A bookworm’s september reads

8 Sep

Much has been said about how men should go for the girl who writes, travels and reads.

Now if only I can be the girl who cooks.

image

My september book list is a mix of romantic fare, gripping modern day war story and a man on fire.

A good break from the sinful 50 Shades of Gray.

Longing

26 Aug

Oceans and seas
of possibilities
Watch me from
Across the window
As I wander without
The beauty
Of being next to your breath
I take the first kiss
Of sunshine on earth
And wish it be
Like the midnight dew
Of my tears
Silently falling
For the touch of your skin.

Exploring Bantayan Island: Sugar Beach, Sta Fe Beach and Ogtong Cave

19 Aug

Cebu is well known for many things – their beautiful Cebuanas (how bout Cebuanos?), delicious food, rich culture and of course  their white sand beaches.

Located in the northern tip of Cebu is Bantayan island. I’ve fallen in love with it ever since I saw its pictures on Google but pictures are definitely a no match for its astounding beauty.

How to get there: Take a cab from Cebu City to the North Cebu Bus terminal and look for the bus going to Hagnaya. Ride the Express Ferry boat to Sta. Fe, Bantayan Island.

Total travel time: 4 hours (3 by bus, 1 by boat)

We left Cebu City early in the morning and arrived at the Sta. Fe port before lunch. From the port, you can either take a multicab (similar to a jeepney) or habal habal (motorcycle). The port alone offers you a glimpse of Bantayan island’s beauty. I couldn’t wait to jump in!

Sta Fe port

A scenic view from Sta. Fe port

Sugar Beach

Sugar Beach – a sweet escape

With my freelancer friend, Ren, in Sugar Beach

This paradise has a wide stretch of white sand beach lined with coconut trees of all sizes and is perfect for camping. If you like peace and quiet and do not mind foregoing the usual upscale resort amenities, then Sugar Beach is for you.

Sugar Beach

Can’t help but be sweet in Sugar Beach (cheesy!)

Santa Fe Beach Club and Ogtong Cave Resort

Whenever a resort calls itself a Beach Club, expect it to have good amenities that come with a more expensive price. This is true for Santa Fe Beach Club too but its room rates are still relatively cheaper compared to other resorts of the same standard.

And I doubt other resorts come with its own natural cave!

Ogtong cave

Ogtong cave entrance

Sta. Fe Beach Club’s beach is not as wide as Sugar Beach’s but it also has the same powdery white sand (maybe even finer). It also has a lot of cool rock formations that’s perfect for picture whores (like us!).

Sta Fe Beach Club

Ren rocking it by the rocks

Sta Fe Beach Club

Trying my own version of the dramatic pose

Sta Fe Beach Club

Paradise indeed

We went home exhausted but refreshed from our first day in Bantayan. A day alone is not enough to explore the whole island.

Working from Bantayan Island

Some hotels in Bantayan offer free wifi access but  for those using broadband sticks, telecom signal is a bit elusive. In fact, I did not have any Sun signal at all. Smart bro is an option, but I would not recommend it. If you have to go to Bantayan, go on weekends when you are not required to work. Bantayan island deserves your undivided attention so leave your work, laptop and worries at the city where they belong. I did!

Travelling in Cebu City – laugh, love, lechon!

15 Aug

I’m an overworked fulltime freelancer and I love to work while travelling. My mottoes in life are, “Carpe Diem” and “Have internet, will travel!”

I have always wanted to go to Cebu. I’ve been meaning to for the past couple of years and this year I finally had the chance to do it. Armed with my netbook, backpack and beach clothes, I took the solo flight to the city of smiles.

Although I was travelling alone, I know a good amount of people enough to survive. In fact, my friend Ren picked me up from the airport and generously offered her room for a couple of days. I met Ren thru oDesk in 2008 and though I only met her once in person we kept in touch a lot thru chat.

Cebu City is a lot like Manila. It’s lively, robust and the malls are packed. One thing I like about Cebu is that it’s a lot cheaper. Of course, I pigged out. The food was superb! And again, cheap!

You won’t run out of things to do while in Cebu. I had a lot on my ambitious to-do list but I didn’t have enough time and resources to do all of it. I settled to explore my must haves: food, nightlife and beaches. 

Kaon Ta – (Let’s Eat!)

