Saturday, April 30, 2016

Philippines Vacation Day 9 – A Visit to the University of the Philippines & Trying Red Horse

The University of the Philippines Oblation
Day 9 which was a Tuesday started out pretty quiet. I stayed home in the morning while Larry went to work, Ninette worked upstairs, and Robynne studied. After lunch, the helper – Vangie, had to go to Ateneo to pick something up for Ninette, so I joined her for a jeepney ride so she could show me where to get off so I could visit my Alma Mater – the University of the Philippines.
The previous entrance when I was still going to school there was beside Vinzons Hall. So when I went through the new entrance, I had get my bearings first. A lady walking beside me asked me where she could find a certain building. I apologized that I could not help her because I myself was no longer familiar with the place. So I started walking down the street (Osmena Avenue?) which I knew led to the tennis courts I used to play in as a member of the tennis team. I encountered some students doing some kind of experiment and a bunch of kids just walking about and one of them asked me for money. This street had a dedicated lane for runners, walkers, and cyclists, which was new to me.
Jeepney ride to U.P.
I proceeded to the tennis courts and looked around. A group of 3 guys were hanging out and talking. The clubhouse looked different and I didn’t recognize anyone there. Then I went looking for the College of Human Kinetics which used to be the Institute of Sports, Physical Education, and Recreation. They had moved the building at another location so I had to ask for directions. When I got there, I went to the gym floor. The setup of this old repurposed giant hangar hasn’t changed much except the concrete bleachers were gone. I didn’t see any teachers present so I went out and towards the rear of the building where I found the faculty offices. On one of the doors, I saw a familiar name and I asked one of the staff about her and was told that that person had retired. She used to play guard in the women’s basketball team. Not having recognized anyone, I left the college and walked towards the administration building where I asked a woman who appeared to be resting after a bike ride, to take my obligatory photo while in U.P., with the Oblation. With nothing else to do, I went back to the tennis courts where I met a man who gave me the impression that he was some kind of club pro or at least a club manager. He asked me if I played and I said I couldn’t anymore because I can no longer run due to leg problems. He remarked that I probably still had my stroke, which was true based on my previous Nintendo WII tennis game experience. Anyway, I told him about my playing days in U.P. and the people I used to know. Mind you, this was way back in the mid to late 70’s so he didn’t know the people I talked about.
Selfie with the Oblation
I begged my leave and walked back to the gym, saw a group of people playing soccer on the wood floor and a couple of girls who looked like they belonged to a varsity squad. Still not recognizing anyone, I left and went to Molave Residence Hall, a dormitory I lived in during my freshman year. When the security guard asked me if I needed some help, I told her I used to live there. I showed her a photo of my old I.D. and she said she thought it was a picture of my son. She was surprised when I told her it was me.
Molave Residence Hall
University of the Philippines I.D.
I soon left and found my way to the old shopping center where we used to go to have papers copied or mimeographed. The place is still pretty much the same except for the mimeograph machine. There were various places to eat and what looked like internet cafes as well as school supplies (the Blue Book!) and places that sold clothes. It was on one of those places I found a U.P. tank top which I bought. It felt ok when I tried it on over the clothes I was wearing but upon my return to the U.S., I found it to be scratchy. Anyway, it’s good to have some kind of souvenir since my varsity jacket was long gone.
University of the Philippines tanktop
Afterwards, Larry texted me that he was going to pick me up on his way home and to meet me between the U.P. Theater and the College of Music. While waiting, I noticed a lot of people exercising on that same street with the dedicated exercise lane. Larry picked me up and we drove home. I was spared a jeepney ride back home and the probability of getting lost.
Later that evening, I had a hankering for a beer and went to one of the sari-sari stores in the neighborhood. They had run out of San Miguel but had Red Horse which I had never tried before, so I bought one of those which came in a half liter (16.9 oz.) bottle. My first impression was that it tasted like malt liquor. Upon reading the label, I found out that it was brewed by San Miguel and had a higher alcohol content. Well, in combination with the volume and the alcohol content, it certainly gave me a huge buzz. That Red Horse sure had a strong kick. Soon after the buzz and dinner, it was beddie bye time. Regardless that things had changed tremendously and I didn’t know anyone anymore, it was nice to be able to revisit my past haunts during my college years.
Red Horse beer

