Sunday, October 26, 2008

Going shopping in Balanga

If new experiences are educational, then Thursday was worth a year’s college credit in “the real world.” The goal was to buy as many things as possible to stock our new home, and to keep the cost at or under 100,000 Philippine Pesos (P100,000). Currently the dollar is worth about 47 pesos. The cost of renting a banca (boat) to cross to and from Bataan, and then renting a truck to haul our purchases was P3,000 each, leaving P94,000, or $2,000 for our first trip to start furnishing the house. My thought was that we would need at least twice that much to get a good start.

We began by meeting our assistants at the boat dock at about 7:00 AM. Husband and wife work for the Corregidor Foundation, Rafi as the island purchasing agent, perfect for this task, and Vicky, an office clerk, for the woman’s perspective. The ride to Kamaya Point took about half an hour, and then we boarded the flat bed truck with side rails. Marcia and Vicky rode in the cab, while Rafi and I rode in the back. The driver seemed to drive as fast as humanly possible, and the roads in Bataan are bumpy, so the gals were bouncing all over in the cab while Rafi and I sat on plastic chairs and took the wind in the face and bumps in the butt. It was interesting to see all the school children walking along the road, along with the usual traffic composed of bikes, trucks, buses, and underpowered motorcycles with sidecars that are called tricycles. We spent a lot of time weaving in and out of traffic on the two-lane road.

We arrived in Balanga, the largest city of Bataan, and a city which played a major part in the Death March, by the way, after about 45 minutes. About 8:30 we were already in our first store, starting on our shopping list. This particular store had furniture and appliances. We settled on a fridge, a 7.5 cubic foot Panasonic, for around $250. We bought a two burner gas stove with two gas tanks and a stand, for maybe $150. The kitchen table and six chairs we got for around $175. I’m thinking that the washing machine with spinner were around $300. Two wardrobes, with top compartments to hang clothes and two wide drawers each underneath were about $275. All in all we spent P54,000, or around $1,150. Because of the size of the order we got free deliver to Kamaya Point. So P60,000 spent and a long way to go.

The next stop was a rattan store. We traveled to and from there on tricycles, Marcia and Vicky in one, me in another with Rafi riding on the back of the cycle. The sidecars are so small that I, 6’ 5” tall, have to scrunch to get in and barely fit. But the price for the ride was P20 each, or about 40 cents. The streets seem to be at least 75% tricycles in that part of the city.

Leslie Murray told Marcia to look for rattan because of the cost and withstanding the constant humidity. Was she ever right! We got a king size bed for P2,100. That’s right, less than $45. We also bought a living room set of one sofa, two chairs, and a small table for P3,600, and two bedside tables for P400. The side tables were on sale, buy one, get one free, or as they say here, “Buy one, take one.” Can you imagine getting all that furniture for $130? So we were up to a little over P66,000, and things were looking better for the budget.

Next we went to a store called Vetafs. Here we bought too many things to list, but included were king-sized sheets and pillow cases, utensils, plates, cups, laundry and dish soap, reading lamps, and a whole lot of other stuff, all for about P13,000, or $275.

Then we crossed the street to the hardware store. Rafi was well known there, and went behind the counter to help. We bought tools, clothesline, hose for outdoors and the washing machine, pipe for shower curtain rod and laundry room rod, and a bunch of small things like screws and hooks. This came to about P5,000, or a little over a $100. And we were starting to get to the end of the list.

Then we went to lunch at a Chinese restaurant. We all had bird’s nest (or bird spittle) soup. Marcia had chicken curry, while the rest of us had chicken chop suey. Absolutely delicious. Even with drinks and a tip it was only around $15.

We went back to Vetafs to pick up a few more things that we realized we forgot the first time, then to the hardware store again for a piece of “marine plywood,” (less susceptible to the high humidity) to make some shelves.

Then we headed to the mattress store, where we got a foam mattress for P4,500, or around $100. All in all we came in at just under P100,000. I’m sure I forgot a few purchases so the numbers probably don’t add up perfectly, but in any case we bought an awful lot for around $2,000.

We headed back to the banca, less the appliance store things. It was fun watching the guys load up the back of the truck, especially the rattan furniture, but somehow they made it all fit. I told Rafi to tell the driver to take it easy going back, and he drove much slower.

The boat crew loaded everything on the banca. The bed went last, and was jammed under the roof and sticking slightly out the prow. I wish that we had taken a camera because it was something to see, and my explanation can’t do justice. Suffice it to say that these guys know how to get things from the mainland to the island.

At the shore, around 5:00 and a little more than a half hour to sunset, we were greeted by three vehicles and enough helpers that everything was in the house soon after dark. One thing we had failed to take into consideration; the headboard of the bed was three or four inches taller than the width of our hallway. No way was that bed going to get to the bedroom without major surgery. With nothing more to do, everyone left.

I offered to buy beers for all the helpers at the MacArthur Café, and soon after Marcia and I arrived and ordered dinner, the guys started showing up. I pulled out a P100 note and bought 20 coins for the karaoke machine. Soon we were all drinking beer and listening to renditions of the island’s favorite songs, most of which are American, by the way.

Saturday morning found Rafi, Vicky, and two others at our house by about 7:00 AM, ready to get to work. They cut 4 inches off the bedposts. Each post is bamboo, about four inches across. Then the bed made it down the hall and through the door. During the next couple of hours they set up the refrigerator (which we won’t use until we’re on solar because running a generator 24/7 is cost-prohibitive), the stove, and the washing machine. They put up hooks, rods for laundry and shower curtain, and just kept working until everything we needed was done. I never would have believed so much could be accomplished in such a short time from Friday morning till around 10:00 Saturday morning.

A note about laundry here. Although you can buy a standard washer and dryer, electric dryers consume a whole lot of energy. (The Philippines runs on 220 power like most of the rest of the world outside the US and Canada.) So what most people do is buy a washer and spinner. The washer is filled manually via a tap like an outside tap for a garden hose. The water is air temperature unless you heat some. After the clothes are washed, they are transferred to a spinner, or centrifuge, which gets most of the water out. Then they go back into the washtub to rinse, and then a final spin. The water drains out onto the floor and down a floor drain, so the whole laundry room floor gets washed along with the clothes. Then the clothes are hung out to dry. So it’s more work by far than what we are used to. But it is affordable, and the clothes come out very clean.

So thanks to Rafi and Vicky and the rest of the crew for an exceptional job. They do not expect to be compensated beyond their normal pay, so all we can do is say thanks and offer the occasional free beer party.

Of course we are thinking of little things that we need, some of which we forgot and some of which we just thought of. Living on the island is SO different from what we are used to that we are going to constantly have to adjust. It’s hard to say if things are what we expected, since we expected a lot of unexpecteds. But the challenges are being met and the island people are so nice that we will make it through.

Two final notes. Friday was our son Nick and daughter-in-law Carrie’s 10th anniversary. They are such a wonderful couple with five great kids and we are so proud of them.

Also, Saturday was the date of the Michigan-Michigan State football game. I told Nick that if State wins to send me a DVD of the game. If they lose I don’t want to know about it. Ah, life without television. As the old Simon and Garfunkel song said, “I get all the news I need on the weather report.”

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