Cebu is a city with rich culture. In fact, it is the oldest city in the Philippines. I spent a day exploring the city – the Sto Nino church, Magellan’s cross and Fort San Pedro.  All three are walking distance from each other and can easily be found by asking directions (and understanding it correctly).

Sto. Nino Church

The Basilica of Sto. Nino is a 16th century church founded by an Augustinian priest. I am not very religious but I have always been fascinated by historical and old structures.

Magellan's cross

Magellan’s cross

Magellan’s Cross was planted by Portuguese/Spanish explorers upon the order of Magellan. A sign says that the original cross is encased in the wooden cross but I doubt it. It’s probably been auctioned secretly and sold to the highest bidder.

Fort San Pedro

Fort San Pedro

Entrance to Fort San Pedro

Fort San Pedro is Cebu’s version of Manila’s Fort Bonifacio. It’s a military defense structure built in 1738 during the Spanish rule. It houses a small museum containing Spanish documents and paintings. If you’re a history geek like me, I suggest you check it out.

The night life was pretty fun and again cheap. Mango Ave is a popular hot spot and has a decent videoke bar and clubs. Ayala Mall also has popular restos like Fridays and Casa Verde. The crowd is a mix of yuppies, foreigners and kiddos. Dress appropriately depending on whether you want to be picked up or not! ;)

Cebu's Tops

View from the top

An alternative place to go to is Tops, about 40 minutes from the center of Cebu City. You can either take a cab or if you’re feeling more adventurous, opt for a motorcycle aka habal-habal (I swear I was hugging our motorcycle driver thru the steep climb). It has an entrance fee of 100Php per person and offers a scenic view of Cebu, Mactan and if you’re lucky, Bohol. I don’t know how you can tell which is which though. But honestly it was a bit overrated.

Other things on my list that I wasn’t able to do (and you might wanna) are the Taoist temple and Crowne Regency’s Sky Experience Adventures.

Working from Cebu City

Cebu City is a lot like Manila. For freelancers who love working at coffee shops, head on to Ayala Center for the usual hubs like Coffee Bean and Starbucks. There’s an abundance of broadband signal so keep your USB sticks handy. Most hotels also come with free wifi.

My next stops after Cebu City were Bantayan Island, Mactan, Olango Island, Oslob and Mantayupan Falls. Watch out for my next blog.

Stargazing

31 Jul

*Wrote this piece in 2008

I used to love looking at the sky, counting the stars while my hand is clasped into yours. I would tell you how we will chase our dreams together, how I would spend each day of my life with you. Can you still remember what I used to tell you?

“I will always be here, always…”

 

 

Do you see that light?

No that’s not a star. That’s the light of the star that has long been extinguished. The star from which the light came from is gone but its light has continued to glow, to give light, to guide.

I am like that star.

You may think that I’ve left you and today you’ll cry a river of tears. You’ll mourn for me, be in denial of my death but time will come you’ll find the strength to move on. And someday I might be forgotten. You will find a new love while my memory will slowly fade. I know one day, you’ll look at the same sky. Your hand clasped into someone’s. You would tell her your plans for the two of you. You will look at the sky without feeling pain for my loss. Instead you will be thankful.

Though I won’t be able to share the future with you, yesterday is enough for me to carry on. A moment with you is all that I could ask for. And seeing you happy is enough consolation.

No, i dont dread the coming of that day, surely. For while you’re looking at the sky, I will be looking down on you. And i will still whisper, “I will always be here, always…”

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Telstra Philippine Call Center Under Scrutiny

26 Mar

A Telstra call center based in the Philippines is now under media scrutiny over claims that a call center agent offered an Australian worker to wipe away his $557 bill for just a mere $60.

For years, I’ve worked as a call center agent supporting big players such as Comcast, Toshiba and Qwest and I know based from experience that killing a customer’s bill would be technically close to impossible and not mention, a very risky work (unless one’s a hacker). These call center companies have advanced CRMs and as agents, our access to customer records are very minimal. While it is true that we can view customer details, I don’t see the point why it can be harmful. Come on, postal workers see people’s names and addresses all the time but it’s never been considered a threat. And a big thumbs down to Today Tonight for misrepresenting the Philippine call center – none of the agents shown in the video are Filipinos. I can tell from the accent that they are either from India or Bangladesh. No offense meant to agents from these countries. I’m just criticizing this News program for  deliberate misrepresentation.

