Don’t Use Sprint if You Want to Own Your iPhone

Just an FYI. Don’t get #Sprint.

When you finish your 2 year contract, they won’t unlock your iPhone 4s for domestic use on other networks. They also won’t lower your bill after your phone is paid off and you by all rights own it completely. And they’ll tell you some bogus story about how it’s because you don’t really own it. They do, because you got it at a subsidized rate, even though common sense tells you that the cost of the phone is included in the higher rate, which is why #TMobile has separated plan cost from phone cost in their new offerings.

They’ll also try to spin some web of garbage about how even if the iPhone 4S were unlocked it wouldn’t work on US GSM networks, even though it’s the same hardware that is used by AT&T and Verizon and T-Mobile and it has GSM radios and CDMA and works on Canadian frequencies which are the same as US frequencies.

So basically I pumped about 2400+ bucks into Sprint over two years and now I can’t even use my phone the way I want, where I want, despite being the legal owner. Why? Because there is no law to compel Sprint to unlock these phones yet. The other big 3 do it voluntarily and legislation is unfolding that would compel unlocking, but I can’t wait that long and continue to pay the same rate I was paying when I was paying off the phone. Basically, Sprint is a greedy sack of crap company that won’t unlock phones for customers because they’d rather trap you and keep sucking the money out of your pocket while offering you subpar service at an inflated rate.

Well guess what? There are better options. One of them is the one I mentioned above: T-Mobile. They have a great plan set up. 50 bucks a month for data/text/talk + phone cost, and phone cost goes away after 24 months when you own your hardware. Unlike Sprint. Who keeps you at the same rate, even though you paid off your hardware.

But, I don’t trust plans anymore. I don’t want to deal with it.

I’m so through with Sprint that I just ordered a 5S from Virgin Mobile cash up front. I’ll use their prepaid plan and be locked in at that rate for the rest of my life if I want, 35 bucks a month unlimited talk/text/data. And you know what? I still may not be able to take my phone with me when (or if I ever) leave Virgin, but I’ll know what I’m getting up front. And the cost savings over time are more than worth it to me. 93 a month on Sprint versus 35 a month on Virgin plus the up front cost of the phone is still a savings of almost 1200 dollars over 24 months.

Suck it, Sprint.

Scammer Smurf and Friends

I should have known better, but while my wife and I were out today, I managed to get us stuck in a tourist trap.  We were in Times Square, waiting to meet up with family for lunch at Olive Garden and I saw a person dressed up as a Smurf, so I asked my wife if she wanted her picture taken.  She thought it would be fun, so we walked over, took the photo and started to walk away when the smurf-person stopped us and held up a bag.  I looked inside and saw some dollar bills, so I dropped a dollar in.  I started to turn away, but then the smurf demanded not just one, but two dollars.

Later, as we were sitting inside the Olive Garden, I saw Scammer Smurf and his little friends congregating outside, scheming together and preying on tourists and other unwary pedestrians.

I think I fell for this because the last time I was in Times Square I had my photo taken with a person dressed as an M&M in front of the M&M store without being harassed for money.  Like I said, though, I should have known.

I guess the moral of this story is:  While in New York City, beware of cartoon characters carrying bags and posing for photos.

Friends Don’t Ask Friends To Do MLM

mlm_robbersI’ve always thought that people, in general, were too smart to get involved in MLM schemes, especially given how much information is available about the deceptive nature of the practice.  If you’ve heard of MLM, you’ve heard that it’s a scam, and you should be too smart to fall for it.  It’s not that hard to spot an MLM scheme.  Most of them involve buy-ins.  What kind of job requires you to pay your employer?  I mean, seriously?  How do you get pulled into something like that?  Maybe it’s the fault of the economy, that people are getting desperate and trying to find any way they can to make money, but ever since I got back to the US, I’ve been constantly bothered by people I know here about joining MLM schemes.

