Escape from Manila

Well, it sure felt like an escape. Let me begin, however, with the return to Manila on Monday afternoon. In order to keep costs down, it was cheaper to fly back to Manila from Hong Kong to catch a connecting flight to Tokyo, leaving us with about 12 hours back at the house. Considering its Big Game week (my favorite week of the year), there is not supposed to be any sleep this week, and so far I haven't really gotten any thanks to airports and planes. I think I might even have my passport number memorized by now. Going from a nice 22 degrees Celsius to 33 was only the beginning. The taxi ride back to the house in Santa Mesa was almost two hours thanks to a six-car pile-up on Roxas Boulevard, involving 4 cars, a jeepney and a big truck. The truck went away spotless, but the back of the jeepney looked like an accordion and there weren't any windows left on the other cars. When we got back to the house, I tried to nap, but I got distracted by Wheel of Fortune, and then we headed to SM Centerpoint to get some more snacks. As my mom was buying some buko (coconut) juice, I looked over to the first vegetarian restaurant I've ever seen in Manila, only to see they served barbeque pork and chicken adobo, among other things. I think the only thing on the menu that was legitimately vegetarian was a fruit salad, and even then I'm not sure...

Our Northwest flight to Tokyo was set to depart at 7:35 a.m. from NAIA, so we had to be out the door by 4 a.m. just in case there was traffic. Trying to be as quiet as possible without waking anyone up, my mom and I loaded our luggage into the car. Just to give me the right send off, a giant roach appeared near the car to wish me goodbye. I will not keep in touch.

While the drive was only about 30 minutes, I think it was the longest drive of my life. As we pulled out of the drive way, we turned the air conditioning on, which I wish we never did. The car was sluggish already by two blocks away, so we turned it off and opened the windows, which at night was just fine. However, the car never really got back to normal. I'm used to our driver blasting down the streets, but since it was so dark and there are hardly any streetlights in Manila, he was being on the extremely cautious side. Yet the car was still making a funny sound. Every block seemed to wear and tear on the vehicle, to the point where I thought it was just going to break down and we were going to have to find a cab to get us to the airport. Then I became afraid that since it was so dark, we might hit another car since other drivers weren't as cautious. Or even that we might be car-jacked/mugged since there have been so many incidents near our area lately. When we finally made it to the airport, we missed the exit to the terminal because our driver was only used to dropping us off at the Philippine Airlines terminal, forcing us to make a completely illegal turnaround in the dark.

By some miracle, we made it to the airport. Again, this other international terminal looks like it hasn't been updated since construction, but it was still cleaner and more organized than the old JFK JetBlue terminal. A little after sunrise on a clear morning, our jumbo jet headed for the Land of the Rising Sun.

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.