Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Our transitional period in Makati
As our time in temporary housing is coming to a close, I wanted to jot down a few bits of information about it for memories sake and so I can share the information with anyone who might be coming to manila and is looking for temporary housing.

The Ascott Makati:
We (5 people) stayed in a 2 bedroom suite for 8 weeks.  Sibling rivalry was at its height and our toddler regressed so badly with sleeping independently that if he only wakes up 4 times a night I count myself lucky now.  It was a beautiful suite, the older kids needed their own space, and the knowledge that it would be another month until we got into our permanent housing stressed me out so much that we decided to bite the bullet and pay a little bit out of pocket for an upgrade.  there were several different suite options to choose from, my husband was able to get us into one of the 3 bedrooms and we have all been a lot happier.  We expect to be in the 3 bedroom for a total of 4 weeks.
Here is the link to the Ascott Makati.  Construction is currently underway for an Ascott in Fort Bonifacio.  If your children will be attending ISM, I'd look into that Ascot because it would make your life SO MUCH EASIER.
House hunting/finalizing your contract:
for the first few weeks my husband was learning the ropes at work and we let him focus on that.  After about 2 weeks I said I would go carzy if we didn't at least take a day to go house hunting.  We looked at several condos near our hotel. I blogged about the experience here if you are interested in those details.
We went with a realtor Sam found in town and not one that worked through the embassy.  So I can't speak for the embassy's realtors.  But the one we had took a LONG time to draw up the paperwork.  It was a whole month from the time we said "this is the unit we want, don't show us anymore." to the day we actually sat down and signed our contract.  Then we had to give the landlord another month to do the renovations the embassy expected of them.  I think there were lots of reasons for the wait on the contract, but if you use an embassy realtor, they may be more efficient about working that system.  At this point we have been in our condo for over a month, and there are still several items from the landlords original to-do list from the embassy that they STILL have not done.  So it might be a good idea to go with an embassy realator.
Also, plan to pay out of pocket for any of the necessary upgrades.  I think the landlord told us they would consider it as a security deposit.  But they were not willing to do any of the upgrades the embassy wanted until we wrote them a check for $2,000.  We were told it would take 2 weeks for all the paperwork to go through for the military to request the money for rent.  (rent in manila is paid yearly, not monthly!!!)  but that 2 week quote did not include how long it was sitting on people's desks waiting to be processed.  When it came down to it, we filed the request 2 weeks ahead of time, but we had to pay the entire year out of pocket and were not reimbursed for 6 weeks!  We were luck enough to have a house savings account so it didn't effect our monthly budget to wait so long, but not everyone is so lucky.  So discuss the possibility of a long clearance period with your land lord to make sure you don't loose your unit.
  • It is legendarily horrible.  But the US embassy won't let you take jeepnys/public transportation.  So you can plan to catch a taxi, hire a car and driver, or use the embassy's shuttle system until your car arrives/ you buy one here.  
  • if it is raining and after 4PM, it is practically impossible to catch a taxi in a taxi line.  You'll see empty taxis driving past the line, I'm not sure why they don't want to pick people up.  My husband and I stood in a taxi line for 1 hour once and there were still 15 people in front of us when we decided to jump out of line and tell an empty taxi that we would pay 3 times the fare if he would take us home.  It worked but I bet everyone else in line was not happy with us.
  • The taxi line near us is only open during the Mall's operating hours (10AM-10PM) So if you need a taxi before then, there won't be one waiting for you.  Just tell the door man you need a taxi and they will happily get one for you.  Or, if the taxi line is long, you can ask the door man to catch one for you and you can skip the line all together. 
  • Luckily Taxi's are cheep and most of the drivers speak english well enough to get you where you want to go.  (not all, but most.)  Make sure the driver understands you and knows where you want to go before they start driving so you can hop out without having to pay anything if you can't understand each other or the driver is not familiar with the neighborhood you want to go to.  It is frustrating to pay the extra fare for a drivers mistake/misinterpretation of where you wanted to go.
  • we left our car at the shipping facility 133 days ago and we still don't have it!   We have been told it is on a ship waiting in manila Bay, but it will be another week before it is scheduled to be unloaded from the boat.  Not sure how long it will take to get it once it touches down on land, but it has been SO frustrating.  If you are sitting on the fence about shipping or not shipping your vehicle, I would say DON'T ship it.  Your life will be easier if you buy something to use while you are here.
  • If you are staying in Makati, it will take you about an hour in average traffic to get to the embassy or Fort Bonifacio.  If there is no traffic it is about a 20 minute drive.  (a 20 minute drive will probably cost you about 100 pesos in 2015)