Monday, April 25, 2016

Philippines Vacation - Day 8 – Monday in Greenhills, Xavier, & Rockwell

Photo courtesy of Trip Advisor
Larry was still working for a couple of days before his schools' summer vacation began and he usually leaves home at about 4:30 a.m. to beat the traffic. I joined him Monday morning while he drove to Xavier High School in Greenhills. He showed me what building his office was in then drove me to Greenhills Shopping Center where I was going to spend my day before walking back to Xavier High School to meet up with him. I had to keep my eye on what streets I was on and where to turn to get back to Xavier from the shopping center.

Before dropping me off, Larry drove around the perimeter of the shopping center where a bunch of people came out every day to exercise. Then he left to go to work. I did some stretching then started a slow jog counter clockwise around the shopping center. To my right was a covered parking structure where music was playing and a couple of Zumba classes were going on. As I circled the area, I saw other runners, walkers, and run/walkers mostly going in the same direction as I was. After a couple of laps (which was approximately 1 kilometer in distance per lap or about 2/3 of a mile) I began to notice that despite of my slowness, I was proceeding at a steadier clip than most people and began to negative split each lap. I encouraged some kids who were running then slowing to a walk to go more slowly so they can run longer. I smiled at other exercisers and was enjoying the moment of being able to run on an even sidewalk and not have to dodge cars along the way.

I noticed a gentleman running at a steady pace which appeared to be the same as mine but he was running clockwise. So the next time I encountered him, I turned around, introduced myself and asked if I could run with him. He agreed and while we ran together I asked him if he was a marathoner because he appeared to have a very economical stride suited for long distance running. He replied that he used to do that in the past but not anymore. He then asked me how old I was and upon hearing that I was almost 59 years old, he looked surprised that I was still able to run the way I did and matched him stride for stride. But he was probably not more than 10 years younger than I am. So we ran and talked for a few more laps until on the last one, he did a sprint on a short straightaway that I didn’t match for fear of injuring myself. I increased my stride slightly until I caught up with him during his recovery jog. After his cool down jog, he had to go and I thanked him for letting me join him. I ran a few more laps until I reached 45 minutes (my goal for that day was just 30 minutes but because of the company, I was able to extend it), then walked for 15 more minutes.

While walking, I saw this pretty woman running but I had filled my running quota for the day and if I had done any more, I would have risked injuring my fragile ankles and legs. I bumped into that woman again later when she was done and as she walked back to her car with breakfast in hand, I asked her how many laps she did. She said “just 4”. I said that was better than most people, and it was then that I noticed her green eyes. I bid her a good day and went on my way. The green eyes? Well, they were probably contact lenses. It was fun interacting with other exercisers again. It what I mostly miss about not being able to run the way I used to.

