Life in the Philippines – “I Sorry” Ay Sorry, joke lang!

Well, the ‘ber months are here so it is full-on Christmas. More on that later. Today I wanted to cover one commonly used English expression and one Taglish* expression generally used by all Filipinos, no matter their native tongue.

I Sorry” “Ay Sorry” — firstly, my team has corrected my poor Taglish. The correct expression is “ay sorry” rather than “I sorry”. Of course to an English speakers ears, the difference in sound between “ay” and “I” is, well, almost none. Anyway, this is said whenever someone bumps you, knocks, you drops something in front of you or generally does anything that would elicit an apology from native English speakers from the UK, Australia, New Zealand or similar. The expression is simply “I sorry”. No “I am”, “I’m”, or other form of the pronoun, just a simple “I”. The expression is simply “ay sorry”, literally “oh, sorry”. OK RJ, Kaii and the others … have I got that correct now? 🙂

“Joke lang” — When hearing the expression “joke lang” I am reminded of an old friend since passed, Bob Preller. Bob was born in Rhodesia and lived there through the civil war that resulted in the current Zimbabwe. He later travelled, married a lovely Norwegian lady and lived in Norway for the rest of his life. He was the most positive person I ever knew but he was also gifted with an acute sense of humour and the ability to make any story, no matter how unbelievable, sound believable. This got him scolded a few times by his Norwegian friends who could not tell he was joking. They explained to him,

Når du forteller en vits, må du smile slik at vi vet at det er en vits

Which translated to:

When you tell a joke you must smile so that we know it is a joke

It is similar here. At the immediate conclusion of a joke or when teasing someone playfully, you are expected to say, “joke lang”, which I guess literally means, “and it is a joke” or perhaps better, “just kidding”.


* Taglish – is the combination of Tagalog and English, both in name and in substance. It is the name given to the phenomenon where the two languages are combined into one sentence in everyday speech. It is also common to see in writing too. The earliest use of the term “Taglish” seems to date back to about 1973. There are other forms of this portmanteau, such as “Engalog” and “Tanglish” but “Taglish” appears to be the common form used these days.

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Life in the Philippines – 15 Days to Christmas!

Well, it is in the Philippines. Today is 16 August and as such, 15 days away from the start of the Festive Season here. In the Philippines the festive season is known as the ‘ber months (September, October, November, December). This will be when the Christmas decorations go up in the stores and malls, and the playing of Christmas Carols commences in those malls – for the next four months!

It is normally around mid-October that the repeated Christmas Carols feel more like a Chinese Water Torture but then I relex and reaise that there are only 10 more weeks of Carol Singing to go!

Merry Christmas!

Life in the Philippines – Pasalubong

Whenever I return from a trip to Australia or Singapore, my staff ask me for their Pasalubong. Pasalubong is a Tagalog word that seems to mean, “here is something I have for you for when you welcome me back”. It is a Filipino tradition where travellers bring gifts from their destination to folks back home – for family, friends, office mates and so on. The Pasalubong can be any gift or souvenir brought for family or friends after being away for a period of time.

Pasalubong is normally something local from the region, or country visited. Yes, it does not just apply to those that have been overseas. So, for example, should I visit the province of Bicol, then I would look to bring back pili nuts. Head to Pampanga and chicharron (see left) would be a suitable Pasalubong. Visit Australia, and I could bring back vegemite (which has the double advantage of being the expected Pasalubong and at the same time, after tasting it, curing the locals of asking me for Pasalubong in the future). Vegemite is an acquired taste after all, fit only for real men and women! 😉

Pasalubong is culturally important to Filipinos and is a way for the traveller to share some of the experience of their trip with family and friends – sort of like the souvenirs brought back by western cultures (like the Elgin marbles for example).

The other nice part about Pasalubong is that it is not wrapped, but given as is. A nice custom and one I seem to recall in other parts of Asia as well.

 

Life in the Philippines – Paluwagan

Paluwagan has existed in the Philippines for many years. It is a group forced savings system and similar money saving systems exist in other countries and cultures, however, in the Philippines, and regardless of what the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP – the Central Bank) says, it is almost ubiquitous. Paluwagans exist in the cities such as Metro Manila and down to the farms on Mindanao and Samar. Even retired folks have been know to be part of a paluwagan.

