Philippines Day 2: Arrival

One of the airports sported an advertisement for an airline that had little nooks with beds instead of seats on the plane. I’d scoffed at the poster, but as we deplaned in Manila, I found myself desperately wishing we were rich enough to afford those tickets. I felt like a hot mess. I hadn’t slept continuously in over 48hrs, my allergies were going crazy, and my organic stink heightened as the first wave of muggy Manila air saturated my skin. Surprisingly, it didn’t take too long to retrieve our nine suitcases from the baggage claim. As we made our way across the grimy asphalt and through throngs of sweating people, it dawned on me that in addition to not knowing Tagalog, I didn’t have a working phone, nor did I have any Philippine pesos. Hm. This was the most vulnerable situation I’d ever been in . And holy shit, it was hot even at midnight.

“I feel so American,” said Mike.
“Really? I feel so Filipino,” I replied.

Culture Shock #1: Everyone was brown. Well, except for Michael. But other than him, everyone else.

Grandpa somehow managed to find our Uncle Raymond and Uncle Jesse. Two other men followed us as well. It wasn’t until Grandpa shoved some peso notes into their hands after they’d helped with our luggage that I realized they weren’t our relatives. This was unnerving: within minutes of our arrival, someone had already had the opportunity to steal my luggage without me suspecting anything.

Mom handed me the boys’ and my passports, said goodnight, and waved as we piled into Uncle Raymond’s van. (Grandpa and us 5 grandchildren were to sleep at a relative’s loft. Mom and Michael were to stay at another relative’s condo downtown, were Uncle Jesse was going to take them.) Grandpa and I sat in the front with Uncle Raymond while Luke, Mike, and Tristan clambered onto the middle bench. Thank god the van had air conditioning. Uncle Raymond instructed me to take the seat belt strap and make it look like it was buckled (there was no buckle). He and Grandpa fastened the only two real seat belts into place.

“Lock your doors. You’re in Manila now!” said Uncle Raymond cheerily.

Culture Shock #2: There are no traffic rules in the Philippines; or if there are, they’re not followed.

I foolishly thought traffic was worst in the US, whether it be in New York or LA, but I was undoubtedly mistaken. The traffic is so bad in Manila that there are restrictions as to when drivers are even allowed to drive, depending on their license plate numbers. And there aren’t just a lot of cars in Manila, there are horse and buggies, bicycles, motorcycles, tricycles (motorcycles with sidecars), buses, jeepneys, trolleys, and cars.
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All my life I’d wondered why Grandpa pumped his brakes every few feet whenever he drove us around back home. Now I knew why. Manila was why. There were no discernible lanes, no way of telling whether perpendicular vehicles were going to slow down while we sped up, and miraculously, no accidents. While my right leg kept jerking from muscle memory trying to slam an imaginary brake, the Filipino drivers cruised effortlessly past each other as if they were telepathically connected.

We surprisingly reached our destination without accident. Uncle Raymond turned diagonally off the main street and into a cluster of mismatched streets and structures that made up a neighborhood. “Neighborhood” is putting it mildly. (Or, is it putting it utterly correctly?) It had started to drizzle, so the buildings looked forlorn and unfriendly. With a soft screech from the brakes, we pulled up to a 7-story tall concrete apartment building where we met our Uncle Ferdie. When each suitcase had been thumped down from the trunk, we realized Mom’s suitcase had been put in our van by mistake. While Uncle Raymond and Grandpa handled the situation, Uncle Ferdie gestured for us to come inside and upstairs.

There was no elevator. I thought I’d packed light until I climbed those stairs, laden with my backpack and hauling my suitcase one steep step at a time. How many flights were there? It didn’t seem this tall from the front. My arms started aching as we climbed higher. Of course ours would be the topmost apartment.
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Finally, we turned a last corner and started up the last flight of stairs. There was no front door. We stepped those stairs right into the living room. There was some milling about as Grandpa, Uncle Raymond, and Uncle Ferdie conversed in Tagalog. I caught my sister’s name in the conversation and asked where she was. Uncle Ferdie pointed to the door on my left and I promptly knocked until she opened it. I hadn’t seen Jessi since December, but it was like I’d seen her hours before. She looked the same, if a little paler and sleepier than usual.

