But Load problems started couple of months ago, when I first landed in Manila, my taxi driver was gracious enough to take me to the gigantic local mall (Filipinos love their malls) where a task as simple as buying a local SMART SIM card to put in my iPhone and registering for a phone plan involved two hours of running back and forth to 5 separate stores, each time passing through security checkpoints and getting in the back of the line. But I had no choice – I had to have a good Internet connection so I could keep working.
I was told I have two choices for cell phone service: SMART or GLOBE. Smart is the most nonsensical company you’ll find, and GLOBE only serves selected local areas.
I chose SMART, and was told I had to pay for Load, which I assumed meant loading up my phone with money for their service plan. I was advised that I definitely wanted the unlimited package for all three: Internet, calling, and text, so I took their advice and paid for the top of the line unlimited plans.
Finally, amidst a stack of paperwork I couldn’t figure out, I got my phone back all ready to go.
Flash forward two months later to the remote island of Boracay, after the typhoon, and we still don’t have Internet on the island. They say the lines were knocked down all the way in the town of Kalibo, two hours south on the “main land” island of Aklan, but somehow that daisy chain precludes us from getting Internet here, too. At first everyone reported that it would be back up within a 48 hours, then by Wednesday, then maybe next week, and now they’ve all just given up.
That wouldn’t be a big deal except I need to work every day (a privilege I absolutely love) so I do need to access the Internet, somehow. So far, the only way to do that is either:
1) Use the SMART Internet flash drive I bought as a connection. It boasts a very unimpressive “2G” and usually doesn’t work at all unless I stand on the 4th floor porch of my apartment building and face west and the wind is blowing right. I’m not kidding. Even on those good days, the Internet speed is just a trickle, so maybe I can send an email, but Facebook or pirating a song is out of the question.
2) Set up my cell phone as a hotspot for my laptop. This is my most consistent solution. Writing blogs and sending them out via social media takes 4x the time and effort it used to with a good signal, but the mail still gets through, so to speak.
Text messages are also sporadic. Apparently, they don’t have unlimited plans. No, that’s not right. They do have unlimited plans but even though I signed up and paid for one, I still get text messages from SMART at least 5 times a day saying that my plan has been fully consumed and I need to reload my phone. How they can send these via text if my text doesn’t work is beyond me, but hey – it’s their shit show.
So I grunt and groan like a spoiled tourist and walk down to the local phone shop. My entrance is inglorious, as the sign on the door says PULL but what they really mean is PUSH. I always forget and walk right into it, rattling half the structure and causing the employees to look up in panic. My favorite employee there is a Bakla – a gay guy, the only one nice enough and brave enough to help me.
“I am out of texts again!” I whine, “and I don’t think my Internet is working.”
“Did you check your balance?” he says. He’s wearing a bright yellow shirt and looks like he’s trying to grow a mustache.
“Of course I didn’t! It’s the same every time,” I say.
“Let me see your phone - I will check your Load.”
“Sure,” I say.
The phone store worker “tskkks” me for not checking my own Load first before coming to him, but of course I didn’t. Number one, you can go blind from that, and number two, it’s irrelevant because it always says the same thing.
The very patient and kind Bakla in the yellow shirt takes my phone starts typing in his magic with long fingernails. A text comes back from someone named BUDDY, I assume a friend of SMART, giving me accurate Load numbers.
“It says your Load is almost all spent. You only have .51 Pesos left.”
We play this game every time. No matter what, it always says I have .51 Pesos left.
“Do you remember what my Load looked like last time we checked?” I ask him.
“And the time before that, do you remember my Load?”
“Exactly, I think that SMART doesn’t really know anything about my Load.”
“You can have 2 days of internet for 90 Pesos?”
“I think I’m ready for a much longer term plan than that - I do better with Loads when I’m in a committed relationship,”
He looks again.
“How about this one for 299 Pesos.”
“What does it get me?”
“Ummm I’m not sure - about 299 Pesos worth of Load?”
“I’ll take it.”
He guesses that should last me approximately 250 MB of Internet usage, which could last 6 hours or 6 days, and 10 free texts a day. That would be fine, save for the fact that SMART consumes 8 of those texts telling me my Load has expired and that I can download a Rhianna song if I wish.
I pay him, he types in his code and my phone number into his phone and sends it all to SMART. I receive a confirmation message (counts as one text) and then a duplicate (two texts). I thank him in Tagolog, “Salamat Po,” wipe the sweat from my brow, and go to walk out, waving goodbye. Of course I push the door instead of pulling it, smacking my face like a bird flying into a glass slider and leaving a sweat print where my left cheek was.
“I look forward to your next Load!” he yells after me.
“Yup, see you tomorrow when it doesn’t work again!” I reply.