal (I think) expat here in Indonesia. Add the fact that I am saving up for Europe at this point so there’s that.

Anyway, thank you to Ajarn.com by the way for inspiring this post.

Currency references: 

33 Baht to one US Dollar
50 Baht to one Pound Sterling
37 Baht to one Euro
25 Baht to one Australian Dollar
0.74 Baht to one Philippine Peso

Working in Hatyai, TH

Monthly Earnings: 30, 000

Q1. How much do you earn from teaching per month?

I take home around 30,000 baht a month from my job as a Prenursery Teacher in a British School in Hatyai. I started at 25,000 but upon learning that my co-teacher who technically hasn’t graduated yet is earning 5,000 more (she’s Australian and I’m Filipino), I complained and got a raise. But everyone still got a raise so yeah, there’s that.

Q2. How much of that can you realistically save per month?

Nothing, really. I don’t know why, but even with my partner contributing to expenses, we constantly find ourselves with no savings. That’s because we are both settling in in that place. There’s always something to buy, like a blender or a toaster or a Scrabble. Plus we don’t skimp on food. And we eat well.

Q3. How much do you pay for your accommodation and what do you live in exactly (house, apartment, condo)?

My boyfriend and I rented a studio apartment for 6,000 a month.

Q4. What do you spend a month on the following things?

a) Transportation

My school is a 15 minute walk, so there’s nothing there but we go to the gym everyday and that takes 40 back and forth from the house for the two of us. So that’s automatically around 1,200 a month, not to mention trips to the mall on the other side of town and some emergency tuktuk rides when it gets too late. Let’s say 1,500.

b) Utility bills

We pay around 2,000 baht. We use a lot of aircon because the boyfriend works at home and it gets hot and humid in the day. At night we use the fan sometimes.

c) Food – both restaurants and supermarket shopping

We eat at home a lot because we are vegetarian but we treat ourselves to guilty pleasures like pizza, chips and burgers! Beer and whiskey also takes the budget, so let’s say around 14,000 (holy shit). That’s 2k a week on groceries so that’s 8k a month plus liquor and cigarettes.

d) Nightlife and drinking

Yeah as mentioned above liquor and cigarettes cost about 6,000.

e) Books, computers

Zero expenses because… piracy!

Q5. How would you summarize your standard of living in one sentence?

Pretty good but I know we have a lot of expenditures on luxuries like alcohol, etc. We should be saving more.

Q6. What do you consider to be a real ‘bargain’ here?

I think food is way, way cheaper here, if you are not choosy, like you can get your fill for 65 egg noodles (but not soul satisfying). Saying that, the usual Western food that I’m used to is an acquired taste here hahaha! So we pay an extra for premium Western Food. That’s why we cook at home. The boyfriend is an excellent cook but the imported ingredients for our culinary repertoire is quite pricey too. Oh well. Food is our weakness.

Q7. In your opinion, how much money does anyone need to earn here in order to survive?

I think 50,000 will be a really good minimum. In my mind, that will enable me to have my bourgeois MNL lifestyle which includes Starbucks, clothes and gifts to the boyfriend, travels PLUS SAVINGS.

How To Travel Abroad a.k.a. The Tao of Traveling

Yes, I fully intend to impart my wisdom to you, gathered through priceless experiences that made me grow

So on my Instagram feed, I discovered my high school classmate’s pictures of her and her “boyfriend” and they have fucking amazing pictures. Like, you know, Instagram-worthy. In a magical place: Bali. With thoroughly insightful captions about life and love that you’d think Bali makes everyone into an Elizabeth Gilbert (of the Eat, Pray, Love fame) clone.

I know I risk sounding bitter here, but I’m just disappointed that with all those artful pictures and thought-provoking captions, I learn that those captions were lifted from the internet. WTF, I hate that. I felt deceived. Duped. Like admiration has been misplaced. Although it is my bad that I googled the caption (I’m such a condescending prick sometimes), I was hoping it won’t get a hit. Unfortunately and to my dismay, it did. And here it is.

As a reaction to that, let me present my Tao of Traveling, as per guru Ella. Here goes:

1. Pack home. People tell you to make a list about what you love about your home before leaving it, but that is too time-consuming and it is bordering on fake, especially if your are root-less like me. I grew up and got uprooted in a place where I can’t call home now.  For me, pack stuff that would remind you of home – not the geographical home – but rather the things, the home that you know would ground you and make you feel safe and loved ANYWHERE you are in the world. They are timeless and “place-less”, therefore universal. I always take pictures of my family and Ash with me, also the birthday postcard Ash gave me, they are my home. If things get rough, I look at these things and go home to my safety place in that little corner of my mind, reminding me that this is only temporary and that I will go home to them one day.

