Monday, August 21, 2017

On Midlife Crises

It is now clear the United States is a shell of its own values. It admires freedom of speech but not tolerance. It showcases the Statute of Liberty while ignoring the inscription on her pedestal’s lower level. It blames foreign powers for election interference, a charge Mossadegh, Castro, and Chavez would find interesting. It believes globalization is responsible for at least some of its economic woes, even as it has benefited handsomely from globalized trade, especially in oil. It claims to honor freedom of religion while making it difficult to donate to Islamic charities or to build or attend mosques. Above all, it loves freedom itself, more so than any other nation’s people--while having the most student loans, incarcerated criminals, and credit card debt.

We can certainly argue about each of the points above. For instance, America is around tenth place, not first, in worldwide debt rankings if we view household debt as a percentage of its GDP. It may have the most student loans, but international students clamor to attend its universities, indicating value. It has massive debt but also considerable wealth, ranking in the top twenty-five worldwide in median wealth per adult. It houses the most criminals, but outside of St. Louis, Baltimore, New Orleans (one of my favorite cities), and Detroit, most American cities are far less violent than international counterparts. (So far, I’ve only been mugged in Paris, France, where a French police officer refused to assist me, blaming the Moroccan mafia.) On average, Muslim-Americans are more educated and make more money than average non-American Muslims, an effect we can attribute to selective immigration, but no less true.

Despite the availability of reasonable counterarguments, no reasonable person today believes America is on an upswing at this juncture in its relatively young history. One astute British journalist says America is experiencing a horrific midlife crisis and how it emerges from this period will determine its fate. I think it’s much more complicated than a midlife crisis, and I say this while arguably going through one myself.

1.  Unstable Job Markets, More Debt, and Fewer Permanent Relationships in Developed Countries are Causing Unintended Consequences

I promise I won’t generalize too much if you agree to hear me out. Prior to the age of 40, men tend to be more prone to risky behavior. In some instances, young men become calmer and less interested in risky behavior when women take an interest in them. As men age, they generally reduce risky behavior on their own, meaning a woman’s influence on a man at a young age is often immeasurable—whether positive or negative. (Note: one premise behind America’s incarceration of so many young men is to age them out of unstable behavior.) I don’t mean to imply men are total or unilateral winners in relationships, or that all relationships follow gender-based patterns. Obviously, everyone benefits if two people meet, fall in love, and have a lasting relationship.

But does the relationship last? In modern society, very few people are romantics, especially if they've read a Family Code. The world is filled with divorcees who will share fiendishly unique parables of woe and arbitrariness—and that’s before they discuss their experiences in divorce court.

In an era where almost nothing is permanent, risk management causes most people in developed countries to marry later and have children later, which requires governments and communities to find new ways to occupy people’s time. It turns out there are only so many taco trucks and outdoor music festivals one can visit before searching for something more meaningful. Indeed, almost all of the Western world’s culture wars come down to this simple fact: people are no longer busy influencing their children so they seek to influence others and society. Case in point: what sane American counter-protests neo-Nazis in a town unheard of pre-protest unless s/he genuinely believes s/he’s influencing society in a positive way?

Of course, nothing is inherently wrong with attempting to influence others and your own community, but the shrillness behind such attempts feels new. If you spent 140,000 dollars buying a law school diploma, I suppose you’d better believe you can use it to change the world in your own image, or you’re a sucker. Problematically, someone down the seating chart also spent the same money as you and thinks she can influence society too, and if her community doesn’t validate her belief system, the forecast calls for social strife or self-imposed segregation—both with a high chance of stormy weather. And that’s just within one law school, not even one community, nor an entire nation.

2.  Where Do We Go from Here?

As some of you know, I’ve been traveling since two years ago, when I sensed a disturbance in the Force. Just kidding. (For the record, I’m a Star Trek fan. Picard, not Shatner.)

In any case, I bought several one-way tickets and went around the world with no set plan. I came back to California—home to the most active hate groups in America—to vote, casting my lot with a candidate who failed to capture even 5% of the national vote—then left town again.

