Melting away

I was back home in Manila just over a year ago around Christmas time. Now, I’m back here for more punishment. My memory of my previous stay was not the most pleasant. I was actually surprised at how much better it is to visit Manila outside of the Christmas season. Reasons? Less traffic, less crowding and less heat.

I couldn’t believe that it is less hotter here in September than it was the last time I was here in December two years past. I suppose it’s due to the rainy weather. It’s still rainy season, after all. Thankfully, it hasn’t actually rained much since we’ve arrived. I never had the need to bring out my umbrella from my bag.

Although it may be heaps cooler right now than previously, I still found myself sweating. A lot. Heaps! I couldn’t stop sweating the moment I step out into the open, beyond the range of cool air-conditioned air. Trying to keep myself dry with a help of a hand towel was like trying to bail out water from a sinking boat. I’m not sure where all that water is coming from, actually. It’s really a bit much.

When I’m finally back in the comfort of an air-conditioned area, it takes a while for me to stop perspiring. In the end, I still end up with a wet shirt, wet hair and sticky skin. Disgusting, I know. But that’s how it is since my arrival in Manila a few days ago.

Whenever I’m in shops, the security guards (for you non-Filipinos reading this, there are security personnel for mostly every shop) would look at me suspiciously. I don’t blame them. I look like I was guilty of something the way I was perspiring profusely.

Raquel found it funny that we came across some people who were wearing jumpers and jackets in this warm weather. It wasn’t even remotely cold outside! Even at night. I must have been away from Manila for far too long. I remember my previous American employers complaining about the same thing. And now we’re the ones doing the complaining.

I was hoping that these sweating episodes would last a maximum of four days. But it’s day six now and I’ve only started to adjust to the humidity and heat. That’s a bit of good news, I guess. I don’t feel the need to change my shirt yet.

In the meantime, I’ll probably continue to take refuge at air-conditioned malls and hotel lobbies until I finally stop melting in this humid place I call home. The only things that make this trip worthwhile was that I get to be with family, relatives and long-time friends again. And probably the chance to do some inexpensive book shopping. If not for these, I’d rather be back in good old Melbourne.

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Published in: on September 19, 2008 at 7:01 pm  Comments (6)  

First Christmas at home

It’s been a couple of years since we’ve gotten our house and over that span of time, we haven’t had the chance to celebrate Christmas in it. We were always away during the past Christmases (trying to escape the Summer heat). This year though, we’re not going anywhere.

It might be nice to just hole up in the house during Christmas week anyway and just relax and pig out. We’ve been very busy lately with lots of stuff so a little down time will definitely be wonderful.

Although we’ll be spending Christmas at home, we didn’t really take the time to spruce up the place with the usual holiday decorations. We’re just being lazy. The only decor we have is the one wreath which we hung up outside our front door. And so, our home is far from the idealistic Christmasy living room scene I drew recently.

It does feel a little less like Christmas without the decor though. Maybe I’ll get off my lazy bum and devote some time to setting up the decor next year, if we happen to be around to celebrate the season at home.

Since we’ll be spending Christmas at home, that means we’ll have to prepare something for Noche Buena. Maybe a Filipino-style spaghetti, macaroni salad, hot cocoa and leche flan. Traditionally, no Noche Buena dinner is complete without hamon (jamon, Christmas ham) and keso de bola (queso de bola, a big ball of cheese covered by a red wrapping). But since neither Raquel or I enjoy these foods, they won’t be missed in the dinner table.

I’ll probably go rent some Christmas movies to watch over Christmas week to get into the holiday spirit. Yeah, movies like Die Hard and Die Hard 2 would do the trick! Maybe I should seek out Chevy Chase’s old movie, the Funny Farm. There’s this part in the movie that was around Christmas time that I really loved as a kid. Home Alone 1 might also be nice. Any recommendations? In the end, we’ll probably be watching some Christmas carolling show on TV, though. That’s good enough, I guess.

We’ll probably be exploring the neighbourhood for some Christmas-themed events, too. There’s supposed to be some Christmas lighting exhibition somewhere in Werribee but we haven’t the exact details of when and where it would be.

At the end of the day, as long as I get some much needed rest and relaxation, I’ll be happy.