Summer camp at the US Embassy/child care:

  • We decided that we needed to get the kids signed up for summer camp at the embassy until school started so we could go condo hunting without them.  We signed our toddler up for 1/2 days, and the older kids for full day.  It was a hassle with a toddler because they called me most of the days to tell me he was upset and I needed to come pick him up early.  (Each time I showed up he was playing happily, so I can't imagine he was all that worked up a few minutes before when they called.)  I didn't really end up having the extra time I dreamed I would, but it was VERY good for our older kids to meet other children and have some normal play time.  They went on fieldtips, and swimming lessons once a week as part of the camp.  
  • There really didn't seem to be a good option for temporary childcare of my toddler.  (The hotel advertised babysitting service, but there are only 2 maids who the hotel allows to provide childcare and if you hire them, the other maids have to work overtime to cover for the loss in staff, so I didn't feel right about doing that.)   
  • Most malls have a childcare option but an adult needs to stay with them and pay admission, so it's not childcare think of them more as a mini children's museum.   
  • if you have a baby or toddler, I'd suggest hiring a yay a or all around shortly after settling into your temporary housing.  It will feel like overkill, but just remember help is cheep and you have a lot of meetings at the school and embassy that will be 10 times easier without your baby/toddler with you.  If your kids are older and you have a good way to get to the embassy, they would probably enjoy the summer camp and a helper wouldn't be necessary until you are settled into your permeant housing.
Hiring house help:

  • affordability of househelp is one of the major benefits of living here.  But there are laws set in place to protect employees and employers called the "Kasambahay Law"  There are lots of straight forward things, but if they are working full time/making a certain amount of money, you need to contribute to their health care plan and retirement.  You are considered an employer, you need to make a contract and give them pay stubs.  The embassy gave us a packet with helpful info regarding that during our security clearance shortly after arriving here.

International School Manilla is AMAZING, but like any big organization/company, there is a procedure for EVERYTHING.  For the first month or two every time we went to the school we were stopped by someone to say we were doing something wrong.  The explanations were normally very logical and understandable, but it gets SO FRUSTRATING to have your life turned upside down and then be told that you are constantly doing things wrong.

  • They wouldn't let my husband's work van into the garage so the driver had to figure out some other place to wait for us 
  • the sizes on the children's uniforms are SO messed up.  You HAVE to go to the fitting area upstairs to figure out your sizes.  If you guess their sizes you will end up wasting a lot of money on uniforms you can't use.  Once you find out your sizes, you go to the uniform shop to actually buy the sizes you need.
  • If you are new and don't have an ID yet, you have to give them one of your ID's as collateral.  If you drive on they move your ID from the entrance gate to the exit gate.  But if you walk in, they leave your ID at the gate you entered in.  
  • The bus system makes me angry every time I have to use it.  It is just a big free for all where kids are asking the "bus mom" what bus they need to ride.  The busses will drive away even if there are kids walking around trying to find the right bus.  We are always assigned a different bus number and there are so many busses parked so close together that it takes 5 minutes just to loop around and see that your bus is not even there yet.  I think I need to rally the PTA to buy an arrivals/departures sign to help kids/parents figure out what bus to get on.  But the one good thing I will say is that the busses run 3 times in the afternoons and that parents can ride along.  FIRST TRIP-right after school gets out, SECOND TRIP-after activities are over THIRD TRIP-after competitive athletic practice is over.  So if you miss the bus, another one will come along in about an hour.  If you are with your kids when you miss it, you can hang out in the cafeteria or library, but if your elementary aged kid misses the bus without you, they must stay in the office until it's time to catch the next bus.
  •  I walked through the parking garage the wrong way.  Seriously, I'm not joking, I was scolded for that!
  • there are 2 different types of ISM ID badges.  A free one you can add money too and not be able to access anywhere but the cashiers office, and one you can pay for and use at the kiosks, canteen and other areas on campus.  I'd suggest getting the one you can load money on because it is not very expensive and it is SO nice to not have to carry cash all the time.  (especially when you need your small bills for taxi fare.)  But you will have to bring cash to the cashiers office in order to buy the loadable ID card, they won't accept credit/debit/check for the ID card transaction since it is such a small amount.  But once you have the card, you can load it with a credit/debit card.  

