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.

Christmas in Manila

I am getting close to my first Christmas in Manila. The Filipinos note that the festive, Christmas season is found in any month that finishes with the letters “ber”. It’s true. Christmas carols have been heard across the shopping malls since September. Christmas decorations have been available for the same period and Christmas gift wrapping has been available in the large department stores such as Landmark for that period as well (and by gift wrapping I am not just referring to the paper itself but also for the minions to professionally wrap gifts for you).

The Philippines as a whole is a fairly devote, staunchly Catholic country although there are sizable numbers of those that belong to a Protestant Church as well as a significant Muslim population. Christmas and the Mass are very important then.

The other characteristic of this time of year is the Christmas party. Everywhere has one. Venues will be booked out for parties until about 10 pm each night after which they return to their normal line of business. Parties will be held by companies for their staff; condominium management for the residents (with a separate party for “helpers and drivers” of the residents); restaurants will hold parties for staff; even bars will have staff Christmas parties.

I have been to three parties so far this season and there is a common theme. Filipinos love to exchange gifts, play party games, win raffle or game prizes, sing, and dance. The gifts are normally valued around $10 and are generally unisex so randomly distributed. There are a number of games based around the gifts such as a white elephant game where you can swap gifts, another where gifts can be stolen (swapped when someone is not watching) and others where the giving of the gifts is randomized by some left-right movement routine.

At this time of year, office corridors and spare spaces are filled with staff members practicing their dance routines, rehearsing songs or just planning the party games that will be played.

Yes, Christmas in Manila is a fun time and I am enjoying it!

Thomo’s Manila Hole – 2

Yes, it is a bit of a mess but come Wednesday night, all will be well
Yes, it is a bit of a mess but come Wednesday night, all will be well

Back on 19 September 2014 I published Thomo’s Manila Hole which was a look at where Thomo’s Hole would be. Having been, as the actors say, “between engagements for the better part of the first six months of 2014, the next steps to getting Thomo’s Hole set up were held in abeyance, waiting the first full salary payment.

I received the first full salary payment.

So, it was off to SM Department Store (SM = San Miguel – yes, the same folks as the beer folks) and after a quick look, a suitable book/display case was located and purchased along with a computer table. The computer table will be the painting table eventually. I organised for is all to be delivered on Monday – yesterday.

I got home last night and nothing had been delivered so I thought “oh well, I’ll call them and yell at them tomorrow”.

At around 10:30 pm however I received a phone call letting me know that the delivery was on the way. It arrived about 10 minutes later. The best thing was that apart from getting the delivery on Monday as requested, the flat pack computer table was assembled before delivery.

The next photo of the Hole will be after everything has been put away!

Thomo’s Manila Hole

The boxes in the lounge room. Three boxes unpacked and four to go!
The boxes in the lounge room. Three boxes unpacked and four to go!

We moved last month. We slipped out of Singapore in July, sat around on the beach (sort of) on Batam Island and then came into Manila early in August. A month was spent living in a serviced residence – One Pacific Place in Salcedo Village to be accurate – where I was accused of stealing 6 coat-hangers! That was sorted.

Then, about 12 days ago we moved from the scene of the great coat-hanger robbery to an apartment in Legazpi Village. 10 days later our Balikbayan boxes arrived from Singapore.

The Balikbayan box is a box used by freight consolidators and forwarders to assist (for a handful of pesos of course) Filipinos overseas to send items back to the Philippines. We liked it because the charge for shipping was based on volume rather than weight and as a method of shipping items, especially if the items are packed well with the understanding that the box will receive rough handling, it was a $600 solution to a $6,000 problem.

Thomo's Current Manila Hole - just need to add a painting table and tidy up the storage as well as repair the incoming troops and we are away!
Thomo’s Current Manila Hole – just need to add a painting table and tidy up the storage as well as repair the incoming troops and we are away!

The boxes, all seven,  arrived so the last couple of days have been spent reacquainting ourselves with what we had rushed to pack back in Singapore. As expected, most of the damage fell on my painted figures. Everything else survived, in part because of Madam’s excellent packing (she maintains it’s the nomad in her where you are always packing for a move).

So, the next few days, my hobby time in the evening will be spent sorting and, I guess, super gluing items back together.

Thomo’s Hole is now in the middle of a soggy, but exciting, Manila!

Cheeseburger — Brother’s Burgers

Burger Brothers Cheeseburger - it's a chain but at $6.50 including chips and a Coke Zero, who's complaining?
Burger Brothers Cheeseburger – it’s a chain but at $6.50 including chips and a Coke Zero, who’s complaining?

Brother’s Burgers is a small burger chain in the Philippines. They have sixteen stores across the Philippines with one, fortunately, just up the road.

We were heading out to go to the Makati Marauders wargame club and decided to grab a bite on the way. Many eating places in central Makati were closed because it was a public holiday. Brother’s Burgers were the first eatery we came across that was open.

In we went.

Madam opted for the Extreme Bacon Burger whilst I went for my humble cheeseburger. I took mine in a meal which included chips and a Coke Zero for PHP 280 (about US $6.50).

The burger was served on a bun that was robust enough to hold the burger and the juice from the burger down to the last mouthful. There was a meat patty, about 250 grams in size on the bun with raw onion, tomato and an American processed cheddar cheese. On the top half of the bun was several leaves of lettuce. A slice of pickles rounded this out.