Guys, I’m not doing it.  MLM is a waste of money.  I have better things to do with my time, like use my full ride scholarship and living allowance from the VA to get my master’s degree, without having to work at the same time, and then getting a real job to make real money; honest money that wasn’t made by screwing over my friends and past or present colleagues.

The situation is doubly disappointing to me because, for these people to assume that I’d join their MLM scheme, well, it means they think I’m gullible, or stupid, or both.  One person even tried to hang something over my head to make me feel emotionally obligated to participate in their MLM.  That’s disrespectful to start with, and is a good way to make me want to completely break off contact with a person.  These people fell for the sucker punch, and they either want to drag me, and other people down with them, perhaps to make up their losses, or they never really gave a damn about me anyway and want to screw me over to get rich.

Well, I’m not stupid.  Perhaps there is money to be made in MLM, but I’m not the kind of guy to go around ruining all of my relationships with people by tricking them, or trying to trick them, into jumping into some MLM scheme.  I find it very annoying that anyone would even approach me with this nonsense in the first place, and absolutely rude that, once told that I’m not interested, they would persist in spamming me with messages about it, sometimes attempting to lead into a conversation about it under other pretenses, like needing help, or wanting to meet to celebrate Veteran’s Day.

In a way, I feel bad for these people, because they’re caught, but I’m not going to let myself get pulled in with them.  If they can’t take a hint, then the next step will be to completely cut them off, blocking phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and yes, even unfriending them on Facebook.

MLM and me.  It’s not happening.

Opportunistic Freelance Filipino Parking Attendants

That’s the best way I could think of to describe this particular practice in the Philippines.

Parking Attendant in front of Antipolo McDonald's

The guy in red is trying to direct cars on how and where to park at the McDonald’s I was in when I took the photo.

Depending on where you go, there might be a parking lot available for your car.  Most places you just have to park along the street, but the franchise establishments usually have at least a few parking spots, like Max’s Chicken and McDonald’s, where the above photo was taken.

These restaurants don’t hire people to stand out in the parking lot and direct people about where to park.  This opportunity, however, has been coopted by people looking to make a buck doing whatever they can.  So, it’s not uncommon to see randomly dressed people standing in or near the road trying to direct people as to where they can park.  Then, they try to use hand gestures to tell you how to park and later, when you’re leaving, when it’s safe to back out into the road.

For this service, they expect a tip.  Is their service necessary?  Probably not except in the most bizarre of parking arrangements.  What they’ve done, however, is position themselves so that you feel like a complete jackass if you ignore them and drive off.

So, as an addition to the other costs of owning an automobile in the Philippines, you can expect to feel obligated to dish out a few pesos here and there to people who have become self-appointed parking attendants.

“You Will Die!” … Over 20 Philippine Pesos

Something I’ve been having issues with since coming to the Philippines earlier this month (and really on every trip to the Philippines before this) is being overcharged.  You can get around that by going to stores where the prices are clearly marked on the items before buying them, but then you miss out on all the good deals keep your wallet thick.  This problem goes for the markets and for services, like public transportation.

If you’re not familiar with the Philippines there are tricycles, which are a motorcycle with a sidecar, that are used for short-range transportation.  The prices are set by organizations and the local government and those prices are posted inside the vehicles with a sticker.  Set routes to neighborhoods outside the town proper are set by the organizations.  Even so, I’m constantly arguing with people that are trying to overcharge me, like I have pesos falling out of my butt every evening and can afford to just give away extra on every transaction I make.

Tonight, we came out of the grocery store with a buggy full of items and got into a tricycle.  We needed transport over about 1 km (or less) of distance to pick up our laundry.  Our bags were too heavy to walk that far, especially given how crowded the streets are in the evenings in Antipolo.  So, the fare should have been 20 pesos.  That’s the standard.  When we pulled up in front of the laundry place, my wife handed the driver 20 pesos and the jackass started demanding 40.  The night before we took the same route and the jackass in that tricycle was demanding 30.  I like to call this the “white tax”.  While arguing with the guy I quickly pulled all of our stuff out of the sidecar in case he tried to take off with our things.  Then we ignored him and went inside.