Published in: on December 17, 2007 at 12:11 am  Comments (1)  

Australian Election 2007

Earlier today, all Australian citizens of age went out to the polling places to vote for their representatives and senators in Parliament. I say “all” because voting in elections here is mandatory (though some people find ways not to vote). Basically, the political party with the majority of representatives voted into Parliament wins the election and that party’s leader becomes Prime Minister.

This was the first time I have to vote for the Australian federal elections and I’m a bit excited and anxious. Excited because my vote will help decide who Australia’s next Prime Minister will be. Anxious because I’m not sure how elections are done here.

It reminded me about how chaotic elections are in my home country. In the Philippines, there are a lot of security measures that needed to be met on election day to ensure that no cheating occurs. Thumb prints are taken and black tough-to-remove ink is dropped on your fingernail as a sign that you already voted (and cannot vote again). Ballot boxes need to be chained and guarded by third party volunteers at all times or risk it being stolen.

Another difference between elections here and in the Philippines I’d like to note is that the elections here are held on the weekend. That means no free day off for us which is a bit of a bummer.

The polling places opened at 8am and closed its doors at 6pm. We went to the nearest polling place from our house at around 10:15 am. That’s right. We can go to any polling place in our area and we don’t have to be assigned to a specific polling place like in the Philippines.

Anyway, there was a queue when we got to the place. It wasn’t a long queue though and it didn’t take long before for us to get to the table with the lady with all the list of names of voters in our area. We told her our names and she looked it up in her thick binder. When she found our names, she marked our names with a pencil and handed us our ballots.

Each of us got two sheets of paper. One small green one where we have to rank the Representative candidates of different political parties. We have to put a “1” on the box beside the name of our first choice candidate. Then write “2” on the box of our second choice and so on. Frankly, I’m not sure why we needed to even rank them. I’m pretty sure simple “check” in the box for our favoured candidate would have sufficed. But I guess there is a reason behind the ranking thing. I’ll find that out later.

The second sheet of paper is a long white sheet of paper with a list of all the political parties and the names of senatorial candidates for each one. We have two choices here: we can either rank (again!) all the senatorial candidates (there are a lot of them!) or just put “1” on the box of the political party you wish to support. Since I don’t want to waste any more time ranking every senatorial candidate (and I don’t even know any of them), I just did the easier second option.

After that, we fold up the two sheets of paper and drop them in their respective cardboard ballot boxes. And that was it. No thumb prints, no ink on fingers. The entire thing took less than fifteen minutes. It was that painless. It was so easy I couldn’t believe it.

But here’s the even better part. Before Saturday ended, we already know the winner of the election! Unbelievable! Specially for someone like me who grew up with elections in the Philippines. I wish elections back home was this simple and organised. But I guess doing the same thing back home would result with a lot of unscrupulous people cheating the elections. That is just unfortunate.

Anyway, if you don’t know yet, the Australian Labor Party won the election and Kevin Rudd is now the new Prime Minister of Australia.

Published in: on November 24, 2007 at 11:32 pm  Comments (6)  

Account regained

A week after my Yahoo! account got phished, I’ve finally regained control of it today. I’ve made several attempts in the past to request a new password from Yahoo by filling up relevant information for the account in the Yahoo! ID/Password Recovery form but was unsuccessful each time. Digging around Yahoo’s help forum, I found out the email address for their account security and sent a request to get a new password, reporting that a phisher is using my account to try and con people. Here’s the contents of the first email I sent.

To: account-security-help@cc.yahoo-inc.com
From: AnotherAccount@yahoo.com

Hello,

My other account, StolenAccountNameHere@yahoo.com, has been phished about a week ago. As I could no longer remember some of my registration information, I could not get a new password to recover it. Is there an alternate way of recovering the account (perhaps by answering some security questions)?

If not, is it possible to disable the account? A friend recently contacted me and said that the phisher, posing as me, was asking her to purchase recharge cards and send codes to the account.

I’m concerned that the scammer could use my name and account for illegal activities.

Cheers,
Raquel

I didn’t have to wait long before I received an automated email requesting some pertinent information about the account including the ID, name, birthday, alternate email address, secret question and answer, city/state, zip code entered during registration and country. The email also clearly specified that I should not alter the subject line in any way when replying.