So, what is it exactly? It is a means of group saving or money lending. A group of people, perhaps workmates, friends, extended family and such, get together and agree an amount they can afford to “save” or deposit to the paluwagan. They agree on who will hold the funds, how frequently payments will be and then the order of receiving payments – the order is usually random unless there is a compelling reason to help out one or two members of the paluwagan group first.

The mechanics are quite simple. Each member contributes the same amount each week (or month or whatever cycle is selected). One member then receives the collected funds each cycle. The next week all contribute again and the second member receives the collected funds. This continues until all members receive the full funds after which the paluwagan then terminates. In many respects, it is like the terminating Building societies of 18th century England.

A paluwagan payment set of cycles could look like:

There are six members and all agree to contribute 1,000 pesos per month for six months. The payment order is agreed, in this case, Anne, Bob, Charlie, Dave, Edwin and Francine. In January all contribute 1,000 pesos and Anne is then given 6,000 pesos. In February all contribute 1,000 pesos and Bob is then given 6,000 pesos. The cycle repeats until everyone has received their 6,000 pesos.

The benefits of paluwagan are:

  • quick access to a lump sum of money
  • easy to set up
  • no fees
  • forces saving

The disadvantages/risks:

  • unregulated
  • prone to money problems (dishonest members)
  • strained relationships among friends and family
  • no interest or profits

The paluwagan however, is effective among friends, colleagues, co-workers and family where all can be trusted and if there is a large group, say 10 to 20 people, and they are contributing 1,000 pesos each cycle, then the lump sum of 10,000 to 20,000 pesos is very useful.

As with all things in the 21st century, there are a number of online frauds and scams to be avoided. However, when lending face-to-face to the paluwagan among a group of trusted friends,  colleagues etc. the risk is low.

Life in the Philippines

I’ve been living in the Philippines for nearly five years now (I arrived in Manila on 9 August 2014 so five years on 9 August 2019). It is an interesting and friendly country with much familiar and much different. Most of the five years has been spent in Manila, famous mostly for its traffic and balut. I have been fortunate in the apartments I have stayed in to be able to see Manila Bay (battlefield of course for Dewey’s Squadron in the Spanish-American War) and generally a nice view into the distance, although a few too many high dwellings.

Many days the sunsets are wonderful and on clear days I can see the Bataan peninsula which forms the northern edge to the entrance to Manila Bay and was the scene of one of the death marches in World War 2. It is also the home to the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant. Construction of that commenced in 1976 and was completed by 1986, just in time to see the Chernobyl meltdown. It was decided not to power up this power plant and it sits on the Bataan peninsula to this day. Who knew?

Interestingly it is not that far from Mt Pinatubo which famously blew its top in 1991.

Sunset over Manila Bay – Bataan in the right background, Corregidor in the left

To the south I can see the Cavite peninsula, forming the southern edge to the entrance to the bay and in the middle, Corregidor, famous as a fortified island, fortified by the Spanish, the Americans and then the Japanese. It was supposed to protect the entrance to the bay. From there you can see the concrete battleship Fort Drum (originally known as El Fraile Island).

I was fortunate to take a day drip across to Corregidor a few years ago, which I promised myself I would write up here. Still, it’s my blog so things happen at my rate.

I will start to cover life in the Philippines more in the future, especially the life of the expat turning local as my plan is to remain here after I finally retire. In the meantime, ingat ikaw.

By Rail – Moscow to Beijing

Legend Tours has a page on their website called “Train schedule in Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia)” which contains information about travelling by train from Moscow to Beijing via Mongolia.

One of the paragraphs of useful information for the traveller is the one shown below:

Customs & Immigration. There are major delays of three to six hours at both, the China-Mongolia and Russia-Mongolia borders. Often the trains cross the border during the middle of the night, when the alert Mongolian and Russian officials maintain the upper hand. The whole process is not difficult or a hassle – just annoying because they keep interrupting your sleep. Your passport will be taken for inspection and stamping.
During these stops, you can alight and wander around the station, which is just as well since the toilets on the train are locked during the whole inspection procedure.

