Life in the Philippines
A stop at the Subic Bay Yacht Club is part of the purchase process of buying a boat from Seahorse Marine. They operate with a “take delivery at the shipyard” business model. Their shipyard is located in Doumen in Mainland China. It is one of the reasons they are able to sell their boats for half of the price of a similarly size and equipped trawler like a Nordhavn, Selene or Krogen. Eliminate the high overhead of an American commissioning and sales office and shipping cost of a 40 ton boat from China to USA and right there you get a substantial savings. You take delivery at the shipyard and Hong Kong is about a days trip away. Hopefully, that one day trip will help work out some of the bugs. In Hong Kong, Seahorse has contacts there that will fine tune the electronics and deal with any other issues you have. While you are in Hong Kong you run the boat hard and try and discover any other commissioning issues before setting out on the 4 day open ocean crossing South China Sea crossing from the Hong Kong to the Philippines. As you can see from previous post the boat ran fine.
I had intended to stay in the Philippines only a couple of months until I had the remaining bugs worked out the boat’s systems and dealt with the quality control issues. Fortunately the Duck owners are a close group and always willing to lend a hand. Most of the issues that I had to deal with have shown up on other Seahorse boats so I had a “heads up” on what to look for.
Subic Bay was home to the largest overseas American military installation. In 1992 it was closed. My taxi driver explained that the politicians in Manila saw it as a sovereignty issue. What these wealthy politicians did not take into consideration was that many many 1000s of Philippinos in the area derived their income from the base as employees or servicing the employees when they had leave. As you can imagine the majority of the people in the area are very bitter. Olongapo, the city that borders the base does still have many bars and prostitutes but is slowly changing. As you can imagine, the nightlife is still “interesting”. The government has turned the area into a “Freeport duty free area” and tried to build it up as a tourist area. There are a couple of nice shopping centers making it easy to provision. The Subic Bay Yacht club was at one time a first class facility. They has just not able to generate enough income to properly maintain it. The great news is that there is new management. In the 9 months I have been here the facilities have markedly improved. They are in the process of renovating the docks. The large swimming pool area and gym are much better maintained then in the past. When I first got here there were always strange people wandering the docks who had no business here. The security has been improved and the facility is now safe and secure. I am not complaining. If you can become part of someone’s membership the slip fee for a 50 foot boat amounts to $300 USD plus electricity and water. As long as you don’t run the a/c consistently the monthly rate is very reasonable.
The DAILY wage rate for an unskilled laborer is $250 PHP which amounts to $5 USD. This is great place to get work done on your boat that really does not need really highly skilled labor. You wouldn’t want to have work done on your electronics done here or technical engine or generator work. But, if you need washing and waxing, stainless steel, canvas or wood work this is the place.
For those of you have not traveled outside the Western world you might not know that the major fast food chains not only change their menu for a particular market but also
change the pricing. A Big Mac supersize value meal is less than $4.00 USD. A complete meal at Kentucky fried Chicken is about the same. There is a “high end” deli near the marina. A foot long gourmet sandwich on fresh baked artisan bread with farm fresh tomatoes, lettuce and hand sliced fresh cheese and meat runs around $4.00. It is hard to eat on the boat and prepare a meal for that kind of money. All of the fast food restaurants have value menus. This is only place in the world that McDonalds serves more spaghetti and fried chicken then burgers. Also, all of the non burger meals come with a cube of white rice in a piece of wax paper. I don’t know what it is about spaghetti and fried chicken and how that entered the Philippine diet. Even Kentucky Fried Chicken combo meals come with rice and spaghetti. And, their version of spaghetti is terrible. The overcooked soggy pasta comes with a super sweet red sauce similar to ketchup. They throw a few small pieces of some type of processed cheese product on top. Ugh – McSpaghetti ! On any given day if you look around at the McDonalds everyone will be eating the $1.00 value meal. All have the cube of rice, a small drink and one piece of chicken. There is also one with McSpaghetti. And, of course, like all third world McDonalds you will notice that many many people are not eating. They are there for the clean bathroom and free wifi. It is very strange to go into a KFC or McDonalds and notice that there are almost no tables available but no one is eating. These restaurants are very expensive for the average person. This is especially true in Mainland China. You are probably wondering why I would patronize these type of places instead of eating the local food. I do eat the local food. But, due to the low cost of labor the fear of spreading a food borne illness these outlets are spotlessly clean and well run. You are assured of a safe meal in a clean setting. There is no telling where the cheaper restaurants get their cooking oil. Rumors have it that in many places it comes out of the gutter. Even the Chinese will make sure the restaurant has clean cooking oil from a reputable source before eating there. A staple of the Philippine diet is Pancit “something”, which is usually noodles veggies and mystery meat stir fried on a grill.
No day would be complete without a trip to the 7-11. In the Philippines the 7-11s have many tables out side and serve the function of a bar or nightclub. They are the local gathering spots. The local beer, San Miguel runs about 25 cents. Every night you will see groups of people getting drunk outside and kids with an ice cream, soda or cookie hanging out. It is fun at night to hang out with locals and have a beer and ice cream. While you are drinking and eating the occasional goat, chicken, goose or duck will wander by from the neighbor looking for food stop at your table and start making noises. The Philippine people are very friendly by nature. Everyone seems to always be happy and smiling and ready to give a cheerful “hello”. It is very sad to see the begging children and starving stray dogs as you would find in any third world country. As you roam the local streets the first thing you notice is the amount of people under 20 and children with children. The Philippines is a very Roman Catholic country. To see the amount of people who look around 16 that have young children is amazing. Remember the daily wage is close to $5 USD. The amount of poverty is also amazing. But, like I said they seem happy. Whom am I to judge?
There is world class diving within a day or two of the yacht club. Grande Island is a the being of the bay and there are beautiful reefs around it. The fish life is sparse due to the many subsistence fisherman in the area.
As I visit the more remote places about the only Caucasians I see are the Mormonmissionaries. I admire their dedication. It is usually 90+ degrees and 90% humidity and riding those bikes and dressing like they do is not fun. Also, this country is 99% Catholic. They have their work cut out for them.
So, the bottom line is with an inexpensive place to keep the boat, great diving/exploring near by, friendly people and easy eating and provisioning, it is hard to leave. In March I plan on leaving for Palau before heading due south to Indonesia to get out of the typhoon belt and experience the great diving at Raja Ampat.