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#15 Can I Wash Your Clothes, Sir?

On the first day of work John's wife, Estrelle showed up with a late model Mitsubishi Lancer. John said, "This is Estrelle and we rent our cars from her." At this time I think the car plan was that we paid $175 a month and GE provided a late model rental to drive. Estrelle of course made a good side hustle as our car renter. She was also a Philippine Airlines Stewardess and made big bank, like most flight crew smuggling crap into and out of the Philippines. The big export was US dollars and gold. The big import being anything of value for sale. US currency was strictly controlled and you had to have a permit to take any but the smallest amounts out.

I ended up crashing 3 cars for Estrelle, primarily because I was irresponsible but also because Manila traffic was crazy and not all 3 crashes were my fault. After the second car she had me over to their house and she had the family priest bless the car in the hopes that God would protect the car from me, I suppose. It was funny to participate in with the hood and trunk open and a priest splashing holy water on the car before circling it with one of those incense balls intended to exorcise demons, I guessed. That was a great car. It was a little older but it was a Galant which is roomier than the Lancer and bit faster and sportier. It didn't last long...

The next thing I needed was an apartment and John set me up with an agent. In those days it was common to pay 1 year's advance rent. Expatriate compensation was very complicated and there were always arguments about what is "fair." As a single 23 year old guy, I paid GE something like $7500 a year and GE provided housing. The norms got tightened up over the years but in 1985 in Manila what I rented was dependent on what John reckoned I should have.

The other 2 reps there were married but had no kids. Older folks and they both lived in a gated community called Forbes park. They had massive houses with maids and drivers (GE didn't pay for house help, of course) I didn't want a house with all the maintenance but I did find a really cool bachelor pad on the corner of Edsa and Ayala avenue. It was in one of 2 towers, had 3 bedrooms and a wet bar, each apartment taking up half a floor. It had a panoramic view all the way to Manila Bay and I thought it was awesome. Unfortunately it was on the "North" corner of EDSA and Ayala, "Nah. We never get apartments on the north side of Ayala. That's gonna be terrible traffic. You don't want that" according to John. So I ended up in Greenbelt Tower, walking distance to Sam's place on the 4th floor, I think.

Here's a google map of my commute to work at the west service road of the airport. It's hilarious that google calls it a 15 minute commute. I used to follow the grey route back to my apartment and often would abandon my car along Ayala avenue due to traffic. Later I would rib John about how he screwed me on housing. It would always have been quicker to get to the twin towers - LOL.

The next year I would move into a townhouse in Magallanes which was a much better commute and there were a couple of pubs in the strip area near there to catch a beer. But Greenbelt was a good starting point for me as Sam and I hooked up every weekend to go to bars. Sam also moved into Magallanes when I did so we were always neighbors.

The next thing I needed was furniture. GE had what was called Household Consignment furniture. You could ship your furniture and there were allowances for that but I had no furniture and so I took advantage of HHG consignment. The HHGC furniture was rarely new. By the time I got there I think there were 4 families worth of stuff in storage. John told me to have all the stuff delivered to my apartment, pick out what I wanted/needed and then they would trash the rest. I should have known it would be a bunch of old crap collected from several reps gone by. Two 6 wheel 20 foot trucks showed up each with a 20 foot crate on top. The first side was dropped off and the first thing I found was an empty crate of San Miguel beer bottles. Apparently Mike Anderson and his family of 5 packed in the middle of a typhoon and the last thing to dispose of was the empty beer bottles.

The furniture was very basic. Lots of wicker and rattan crap. The beds were plywood platform beds with 2 inch foam mattresses and most of it was junk. Broken lamps, mirrors and so on. The worst thing was that every mattress, even the master bed had pee stains on them. Mike had small kids... There were no cell phones or cameras, of course so you didn't document this stuff. I ended up selecting enough furniture to get started but had a slight showdown with John over the mattresses. The idea was the HHGC was going away in Manila and he didn't want to spend any money on new stuff. John finally agreed to new foam mattresses and I had furniture.