Of all the information needed, the most difficult one to answer is the one about the security question and answer. I had to remember the exact security question on my own and then provide the correct answer. How the heck would I know what security question I chose all those years ago? Well, hubby suggested one security question that I could have used when creating the account. I wasn’t too sure about the security question he suggested but thought that it is likely that I could have chosen that so I decided to give it a go.

Next is the problem regarding zip code and country. I have moved around a lot since creating this particular account and it could have been any of the numerous zip codes and one of the three countries I’ve lived in during the more than 10 years I’ve had this account. However, I remember that I signed up for the account when Yahoo! wasn’t as big a company as it is now and could quite clearly recall that I had some issues with the registration form then. If I recall correctly, Yahoo! didn’t even have any other country to choose from other than US or Canada then. It’s highly likely that I might have used US as my country when I signed up. But which zip code did I use? I surmised that I might have used a zip code from an American TV show I used to watch regularly.

A day after receiving the email requesting me to confirm my account’s information, I filled up the form and answered it to the best of my ability. In questions where I was uncertain whether I’ve updated the information, I’ve put in two answers. For instance, I answered US or Philippines for the country.

I replied to the email and thought I would have to wait for a day or two for Yahoo to get to my request. Happily, I didn’t have to wait long until I got another email from Yahoo! This time, it was signed by a real name (as opposed to the earlier mail which was just had Yahoo! Account Security Customer Care). This email basically asked for the same question as the previous one – ID, name, security answer (note that it there’s no mention of the security question), birthdate on the account, zip code and country. In addition, I was asked to provide a copy of a state/government issued photo ID, an alternate email address to contact me and permission for them to enter my account.

I answered all the questions and faxed the entire exchange of emails plus a photocopy of my passport to a number they provided last night. When I checked my alternate email address this morning, several messages from Yahoo! were waiting. One of them had a title of “Your new requested Yahoo! password. Please reset your password now” which contained a temporary password to my compromised account. I quickly used that to login to my old account and gave a big sigh of relief when I was able to finally see my inbox.

After inspecting the contents of the account, it didn’t seem like the cracker had any interest in my incoming mail. All incoming mail since last week seemed to have been unread, no outgoing messages in the Sent folder (although the scammer could have deleted them to cover his tracks) and no important emails were forwarded. I was amused and a bit horrified to see though that everytime I reported the account as having been phished, Yahoo! has replied to the account!

I also logged in to the Yahoo! Messenger and looked at my friends list (which has more names than I remembered) to see who the impostor would have contacted. Fortunately, most of the IDs listed were really old and those friends either no longer use those accounts or I have lost touch with them a long time ago that they may suspect someone posing as me asking them for favors. At any rate, only one of the names regularly goes online and that friend has contacted me to verify that it wasn’t me she was conversing with last weekend.

One area the scammer definitely got into was the account settings. Here’s the screenshot of my settings (items have been pixelised to protect my email addresses). The cracker changed the account name to some rubbish text and changed the postcode for my work address. Whoever it was didn’t change the postcode to my Philippine address. Why he/she would want to change the account name is anyone’s guess. I suppose it’s just a marker for them to determine if they have already harvested the contacts list for an account should they encounter it again.

So yeah, I’m quite happy I got my mailbox back. I just wish I could help some friends to recover theirs too.

Published in: on October 18, 2007 at 12:20 pm  Comments (5)  

The Poser

While I was surfing this afternoon, I got an instant message from a friend in Manila, VV. Although logged into the messenger, I’ve set my status to invisible so nobody could really see that I am online. Her first message asked me if I’m online. I said yes. However, her next message had me worried. She asked for the time! If you’ve read about my previous post about being phished, the con artist also asked me for the time of day.

So when I encountered the question again today, I was wary to answer. Instead of answering, I asked her why she asked. Nothing, she replied. Uh oh, maybe VV’s account has been hacked into too. Then she said that she wanted to call her sister who lives in Sydney and wasn’t sure what the time here would be. To tell you the truth, that was suspicious too because I’m pretty sure VV would know what the time difference is and if she doesn’t she would be resourceful enough to Google for it instead of asking me. This time though, I told her the time difference, not exactly telling her the exact time. Then I asked her about her pending application to migrate to New Zealand. She replied that it’s progressing and that the NZ immigration department has requested additional documents from her. Hmm… not exactly a specific answer and so I still couldn’t tell for sure if I was really conversing with my friend.