As with the Strand Burger, Romaine lettuce was used. Putting the top on, taking a firm grip on the burger and then biting, my taste buds were immediately titillated by the various flavours and textures. The patty was nicely seasoned and had been cooked well – cooked to well done but still juicy. Altogether, it was a nice burger and one I would happily grab for a sub $8 lunch again.

How did it rate against my baseline burger. To be honest, I think I prefer this one a little more so I would rate it 7/10. This was surprising as it is, after all, from a burger chain (although admittedly, a small chain).

Grab one!

Brother’s Burgers!

Cheeseburger — the Strand

The Cheeseburger from the Strand
The Cheeseburger from the Strand

The Strand is the restaurant attached to One Pacific Place in Makati City, Manila, where we are staying at the moment.

I thought I would start the great Philippines Cheeseburger hunt here and set this as the baseline burger. It was not a bad idea. As far as burger go, it was reasonable. The patty was seasoned giving a slightly savoury flavour. The patty was cooked so that there was some pink still in the centre and was therefore still quite moist.

The burger itself was served on a bun that held together until the last two mouthfuls although it was a little sweet – a problem with many foods in the Philippines.

On the bun was lettuce (Romaine was used), tomato, pickle, the patty, raw onion and a cheddar cheese. It was served with chips that had been lightly battered in some seasoning with a small side salad dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette. The chips were interesting in flavour and texture, bending under their own weight as they were held up but overall, OK.

Cost was 375 pesos (about $9.00) and I’d rate this 6/10 as the baseline burger for the Philippines.

Philippine History

Well, it ain't historical but it is modern Manila - a view along Makati Avenue looking towards Ayala Avenue and Ayala Triangle Park
Well, it ain’t historical but it is modern Manila – a view along Makati Avenue looking towards Ayala Avenue and Ayala Triangle Park

We’ve sort of settled into Manila and after a couple of walks around the Makati City area I thought I would do what I always do when arriving in a new country long term, I had a look for a book on Philippine history. Two bookshops, both large and the only book I could find was on Philippine History after the Cross.

Now I know that there is a rich history in these 7,000 odd islands stretching back a number of years but published works in English on the period between pre-history and the Spanish arrival seem to be rare – or at least hard to find.

Given my hobby and love of Ancient and Medieval History in particular, this is kind of frustrating so I can see I will have a decent chunk of research to keep me amused as I learn more and travel these islands.

So, what do I know about the pre-Spanish history of the Philippines. I can summarize is as follows:

  • Negritos are believed to have migrated to the Philippines around 30,000 years ago (yes, I know, that is pre-history)
  • They apparently came from Borneo, Sumatra, and Malaya
  • More Malayans followed over the years
  • the Igorots display today some of that older Malayan culture
  • a bunch of Austronesians also migrated in and generally took over from the Negritos
  • the ancient Philippines (say, from about 1 C.E. to 1,000 C.E.) were influenced by the Hindu kingdoms, then perhaps by the Chinese and Indonesian states they were trading with. This lead to:
    • the Rajahnate of Butuan and Cebu
    • the dynasty of Tondo
    • the august kingdoms of Maysapan and Maynila
    • the Confederation of Madyaas
    • the Country of Mai
    • the Sultanates of Sulu and Maguindanao
    • these were small maritime states trading with China, India, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia
    • the remainder of the settlements were independent Barangays allied with one of the larger states
  • the period of Philippine history I am most likely to be interested in is that period following the creation of the Laguna Copperplate Inscription which is the first written document found in a Philippine language
More Historical - Gabriela Silang ("Generala") who was first Filipina to lead a revolt against the Spanish in the 18th Century after they killed her second husband. She was eventually captured in the mountains and hanged.
More Historical – Gabriela Silang (“Generala”) who was the first Filipina to lead a revolt against the Spanish in the 18th Century after they killed her second husband. She was eventually captured in the mountains and hanged.

The first interest in the local history will end about the time to the Spanish colonization and settlement, which began with the arrival of Miguel López de Legazpi’s expedition on 13 February 1565. He established the first permanent settlement of San Miguel on the island of Cebu. We will soon (I hope) be moving into an apartment in Legazpi Village, in Makati City, Metro Manila.

So, a lot of history to research. I expect the military history of the area is likely to mirror that of the Indonesia archipelago.

The hunt begins.

One Thing I Love in Manila

I am staying at the Picasso Boutique Serviced Residences and need to get to the Shangri-lah Hotel. I used Google Maps for directions. Walking turns out to be faster than catching the bus! Traffic in Manila? Nah! 🙂

The Walk is faster than the bus
The Walk is faster than the bus

Thomo versus the Volcano

Thomo looking, er, fulsomeI mentioned in an earlier post that I was spending some time by Taal Volcano in Taal Lake. I also promised that I’d post this picture of Thomo, relaxed, with the lake and the volcano in the background.

Yes, Thomo has retained his fulsome figure, in part from the philosophy espoused on his t-shirt.

Really, the Tagaytay City, Taal Volcano, Taal Lake area of the Philippines is just gorgeous and well worth a visit for a weekend.