Sunday, October 7, 2012

Returning To Los Angeles From Zamboanga

Goodbye #59 Pilar St. - My home for two weeks.

(Cue music: J. Cole’s “I’m Coming Home”)
Thinking back to the night before I left Zamboanga City, I am hoping we had met all our dear Mama’s wishes before she died. I can’t think of anything we missed so I’m comfortable in thinking that we had done all she asked for in her last days and the few days that followed. Would you believe that a couple of years ago, Mama told me her goal was to reach at least the age of 80? Well, she planned that perfectly too. Incidentally, that happens to be my goal also. That evening, Larry and I invited the Pabellon and Tupaz families to dinner at the Grand Astoria Hotel Lotus Restaurant. Other than the children, this was the same group that planned Operation Pilar two weeks before and executed the plan to a T. As I mentioned before, these two families were the source of moral, emotional, spiritual, and physical support of Mama in our absence. We cannot thank them enough for what they have done to help Mama the past few years and especially the last few months, when the demands of her illness most likely also put a strain on those two families. We will owe them a debt of gratitude forever.
Dark and early Thursday morning, it was time to catch my 6:45 flight from Zamboanga to Manila. The compulsiveness to exercise will have to be satisfied later in the airport terminal hallways. Larry drove me to the airport taking a slightly circuitous route along Cawa-Cawa Boulevard. If I only knew that going all the way down Governor Lim Avenue took me to the seaside boulevard, I would have made that one of my exercise destinations too. Maybe if I ever make it back to Zamboanga, I’ll be able to run or walk along Cawa-Cawa. Larry dropped me off at the airport and and I felt sad as we hugged each other goodbye. He was staying a day or two more to tie up any loose ends. I was left to fend for myself one more time. You won’t, and I can’t believe how much dependent I had become on other people in the two short weeks I was there. Taken out of my element, I had become helpless and useless in Zamboanga.
Pretty soon Airphil Express departed Zamboanga City and landed in NAIA (Ninoy Aquino International Airport) Terminal 3. I had plenty of time to make it to Terminal 1 as I had a four hour layover. I asked an airport worker and a desk police officer where I could catch the shuttle bus. They pointed me to a certain direction. I went there and boarded the bus which left quickly because I filled the last seat. During my arrival a couple of weeks before, I had taken the shuttle from Terminal I to Terminal 3 without any problems. A few minutes into the trip, I noticed that we appeared to be going farther away from the airport so I asked my seatmate where the bus was heading to. She said Baclaran. Oops, that’s not where I wanted to go so I approached the driver to make sure. Sure enough the bus was heading downtown, so I quickly jumped off. How was I to know there where two kinds of shuttle service (one that went around three terminals and one that took you downtown)? I hailed a taxicab and asked to driver to take me to Terminal 1 where I was supposed to fly on Korean Airlines back to Incheon and L.A. I requested the driver to please turn on his meter since he hadn’t in the few seconds I was in the back seat. He started a conversation about his missed opportunity to move to Italy a few years back. Without being too specific, I told him why I was in the Philippines. Thankfully, the conversation was short because I had not been dropped by the shuttle bus too far away from NAIA. It was an 85 peso taxi ride (about $2.00).
I entered Terminal 1 and looked around for the Korean Airlines counters. Owing to my disorientation, I lined up behind a couple of people not noticing that one of them was in a wheelchair. Another oops because this was the handicapped line and I was redirected by an airport worker to the proper line. After checking in, I headed to the nearest money changer and except for a few hundred pesos for the terminal fee (550 pesos) and in case I had to buy food, I exchanged everything back to dollars. It was about that time that Leonard called and offered condolences. He only heard about Mama’s passing that morning via Facebook (the same way he heard I arrived in Zamboanga two weeks before). We chatted briefly and wished each other well. He said he may visit the U.S. again soon.
After that, I queued in the Immigration line and when I got to the counter, the lady asked me if I had changed the spelling of my last name because it didn’t appear in their database.. I said that when I became a U.S. citizen, I connected all the letters of my last name. I was then cleared to enter the departure area. I walked past the duty free stores and snack concessions and found my way to the Korean Airlines gate. I had about 2 hours to kill so I went back up front to get some food. I ate some overpriced arroz caldo with tough to bite chicken leg and a siopao. With still more time to kill, I decided to put in my walking workout by traipsing up and down a long hallway between the concession stands and the departure gate. Each way took about a minute and 15 seconds so you can do the multiplication on how many laps I had to take to finish 35 minutes. As usual, I was pulling my luggage while walking, just like I did at Incheon and Terminal 3 a few weeks before. The airport workers who were at their permanent posts were probably thinking how crazy I was (they were not completely wrong). At least I was able to satisfy my obligation to my body for the day and not miss a workout.
I don't know exactly what this was but it appeared like people depicting a wedding party was walking through Incheon Airport
The three hour flight from Manila to Incheon was pretty uneventful other than an old lady behind me getting mad at me for reclining my chair too far back which almost spilled water on her. I tried to get some zzz’s to no avail. I initially had the row of three seats all to myself until a man transferred from his more crowded row to take the window seat in mine. We had a couple of hours layover in Incheon so I connected to their wi-fi to check email and Facebook. I was out of cellphone range with either my U.S. Virgin Mobile service or Philippines SMART service so when the flight from Incheon to L.A. was delayed almost an hour, I had no way of contacting my neighbor who was supposed to pick me up at the airport. Since she works for Southwest Airways, I was hoping she was tracking my flight online. With that delay, I got a little peckish so I looked around the airport and found something familiar: Subway sandwiches. First I asked if they accepted dollars and how much the tuna sandwich was. The half sub size was $4.00 which I think would be similar to the U.S. price.  At least the Koreans did not overcharge, not like the 10 plus dollars hotdog, chips, and soda I got at LAX.
Before we boarded the plane to L.A., we went through another security check and this was probably because it was the anniversary of 9-11 and also because of the killing of the diplomat in Syria. This was slightly more rigorous since the x-ray machine wasn’t used but rather, security people opened our bags. Having passed that, we left rainy South Korea. Another 12 hour endurance event for the buttocks stuck in a 36 inch wide seat. At least that was better than the 32 inch seat of domestic planes. Speaking of buttocks, I noticed that despite the downsizing of toilet paper through the years in the U.S. the Koreans still appeared to have full sized ones. Or maybe the TP just looked bigger because the plane lavatories were too small. While the majority of passengers went to sleep between meals, my mind was constantly turning on and off, thus denying me the pleasure that others were too glad to partake of. Lack of sleep would be my norm to this day regardless of airplane seat or my own bed. My sleep patterns have been majorly destabilized.
When we arrived in LAX, we had to take a shuttle bus from where the plane dropped us off to the main terminal which was about a couple of miles away. Interesting twist there. While still on the plane, I texted my neighbor Colleen that we just landed and when I was at the Customs line she texted back that she was circling the airport while waiting for me. Fortunately, Customs didn’t hold me up and was soon waiting for Colleen outside the arrival area. While waiting there,  a lady asked to borrow my cell phone to call her daughter. They spoke in a language I didn’t understand. Was I happy to see Colleen and her son Kenny driving up. Finally, something and someone very familiar. I was back home. (Cue music: Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.”)


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1 comment:

Ninette Delaspenas said...

The vision of the two of you, Kuya Noel and Larry hugging each other at the airport cannot be the end of this movie. You will be reunited nsoon, and in happier circumstances. I promise to exert all my powers to make that possible! :)

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