March 2006


I don't know if you're familiar with the hit TV show Lost but my return to California from Manila yesterday has made me think that recent events may have led me out of similar Lost elements: danger, disaster, and, yes, death.

You see, I am a Greg Focker when traveling. I humor the gods of travel with all sorts of misfortune that an ordinary traveler would not encounter — late airport train, unusual highway traffic and weather, overbooked plane, holidays on flight waitlist, plane seats next to the john or a mother and (wailing) child, lost luggage… you name it, 'been there, done that. Save for the occasional luck (eg, seat upgrade, free lounge use), which comes rarely, I am perhaps doomed to become a Lost cast in real life (hard knock on wood).

So it was not surprising to receive a call from my travel agent saying my flight was canceled and moved to a later date. It was not surprising either that my name wasn't picked from a seat upgrade raffle. And, of course, it wasn't a surprise to hear G irate and displeased over the news.

As it turned out, a series of unfortunate events transpired during the course of my flight delay. First, the airline I was booked into had trouble over radio transmission. It would have been impossible to track the plane during take-offs and landing and even emergencies. Two, the LAX was on a tight security on the day I was originally scheduled to arrive due to a certain level of threat (terror, perhaps). It would have been impossible to slip through customs the shrimp paste, fish sauce, native sweets, and a bagfull of stuff that are subject to tax or confiscation. Also, with a one-year open ticket, I would have been thorougly questioned, and perhaps, held under strong suspicion by the immigration officer in such heightened conditions. Last, a carjacking chase along 101 that ended in a bloody shootout on State Street happened a day prior. As recounted by the cab driver on my way home (who seem to be a witness to the entire mishap), it was a complete chaos: knotted and bumper traffic, canceled public transport, indiscriminate road blocks, and a helpless yet all too peevish public. My long anticipated sweet reunion with G would have been foiled by that, for sure.

What difference did that delay make? A lot. I have dodged a possible plane crash, a great deal of complications at US immigration or customs, a lousy reunion with G, a very expensive cab fare, and a string of undue stress, tension, and anxiety. I guess I'm no Greg Focker after all.

See related blog entries:
Jinxed! ( Posted: 10 October 2005) New York! New York! (Posted: 01 February 2005) 'Til Death Do Us Park (Posted: 06 March 2006)

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As I kill time inside the airline lounge awaiting my connecting flight to LA, I thank Phantom Planet for singing a song about coming home. With feelings, I quote (and sing):

We’ve been on the run

Driving in the sun

Looking out for No. 1

California here we come

Right back where we started from

 

Hustlers grab your guns

Your shadow weighs a ton

Driving down the 101

California here we come

Right back where we started from

 

California!

Here we come!

 

On the stereo

Listen as we go

Nothing’s gonna stop me now

California here we come

Right back where we started from

 

Pedal to the floor

Thinkin’ of the roar

Gotta get us to the show

California here we come

Right back where we started from

 

California! Here we come!

Okay, so it isn't exactly a coming home song. Nonetheless, California… I can't wait, here I come! 

Taking respite from chaos that resembled Metro Manila, my family and I spent a long weekend in Hong Kong. Not exactly a first choice but it was a destination where our schedules and itineraries jived, and personal tastes and opinions conciliated. The dealbreaker, of course, was the newly-opened Disneyland. My nephew would have thrown tantrums if we went to see temples in Bangkok or museums in Singapore or elsewhere boring in the eyes of a 4-year old.

Truth be told, we feel relieved we made the family vacation happen. For years, it was just another thought in a bubble, floating idly around each own’s subconscious in earnest hope it bursts into reality. Vacations in real life were often limited to places proximal to Manila, and overseas trips were made individually and more to do with business than leisure.

Booked in a tour, we stayed in Canton for a night before heading to Shenzhen and Hong Kong.

As with any tour package, trips to odd companies were inevitable. We endured hours of demonstrations and went through offers and bargains of products ranging from high end jewelry to traditional silk and embroideries; from herbal ointments and teas to souvenir keychains and nailclippers. Not all were game, though. As without fail, the malcontent Pinoy came about with gripes and grumbles, blaming and bitching, criticisms and chidings thrown wildly about throughout the tour. Of course it helped the tourguide knew nothing (save for a few) about Filipino language.

The highlight of the trip was an all-day, free-and-easy itinerary inside Disney. Before, trips to Hong Kong were about Ocean Park, Victoria Peak, Nathan Road (for cheap mobile phones), and yes, the ubiquitous Giordano shops (for the viajeras and first time tourists). And so Disney is a new come-on for Hong Kong visitors with no budget to fly to Anaheim or Florida, or even Tokyo. There weren’t enough rides, though. So we did what Pinoys do best on occasions such as then: take photo shots. My nephew was overwhelmed, no doubt; pictures don’t lie. First time is always sweet.