I’m now in Cebu, Philippines—a wonderful place—and excited to be able to visit the Middle East soon. For now, my next stop is Brunei. I’m most excited about Qatar, and it's not only because their basketball play in the recent FIBA Asia tournament reminded me of the San Antonio Spurs. By coincidence, I’ll be there during World Tourism Day—yes, that’s a thing—and I’m especially pleased to see Qatar when it's going through some challenging times. (If the United States is going through a midlife crisis, then Qatar, founded in 1971, has yet to reach puberty.)  No one knows what the future holds, but maybe the secret to happiness is finding a young, rebellious country and convincing it to have a lasting relationship with you. Let's make it so. 

“The day we stop looking, habib, is the day we die.” – Lt. Colonel Erfan Saad 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Interviewing Cebu's Countocram

Countocram is the online moniker of Marco, one of Cebu's best bloggers. Surprisingly, he is originally not from Cebu, but from another province, Pampanga. I had the opportunity to speak with him in IT Park, and we covered a wide range of topics. I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did. 

How did you come up with the name Countocram?

Count is like European royalty, and it’s kinda cheesy, but you can always count on me, and “ocram” is Marco reversed. Regarding my personal domain, I was a developer, and I did graphic design. So I had the domain already, and I decided to do not just travel blogging, but anything and everything under the sun. 

I don’t know how you do it, but you have a full-time job in addition to blogging. How many hours do you work in your regular job?

9 hours a day, 5 days a week. I usually work on my blog on weekends or if I feel like writing, I do it after work. My food blog [Lami Kaayois the most popular. I usually just upload the content and that’s it. I don’t do SEO. I’m happy if people find me on their own.

You’re not from Cebu but you’re one of the foremost authorities on it. 

When I moved here from Pampanga, I didn’t know anybody. When I started working, I got to know my coworkers, one of whom had a blog. Everything started when he invited me to attend Cebu Blog Camp, an event that helps aspiring bloggers.

Tell me about your hometown and how you came to Cebu.

In Pampanga, there used to be Clark Air Force base, but it experienced a volcanic eruption nearby in 1991, and all the servicemembers left. When the city recovered, Clark was converted into a special economic zone called the Clark Freeport Zone.  
My hometown, Angeles City, is a highly urbanized city, but not as progressive as Cebu. 

I was working as a home-based web developer for a year and a half. The company decided to set up a company in Cebu, and I was asked to relocate. 
There’s a direct flight from Cebu to Clark, which made it easier to relocate

Also, there's a huge population of Mormons in Cebu, and the company I worked for is owned by Mormons. I think that's one of the reasons my boss chose Cebu. Anyway, when I moved here, I already had the job. 

I’ve been living here now for more than 7 years.  There were only 5 people in the company when it started, and now we have 200+ employees. The majority are web developers. The income generated from web developers is equivalent to 3 to 5 call center agents, so the business saves a lot of space and has more opportunities.

What advice do you have for people who want to come to Cebu?

I think Cebuanos are very friendly people.  The friendliest are from Palawan, though. Cebuanos are the second friendliest. You need to be friendly to fit in here. Cebu looks big but it’s a small city. If you know one person, you probably have someone in common. It’s easy to build a network.  You only need to meet the right people. 

How's the blogging community in Cebu?

There are many blogging groups here. I’m a member of Cebu Fashion Bloggers. Cebu Bloggers Society is the first group here, a pioneer of sorts. The newest group is called C3 or Cebu Content Creators. Their members are not limited to bloggers but also video creators and social media influencers and personalities. We see each other at different events

I didn’t expect to stay in Cebu this long. Because of blogging, I stayed. I made a lot of friends, and it opened a lot of opportunities for me. 

What are the financial benefits of blogging?

I haven’t gotten to the point where I actively monetize my blog.  I just enjoy doing it. I have Google Ads, but I haven’t earned much from it. I do receive social media campaigns from digital media companies. They usually ask for one blog post and at least one social media post. You’d get a minimum of 3000 pesos, but it depends on your stats. For the top bloggers, they can command 1,000 USD!

Sponsored posts are another way to make money.  I will receive content from different marketing agencies, and the minimum fee is 50 USD, and it can go as high as 150 USD.  They will customize the content based on your blog. They’re basically paying to rent space on your blog. 

In Manila, some bloggers who attend events get paid a minimum of 3000 pesos. Imagine, in Manila, there can be 2 to 3 events in one day. Here in Cebu, when we attend events, we only get freebies, not money, but I enjoy attending since I get to see my friends and experience different events. I also enjoy sharing the experience on my blog.

