Monthly Archives: June 2011

What to do when a driver blinks his headlights at you

A Filipino driver flashed me and my daughter while we were crossing the street. I’m not referring to the flashing that could get one arrested for indecent exposure back in the US.  This is a more shocking, more annoying, more rude, more uncivilized, more indecent gesture than someone popping in front of you to bare his privates.

This is how it happened to me. I started crossing the street towards SM City Fairview Mall coming from the mall’s parking lot.  I was also pushing a stroller with my baby daughter in it. I was almost halfway across the street, when I saw an oncoming car.   The driver and I had eye contact, but instead of slowing down, he actually sped up.  Unbelievable!  So I paced faster.  And then, he flashed his high beam headlights at me, and sped up even more, as if saying “Run! Get out of my way!”  I had to run. If I didn’t, I would have gotten hit. Seriously.  It’s unconscionable – to put a mom and her daughter’s life in danger just to save a few seconds of their time.

This is not an isolated incident.  This happens all time. To me, to my American husband, to my senior citizen parents, to other cars, to disabled people on wheelchairs, to everybody.  This “flashing” is the new way that drivers honk their horns.  And if you are unaware of it, you might think that the driver is just testing if his headlights are working.  Before you know it, you’re seriously injured or worse dead.  So, before you become a headline like: Expat dies at hit and run, be forewarned.

I’m guessing that this trend started, like most Filipino bad habits and practices had started, when one speeding driver flashed his lights at a pedestrian or another driver to warn them. Then pretty soon, other drivers, who could also be victims of this act, caught on as they found it an effective method for others to give them way.  It’s like “paying forward” but in a negative way.

I’m infuriated at what happened to me, but at the same time saddened that this is the true state of affairs in the Philippines. It is a subtle yet clear indication that Filipino values and traditional practices of hospitality, bayanihan (working together) and pagbibigayan (sharing / giving way) are slowly disappearing.  Now, it’s kanya-kanya (every man for himself). In addition, there is so much pressure to go with the flow. So far (and I can say this straight-faced), my husband has resisted flashing.  And I’m sure he will continue resisting it, because that’s just his character, and also to be a good example to our children.

I was charged 100% customs taxes for a US$80 shipment

So, you’ve finally decided on moving to the Philippines.  You have your documentation, and a game plan on what you’ll have as a source of income.  You then sort through your personal belongings . . . which ones to bring with your and which ones to sell, donate, give to friends or family, or toss in the trash. After figuring out which ones to keep, you’re then faced with this dilemma: how do I send all this stuff to the Philippines?

There are several options on bringing your stuff here, from sending your stuff piecemeal to getting a cargo container to fit all of your stuff in a single shipment.  But no matter which method you’re going to send your stuff, it is very important to ask first the shipping company whether you would be charged tariffs and customs taxes.  You might think that just because these are used and for personal use, customs would not charge you anything.  Think again.

If your shipper says that you’ll just be charged a certain amount, don’t rely on it. Graft and corruption is so prevalent in the Philippines, and one of the most notorious, if not the most, is the Bureau of Customs and Immigration.  Chances are when your stuff arrives at the port or at the shipper’s branch for picking up, someone at customs will overvalue your item, and charge you an unreasonably large amount in taxes for your stuff.  Which is why I highly recommend sending through Filipino door-to-door balikbayan box shippers.

We sent ours one 20″ x 20″ x 20″ box at a time through Filipino door-to-door balikbayan box shippers.  For some reason, stuff sent through this method is not charged tariffs.  I think it’s simply because it’s “door to door”.  But why I made the assumption that it is highly likely you might be charged way too much if you use a regular courier such as FedEx, UPS, or USPS is from this experience:

Once in a while, my mother in law would send us gifts via USPS.  And each time I pick it up from the local post office, I’d have to clear that with customs. The gifts, consisting of toys, children’s books, and clothes were declared as being less than US$100 (which they were), including the shipping, but the customs official there wanted to charge me PhP3,400.  That’s around $80!  That’s almost the same amount as price of the items or a 100% tax.  Jeez, it’s not like I’m importing a Jaguar! 

But that’s not the end of the story.  A female worker at the post office said to ask the customs person for a discount. I asked if PhP500 would be enough to cover the tax.  He said that it’s enough as long as I don’t ask for a receipt.  I strongly believe they’re in cahoots.  That’s their racket. The woman there did volunteer this piece of information: next time have your mother-in-law send her gifts through door-to-door balikbayan boxes.

So, if you’re planning to keep an item because you think it’s going to be more expensive to buy that item new here than the shipping cost, consider first having them sent door-to-door.  Otherwise, you might find yourself just wishing you should have just sold them or left them to a friend.

Warning: there’s no toilet paper in Philippine public restrooms

Whether you’re a tourist just here in the Philippines for a few days, or a would-be expat scouting for business opportunities, be warned of this important fact: THERE’S NO TOILET PAPER IN PUBLIC RESTROOMS. And that’s not just in malls or gas stations. Sometimes, even in private buildings, there’s no toilet paper. You might find a vending machine inside the restroom which sells tissues many times over their actual retail price. But that is very rarely. So bring your own toilet paper, or a packet of tissues, wherever you go.

So why is there no toilet paper in public restrooms? It’s because people keep stealing them. Not even the bulky industrial sized 2 feet+ diameter rolls are safe. At Fitness First, the gym I used to go to (but not anymore because it’s just too pricey), I heard that one of their large dispensers in the ladies’ room was broken into.

Back in the US, my former employer’s office bathroom had a dispenser tube with a hard to reach release lever in the middle, where you can’t remove the toilet paper until you’ve finished the roll down to the cylindrical cardboard. (The reason why our company had that dispenser is because that’s what came with the rented office space, and not as an anti toilet paper thievery device.) But I think even with that dispenser in place here, some Filipino would patiently unroll the paper onto a stick and worse, take the dispenser.

A comic strip Beerkada (don’t know if it still exists), makes fun of the issue of the missing toilet paper.  A guy in the cubicle was in need of toilet paper, and asked the guy outside if he could spare some.

Guy1: Could you spare me some toilet paper?
Guy2: Sorry, don’t have any.
Guy1: How about regular paper?
Guy2: Don’t have them either.
Guy1: Hmm. Do you have change for 100 pesos?