Jessi gave us the tour of our new home, which we found was more spacious than we’d anticipated. The floor we were on included a bedroom, living room, kitchen, bathroom, and veranda. There was yet another flight of stairs accessible from the veranda, which led to a small house with its own porch area. The small house had a living room, kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom. There was much debate on sleeping arrangements, but it was eventually decided that Jessi and I were to sleep in the small house, the three boys would sleep in the bedroom on the “first” floor, and Grandpa insisted on sleeping on the veranda because he felt so hot.

I don’t remember talking much because I was completely exhausted and lethargic from the heat. Thankfully, there was excellent air conditioning in the bedrooms. When rooms were claimed, I immediately found my toiletry stuff and headed to the bathroom for a hot shower. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was very rare and lucky that we had access to hot water. The whole room was tiled in blue and there was a drain in the middle of the floor. The reason for the strange placement of the drain became obvious as soon as I started the shower. The shower and toilet were divided by a diagonal half-wall that shielded the shower spray from the toilet, but not from spilling into the main floor of the bathroom. Basically, the shower flooded the bathroom every time it was used. At this point, I didn’t care. All I wanted to do was scrub myself clean, put clean clothes on, and go to sleep.

The sheets were dusty and Jessi kept shaking her foot in her sleep, which in turn shook the whole bed. I tossed and turned all night, waiting for a few hours of sleep, and finally getting some in the early hours of the morning.

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Absence diminishes mediocre passions and increases great ones, as the wind extinguishes candles and fans fires.

– Francois de La Rochefoucauld

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Reading & Rowling, Love & Literature

I am aware that I haven’t continued my Philippines adventure, but I’m working on it! As I feared when I started writing, it has become increasingly more difficult to string perfectly acceptable-to-me sentences together. This is probably due to the fast approaching start of term at UCLA in less than one week. Honestly, I’m terrified.

For the past month, I’ve been working and trying to enjoy the rest of my free time and the limited moments left with Bestest (Anthony) before he treks back to UCSB. We’ve read the entire Harry Potter series and are now accompanying the dwarves, hobbit, and wizard of The Hobbit on their literary journey. We’ve (or rather, I’ve) also become obsessed with J.K. Rowling’s Pottermore website, where I enjoy brewing potions.

Harry Potter is an obsession I know few would probably understand. In James Runcie’s documentary, J.K. Rowling: A Year in the Life, Rowling recounts when a fan came up to her and exclaimed, “You are my childhood!” I know exactly what she meant. I grew up on Harry Potter and have read the series many times. Whenever I feel the urge to dive into its magical pages, it is always with the expectation of comfort and escape. The books not only fully satisfy these expectations, but remind me that loving others and myself is the best way to embrace the future. Hopefully one day my writing will help others realize the potential in themselves and inspire just as J.K. Rowling constantly inspires me.

Another author who constantly inspires me is, of course, Bestest. Both of us were recently nominated to have more of our poems published, although his are undoubtedly at a much higher standard than my own. I’m forever thankful to have a partner as creative and intelligent as him 🙂 I’ll miss these lazy summer days filled with the sound of his voice and the warmth of his presence. There’s something very magical about reading aloud to each other. I hope it’s a tradition we continue for a very long time.

Now it’s not reading that’s my problem; it’s writing! The continuation of my Philippines adventures is coming soon, I promise 🙂

Philippines Day 1: Sky High Apprehension

Like the southwest roadtrip, I started off this venture with an attempted all-nighter. Bestest and I stayed up reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, with naps in between and a 5AM coffee stop at 7/11. We finished the book and had minutes left to say goodbye as we loaded luggages into my uncle’s 15-seater van. Somehow in the rushed confusion, I stubbed my pinky toe and it swelled to a persistent purply lump for the rest of the day. After squeezing Bestest for the last time, I hopped in the van and we set off to pick up Grandpa. (There are two Michaels in a our group: my brother and my mom’s boyfriend. I’ll refer to my brother as Mike and the other one as Michael to make things easier.) As we pulled out of the driveway, Michael and Tristan realized they didn’t have their passports. Luckily they live within a few blocks away from each other, so we didn’t spend too much time detouring. We picked up Grandpa and made it to LAX about two hours before boarding time. Apparently no one had reminded Grandpa about the 3oz. limit on liquids for carry-on luggage. It didn’t help that Michel had left a knife in one of his carry-on bags and Mike had to be frisked because he was the one carrying the bag. So…security checks took a while.