When we got our laundry we packed it away into a bag we had bought.  We’d actually taken our laundry to the cleaner in black plastic trash bags because we hadn’t found a proper bag for it yet.  When I looked out the window, this prick was still sitting there watching us, as if he expected us to come out and say sorry and then pay him what he was demanding.

I told my wife to ignore him and not give him anything more than what he was owed.  I’m not in the Philippines to make everyone rich at the expense of our livelihood.  So, when we walked out and started up the street, he started his tricycle and shot past us screaming “You will die!”  Ya, good job dude.  We wrote down his plate number and we’re going to report him in the morning.  The fines for tricycle drivers who attempt to overcharge are pretty steep.  I hope he enjoys his 1000 peso fine for trying to be a prick.

When you live on the local economy you can’t afford to let people nickel and dime you to death, and even if I had a huge wad of cash, I wouldn’t be handing it out for free, or to someone who tried to rip me off.  I’m nobody’s chump.

Street Rats

In the Disney movie Aladdin, the idea of being a “street rat” was glorified as an honorable way of making a living, with a code of ethics and a comfortable life.  In reality, things don’t work out quite that way.  I’ve seen poor people on the street here in the Philippines and they don’t look like they’re having quite as good a time as Aladdin was.  They’re dirty, they’re hungry and they live in a way that’s dangerous because at any moment of the night someone could take their lives.  It’s not that adventurous when you think about it.  It’s a torment that must be a horrible way to live.  Even at my worst, I’ve always had a roof over my head and a little something to eat every day.  So, I have pity for these people when I see them in the street.

In the Philippines, and perhaps everywhere, that pity has to be tempered by wariness about the real nature of the person holding the cup or the annoying children that flock around me like little vultures.  Here in the Philippines there are organized begging rackets where beggars are put out on corners like a pimp would set out prostitutes in other parts of the world.  The individuals doing the begging are made to look more forlorn than they may actually be, and some of them may have homes that they go home to in the evening.  Most people probably learned about this activity by watching the movie Slumdog Millionaire.  The same practices you see in that film are employed in the Philippines.  So, you can’t be too free with your money when you see these types of people coming up to you in the road, or holding a cup out to you in front of a store.

The ones that really annoy me are the groups of kids that try to surround you and start asking for money.  They even go so far as to start grabbing at your clothing.  My guess is that this is to distract you while their friends start fishing in your pockets for whatever they can grab and run with.  When I first visited the Philippines in 2008 I had a lot of patience for this sort of behavior, to the point that it annoyed my wife.  She always shooed them away as fast as possible.  I didn’t really care.  My attitude about it has changed now though.  I suppose that when you visit a place, those minor inconveniences seem quaint and entertaining, but when you actually move to that place and you know it’s something you’ll have to deal with on a repeating basis, the patience you had before wears thin quickly.  Now, when these kids surround me and start asking for money I give them a very gruff, ‘”No!” and keep walking.  If they persist, or start grabbing at my clothing, I push them away physically and tell them to “Fuck off”.  That message normally gets through to them and they break off their pursuit, often accompanied by a string of expletives in Tagalog, the local language.  I suppose that they think that just by being white, I must have tons of cash and I’m just holding out on them.

If you think that’s a little rough, given that these are kids, keep in mind that it’s typically organized.  They do it every day.  They beg as a job, rather than out of necessity, and I’d rather come across as a jackass than have my belongings stolen from my pockets while trying to play nice.  Life in the Philippines isn’t just hard because the money is worth less, it’s hard because you have to be hard to survive when you’re out of the house.  No one has bottomless pockets and every peso counts.

Beggars In The Philippines

Beggars are a pretty common sight in the Philippines, but not all of them are what they seem.

In the U.S. there’s a running joke that some bums are just bums part-time to make some extra money. When they’re done they go home to wash up for the night and get ready for work in the morning. My wife tells me that in the Philippines there are professional beggars.

