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We're Not in Nebraska Anymore

Well, here it is -- my first blog with less than great news.  To be honest, this isn't the first time I've encountered issues in the Philippines, but I've finally figured out how to talk about it intelligently.  But first, some insight.

When I was preparing to arrive, I wasn't sure how my cell phone would work.  I intentionally bought a phone that would work on a global network... or so I thought.  It took a week to finally get to someone who could unlock my phone so that the SIM card would work.  (All smart phones come with SIM cards and it's supposed to be easy enough to buy a new SIM card and change it out with your American one to have a number in your new country.  My phone locked so that wasn't possible.)

Everything here related to technology (with very few exceptions) is prepaid.  Most people have basically the equivalent of a track phone and they just buy minutes or "load" as it's called here.  Once your load runs out, you can only receive calls or texts until you reload.  This hasn't been a problem with my phone, but it took a bit to figure out how it all works.

Internet.. oh man... Again, this is supposed to be a simple process: either choose to get your house wired with a router or antenna or choose an option like a USB internet device or hot spot.  The first option is post-paid (meaning use it, then pay) the second is pre-paid, so we'd buy load like we do for our cell phones.  My roommate and I have had a really hard time getting internet.  We want a USB device, which you're supposed to be able to just buy, load, and use...  Key words: "Supposed to."  We've now tried three different times to buy internet and were unsuccessful.

Our first time out, we didn't know what we wanted and had to wade through language barriers just to understand what was available at each internet provider.  Much like the US has Verizon, Sprint, etc. the Philippines has three big companies: Globe, Sun, and SmartBro.  After our first adventure, we asked around -- what do other people have, which company, how much, is it any good?  We looked at our information and decided.

We went back on Saturday to claim our internet, knowing what we wanted and how much it should cost... However, once we got in the mall, we could hardly even see where we were going.  Negative culture shock moment #1: September 1st = Black Friday in the Philippines.  Who knew they'd begin shopping for Christmas three months early!?  The mall had a HUGE 3-day sale going on and we'd arrived in the prime of it.  Oops.  So, after we pushed through the crowds, we stopped at the store, asked to buy this internet device, and were told they were out of stock.  Shoot!

We walked across the hallway to the other provider, asked if they had anything similar... Nope -- out of stock.  So, we walked to the third provider and tried to ask, but all the reps were busy.  There were easily 40 people in the store waiting for assistance.. We took a number, killed some time, and finally were asked to step forward.  We told the woman we wanted to buy internet.  She started filling out paperwork for us and then we said we needed to USB devices.  She looked at us like we were crazy and then said, "Let me check stock."  She came back only to say, "I'm sorry, Ma'am -- we are out of stock."

We went back to the first store, determined to ask when the next shipment would come, and asked the male greeter this time.  He said, "Oh!  We have that!  Here, take a number."  Again, after waiting for another hour, we got to a desk to ask, only to be told, "Sorry ma'am, we're out of stock..."

Lesson learned: don't try to buy a common commodity when every one else in Manila is there to shop too...

As my roommate and I have humorously shared this story with friends, we are constantly told, "Yep, that's how stuff works in the Philippines.  Just take a number, line up, and hope you get what you came there for.  Even at the doctor's office."  That just blows my mind...  I just want to strategically fix everything to make it more efficient!

While my roommate and I were on the escalator down to catch public transportation home, she looked at me, exhausted from fighting the crowds and said, "I miss Nebraska SOOOOOO MUCH right now!"  I don't think I've ever heard anyone say they miss Nebraska..  But at that moment, I missed Nebraska, too.  And Minnesota.  We're not in the US, and somehow we both still expected this experience to be similar to what we knew to be normal.  This is what's referred to as "negative culture shock," meaning things that you were unpleasantly surprised with in another culture.

As an aside, I've had many negative culture shock experiences with the toilets here, but that's an entirely too graphic topic to write about.  Suffice it to say I only go at home or school.  Public potties are a no-no.

I've had many positive culture shock experiences as well, and I've been better about reporting those, but I need you to know that living in a third-world culture in a city of 20 mil has it's downsides, too.  I am starting to miss the comforts of home: soft mattresses (I've yet to find even one that bends when I sit on it), lean ground beef, potatoes that cost less than $5/pound, sound-proof windows, driving 60 mph on an open highway, and reliable transportation.  I had been convincing myself I wouldn't get homesick.  I'm not homesick, but I'm also not ultra-content.  It's a good thing this whole mission isn't about me being content, right?  We're not in Nebraska anymore.

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