We finally boarded our China Air flight and took off at around 1:00PM. Usually I order ginger ale when I’m on airplanes, but that didn’t work out this time.

Stewardess: Wha wou you lie to dwink?
Me: Ginger ale, please.
Stewardess: Wha? Tea?
Me: No, gin-ger ale.
Stewardess: To-ma-to juice?
Me: No, GIN GER ALE.
Stewardess: Wha?
Me: Nevermind, I’ll have water.

I slept for about 5-6 hours out of the 12hr flight. Roughly 2 hours were devoted to changing positions trying to fall asleep. The rest of the time, I ate dinner and breakfast and watched Shrek. Dinner consisted of saucy chicken, rice, a small salad, yogurt, and bread and butter. For breakfast, I had fried rice, yogurt, fruit, and bread and butter. In between meals, I snacked on cherry tomatoes with goat cheese that Mom had brought from home. The flight was mostly boring because I had an aisle seat and my toe was killing me. I walked up and down the aisles to get some circulation going on in my left foot and saw that the plane had little bassinets for baby passengers. I think there were about four babies and they were all little angels, sleeping and rarely crying 🙂

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We landed in Beijing, which was stiflingly humid, and were held up at security again. This time, Grandpa’s mouthwash was taken away, along with Mike’s bottle of Axe. They don’t fuck around in China. We barely made our transfer flight, with a mere seven minutes left until takeoff. I slept longer and more soundly on this flight. The flight attendant served the same chicken dinner provided on the previous plane.

I don’t mean to sound like a horridly odious and ignorant tourist with an unforgivingly cruel vision of the Philippines, but I understand if I sometimes come off that way in recounting these experiences. Before we landed, I didn’t expect we’d have much fun here. As a child, I learned that there wasn’t enough food for people in the Philippines; my grandma often guilt tripped her grandchildren with that notion in order to avoid leftovers at the dinner table. When my mom gets out of sorts about the chores not being done or something, she sometimes threatens to send us to the Philippines so that we may be humbled by its poverty and stop acting like spoiled brats. The doctors gave us typhoid vaccinations, prescribed emergency diarrhea pills, and warned us not to drink the water. Even my dentist the day before had instructed to carry valuables in a frontward fanny pack at all times, or the beggar children would pickpocket us. My mom made us watch short YouTube videos about the Philippines. Almost every local in the videos looked tired, old, and poor. The only spirited, healthy person was the filming tourist.

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I would’ve been more excited for the Philippines if it hadn’t been forecasted to rain through our entire trip. I’d heard good things about the Philippines as well, like how its coral reefs were absolutely breathtaking, and that the tropical fruits were exceptionally delicious. But, I thought, I wouldn’t be able to swim much due to the rain. We probably wouldn’t even be able to go outside every day. Such were my misgivings as the plane started its descent into Manila. My first glimpse of the Philippines wasn’t so impressive because night had already blanketed the land. Although, the sight of twinkling electric lights all over the city was reassuring. As we neared earth, I could see highways and billboards, crowded streets, and high-rises silhouetted against the sky. It looked like LA. But it was hardly like LA.