Immigration Officials Wait At Zamin-uud, Mongolia
Zamin-uud Railway Station, Mongolia, with very cute Customs Officers

This is sort of understatement. Yes, the officialdom part is onerous and a couple of hours each side of the border are given up to much inspecting of documents, checking visas and so on.

In fact, when travelling across from the Mongolian side of the border to the Chinese side, all the Mongolian Immigration officers come through the train in Zamin-uud (and contrary to the article, you are encouraged to remain in the train). Everything is checked, papers and passport. The Mongolian border crossing at Zamin-uud is the only place I have ever been where a customs declaration has to be completed for departure (at the Chinggis Khaan airport in UB, customs forms are only required when arriving). What you should be aware of is that if you travel back INTO Mongolia through Zamin-uud, the Customs folks will want to see the form you completed when you were leaving.

Erlian Station, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, People's Republic of China
Erlian Station, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, China, where the Customs officers are hidden and not cute

The train then crawls along for maybe 30 minutes or so to cover the 5 kilometres between Zamin-uud and Erlian. The Chinese Immigration folks then take the next 2 hours to check your entry papers. There is a detention area half way between Zamin-uud and Erlian and sometimes the train stops there and a young Chinese guy or two will be escorted off the train and into detention. Presumably their papers are not in order.

Of course, the trip from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar is the same, just the waits are reversed. Seems though that the trains tend to get to the border late at night (when travelling either way). The other thing not mentioned is that Chinese Railways run on Standard Gauge track (4 foot 8 1/2 inches between rails). Mongolian Railways run to Russian Gauge (5 foot between rails). So, at the border, apart from the immigration delays, there is a further delay of a couple of hours while the entire train undergoes a change of bogies. This entails jacking each carriage up and replacing the bogies underneath them. This is done with much bumping and banging whilst the passengers are all still in the train trying to sleep.

As mentioned, the toilets are locked but it is near impossible to get out of the carriage. Also, if it is winter, the temperature in the carriage falls as well. The combination of drinking beer before the border (or coffee) and cold temperature puts an unbelievable strain on one’s plumbing.

Indeed, my friend had saved a couple of plastic beer bottle precisely for this event. Out with the Swiss Army knife, quickly remove the top of the bottle and voila, instant relief.

The one thing that still has me frustrated about this whole process is that there is no reason why the Mongolian AND the Chinese Immigration staff could not check all the passengers at the same time. This would take at least 2 hours off the entire process and reduce the time to travel between Ulaanbaatar and Beijing to about 1 day 4 hours.

Train Trips – a Loooooooong Way to Beijing – China

We crawled across the border, from Zamin-uud in Mongolia to Erlian in the Chinese S.A.R. of Inner Mongolia. About 5 kilometres and it took about 30 minutes to travel it. We arrived in Erlian Station with the Chinese Immigration and Customs folks standing to attention. They entered the train and fairly efficiently went through each of the carriages, stamping us into the country and checking our customs forms.

Once the Immigration folks left the train, it was then backed up from Erlian Station and taken into a large carriage shed for a change in bogies. This is necessary because Mongolia uses the Russian Railway Guage of 5 feet between rails whilst China uses Standard Guage (4 foot 8 and a half inches between rails – only a three and a half inch difference but enough to ensure that each and every carriage is lifted, the Mongolian bogies removed and the Chinese ones added.

Irrespective of the being bounced around and the noise, I went to sleep.

We had arrived at Zamin-uud around 8 pm in the Thursday night. When I dropped off to sleep I can remember that the last time I checked my watch it was midnight.

I slept and the train rolled along through the night. And the train rolled quickly. Mongolia is all single track with lots of passing loops. China from the border is dual running – that is, one line northbound and one line southbound. It was, however, going to be another 15 hours or so before we got to Beijing.

We finally arrived in Beijing around 3:30 pm China time, so about 30 minutes or so late – not so bad given the length of the train journey.