It was pretty easy to pick out the people that were actually having a hard time there. In front of the Nepo mall in Angeles City there was a man sitting on the ground, begging for change. The guy was really old, really browned, really wrinkled, and really skinny, to the point that he looked like he might starve to death at any moment. We happened to have an extra cheeseburger on us (we’d bought some stuff from Jollibee to sneak into the movie theater; we don’t keep cheeseburgers in our pockets usually) and passed one off to him. His reaction was a bit odd. He looked at it, sniffed it, and then eyed us, as if he wasn’t sure it was really safe to eat. I couldn’t tell if they guy hadn’t seen a wrapped burger in so long he’d forgotten what it was, or if he was accustomed to people handing him garbage as a cruel joke.

On the other hand, there was a little girl at the bus station in Angeles City that was really annoying. Looking at her you could see she was well fed. Her clothes were a bit worn out looking, but not the ratty type you would expect to see on someone so poor they had to beg. As soon as she saw me she ran over to me and started begging for money, but it wasn’t just that. She started grabbing at me and grabbing at my bag. If her hand had found its way into my bag I’m sure she would have tried to run with whatever she got her dirty little paws on. Telling her no didn’t seem to work. It took having my wife tell her to get lost in Tagalog for her to finally give up. It seemed to startle her and she fled. She must have had a short memory though, because a few days later we passed through that same station and she tried her trick again. This time I didn’t even bother to stop. My wife turned to tell her to get lost again but when she realized the girl wasn’t there anymore we kept walking. I remember the kid sort of bouncing off my hip. I’m not sure if she wound up on her ass or kept her balance, but I don’t really feel bad about it, surprisingly, even though she couldn’t be more than 8 years old.

I guess by that point I became numbed to the people trying to rip me off and they stopped registering as ‘people.’ If you visit the Philippines you’ll have a better understanding of what I mean, but imagine having a cloud of mosquitos buzzing around your head whenever you’re in the street, but instead of biting you, they talk: “Bzzzzzzz hey mister bzzzz buy buy buy bzzz cheap bzzz good deal bzzz mister mister!”

That wasn’t the only time a little girl tried to hit me up for money in the Philippines. It seems like little girls, the cute ones at least, are the weapon of choice for Filipinos looking to make extra money off of foreigners and foolish locals. Child exploitation anyone?

In March of last year I was sitting with my wife at Gloria Jeans coffee at the Galleria mall in Manila, watching the traffic and the rain when a little girl walked up to the table. This was my first experience with this, though I’d been warned. At least this kid was trying to offer something in return. She had a handful of fake flowers that she was trying to sell for an insanely inflated price. I told her I wasn’t interested, and tried to shoo her away, but she played dumb and kept insisting. This was the first time I had to be rescued by my wife, who told her to get lost in Tagalog. I need to find a way to get rid of them myself, because my wife might not always be nearby when they launch their attack. I suppose I could just whack them in the head and tell them to leave me alone, but that might land me in jail.

This last trip, just after I plowed through the grabby little girl at the train station (and checked all my belongings) my wife and I sat down in a Jollibee and had lunch. While we were there I saw a dirty looking boy outside the window, lying down on the pavement in the shade. I asked my wife what was up with him, and she told me that he’s another fake beggar, but one that uses a different tactic. Instead of being energetic and grabby, like the little girls, they try to appear forlorn and destitute.

It all reminded me of a story she told me about how my former boss handed out money to beggars while he was visiting the Philippines and wound up getting lectured by his wife (a Filipina) about letting himself get suckered. Maybe I’m just a bastard, but I’ve decided to not take the time to try to figure out if they’re genuine or not. Unless it’s obvious, like the guy in front of the Nepo mall, I’ll just ignore them all.

It’s hard enough to hold onto your Pesos in the Philippines without letting yourself be done in by fake beggars. Keep that in mind if you ever go to the Philippines for a visit.