I was still thinking up of what to ask her next when she asked me which of my email address addresses was hacked. You see, when my username and password was conned out of me several days back, I promptly informed my friends that someone else is now in possession of my email address and to ignore all communications coming from that account. Apparently, VV forgot which Yahoo account it was. I told her which one it was.

She then told me that someone is using my hacked account at that very moment and that the con artist has asked her to purchase Globe pre-paid cell phone cards and to email the codes to him. She asked the poser for a mobile phone number to send the codes to but he said there isn’t one and just to send it through the messenger. VV told me that alarm bells were ringing in her head by this time and she also noticed that “I” was becoming insistent, as if “I” wanted her to buy the mobile reload charge cards then and there. The poser is saying that I would be selling the recharge cards to other Filipinos here for a profit. VV asked him for the time and he quoted 10AM. By this time, VV has almost confirmed that it wasn’t me she was talking to. It was 1:30 in the afternoon in the Philippines and unless Earth has started spinning in the other direction, the time here in Australia should be later than that, not earlier.

My friend asked me about the phishing incident and I told her all about it. I was really tempted to redirect her to this blog to avoid having to repeat myself and just let her read about my previous entry. However, I wasn’t fully convinced that I was really talking to my friend, who knows it could still be a con artist that has gone through her email before chatting with me. If that’s the case, the poser would know a bit about me and my friend and would thus be more convincing in trying to persuade me to do something. And if it really was someone other than my friend, I wouldn’t want him/her to know more about me than he/she already did.

After narrating the phishing incident to her, she said goodbye and I did the same. It would have been nice to have chatted with her some more but I was busy with something. Besides, it’s difficult to really communicate with someone if you’re trying not to divulge too much about yourself to the other party. Sadly, the time of asking someone what time of day it is where they are has taken on a more sinister meaning and the joy of catching up with friends via instant messaging has been somewhat marred for me. Perhaps this feeling of paranoia would pass in time, but I hope I never forget the importance always being vigilant.

UPDATE: Please see this post for information on how I regained control of my compromised account.

Published in: on October 13, 2007 at 8:56 pm  Comments (6)  

Phished!

It was five in the afternoon yesterday and I was waiting for quitting time when I received an instant message from AH, a friend here in Melbourne. I was quite distracted so when she asked what time it was, I answered with the time then asked why she’s asking. I thought she has gone overseas, thus the question with the time. I asked her where she was and she replied that she’s at home and that the clock in her PC seemed wrong. I just read her blog and her last entry was of her having health problems so I rationalized that she might be resting at home and might just have woken up from a nap so she might not know the time of day. She then gave me a link saying it’s a link to her Flickr/Yahoo photo album. I tried the link and was asked to login. I tried to but couldn’t get through. I told AH and she said “sayang” (shame) and when I asked her how she was, she replied that she might have to go off-line soon because she’s talking to someone on the phone.

I was a bit suspicious at this time and noticed that the link she sent me re-directed to Geocities. I was about to change the password to my Yahoo account when a work colleague talked to me. By the time our conversation was over, I have forgotten about changing the password to my Yahoo account and went home. It wasn’t until hubby told me during lunch today that he got a text message from AH that I remembered about the incident. Apparently, someone has hacked into her AH’s account and has scammed her niece to buy pre-paid mobile reload cards and had her niece email the codes.

Most Filipinos abroad retain a Philippine pre-paid SIM card and use this to send text messages back to friends and family in the Philippines. It may not be the easiest but it certainly is the cheapest way to keep in contact with people back home. As the credits in the pre-paid account runs low, the Filipino expat would ask someone back home to buy a reload card in the Philippines and send the code back to them so that expat could use that to add credits to the Philippine mobile account. Thus, it is not unusual request for someone overseas to ask someone in the Philippines to buy them a mobile recharge card and have the code sent. This scammer seems to know this practice and targets OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) and their family and friends.