Having started my workout at 6 a.m. and finishing at 7 a.m., it was another 3 hours before the shopping center opened. While I walked around, I saw a lot of security personnel in the area and they were conducting a hostage situation drill inside the still closed mall. Some pretended to be hostages hunched on the floor, others acted like they were injured, while others were rescuers carrying either another human being or a dummy from inside the mall to a triage area in the parking lot. In spite of the drill, the Zumba exercisers kept on dancing, the walkers kept on walking, and the joggers kept on jogging.
Greenhills Shopping Center swap meet
My legs got tired from exploring so I sat in one of the chairs in the taxi waiting area. Later on, I sent a text message to a real estate agent I had been in touch with for several months, to arrange for a meeting to look at some condos I was interested in. We agreed to meet on Wednesday in Cubao.
Before the mall opened, I noticed a badminton club on the third floor so I went up to check it out.  I used to play that sport competitively in my youth. There were a couple of middle aged guys and a couple of young guys playing, as well as a beginner’s class with about 5 students. I observed for a few minutes, then went back downstairs. Pretty soon the mall opened and was I glad to be finally indoors in the air conditioned building. The first floor had all sorts of merchandise and it reminded me of an indoor swap meet we have in Long Beach. In addition to jewelry, there were a lot of brand name merchandise like Under Armour, Nike, Birkenstocks, etc. When I did my calculation from pesos to dollars, they were remarkably cheap! Until I realized they were most likely fake. The second floor which Larry described to me earlier, was full of technical stuff like cell phones, cell phone accessories, tablets, etc. After experiencing the harrowing boat ride a few days before and almost getting my cell phone drenched in sea water, I bought myself a transparent waterproof case which cost about $6. I explored all the floors of the mall then went to a Smart phone store to have my cell phone checked out since I couldn’t get the 4G data to work. After a slight delay, the technician copied the Android settings from her own phone and my data plan started to work. I thanked the lady and gave her a fist bump before leaving.

I was getting peckish so I went around looking for a place to eat. There were plenty of course but I was looking for a congee place. Having found none, I found lomi (a type of thick noodle soup) in of all places, an eatery called Sizzler’s. Now, I don’t think it had any connections with the Sizzler’s in the U.S. but they also served steaks. So I ordered the noodles and while I was eating, Ninette texted me asking how my day was going and informing me that there was a bomb threat in her school – Ateneo De Manila. She was working from home of course. Anyway, there were not too many details yet since the situation was ongoing. She asked me to buy some bread floss from a shop called Bread Talk. Bread floss? She explained that Bread Talk was in a another building. When I paid for lunch, the waiter brought me my money back and informed me that a couple of my 20 peso bills were no longer in circulation. Those were the bills I got from the cashier at Solaire the day before! I paid with the proper bills then headed off to another building to look for the bakery that sold bread floss. It was in the building where the movie theaters were. That reminded me that I once took an ex girlfriend on a date in the old Greenhills Shopping center when the theaters were still located in a different area. Anyway, I went up to the third floor where the theaters were and found some benches to sit on while waiting for the time for me to walk to Xavier High School to meet my brother. When that time came, I went to the bread floss place and made my purchase. I thought it was a meat filled piece of bread but I later learned that the meat was actually the shavings of floss-like substance on top of the bread itself. That shows you how ignorant I am about these supposedly gourmet things.

So I walked back to Xavier on the usual irregular sidewalks with parked cars and having arrived a few minutes early, texted Larry that I’ll be waiting in the student drop off and pick up zone. He called security who escorted me to his work area. The faculty had an end of the school year party where they complimented each other, said goodbye to departing teachers, sang karaoke, and of course had some food which they invited me to partake. I respectfully declined since I felt I still had a bellyful of lomi. We excused ourselves shortly and Larry gave me a brief tour of the school. He would be transferring from the New Technology department back to his previous position of Athletic Director next school year.
Power Plant Mall in Rockwell Center
We left Xavier and headed to Ateneo Law School in the Rockwell area of Makati to pick up Robynne. While waiting for her, we walked around Power Plant Mall. Apparently this area was the location of a former power plant which I no longer remember. My goodness, I used to take jeepney rides there with another ex girlfriend whose family lived in that area in 1979! As I was to learn a few days later, my ex girlfriend’s mother still lives just one street away from the Power Plant Mall. When Robynne arrived, we went to an office supplies store where she had to buy some school stuff while I found myself buying 4 tri-color pens for about 16 cents each. Then it was time to hit traffic again on the way home. It was a full day for me. As you can see, it took 2 and a half pages to write about it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Black Saturday and Easter Sunday - Days 6 & 7