Back in Manila, everyone was dead tired. Too tired that my sister left her bag inside a cab whose driver was both cunning and corrupt. All her essentials were in the bag: wallet, mobile phone, passport, digicam, etc. Had she not been quick to collect her wits and immediately report the incident to airport police and over AM radio broadcast, the bag wouldn’t be recovered and the supposed happy and sweet family weekend would end on a very sad and sour note.

By Saturday, I’ll be flying back to California. The Hong Kong trip was a great way to cap a month-long vacation in Manila. It gave me enough memories to remember the family more by and enough stories to reminisce with them about. A repeat is in order — no to tours and dubious cabs next time around, though.

Ever wake up and stare blankly on whatever image your eyes first lay sight on? And when consciousness finally kicks in, do you start to actually read or make sense of whatever thing your eyes have lingered too long on?

Well, I did. My eyes got fixed on my pillow's tag that read: Made In China.

Strange as it seems, but those three words set the tone of my day (of my entire vacation, perhaps).

I had soya bean curd (taho) for breakfast, rice cake (tikoy, a Chinese New Year treat) for morning snack, sweet and sour pork for lunch, and a halo-halo (shave ice with fruit bits) for afternoon snack at a faux Chinese fast food joint. On top of these, while I was on my way to a dinner with friends at (guess no more) a popular uptown Chinese restaurant, the car radio blared Wishful Thinking by the 80s pop band China Crisis (too much, I know!).

God almighty, everything's Chinese!

I tell you, it's a grand conspiracy. The Chinese are staging a great global invasion. And this is shrewdly happening under the very nose of modern day superpowers, i.e. the US, Britain, and Japan. Those in the academe and into trade and economics are deeply sucked into this phenomenon, juncture, or whatever appropriate word that may describe this development. The idiom China Syndrome has been redefined and, for all we know, there may just be a movement out there imploring for the advancement of this Chinese invasion — regardless of China's GDP performance — collectively chanting something like:

Thank you China!
Thank you chow mein and beef broccoli
Thank you cheap labor
Thank you cheap products and knockoffs
Thank you Yao Ming
Thank you China!

Now don't get me wrong. I have nothing against the Chinese. I don't intend to antagonize a future master, or a race that can generate earthquakes and bury civilizations with a series of simultaneous jumping jacks. Hell, no!

Truth is, to show I'm all for anything Chinese, I'm set to spend a weekend in Disneyland… Hong Kong. Thank you, China indeed! 

I had a near death experience. Although not as elaborate as any plot plucked from a Wes Craven or Stephen King movie, the experience was a close call nonetheless.

It happened over the weekend when I spent an overnight get-together with friends (one of those must-attend, meet-and-catch-up kind in my short furlough-slash-vacation of sorts) in the outskirts of Manila. No, the near death experience didn’t occur then — horror flicks with a climax transpiring at night in the countryside are sooo overrated (although we did watch Sixth Sense by midnight just for kicks).

It did happen the day after, and in broad daylight.

Before I hit the expressway and head back home, I had to make a stopover (an errand, if you will) at this dairy farm the province is famous for to buy cottage cheese and fresh milk for my mom who wanted to take a break from her daily consumption of the usual preservatives-packed, urban supermarket kind of produce. Thinking the purchase would not take much time, I hesitated to park at an open designated spot and thought it best to just pull over at the curb I’m on where old trees provide a generous shade over my already weary but reliable 10-year old Toyota. I was about to switch off the engine when my friends had that look of disapproval and coaxed me to park at the open spot instead. Not wanting to be the odd ball among (obviously) law-abiding friends, I moved my car into the sunny spot and lightly tapped the dashboard, subconsciously saying It’s gonna be okay! like a kid consoling his sick dog.

And then, a wild crack and a loud thud followed.

A large branch, the size of a log, disjointed and fell from what appeared to be a century-old tree onto the exact same curb I mulled over to park. The branch tore itself on impact; sunlight pierced onto the debris from where the branch once canopied, and; leaves rustled from a sudden blow of afternoon wind — as if in grief, as if to mourn.

For me and my friends, shock and disbelief slowly seeped in; and in silence, what-ifs were entertained and prayers were spoken.

It was Sunday. Perfect day to reflect. And in reflection, I took a couple of lessons to heart: One, enjoy the company of family and friends; life is short, carpe diem! And two, park the Goddamn car right!