I know it was dumb of me to fall for this kind of scam, I really should have known better. In my defense, I was distracted and this scammer conversed with me in Tagalog/Filipino, so it seemed like it was really AH that I was conversing with. I believe now that this scammer asked me for the time of day to determine my location. If I answered with the current time in the Philippines, I believe he/she would have asked me to buy him/her a pre-paid card. However, since I answered with a different time, he/she would have discovered that I’m located elsewhere and that the best thing to do is to get my Yahoo username and password and then log off as soon as possible.

A couple of hours ago, we received a forwarded email from a friend stating that another Filipino friend, WG, got victimised by the same scam. It looks like this scammer is having a field day with his victim’s friends list and address book and is milking this con as much as he/she can.

As for my Yahoo account, the scammer got to it and I have already requested Yahoo to disable it. I also had to change my email subscriptions and changed my passwords for other sites like banks and other financial institutions, particularly those that send email to that account. My only consolation is the phished account was an old one that I only use for correspondence from when I was still in the Philippines and that the scammer would have limited knowledge of my affairs through what has been contained therein.

As a warning to others, please be vigilant and beware when clicking on a link, even if it looked like it came from a friend. I told another friend today that if I asked her to answer a random question before clicking on a link she sent me that she should just humour me and answer my question. I have been burned and could be a bit paranoid now.

UPDATE: Please see my next post for more information on this incident.

Published in: on October 11, 2007 at 10:30 pm  Comments (2)  

Malu who?

I received an off-line instant message from B, a friend living and working in the US yesterday morning. The message simply contained this link with no other explanation of what it was about. I didn’t click on the link straight away as I had other matters to attend to but was intrigued. B usually just forwards links of her online photo albums, funny emails and other fun stuff. She’s certainly not the kind to read blogs, much less forward something that has “seething with anger” as its title.

I finally got round to checking the contents of the link around noon and found out that a certain Malu Fernandez from the Philippines has written an article for People Asia and has whinged about having to share her pleasure flight to Dubai with Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). Complaining of having to squeeze herself into a tiny seat and having to endure

sounds of gum chewing and endless yelling of “HOY! Kumusta ka na? At taga saan ka? Domestic helper ka rin ba?” Translation: Hey there? Where are you from? Are you a domestic helper as well?”

Then there’s also

On my way back, I had to bravely take the economy flight once more. This time I had already resigned myself to being trapped like a sardine in a sardine can with all these OFWs smelling of AXE and Charlie cologne while my Jo Malone evaporated into thin air.

Now, OFWs are publicly hailed as modern day heroes in the Philippines because the money they send back to their families keep the economy afloat. Most Filipino families have at least one family member living or working abroad. Those who don’t are in the process of becoming OFW themselves or may just be dreaming of becoming one in the future. The Philippines is turning out to be a nation of overseas workers, its chief export being its people.

So you could probably guess that this Malu Fernandez, who fancies herself a cultured socialite, got the ire of a lot of people. Blog posts a-plenty have been dedicated to this incident, some from people who are OFWs themselves. Also there’s a campaign right now to get her to apologise, with calls of boycotting The Manila Standard, where she currently works as a columnist. This was her response. I don’t agree that the whole newspaper daily should suffer from her careless remarks. I mean, not everyone working for the paper would share her views so why should they be punished for her error?

I messaged B this morning, asking if she even read the link she forwarded to me, to which she replied ‘Of course!” I was interested to know what she thought of it and asked her. Her response? ‘Sarap ipakulam, parang hindi siya pinoy.’ (How great would it be to put a curse on her, she acts as if she’s not Filipino). I laughed, clearly this Malu Fernandez got to my even-tempered friend as well. As for me, I don’t think she would ever apologise (nor am I entirely sure she should). She calls her comments a product of her ‘ascerbic wit’. I call it ignorance and utter disregard for others. She has shown herself as someone who’s shallow, spoiled and suffers from tall poppy syndrome. Perhaps the best response would be to ignore her and her crass pronouncements and then maybe she’ll finally shut up.