  •  If you hire a cook or all-around, she may not know how to bake very well, because she probably doesn't have an oven in her home.  And even if she does bake, you should still expect to go over each new recipe with her.  My helper is awesome, she speaks wonderful english and was a cook for many years. But sometimes I forget to do this and in the end I just end up getting mad at myself if something turns out wrong.
  • the butter wrappers are not measured in TBSP like in the states.  It is marked by 25gram sections.  So you may need this chart to help you cook
    •  or just know that 1 of those sections is about 2 TBSP
  • The oven may be labeled in Celsius, not Fahrenheit, so you will want to make yourself a little conversion chart to keep in your recipe box.

Shopping near the Ascott Makati-the great thing about shopping near the Ascott is that it there are elevated and covered walkways to get from Glorietta, SM, Rustan's and Greenbelt without ever having to get wet or wait for a crosswalk.
  • Greenbelt-If you are looking for fine dining or unique/high quality clothing go to Greenbelt.  (to get there, go to Glorietta 3, walk through landmark and you will be in greenbelt) There are always gorgeous dresses in the shop windows and all the restaurants are nice enough that I'd rather go without my kids.  There is no department store in greenbelt, so it is all just small shops with a few large clothing stores.
  • Glorietta Mall-  
    • There are 5 sections to Glorieta mall.  They are not labelled very well, so it is easy to get confused.  Just know that the Ascott is attached to Glorietta 4 and across the street from Glorietta 5. Glorietta 3 is the one that leads you to Landmark and sections 1 and 2 are on the other side of the center court.  To get to the movie theater, go up the escalators near the Ascott entrance.  When you reach the 3rd floor you will see another escalator not too far away.  Take that one and you will be at the movie theater/arcade
    • The department stores all have a grocery store in the basements and other departments on the higher floors.  They also all have an area in the store where you can find items that are unique to the Philippines (woven baskets, native formal wear, more modern filipino clothing, handicrafts...)  You will need to buy or bring reusable shopping bags for the grocery store, but the other departments will provide you with a bag and staple/tape it closed to prevent theft.  (I think this is unique to Makati because in Fort Bonifacio the grocery stores all have free plastic bags)
      • Landmark-Least expensive option (Sort of like Manila's version of a Walmart where price and quality are concerned)
        • in the clothing departments you are not allowed to try on white clothing
        • Shoes are not very good quality.  
        • In the toy department (and maybe some other departments) you can not take an item away from its shelf without asking for an invoice to take to the counter.  If you go to the counter without an invoice they will call the sales person from that area to come and make an invoice.
        • There is a large fast food-food court in the basement near the grocery store.  There is not a fresh bakery in the store, but there are some shops in the food court where you can buy french bread and stuff like that.
      • SM-value leader (sort of like JC Penny.  You can find good stuff at a fair price.)
        • My favorite place to go.  Except for shoes-their shoes don't last!)  
      • Rustans- High end department store (like Macey's or Nordstrom)
        • there is a free play area on the children's clothing/toy level for you to play with your kids or to send your yay a to play with your kids while you shop.
        • very nice clothing and upscale name brands.  Best department store for shoe shopping.
        • store with most organics/health food.  They even have an area opposite the registers with that sort of stuff in it called "healthy Options"
Shopping NOT close to the Ascott- You can find big malls all over Manila, but these are the ones that I have been to
  • Mall of Asia-close to the US Embassy, didn't spend much time there but it was very large
  • Fort Bonifacio-Global City
    • Market Market-really close to ISM.  It has some outlet shops, branded shops, a cinema, arcade, laser arched, children's play areas you have to pay to use, 1 department store called Metro and a cool system for locals to sell their wares.  Each floor has a "market" 1-gift market, 2-fashion market 3-home market and outside there is a flower market.  Merchants in the markets are not too pushy, so I like Market Market a lot.
    • SM-right next to Market Market.  It is much bigger and nicer than the SM in Makati.  It has more floors, a garden on the roof and a convention center in the department store.
    • High street-High street stretches from market market/SM to the other side of the fort (near the golf course)  it is an outdoor mall that has several small shops and restaurants with a few big ones like Old Navy and a big cinema with a 4D theater.
  • Greenhils is NOT close to Glorietta or ISM, but it is the sort of place that you have to go to at least once.  It's like an indoor flee market of locals selling faux brand name items and handicrafts.  Its a place for haggling and it can be overwhelming. People constantly trying to get your attention to buy their wares.  When we went we saw lots of great paintings, handmade toys, jewelry, beautiful furniture, handbags, watches, clothing and a HUGE electronics area.
  • Power plant mall is in the Rockwell neighborhood.  I hear it is wonderful and has the biggest and best Rustan's in the area.  There are many condos with underground entrances to the mall.  

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