Before going any further, here are a few more photos from Ninette's camera from our trip to Nagsasa Cove. These were taken on the way to the cove when the waters were calm. Fortunately we were spared from photos taken on the way back when we looked scared but pretended not to be.
Larry & I on the way to Nagsasa Cove
I was still able to stand up due to the calm waters
Ninette & Ben
Elgee, Robynne, & Uno
So what happened on day 6 which was Holy Saturday or Black Saturday depending on whom you ask? Later that day, Black Saturday certainly lived up to it's dark name. Well, let's see. I woke up at about 5:30 and from Big Foot, I started walking towards downtown where they had the religious procession the night before. Other than people waiting for the buses and jeepneys, the crowds were gone. I turned around and walked back to Big Foot. I'm telling you, the dirt sidewalk was better in this town than the one in the city.

Walking to the Town Hall of the town which name I can't remember
The plan for the day was spend a few hours at Capones Vista Beach Resort then drive back home at about 3 or 4 p.m. We checked out from Big Foot rest house and by the time we arrived at the resort, they were already at capacity. The receptionist gave us a pass since we were repeat customers and allowed us to stay. Some went swimming (you can't keep Uno away from the pool), some like me just lounged around too exhausted to do anything else from the activities of the previous two days. After lunch, we gathered all our stuff, drove to where mangoes were sold on a roadside stand, bought some, then wended our way towards the main highway leading out of town. There were a couple of reasons why we left on Saturday instead of Easter Sunday: Larry, Ninette, and Robynne had tickets for Sunday to watch Les Miserables back in Manila, and to avoid traffic on Easter Sunday when everyone else who went out of town was expected to head back to the city. Well...
Sample of Philippine traffic (photo courtesy of
The first half hour or so, we were at top speed, then just as suddenly, we were creeping inch by inch (literally) in traffic somewhere in Subic. There must have been some accident up ahead but to this day, I still don't know what went on. As I was learning, or this is just how I perceive it, this is how driving is in the Philippines. On a narrow two lane road, you may fit a third vehicle, and if a dirt sidewalk has some space, then you can drive a fourth vehicle there. A double yellow line separating the street doesn't mean anything because one can cross that line and drive against opposing traffic. Cutting off another vehicle is acceptable and if you consider courtesy on the road, that means you don't hit the other vehicle when you cut him off or vice versa. Everyone fights for every inch they can get regardless of the miles-long bottleneck it creates. I'm guessing it took about 3 hours to cover a couple of miles, if that. At the end point of that particular bottleneck, we had to stop for gasoline and a bathroom break. The women unfortunately had to line up for one toilet, while the men were directed by a security guard behind the gas station with a request to please not to pee on the wall but do it on the gravel covered ground. There were a whole bunch of men plus a little girl (who was squatting) doing what they had to do for relief. After gassing up and perhaps passing gas, we were back on the road for more traffic. This time we proceeded in feet instead of inches. Traffic finally loosened up as we approached the former U.S. Subic Bay Naval Base. We traveled at a good clip until we only had a few miles left on the superhighway before home. Why the heck there is traffic on a superhighway at 9 p.m. on a Saturday, I don't know. By the time we arrived home, the drive had taken 7 hours or more, even longer than our trip outward bound. But at least we were safely home, sore butts and all.

On Easter Sunday, I woke up early as usual and went for my walk. I headed out of UP Professors Subdivision, made a right on Congressional Avenue, all the way to Luzon Avenue, went up the elevated walkway to cross the street, and walked back to where I came from. Afterwards we went to mass where a Vietnamese priest conducted the service, and since Christ died on the cross and forgave us our since two days before, I felt comfortable enough to receive holy communion. I may no longer be an actively practicing Catholic, but you still cannot take the Catholic out of me. Hey, I satisfied one of the holidays of obligation after all. We took Pilaring, Ninette, and Robynne home then Larry and I went the have the car washed.