It was an interesting rail journey and I am glad that I did it. I know that we will probably need to catch the train back to Ulaanbaatar but I am trying not to think about that at the moment. I am thinking that perhaps the next train trip may be Beijing to Kowloon (Hong Kong).

Train Trips – a Loooooooong Way to Beijing – Mongolia

I wanted to go to Beijing. Being “between engagements” again, I wanted an inexpensive way to go to Beijing. We decided, therefore, to catch the train.

Now, I have taken the train from Ulaanbaatar to Zamin-uud and on to Erlian in China once before see Travel, Visa’s and Related Matters for some of the details of that trip. Well, travelling to Beijing was really even more interesting.

We left Ulaanbaatar at 08:05 on Thursday morning UB time and arrived in Beijing at 15:30 the next day UB time. Loooooong time in train. There was a wind storm blowing across the Gobi Desert which means there was a dust storm, so everything in the carriage was covered in dust.

When you leave Ulaanbaatar, you are given a meal by the railways. Nothing to drink, just a meal. This was sausage, pasta and some vegetables as well as a bread roll. That was all the food given for a 30 hour trip. There is a water boiler in each carriage so if you take the trip, bring some pot noodles and packets of coffee (and a cup). Bread, salami and cheese is a good addition as well.

We arrived at Zamin-uud where Mongolian Immigration (Emigration) officers and Customs dealt with us. My first problem was that my Mongolian visa is in my old, cancelled passport so the Immigration Officer had to take my passports into the office to check them out with her boss. This caused some consternation as she had not returned after 40 minutes or so and it looked like we were getting ready to head into China (minus Thomo’s passport). She turned up with duly stamped passport about 2 minutes before the train moved.

The Customs officer was the next little trial. She asked me for my last Customs form. I did not have one. When you fly into Mongolia your customs form is taken at the airport. When you fly out, no problem. When you enter via train, your Customs form is returned to you. When you take the train out, you are supposed to return the form. Yes folks, two rules.

Still, after an hour or so all formalities were completed and we were on the way to China. Look for part 2 soon.

The Hunter

It was while we were visiting Dadal in Khentii Aimag (the Dadal area is thought by the Mongolians to be the birthplace of Chinggis Khaan) that Thomo was feeling a little blue. We had been travelling for a few days, covering a fair bit of territory (by this time we had travelled south almost to the Chinese border and then north almost to the Russian Border). I had been away from showers, comfortable beds and what have you and I was missing contact with family and some friends (the ever faithful translator and Aide Confidante, Baggy, was at least with me and that eased some of the blues).

“Let’s go to the hunting museum!” was the call after we had visited Chinggis’ birthplace. Off we went then. I must admit, I had no idea what to expect. However, I met a truly wonderful man by the name of Zunduidorj. He was (or rather still is) a hunter. He is 86 years old and is a truly inspiring person to talk to. He has hunted bear, wolf, deer and such and he has examples in his museum (see behind the picture). However, he is not at all wanton in that hunting, killing enough to feed his family and provide food for the local Soum, or what was required from the government licenses.

He does, however, have a wonderful love and respect for the environment, the trees, the animals, the weather and the spirits. Talking with him was for me a most uplifting experience. He finished our visit with him by presenting me with a container he had made himself. It was full of dried milk (if you give a container to someone in Mongolia as a gift, it should not be empty when given). He also called a wolf for me (after making me promise I would not try to do this, record the sound or to copy it).

I promised him that if I returned to Khentii after being back in Australia I would bring him something for his museum, something related to Australian animals, perhaps some shark teeth or crocodile teeth.

I should finish with a note about promises in Mongolia. A promise should be kept. If, for example, you say “I promise to buy you dinner tomorrow” and you you do not buy dinner, then this is bad. You will lose respect from a Mongolian. Better to say “I will TRY and buy you dinner tomorrow” and make sure the word “try” is emphasised.

To the hunter, however, all I can say is that he is a truly remarkable man and if you travel to Mongolia and Khentii in particular, visit the museum. Leave him 5,000 tugrigs as well as a “gift” to help him get his book written and published.