Holy Crap. (an intro to my Philippines adventure)

07/29/2012
1:00PM, China Standard Time

I was looking forward to blogging every day in the Philippines, but I knew there would be a good chance that I couldn’t due to lack of Wi-Fi. Unfortunately, I was right. As I write now, I’m at Gate E30 in Beijing, waiting to board our transfer flight back to Los Angeles. Beijing is our layover in between the Philippines and the US. We left our house in the Philippines at around 2:35AM this morning, and arrived in China at around 11AM. I slept a little bit on the 4.5hr flight here, but the passenger next to me took up the armrest and kept bumping me with his elbow every time he moved. Hopefully I’ll be able to sleep a couple hours on our 12hr flight to LA. Ugh, 12 hours. That makes a total of 16.5 hours of flying alone, not including the countless security checkpoints and lag time before, between, and after flights. Nevertheless, I’ve found that I still enjoy flying. I sit on my ass most days anyway, and this way I get food and drinks served to me as well 🙂

We have a whole row to ourselves on the upcoming flight, which means Tristan and I don’t have to fight over the window seat. There are seven people in our group: Mom, Luke, Michael, my cousin Tristan, Grandpa Ben, Mom’s boyfriend Michael, and me. The flight attendant on our last flight got all huffy because we were trading seats. I told her to wait while we situated ourselves and her face scrunched, all Asian-mad. We’re using Air China for our roundtrip flights. Jessi is taking a separate, later flight on Philippine Airlines to get back to Los Angeles. Grandpa told her that the last time he used Philippine Airlines, they made him check a carry-on bag and then stole his money from it. Comforting words, really. Apparently Philippine Airlines isn’t even allowed to fly into Germany because their standards aren’t up to par. I’m glad we’re taking China Air, even if their airplane food makes me crap something awful. Hehe, sorry, but I’m going to be talking about the bathrooms in these entries about the Philippines. Not so much what I do in there, but the conditions. I must applaud the Beijing airport on their bathrooms. Clean, roomy stalls, toilet seats, toilet seat covers, and, most importantly, an abundance of toilet paper. These are some of the things I missed most about home. However much the US influenced the Philippines, the Filipinos never got their bathrooms right. More about that later. I suppose it would be more convenient to start at the very beginning of my trip, yes? Yes.

southwest roadtrip day 9

07/09/2012

4:50AM Isabel wakes up and tells us she’s going on a walk through Sedona and will return at 6:30AM. Yay another hour and a half of sleep!

6:31AM Wake up and get ready for the day

7:00AM Days Inn serves a continental breakfast. I have the best coffee I’ve made so far on the trip and eat a cheese pastry.

7:59AM On our way out of Sedona, I accidentally mail my postcards in the wrong mailbox, the one marked “Local Mail Only” instead of “Non-local Mail.” Oops 😦

8:10AM We drive the Red Rock Scenic Loop where Isabel gets frustrated that she doesn’t see what she remembers seeing the last time she was in Sedona.
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9:25AM We stop by the visitor’s center because Isabel must find out where she was last time in Sedona. Cristina and I play with the giant chimes/xylophone things outside the center.

11:00AM Reach Williams, AZ which turns out to be a very charming town with a 1950s feel

11:11AM Full service gas & windshield wash station at Eddie’s Tires. We meet Eddie and he tells us that Louise’s in Disney’s Cars was based off his shop, the T-Model Ford peeking from his garage inspired a character in the movie as well, and that he once saw Elvis at the cafe a couple blocks down in 1963. Eddie shows us a ball of tire stickers he’s been collecting and gives us a copy of the magazine spread he was published in.
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12:12PM On the way up to the Grand Canyon, the temperature drops 15 degrees in 10 minutes (85 to 70).

12:20PM Enter the Grand Canyon! Cristina is mesmerized because this is her first time at the Grand Canyon. This is my favorite part of our trip. I was about ten years old the last time I visited the Canyon. I forgot how amazing it is to see it in person 🙂 Cristina already starts planning a future friends roadtrip that will include us hiking all the way down the Canyon.
We walk about ten minutes down one of the trails and Isabel freaks out when she sees me talking on the phone and walking at the same time. She makes me hang up on Bestest because she’s afraid I’ll fall or something. She’s kind of a nervous wreck when it comes to heights. Apparently this is a newfound fear.
We take lots of pictures and browse the stores.
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2:45PM We stop at the IMAX theater so Isabel can buy a national pass valid for free entry to all national parks for a year.