After lunch and much later in the afternoon, I went with them to Solaire ( where they were going to watch Les Miserables while I explored the area. Well, I didn't really have to leave the building because there were enough areas to check out: a casino, some restaurants, and some kind of art gallery in the hallway. Plus there was free wi-fi.
Larry, Robynne, & Ninette

Les Miserables wall at Solaire
While my three companions headed to the theater, I went in the casino to find the cashier so I could exchange some dollars into pesos since I had run out of the local currency. The exchange rate was slightly lower than the one I got in Cubao but I didn't have any other options (I found out the next day after eating in a restaurant that the Solaire cashier had given me a couple of old, no longer accepted 20 peso bills). Afterwards, I was getting hungry, and knowing that the show was going to last 3 hours, I headed to the food court. The first eatery I went to had a twenty minute wait so I opted for another. Having had my fill (I don't even remember what I ate anymore), it was time to explore Solaire.

The casino was just like any other casino I've visited in the U.S. - smoky and noisy, which left me smelling like a chimney again. I didn't hang around long enough to develop a smoker's cough from the second hand cigarette smoke. The usual slot machines and card tables were present. I made a mistake to taking a selfie on the casino floor and a security guard approached me and asked me to delete it while pointing out a sign saying no photographs could be taken in the playing areas. I guess this was to protect the privacy of gamblers and/or if they were men, if they were there with their mistresses.
Weird Mona Lisa paintings in Solaire
I then walked up and down the hallways checking out paintings, then scouted the restaurants so I can give my companions a heads up on what was available for dinner after they came out of the show. Next, I went upstairs to see where the play was being shown. It was all in all a very nice resort, casino, and theater building. After the show, we went to eat at one of the noodle restaurants inside the building, then went home for the night.
Lucky Noodles Restaurant at Solaire

Thus ended day 6 and 7 of my vacation. The traffic in the Philippines was starting to turn me off and I was beginning to have second thoughts about possibly retiring there.

Some photos in this post courtesy of Ninette's Facebook page.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Philippines Vacation 2016 – Days 4 and 5