2. Plan your trip. Make a list of the things you want to do on that journey of yours and make an itinerary. This will most likely be not followed because of the unpredictable nature of these kind of trips, especially if you are backpacking across Asia, but what this gives you is a sense of direction and goals. Read up about the place on the internet, get inspired by other adventurers’ tales, and hook up with a local to be your guide once you have arrived. Have fun, be smart though.

3. Pack money, or at least be armed with a sufficient amount of it. In that list, it said, Pack Band Shirts. Actually, lemme quote that because it seriously reeks of 20 year old, Generation Y, hipster vibe:

3. Pack band T-shirts
.

This is not as silly as it sounds. I make a lot of friends just by wearing my Beatles or Strokes T-shirts. Music has a powerful way of bringing people together, and even though no listening is involved, people like to come up and talk about how much they love the band on my shirt or their experience at the concert and so on. This is a lovely and easy way to spark short-lived conversations with pretty cool strangers. And if all things go well, you’ll make plans to a jazz bar that week and become best friends.

Is this screwed up or what?! Who wants to be friends with a poser who packed fucking band shirts just to talk small talk with people who love music? This has a makings of a psychopath checklist, “How To Lure Victims”.

Look, my advice is, have some money as a safety blanket because you don’t know how much you’re gonna spend. Yes, do research on the cost of living, good. But you’re new, you’re stimulated, you wanna buy everything, but pause on that. If push comes to shove you have to go home because of an emergency, you’re covered. Even better, if the place sucks and you decide to go to a different place, you have money to do so. Trust me. Money makes the world go round.

And personally, you don’t need band shirts. Fuck that, go talk to people. Go to that Jazz club, own the place and talk to people. DO NOT DEPEND ON SHIRTS FOR SOCIAL BROWNIE POINTS BECAUSE THAT’S A LOSER THING TO DO AND YOU ARE NOT A LOSER.

4. Be mindful. Okay that list says be aware of current events. You don’t need to be, especially if you’re in a place where they don’t have English newspapers. What, translate their newspaper just to be equipped? Yeah sure I can read BBC.com or CNN.com, but if you are mindful enough that this is not your own country and be respectful of their laws and culture, you’re fine. In fact, that’s what I’d encourage you to read on: their culture and laws. Not only you’ll appreciate the country more, but you’d have a different insight when you experience the whole culture of it.

5. Meet locals. In that list, she says meet old people. I say, talk to everyone, young, old, rich, poor, whatever. But locals are gold. They are living artifacts of the place and tell the best stories, although yes, older people are interesting because they have experience with the world and have more to say, young people have hopes and dreams for that new place. Workers can tell you problems with their economy or how economy is. Let’s just say, they give you enough material for your insight.

6. Take pictures, and document it. The list says don’t take electronics. You serious? You are abroad and alone, bring your phone because you don’t know what might happen and you may have to call your parents or the cops, you know? I know I sound pessimistic but hey, it’s not a fairy tale world out there! I know it means to clear your mind of what’s happening, disconnect to the world. Yeah I get that, but please, not when you are out exploring. Do that when you are in a controlled environment, like a bungalow. Anyway, take pictures and document it. One day, you will look back and tell yourself, hey I did this, and I want you to be proud of yourself for being independent and strong while looking at that photo. Write a blog about it too, and share your experience. If you’re shy about it, write it down on your journal. This will, believe if or not, make the journey more memorable.

7. Immerse yourself. Don’t be afraid to get lost, try new food, stay up late at night, people watch, be alone. This journey will open your mind to different options and I want you to optimize the experience by taking it all in. You are there for growth and learning and that’s what you’ll do. After this trip, you’ll come out at a better person with an understanding of the world. Get lost (I said that with love).

8. I will quote that list here because it’s beautiful:

Don’t be worried about it ending
.

The hardest part about traveling is knowing that the moments do not last forever. However, this time around, I learned to not worry so much about becoming weary after going back home. The most important part is to know that at some point in life for some period of time, a part of me walked across the Vlatava River looking along the colorful buildings of Prague on the way to school. Somewhere inside me, that moment will always resonate. I think that moments and experiences never leave you if you let them affect you.