4:00PM We eat lunch at Twister’s, a ’50s-style soda fountain and restaurant in Williams. There’s Coca-Cola paraphernalia everywhere.
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5:01PM On our way out of Williams, we drive by the same motorcyclist we saw yesterday. I don’t remember seeing him yesterday but apparently Cristina and Isabel do.

5:54PM Pass the Aquarius Mountains, which apparently has a Boner Canyon according to our map
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6:44PM The temperature reaches 114 degrees!

6:52PM  Call 911 who transfer us to CHP to report a large piece of metal blocking the right lane of the Interstate 40

6:57PM Enter California!

7:07PM Gas in Needles, CA is $4.69/gal eewwwwwww

7::56PM Isabel translates Cuban songs for me and sings to them very excitedly

10:50PM At the City of Hope, Mommy and her boyfriend Michael meet us. Yay I’m going home! I say goodbye and thank you to Isabel and Cristina and gladly hop in the car to recount my trip to Mom.

11:59PM Finally reunited with my Bestest!!!

southwest roadtrip day 8

07/08/2012

5:38AM Isabel can’t fall back asleep so she wakes us up to shower and leave Kayenta at an ungodly hour

6:20AM I make essential coffee with the hotel coffeemaker. Each cup of coffee comes with one tiny pack of real sugar, and one tiny pack of sugar substitute. This will not do.

7:15AM Leave Kayenta for the Monument Valley

7:45AM Enter Utah!

7:50AM Enter Monument Valley! Monument Valley is located on Navajo Indian Reservation land, and so isn’t considered a national park.  

7:20/8:20AM Cristina’s phone changes time, but mine doesn’t. We decide not to drive the trail through Monument Valley because it’s way too bumpy and and will screw up the car. I’m definitely in favor of not screwing up the car as I want to return home. We take pictures from the visitor’s center and I buy some postcards.
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7:50/8:50AM We drive out of the park and browse around the three shops that are open at the Navajo marketplace. One salesperson says I look Navajo.

8:22/9:22AM Enter Arizona!

10:52AM Cristina sleeps for a long time and I keep Isabel company until I fall asleep as well. 

12:00PM Enter New Mexico! Gallup is “buttoned up and closed down” because apparently stores aren’t open on Sundays

12:45PM I make Isabel and Cristina a peanut butter, chocolate, banana, and strawberry jam sammiches and a peanut butter and banana sammich for me

1:45PM Arrive at the Petrified Forest Visitor’s Center and report a semi that was fishtailing and cutting people off on the highway

1:50PM The Painted Desert looks like everything we’ve been driving by for the past two days
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2:00PM Arrive at Jasper Forest, where Isabel accuses me of stealing from the Petrified Forest due to my red jasper ring that I bought in Santa Fe
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3:00PM Buy petrified wood from the rock store to take home to Luke & Michael

3:54PM Dinosaurs everywhere in Holbrook

4:00PM Isabel pulls over to take pictures of a Studebaker her father used to drive in Cuba. She looks like a stalker. 

4:10PM On our way to Sedona!

6:02PM Enter Sedona and try to find a reasonable hotel/inn/motel

6:18PM Check in at Days Inn where there’s excellent Internet 😀

7:09PM Arrive at L’auberge hotel & restaurant for dinner
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7:20PM Cristina and I find errors in the menu. Examples: Cheddar was spelled with two “e”s; a cedilla was missing from the French words “provencal” and “nicoise”; “in-season” flows better as “seasonal”; hyphens missing in “milk fed” and “oven dried”; crepe missing the hat; inconsistency with the capitalization of adjectives; optional Oxford comma really shouldn’t be optional

8:48PM Tip-free valet? 

9:15PM Back at the Days Inn, Cristina and I jump in the pool. It feels too cold so we hop in the jacuzzi, and back into the pool. The pool was wonderful 🙂 

9:45PM Return to room and talk to my Bestest before showering. Bestest! 

10:30PM Organize suitcase and get ready for bed.

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