Published in: on August 23, 2007 at 12:15 pm  Comments (7)  

Awards Night Over

It has come and gone. As predicted and expected, Batjay’s Kwentong Tambay won the Best OFW Blog award at the 2007 Philippine Blog Awards last night. Congratulations, pre. We’d also like to congratulate all the other winners and finalists at the Awards.

I wish I was at the actual Awards Night to at least enjoy the food and drinks. But I couldn’t let that potential free food go to waste so I asked my brother to go to the ceremony in my place and eat Raquel’s and my share of the food for us. He later told me that even though he got a bit bored at the event, he did like the food. So, that’s cool.

Published in: on April 1, 2007 at 12:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

I Hate Haircuts

One thing I never thought about before moving to Australia was having a haircut. At the time I left my country, a haircut costs about fifty pesos (about $1.25), if I recall correctly. I would say to the barber to give me a “barber’s cut” or “gupit binata” (bachelor’s cut) and he’d know what to do. He would get out his electric razor and buzz cut the side and back of my head. Then cut off the extra hair on the top of my head and my bangs. For the finishing touch, the barber would take out a classic straight razor (all Filipino barbers have one), sharpen it on a leather strap and shave off smoothly the back of my head near the neck. Afterward, he would dab rubbing alcohol to the part he shaved with the straight razor. Probably to minimise the chance of infection.

When I got to Australia, I was shocked to discover that haircuts for men was typically $18 (about P700)! Fortunately, there were barbers that offer haircuts for only $10 (about P390). Well, it’s still quite expensive if you convert it back to pesos but it’s the cheapest price I could find. I don’t really mind the cost of a haircut anymore nowadays. What irks me about having a haircut here is that I can’t seem to get one that I end up liking.

The system here is a bit different. First, there aren’t a lot of old-fashioned barbershops around (as far as I know, at least). Men and women go to have their hair done in what we would call parlours in the Philippines. That meant that women typically do the haircutting. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’m just saying.

At the shop, I would tell my barber what type of cut I would like by saying a number (such as 1, 2 or 3). I’m not sure what it means even now but a “1” is the shortest buzz cut I could get off the side and back of my head. The bigger the number, the longer the “stubble” on the back of my neck. The number could signify the size of the clip used on the electric razor or the length of hair left behind in millimeters. I’m just guessing here.

After the barber uses the electric razor, she’d use here scissors to “blend” the hair so that my hair at the top of my head would shorten gradually as you go down to my neck where the hair was shaved with the razor. She’d also cut short my fringe (it’s what they call “bangs” here).

Here now is the problem. My hair tends to stick out when cut short enough. I usually ask for a number 2 haircut and in their attempt to blend my hair, they end up cutting the hair at the back of my head too short. So, I keep instructing my various barbers to not cut my hair too short because I don’t want my hair to stick out. But do they listen to me? Never. They still proceed to cut my hair as short as they could. I don’t get it. Wasn’t I being clear? They must not be used to cutting straight black thick Asian hair or something.

I figured that the rest of my hair wouldn’t be cut too short if I ask for a bigger numbered haircut like a number 3 maybe. It sure did the trick but the downside was that it didn’t look like I even had a haircut afterwards. What was the point then?

Early today, I had a haircut again. I asked for a number 2 haircut and added that the barber keep the hair at the back of my head a bit long. No luck. I might as well have asked for a flat-top haircut or a crew-cut. The only way to keep my hair down now is to use hair gel. And I hate using hair gel.

I’ll just have to endure this ugly haircut until my hair grows long enough to keep my hair from standing up which would take a week or two. I can’t wait.

Published in: on March 31, 2007 at 8:35 pm  Comments (7)  

Blog Awards Finalists

Wow. When Raquel nominated our site for the 2007 Philippine Blog Awards, we didn’t imagine that we’d become one out of five finalists for the Best OFW Blog category.

We just wanted some exposure for our site at the start. But, that doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate being short listed. In fact, we think it’s a great honour! So, thank you to the judges of the Blog Awards for choosing our site as one of the finalists.

However, we have no illusion of winning this category as we’re competing with really popular blogs. I have a feeling that Batjay’s Kwentong Tambay already has this prize in the bag. Still, you never know. Good luck to all our co-finalists.

Best OFW Blog Finalists:

Published in: on March 24, 2007 at 8:03 pm  Comments (7)