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)