Capones Vista Beach Resort
My family had planned to spend the Easter weekend at a beach resort in Zambales and it was decided that we were going to leave at 3 a.m. on Thursday to avoid all the vacation traffic. We were joined by Elgee’s (Ninette’s sister) family consisting of husband Ben and son Uno driving in another car.  Well…only the 3 a.m. departure time worked out because it appeared like everyone had to same idea for avoiding traffic that it created the opposite effect and made traffic worse. It’s what we call in California a SIG Alert, only much longer. I’ll spare you the details, but what should have been a 3 hour trip lasted for 6 hours. All that time in traffic, I was thinking I hope this beach resort was worth going through all that (and it was). The trip back home? Well…you’ll hear about that later.
The Family
After escaping the initial traffic, Waze guided us directly to Capones Vista Beach Resort. It was quite a sight- there were rooms for rent, 2 fresh water pools, the beach, the sea, and across the sea were three islands. There were no more rooms available for weeks so my brother had made a reservation at a rest house in town where we checked in later. We found ourselves two tables where we could lay our belongings while we spent the day. For me, first things first: I had to do my workout for the day and that turned out to be a walking workout back and forth on both sides of the pools, occasionally extending it to the driveway and out the dirt path and back, until I finished my requisite 30 minutes (all in my flip flops which fortunately had good arch supports). When I returned, Uno was already in the pool enjoying himself, as he had been dying in anticipation to do this for days. The rest of us lounged around and settled down, and some wandered around to take the mandatory selfies and groupfies (?). Thoughts of the earlier traffic nightmare were gone by then. On this day, I was finally able to wear my newly bought flip up/flip down sunglasses for the bright sunlight.
Larry & I beside one of Capones Vista's pools
Soon enough it was the adults’ turn to enjoy the pool. Even my brother, who had a kidney transplant a couple of years ago (Ninette happens to be the donor), and required the perfect pH in the pool water, joined in the fun. He did a few laps and tried to teach Uno how to exhale in the water. The rest took a few strokes here and there and just generally enjoyed getting out of the stifling summer heat and humidity. I have not swum in decades and while the stroke was still somewhat acceptable, the endurance was gone. The 15 meter pool felt like 50 meters long. We played with Uno some more then ordered lunch. If I remember correctly, I had the fried milk fish, fried egg, and rice (bangsilog), and most of us ordered something similar. We swam and lounged some more before heading to town to find Big Foot, well…Big Foot Rest House, that is, where we would be spending our sleeping hours for the next couple of nights. Ninette and Larry had reserved 3 rooms: one for the men and boy, for the women, and for Pilaring, Liling, and Vangie.
Ninette enjoying her post swim margarita
We had Chinese food dinner at the Big Foot restaurant next door and afterwards returned to our quarters. Since it was Good Friday the next day, the restaurant was going to be closed, so we preordered our breakfast and coffee before the restaurant closed for the night. I was so exhausted that I was in bed before 10 p.m. It was the first time since 1973 that I shared a bed with my brother. Back then when I was 15 and he was 10, we shared a bunk bed in Jolo, Philippines. Well, that’s not entirely true because we also shared a bunk bed briefly in 1979 or 1980 when we lived with Auntie Faida before I moved to the U.S. I almost forgot this part - Liling knocked on our door at about 2 a.m. and reported that something was wrong with Pilaring. Larry and I went to their room and it appeared that Pilaring had an episode of sleep paralysis where she couldn't be aroused. Her respirations were pretty even and normal though so I was hoping it wasn't some kind of stroke. After several minutes of trying to arouse her, she finally woke up and we returned to bed.
I found the YETI
The agenda for the next day was to take a boat ride to lagoon an hour away. I woke up at about 5:30 and was out the door at 6 for my mandatory daily exercise. I walked 15 minutes one way and 15 minutes back, and by the time I got back to Big Foot, everyone was ready to leave for the boat ride. Pilaring appeared none the worse for wear despite the sleep paralysis episode she experienced just a few hours earlier.We had to leave the cars behind because the owner of the boats called my brother to tell him there were no more parking spots left. So be boarded several tricycles to get to the launching area. When we arrived at the beach, we waited until they had the food we were going to bring with us was cooked, then boarded a medium sized outrigger canoe (banca) which was just enough for all 10 of us plus 3 boat handlers. We donned our day-glo orange life jackets and were soon underway. At a steady clip on a calm sea, we went straight for about half an hour then made a left for another half hour before we arrived at a lagoon with a beach semi full of day trippers like us. On the way, we saw plenty of outriggers coming from and going to different beachfronts in the area. I think the one we went to was the least crowded because it took longer to get there. The place was called Nagsasa Cove.
Launching area for the outrigger canoes
Outrigger canoe (banca) ride on calm seas to Nagsasa Cove
Elgee, Larry, & Ninette in Nagsasa Cove
We got off the boat to find a shady place to set our things. All the huts were occupied but after waiting a few minutes, one became available and we were able to use it for the day. Ninette and I went exploring and she wanted to find a trail that was mentioned on the internet. We saw the trail but were unable to get there because the path through the shallow water was too rocky. There must have been another way to get to that trail but we couldn’t find it at that moment. She took a few photos of the views and ourselves of course, then went back to our family who had since settled down at the hut (well, it was a big table with a roof). By then, the sun was blazing hot and the sand was burning if you were barefoot. We entered the sea water to get some relief and thankfully the water gradually deepened the farther you went compared to yesterday’s beach where there was a sudden drop into deep ocean after only a few feet of beach. We swam a little bit but generally just enjoyed the coolness of the water.
Uno, Robynne, Ninette, Ben, & Elgee keeping cool