Are there problems you’ve encountered because of blogging?

Yes, a lot. In the blogging community, you meet a lot of people, and each of them has a different personality. Some bloggers blog because of freebies and to attend events, but for me, blogging is foremost an opportunity to share what you're passionate about. Getting invites to events and freebies should not be the primary reason for blogging.

Another problem is some bloggers fake their social media stats by buying followers and likes. This is very common on Instagram. Having good numbers on your social media account can open a lot of opportunities. I think this is the reason why some are faking their stats.

Some bloggers are too aggressive. One blogger once blocked the view of other media participants at a cooking event. Others are so competitive to the point where they bash other bloggers. 

What do you think about the future of Cebu?

I think it’s slowly becoming Manila. I’m excited to see all the developments.

It sounds like Cebu is your new home.


What are your favorite countries to visit? 

I like Japan. I’ve visited Nagoya, Osaka, Kyoto, Tokyo, Nagano, Yuzawa, and Kawaguchiko. When I go, I maximize my time by doing research beforehand. My favorite city is Nagoya. I love Nagoya—it’s like Tokyo but laid back and not as crowded.  I hope to travel more, but it’s hard for a Filipino. Our passport isn’t that powerful. It’s hard to get visas.

I love to travel. Most of my travels are funded by personal expenses. I rarely get sponsored travels. 

If you were Mayor Osmena, and you could do two things to help Cebu, what would you do?

Fix traffic. Do you know about the transit controversy we have here?

A little.  It seems very complicated.

LRT is mass rapid transit—basically, a train. I think the national government proposed an above-the-ground train for Cebu, which is costly compared to the BRT. Osmena doesn’t support the LRT; instead, he supports BRT, the bus rapid transit. It’s like three buses combined together. Osmena is battling committee members who think the MRT can worsen traffic. The argument is that smaller cars can barely navigate Cebu’s smaller roads, so why would a large bus make traffic better? [My note: Of course, the counterargument is that fewer smaller cars will be on the road if more people took the bus.]

The second would be solving corruption. It’s a problem in the entire country. I think all politicians in the Philippines are corrupt.

What does corruption mean to you?

Corruption to me is when the government uses the money of the people for their own benefit. I used to work for the government, and I saw how corruption works. The government can double or triple the value of a project above the actual cost. That way, they get more money even as they pay only the actual value of the project. Sometimes, the auditors are also in on it, so it’s hard to uncover the corruption, which is led by different agencies.

You work in outsourcing, right? In America, a lot of people are complaining you are taking our jobs.  What do you think about that?

In our company, we call it offshoring, not outsourcing. For us, the advantage is that we have jobs that pay well relative to our cost of living. With technology, it’s becoming more and more possible to outsource jobs. 
We are doing many of the jobs Americans dislike, so I’m not sure why they're complaining.

When it comes to web developers, the salary we get here is 1/5 of what Americans are being paid, so companies that outsource here save a lot of money. If you want to find online or consulting jobs, try 

Do you have student loans?

No. My mother paid for my college degree.

But aren’t public universities free, a policy recently maintained by President Duterte?

I went to a private school, not a public school. The policy of free tuition only applies to state universities.

Why didn’t you attend a state university?

I applied. The number one state university in the Philippines is UP, the University of the Philippines. It is extremely difficult to get in. I eventually attended a private college in Pampanga. Tuition was 25,000 pesos a semester, or 50,000 pesos a year, which is about 1,000 USD annually.

Is it easy to get a credit card here?

It’s hard to get one here. I was working for 5 years, applied, and got rejected! They really want to make sure that you can pay. We don’t have a credit score [FICO] here. The interest rate on my credit card is 3.7%.

That’s it?


Wait, 3.7% a year? It’s at least 18% a year in the U.S.

No, 3.7% a month.

Whoa. That’s about 44% a year!

That’s high.

Getting back to blogging, your Facebook, IG, and other media platforms look professionally done. Are you paying for professional assistance?

No. Some of my pictures were taken by other bloggers. You’re seeing the effect of filters and my favorite photography app, VSCO. I’m also a FujiFilminfluencer. There are 15 of us here in Cebu. I really enjoy photography. 

Thank you for your time, Marco.

My pleasure.