Chateau D'if

One of the best things about moving to the East Coast was that flights to Europe are both faster and cheaper. However, traveling to Asia has become an even bigger odyssey than ever before (sorry to state the obvious, but I've never been this jet lagged). After two days of flying, I have finally made it to Manila -- but not without bumps along the way. Amazingly, all of my flights so far have departed and arrived early. The Northwest Airlines-trip to Tokyo Narita Airport was remarkably smooth, yet I couldn't sleep and I watched Mamma Mia twice. Ten hours after I looked out of the plane window to see the Golden Gate Bridge behind us, I finally saw the beaches of Japan below rosy and yellow skies, with mountains popping up over fog in the distance. Flight #3 of 9 was going smooth until the last hour when not only did the plane start shaking violently side-to-side, but also the aircraft started dropping rapidly in altitude to the point that a few people were shrieking behind me. Here I was, after 8,000+ miles and one hour away from my destination, and I was terrified that the plane was going to crash into the pitch-black Pacific. Thankfully, after a few minutes, it stopped.

Then there was the airport to deal with. I got through Immigration and Customs quick enough, but finding my mom was another ordeal. Unlike the posh Philippine Airlines terminal at Ninoy Aquino International Airport, the terminal where all of the other international flights land is a madhouse full of locals waiting for families, carts full of balikbayan boxes and cars that stop for no one. Furthermore, there is a system where you exit based on a letter system that coordinates with a last name. I suddenly got confused (keep in mind I haven't really slept in almost 24 hours at this point with the exception of right before the sudden drop ride before). I wasn't sure if I was looking for my name or my mom's last name. I decided just to go with "K" and pray that I was right. I walked down the ramp into a sea of humanity without having any idea where I was going. My phone started vibrating in my pocket, and it was my mom on the line screaming to find out where I was. I looked behind me and said I was in front of the Duty Free shop, which is exactly where she was. Figures we'd both be in front of a store. I haven't seen my mom in eight months, and every mile and bump in the air was worth getting here.

On the way back to the house in Santa Mesa at the very last street of Metro Manila, my mom tells me that my grandma doesn't look the way she used to, as she has been quite sick but she is still strong. Mommy also tells me not to expect much from the house. "Welcome to the Chateau D'if," she says with an evil giggle. Honestly, it was a five-star hotel compared to what this place was when I was last here five years ago. First off, there's a shower installed now so I don't have to use a plastic bucket. I've only seen two roaches so far, both of which were dead upon arrival. Plus, there's air-con, so that alone makes life bearable. 24 hours after getting on the BART in North Berkeley, I finally sat down and got into bed.