Me in Nagsasa Cove
We had lunch of fried fish, grilled fish, squid, rice, and other things that I had already forgotten about. After a brief rest, we dipped in the ocean again and oh my God (!), Larry went in the water too. He had already put into consideration that he didn’t have any open cuts on his skin and that he wasn’t going to “put his head in the water so his mucous membranes weren’t exposed to whatever bacteria was in the water. Some of us were not too pleased with what he did, but begrudgingly accepted it.
Lunch Time
Larry taking a daring plunge into the ocean
Taking shelter from the heat under the hut
The boat was supposed to come back to pick us up at 3:30 p.m. but they were slightly delayed. The boat handlers said the sea was getting choppier and to expect to get wet on the way back. What an understatement! They should have said “get very wet and get very scared of dying”. Casting off the beach, the waves didn’t feel so bad, but the farther we went, they got increasingly larger. Well large in proportion to the outrigger. Splish Splash and everyone was taking a bath. Hit a wave, bounce up, get splashed with sea water, and this went on for an hour and a half. Yes, it took 30 more minutes to get back because of the waves. Some were freaking out, others quietly stoic (or is it stoically quiet?), while a few had no fear due to their confidence in their swimming abilities. I was thinking I was about to meet my Maker on my vacation but kept quiet about it. After all, we were literally and figuratively on the same boat, weren’t we? Names shall not be mentioned but one older lady got so fed up with all the bouncing around that she exclaimed “bababa na ako!” (I wanna get off!), which made for a lighthearted moment and made everyone laugh despite the situation we were in. We soon saw our landing area up ahead but it still seemed to take forever to get there because we were battling cross currents, and when we did we had a hard time getting off the boat due to the waves. What a great relief to be back on dry land! We had survived the harrowing boat ride and our very own Good Friday Calvary at sea. Believe me, it was probably more scary than my capability to describe it in words.

Another tricycle ride and we were back at Big Foot Rest House (still no sighting of the Yeti). Well the Philippines is such a Catholic/Christian country that most of the restaurants were closed on Good Friday. We were caught in yet another traffic jam downtown when we ran into a religious procession while trying to find a place to eat. We ended up getting take out and eating in our room at Big Foot. Another vacation day full of adventure had ended.
You can read about the first 3 days here:

Attribution: Some photos from this post were taken from Ninette's Facebook page.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Philippines Vacation 2016 – The First 3 Days (due to the International Date Line)

Oh boy, the jet lag and insomnia has thrown me for a loop! I've been trying to reestablish my equilibrium the past two weeks and it's still a work in progress. Normally, I would have written about this vacation already, but instead I barely got started. Well, for better or for worse, this is the first chapter.

My first real vacation since 1989 started with a day off from work which gave me a chance to recheck  what I had to bring to the Philippines. The downside was having to wait another 36 hours before flight time. China Southern Airlines was the airline I booked back in December and I got a pretty good price and what I thought was as little layover time as possible. Unfortunately, the airline changed the schedule of my return flight and rebooked me with an 11 hour layover in Guangzhou, China, instead of just 3 hours. Well I managed to change that to “just” a 7 hour layover, still long but more manageable. But of course things changed again, as I shall tell you later.

My outbound flight from L.A. to Guangzhou was scheduled for 11:30 p.m. I was picked up from home at about 6:30 p.m. by a company called Shuttle to LAX and what showed up was a private car - a brand new Honda Accord with only one other passenger. When we arrived in LAX, I found my way to the China Southern Airlines check in counters. I had already checked in online from home and reserved my seats both for the LAX to Guangzhou leg and the Guangzhou to Manila leg. All I had to do was check my baggage of presents and make sure that my mileage was going to be credited with the airlines’ Sky Pearl Club.

I proceeded to the assigned departure gate, walked around a bit, then sat down to connect to LAX’s free wi-fi. After waiting a couple of hours, we were informed that there was a flight delay and the airline was kind enough to pass out some buns and bottles of water. I didn’t partake since I was still full from dinner. When we finally boarded the plane, the usual announcements were done but I had to listen really closely because it was sometimes difficult to understand English spoken with a Chinese accent. I soon found out one of the reasons why I got a cheap ticket. Or maybe this is the trend nowadays. During my last trip 3 years ago on Korean Airlines, we were given a kit containing a toothbrush, toothpaste, disposable slippers, and an eyemask and had 3 meal services. China Southern didn’t have such a kit and only served food twice. On the long flight to Guangzhou, I watched some movies (Star Wars and some other forgettable one), listened to classical music, and tried to sleep without much success.