Ending something fun will never get easy, but you’ll get used to it. Have fun and take care, I wish it won’t be your last trip!

Reasons Why I Love Thailand

One morning, I woke up up with a longing for Thailand. I don’t know why, but instead of getting homesick for the Philippines, I miss Thailand more.

I know Thailand has become a cliche for so many travelers, that if you are a “cool” one (read: hipster), you avoid it. True enough, Thailand is a magnet for backpackers and retirees. However, I had so many experiences in Thailand that has shaped me to who I am now. I have taken so much in terms of knowledge, and frankly, I think I have grown more in my nine months in that country compared to my sheltered twenty five years in my home country.

Why Thailand? It’s beautiful. Not physically, because it looks like the Philippines and they both look familiar, but the infrastructure: roads, internet (oh, internet), 7/11s, transportation, food – it’s really easy to live there. The culture? They don’t care about you, in fact, they turn their back to you when they know you can’t speak Thai. I thought that was rude at first but I adjusted to that. It’s soooo different to the Philippines where everyone would bend over for you to tend to your needs. I also find Buddhism refreshing at first because they weren’t as judgmental as Catholics. Oh and all the gold is pretty, even if your mind is telling you how outrageous it is to spend precious metal over monuments.

In Thailand, I learned how to live alone in a room without a fire exit thereby having me planning a fire escape route, with a landlady named Porn calling me at 6am to wake me up, and by 4 pm leave a bag of fruits on my door. I have buy food from the street (tricky for a vegetarian – so I learned a bit of Thai), open a bank account without actually speaking, move houses alone in a foreign country because the school didn’t help, travel locally in a different language (without interpreters at that – yay!).

I learned to live with my partner which was a welcome change from living alone but still a change nonetheless. I learned how to keep house (I need to improve on that) and with that I learned that small spaces are not easy to maintain because you tend to think, nah, it’s only small, easy to clean this – and never get around to doing it. I learned how to carry a microwave at the back of a motorbike because taxis didn’t exist in Hatyai and the tuktuks cost a lot for a 3 block drive. I learned to pack my life in two backpacks and needed to let go of unnecessary baggage, especially when you are traveling for a month in two countries. I learned how to move with a pack of visa runners, how fear of Thai immigration can bond a motley crew of foreigners begging their host country for a few more months to stay before the visa, and how quickly those bonds disintregrate when you get hold of your visa.

In Thailand I learned how to be patient, open and understanding. I had to be independent in more ways than I can imagine. I had to be dependent on my boyfriend when I thought I can do it alone. I appreciate living alone but enjoyed it with my partner. However, I know that I can’t live with anyone now, except him.

I have learned how my body works, especially with the lax Thai pharmaceutical laws. I didn’t have a medical insurance there but drugs and medicine were cheap and ubiquitous. I had WebMd on my fingertips, and the frustrated pharmacist just wants to give me what I want to send me away. I diagnosed myself and healed myself pretty well but the hormones I took for contraception didn’t work as expected. For a country that has a very sexy stereotype, I thought contraception was an easy part of life but hell, no.

I learned how I seem to appear to people, they think I am Thai. When Ash and I are together, they stare at us because I speak better English and they think: Thai? Not Thai? WTF?! Ash and I are pretty sure that they think we are a sex worker-sex tourist couple as well as with most Thai women – Western man stereotype. I had trouble with that at first but finally managed to say “fuck it, fuck them”. I have learned to communicate via charades and body language because of the language barrier. When words can’t say what I mean, I have to act what I mean then. It was tough but I had to do it.

I have learned my boyfriend’s love language, his little quirks, how his mind works in the wee hours of the morning, when he is jetlagged, when he is happy. I learned how to expect and not expect, how to talk to him and reach out. I have learned how to distance and give space and not be bothered about it (well, not as much as before). I learned that I enjoy him and his presence a lot that words are not enough for me to clearly paint the picture to you. I learned that it’s a different ball game when you’re apart and when you’re with each other. I learned to travel with him and found it very intimate because traveling strips you down to your core and it is during those moments of magic happen as you share your discoveries.

Thailand is very special to me. I can say that it’s my mentor. It challenges me A LOT and it’s not easy, but like a best friend, it will give you a good time through bad times. So cheers, and  kop kun kaa.