My trip to the Philippines started on November 24, 2013 at 3 AM on a cold, blustery Sunday morning in Boston, Massachusetts. Not surprisingly, I had not gotten much sleep. The previous evening, some friends had treated my to a yummy, yummy dinner in Chinatown (and presented me with a super customized cake with a wonderfully realistic graphic of yours truly on top – Thanks, Judy and Viet – still waiting for the image file so I can stick it in here).
I arrived at Delta and ran into a problem right away. My passport would not scan through the automated system, so I had to go to an agent. He took my passport, entered the information into the computer and started a process of typing, looking down at the screen, frowning, typing, looking down at the screen and frowning again.
“Is there a problem?” I asked, heart beginning to drop.
“Yes. Do you have the credit card you purchased the ticket with?”
A buddy had gotten me the Delta Buddy Pass. “No, I don’t.”
“Hmmmmmmmm….” More typing. More heart sinking. Cripes, I am not even gonna make it out of frikken Boston.
“Do you have a forwarding ticket?” He asked. My buddy pass was one way, and you have to have plane ticket out of the Philippines to be allowed into it.
“Sure.” I pawed it out of my pocket. He grunted a few times, did some more typing and frowning, and said, “You’re all set.”
Major relief! I then went through TSA, grabbed a coffee, and headed to the gate.
Delta Buddy Passes are standby. It was a 6 AM flight to New York, so I figured I should be good. I asked the agent how the standby list was looking and he said, “Not good.”
Cripes. I ain’t even gonna make it out of frikken Boston.
A bundle of nerves (should have skipped the coffee), I waited and waited and was finally overcome with relief when all the other passengers had boarded and my name was called. Scurrying aboard the little A320, I stashed my carry on and flew to New York, where I got to enjoy a five hour layover and the absolute worst “Asian” food I ever ate. Welcome to the Wok and Roll at food court, Terminal Three:
Oh yeah, baby
Some sort of chicken and mooshy rice
Following that culinary misadventure, I returned to my terminal, got to my gate and was able to get my boarding pass. Thankfully, the Business Elite section was open, so I was able to get a First Class ticket on this bad ass 747-400 series.
Stepping up to the Business Elite section, I was escorted to my luxurious cubicle and settled down with a complimentary glass of champagne. Hey, it was after 12 PM, and I had cause for celebration. The Business Elite are is super nice and had a reclining chair/bed and it’s on TV/video monitor. They also fed us a some pretty good food.
My plan was to take a couple of Ambien and try to sleep at 1 PM to get a start on dealing with the 13 hour time difference. Ah, the best of plans….. Even two Ambien didn’t knock me out, and I basically go no sleep for the next 17 hours as we flew over the vast, ice-covered expanses of Canada and Alaska, zipped over the northern Pacific, hugged the coast of the old Soviet Union and finally touched down in Tokyo Narita airport. Once off the plane, I staggered over to the connecting flight terminal and experienced my first “smokers lounge,” which is basically modern civilization’s attempt to kill off the last smokers in the world by putting them in a small room with no ventilation. Good policy, that.
The second to last leg was a five hour flight to Manila. Didn’t get Business Elite this time and had to join the Little People in Coach. Alas…. Five more hours with no sleep. By the time we set down in Manila I had been up for about two days and wasn’t feeling so hot. After a two hour line through immigration (airport was swamped with shell shocked refugees from the typhoon on Leyte), I got my luggage, wandered out of the terminal, collapsed into a taxi and had them take me to the Best Western in Ermita. Once there, I fell into bed and slept a good seven hours, which is actually pretty good for me. Best 20 bucks I ever spent.
Next morning, I ventured out into smoggy, hot Manila, picked up a Smart SIM card and purchased some “load,” which is basically prepaid minutes for your phone. I then went to Jollibee (RP’s version of MacDonalds, with a dancing bee instead of a creepy clown) to have a gravy slavered steakburger and fries for breakfast.
On the way back to the hotel, I got propositioned by a prostitute who was obviously a connoisseur of shabu (crystal meth). Knowing I could probably do better, I politely declined, checked out of the hotel, and went back to the airport for my one hour flight on Cebu Pacific to Dumaguete, the City of Gentle People. Note that the airport runway is rather short and even though they hit full reverse thrusters when you land, the plane comes to a stop about 50 feet from a major highway. Cool.
Before leaving the states, I had reserved a studio apartment in Canduay, a little town right outside the bigger Dumaguete. It was a little more expensive then regular 200 dollar a month two bedroom apartments here, but it was expat/noob friendly and basically had everything in it that I needed. The owner, Dave, picked me up at Dumaguete airport. I was still a bit blurry eyed as I arrived at the compound about 5 PM. Despite this, I wanted to see Dumaguete, so I showered and stepped out to the street where I got a 10 peso (.25 cent) ride on a tricycle into the city proper. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is where the culture shock really begins.