The final approach during landing at Guangzhou had a lot of cross wind but the pilot landed the plane beautifully and as smooth as butter. The plane didn’t even bounce. Due to the flight delay, we arrived in Guangzhou with only about 45 minutes to spare to catch my flight to Manila. Still, I managed to put in a 20 minute walking workout by finding the departure gate and walking back and forth. I really wanted to hit my minimum of 30 minutes but it was time to board. Wouldn’t you know it, but we had to wait on the tarmac for another flight delay of an hour due to bad weather. I could have walked some more if we had stayed in the terminal! I’ll have to make up for that 10 minutes some other time. One observation I have to mention about China Southern Airlines – on the flight from L.A to Guangzhou, I never saw a smile among the flight attendants the whole time until we stepped out of the plane. Maybe they were just tired. Smiles were more abundant among the crew from Guangzhou to Manila.

I left L.A. on Monday and arrived in Manila on Wednesday. There must have been a storm since it was raining steadily and the flight to Manila had a lot of turbulence. Nevertheless we touched down in Manila safely and passed through immigration, baggage pick up, and customs pretty quickly. My brother Larry had sent me a message a few days before to meet him at the letter X waiting area for arriving passengers. I asked a security guard for directions, found the area and soon enough saw Larry walking towards me. We walked back to where he parked the car and as we left the area, I experienced something that was going to be repeated time and again during my short vacation – Philippine traffic. My brother uses Waze to navigate and even with that, one still gets stuck several times. Despite Larry telling me where we were, I could no longer recognize anything. My former landmarks were gone and the former wide open spaces of those landmarks were now crowded with new buildings and highrises. Only when we entered the University of the Philippines did some things still look familiar since I spent my college years there. Prior to that, we stopped by a foreign exchange business in Cubao so I could exchange dollars into pesos. The teller initially made a mistake and indicated that I had given her $300 instead of $500. Good thing I noticed it before the transaction was finalized.

I breathed a sigh of relief when we finally arrived at Larry and Ninette's townhome in U.P. Professors Subdivision. My sister in law- Ninette came downstairs to meet me and later her mother- Pilaring and niece- Robynne. I also met Ninette’s and her sisters’ former au pair- Manang Liling, who now cooks for them, and their helper- Vangie. Since Ninette was working from home, and Robynne was studying for exams, and Pilaring was trying to recover from a fractured arm and a cough, I excused myself to explore the neighborhood and put in my workout for the day. Somehow, I made my way to Tandang Sora and walked down that street, made a left on Congressional Avenue until I reached Mindanao Avenue. All the while, I tried to walk on whatever sidewalk was available, which was already uneven in the first place. I still had to dodge cars, jeepneys, and tricycles because I had to step off the sidewalk several times due to vehicles being parked there. I thought I was just going out and back on that street but somehow got misdirected on the way back. Instead of making a right on Tandang Sora, I proceeded straight on Congressional Avenue. Thus, I couldn’t find the landmark I made a note of on my way out. 

Fortunately, I saw a sign saying U.P. Professors Subdivision and asked the security guard how to get to Jade Street. It turns out, that entrance happened to be Jade Street and my brother’s home was at the end of that short block.Was I glad to find my way back home because I still hadn’t bought a Philippine SIM card nor “load” for my cell phone and couldn’t call anyone for help. That was my next order of business: buying a SIM card and some load (prepaid credits). Every corner store seemed to sell those but the first store I went to cut the SIM card too small for my phone, so my brother ended up buying one and cutting it the right size (one card can be cut to regular, micro, or nano SIM size). Next I bought 100 pesos worth of load but despite following the instructions, couldn’t get the 4G data to work  (or any G for that matter) even though I could call and text. That would have to do for now.

(To be continued)