The victim, Sam McNeil, said this incident could have been avoided had Telstra hired locals, his reason being Australian employees are paid better. I say no culture, no matter how wealthy or technologically advanced, is immune to wrong values. If this incident is indeed true, it is more likely an isolated case – a wrong decision made by someone without any integrity. Just because Philippines is a third world country doesn’t mean that we’re culturally inclined to scam other people. In fact, Filipinos working for call centers are usually the cream of the crop which goes without saying, they are college educated working professionals who are earning more than the average citizen. Whereas call center jobs in other countries are looked at as just an in-between job which even a high school dropout can do.

I know that a lot of people from US, Australia and UK are against outsourcing (I actually had numerous debate sessions about this with an Australian exboyfriend) but these people should start considering the advantages outsourcing has to offer – reduced cost for companies, more revenue for the government, higher service level and less waiting time for consumers. We are not taking jobs away and this is not the reason for unemployment or recession in other countries (as some claim). I actually recommend spending a day as a call center agent so people can experience firsthand the “challenges” we go through as well as the curse words often hurled our way.

I’m not saying this report is false. Yes, it could be true but it could also be a demolition job against companies who outsource, it could be that the agent is just lying about how she can erase the customer’s bill or it could even be another tale about a lover spurned (there goes my romanticism). I mean, hey, what kind of extortionist would send pictures of herself to her victim?

Bottomline is, there’s more to this story and definitely a lot more to outsourcing than what this video presents.

Freelancing scams and how to avoid them

26 Mar

Just like in any other booming industry, scammers and opportunists flood the freelancing market.  Sure, there are numerous legitimate freelance jobs but there are also many who take advantage of honest freelancers who simply want to make a decent living. Let us discuss some of the most common freelancing scams and how to steer away from them.

The sample collector 

Collecting sample works from numerous applicants is one of the most prevalent freelancing scams. This includes clients who require one or two different samples from several applicants “before being considered for the job”.  After receiving the samples, they would then inform most (if not all) of the aspiring freelancers that their application failed. From these diverse samples, they have already gathered several unpaid pieces of work that can complete the whole job.

Prospective freelancers can avoid such scam by presenting a portfolio with similar works rather than creating an entirely new output. With this, they can convince the clients that they can do the job well. They can also politely ask for a minimal payment for the sample work.

Too good to be true

“Earn $300 per day doing data entry from the comfort of your own home.”

“$1000 every month working 3 – 4 hours a day answering surveys”

“Make money in your sleep”

These are just some of the catchy phrases that scammers use to attract unknowing victims. One important thing to keep in mind with online work (and life too!) is that if it’s too good to be true, it probably does not exist.

As an independent contractor, it’s your responsibility to protect yourselves from these kinds of pitfalls. Familiarize yourself with the going rate for different projects. For example, a data entry work will probably earn you around $3/hour and unless you are working with top secret data from Pluto, $300 per day is just ridiculous. Know what is realistic and know when someone is pulling your leg. Don’t let the figures fool you.

We’ll make you rich if you make us richer

Sometimes, frivolous clients will offer a decent job in exchange for a minimal fee for a subscription kit, training manual or downloadable software. The moment you pay this small amount, the company immediately disappears together with the job. Legit buyers will NEVER ask for upfront payment. If they do, report them right away.

Here are additional tips to avoid being scammed online:

- Always check the client’s feedback if there is one. A paying client will have an overall positive feedback from previous projects and assignment history.

- Check if the buyer has a verified payment method. Most freelance sites such as oDesk and Elance will show if the buyer has verified their payment.  If not, ask them politely to do this first before working on their project.

- Never work outside the system. Do not accept offers of payment via Paypal, Western Union or bank deposit. Once you work outside a freelance website, you won’t get any support from their customer service people.

- Work on hourly projects that is guaranteed payment. If you are to work on a fixed price basis, ask for an upfront payment.

If you are a freelancer who has suffered any form of scams, there is no need to be silent or ashamed. Scams spread over the freelancing industry and are often difficult to be recognized.  Aside from studying tips on how to spot them, it is a wise measure to sign up for freelance websites that allow bidding on jobs and monitor their member-client to ensure that freelancers get the pay they deserve.

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