The final piece was to get my air shipment. Having chosen HHGC I was also allowed one D container of personal goods. A d container being a standard container, shaped like a D that fits in 1/2 the belly of an airplane. So John sends me to customs with the agent and like everything in the Philippines it was a zoo with its own rules. The key to getting your stuff is a forklift driver. They control the boxes. So the agent slides 2000 pesos to a forklift driver and we go to the "first" customs agent. 2,000 pesos later with paperwork "chop" in hand we locate the forklift driver with the box and the agent finds an inspector. This guy got a bottle of scotch and 5,000 pesos to put his signature and stamp on the box. About $450 later my box is put on a truck to the apartment and I meet the drivers who deliver the box to the apartment tipping them 100 pesos each.

Of course all this came out of my pocket at first and I then had to do an expense account. Basically with no receipts I fill out an expense account, enter 1 line for $450 and call it customs fees. This gets sent to Millie and her crew who understand the game all over the world and eventually I get paid back. By this time I am burning through money. I had a cash advance, of course but as I mentioned I had little of my own money. I had expenses for bars, customs, gas and of course the big one was the hotel bill.

Near the end of the month, I confess to John that I didn't have no $2,000 when I left the US and after his grumbling we went on a road trip to GE Philippines. So there were a couple ways to get money in those days before ATMs. First you went to American Express and they would give you $1,000 USD in travelers checks every month. You would take the (unsigned) travelers checks to the money changer and they would give you pesos. A better rate than the bank but not as good as $100 bills. Everyone wanted the Benjamins. The second way was to go to GE Philippines, write them a check and they would give you pesos at about the bank rate. So John and I pull up to GEP go in and John writes a check for $2,000 and I walk away with 40,000 pesos.

When Millie and the girls do my paycheck I am in fat city. I got a transfer allowance of a couple grand, hardship pay, location premium and Cost of Living Allowance. COLA was always interesting. Basically some company would buy a "market basket" of goods in a particular city. Those prices were compared to the same market basket in the US and a differential was calculated. The thing was you couldn't get half the stuff in the market basket and the shoppers only shopped at stores catering to the really wealthy. We all bought durable stuff like clothes while on leave in the US. Bottom line was that everyone mad out like bandits for a lot of years with COLA.

As I settle into life in Manila my usual Saturday routine was to go to the roof top of the apartment and do laundry while reading a book and recovering from a hangover. There were about 6 washer and dryers and a few clothes lines. Every weekend I would go to the roof and every weekend about 6 maids would gather across the roof near the clothes lines and whisper and giggle. It was clear they were talking about me. There were like clones. They were all tiny and all dressed in the same white frock/shift that buttoned up the front.

On the second week a maid shyly and nervously approached and asked, "Sir. Can I wash your clothes?" - And in big voice American style I say, "No. There is no need. I always do my own laundry." On the second week it happened again. I knew that Gene, one of my work mates had 3 maids and a driver. I didn't ask what he paid them because having househelp was a completely foreign concept to me. Thankfully they were persistent as on the 3rd week I asked, "Well how much would it cost to do my laundry?" - "20 pesos, sir." - Wait, WTF? That's like $1! I think that was the last time I did laundry for the next 16 years. It's crazy to say that one gets used to having their underwear ironed - LOL...

It was a short jump to have one of these regular girls doing my laundry and cleaning my apartment once a week on their day off.

With a place to live, money in the bank and a girl doing my laundry it was time to figure out the job.

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I LOVED those maids - they were always polite, friendly and efficient, and best of all they were programmable ! When Mags and I visited you in KL in 93 your maid asked me on the first day if I wanted a drink and I said "yes, please, a coke with ice". The next day at the same time she asked again and again I said yes and then realised that she had the thing already in her hand - kind of scary in a way !

Re: Washing machine eco9nomics. I remember you telling me in 87 that a new washing machine would have to be shipped out from the US and would cost over a thousand bucks i…

Dan Deutsch
Dan Deutsch
Aug 10, 2022
Replying to

Yeah. When asked if I had a dishwasher in Manila I said, "Sure. Her name is Celing."

I learned in Manila that everything is about short cuts. If you look at the map you can get to the airport service road passing through Forbes Park. But it's a private gated community. Of course for a "fee" you can find the gatekeeper and get a Forbes sticker.

Having the Airport drive on pass was also a real time saver crossing certain parts of the city.

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