Troubled Tourist


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.

There are only two emotions in a plane: boredom and terror. — Orson Welles

The day is warm as the sun is out. The airport bus took the Pacific Highway, averting weekend gridlocks on 101.

It's 3pm. Too darn early for my 845pm flight to Manila. I stare out. The weather's just perfect. Too darn perfect to waste inside an airport bus.

I need sleep. Why it takes like forever to pack 2 luggages and a carry-on for a short vacation is just beyond normal. It has always been like that. A bad travel habit that seems to die hard. The end result is torture: a hangover deprived of caffeine.

I need sleep, for real.

Perhaps I'll just take a nap. Try to slumber off stress and weariness from last night's lapse in self-organization. And maybe, just maybe, provoke later on the plane an emotion brighter than Orson Welles's sentiments

After being away for a time, going home is always an occasion to find delight in; to feel excited about; to overwhelm oneself with. This is all the more true when returning home from a long stay overseas that, say, an OFW would overlook travel hassles, i.e. expensive plane fares, long hours of bad airline service, rude immigration officials, and bureaucratic airport personnel, with the thought of or seeing someone familiar (parents, siblings, families, etc.) waiting eagerly across the airport customs counter.

Ah, airport reunions! I kill time on stressful stopovers observing couples or families reunite in sheer bliss and — allow me to describe without being too obvious that I worked in PR for two years — these are just absolute Mastercard moments: Priceless.

A week from today, I’ll be heading back to Manila after two months (that capped off a three-year study) in Japan and six months of touring the US (trying hardest to sound like a rock band member here *I wish*). I go home every year and the excitement is always there. Well, almost always; Not this time.

Weird, I know.

I’m not saying it’s completely absent; I AM excited (okay, I’m being complicated)! I guess, what I am trying to say here is this: I yearn to go home but I hesitate to leave just yet. It’s not like I’m in an indecisive situation here (a cut from Gattaca reel suddenly flashes with Ethan Hawke whispering to Uma Thurman “When you finally find the chance to leave, you find a reason to stay,” or something close to that) but I feel I’m home here as much as I’m home in Manila. In fact, if it were not for my visa constraints, I'd postpone my trip back home.

Ah, you say, the plot thickens! Well, yes, not that I intend to omit this bit of a detail that I'm still in the process of earning a green card, but true: I am coming home because my six-month stay is up.

But it's not that I am forced to leave or anything; my visa is still good for seven more years. I don't have intentions to overstay by illegal means either; only a personal resolve to restart my three-year dormant career here in the US. And no, it's not a by-hook-or-by-crook situation but more of a testing-the-waters kind. So, OK, what if I am one of those doomed-if-I-stay, scorned-if-I-leave Pinoys out to look for the proverbial 'greener pastures'? Shoot me!

Nationalism aside (as an entire blog entry might perhaps warrant), G and I plan to settle here in US — for good. Now, it may seem strange to some but starting out on our own for real (as opposed to being mobile and temporary as it were in Japan) is an exciting experience I relish and deem responsible to go through, i.e., scouting for and furnishing an apartment, familiarizing with neighbors and environment, etc.; thus, the hesitation to leave for home just yet.

But at the end of the day, logic and reason kick in: that I’ll be home to see my family and check on friends (which are exciting altogether) in Manila, and; that I’ll fly back to California after a relatively short month, anyway.

I DO miss my family and I DO want to visit them back in Manila. I reckon I should spend as much time with them as possible before I settle and reestablish (and get tangled up with) my career for good overseas — what with my mom turning 62 this year.

Surely too, I'll miss G and our new apartment and all else new in our life together here in sunny California but only for a good while. I guess for now, I'm just going through the motions until everything falls into wherever good place they fit.

And while I'm thinking of the brighter side of things, imagine this: two homecomings in a month! Nothing but excitement, yeah? And twice over to boot!

I came across an article today on the internet as I was on my usual daily news browse binge. It's quite interesting, actually. The article is titled: Science Behind Travel Troubles with a subtitle saying: You May Not Be Able To Avoid Travel Woes, But You Can Understand Them.

The article suggests that external factors such as road conditions, weather, and traffic are part of travel that should be understood, not cursed by the ordinary traveler: Tires skid water-pooled pavements because of hydroplane effect (heavy build up of water in front of tires) for drivers to easily lose control; Traffic moves faster and safer when almost bumper-to-bumper; And, violent winds are main culprits for flight delays, not thunderbolts.

But what about lost luggage? On our 14-hour trip to New York from Hawai'i last week, one of our 6-piece luggage didn't come out of the airport baggage carousel. It was frustrating, simply put. We were deadbeat from the trip; with two stopovers, bad in-flight service (headsets were sold for $5! — how were we supposed to watch the friggin' movie?!?!), and unnerving co-passengers (three young moms with wailing infants in tow — enough said), waiting for a lost luggage was just like trying hard not to scratch the sore tip of a nasty zit.

One week since and still no luggage, I googled for a scientific explanation on such occurence (the rate of which is, according to Men'sHealth magazine, 6 bags lost per 1000 passengers!), and there wasn't any.

Why, oh, why does this happen everytime G and I travel?!? If it isn't a late express airport train (the irony! the irony!) or a delayed plane that puts you on wait-list, it's a lost luggage!

Friends rib us if either or both of us have cursemark on our behind. I checked. There's none.

Jinxed is the word.

If it weren't for the $2500 luggage insurance (and the one time my seat was upgraded to business class), I'd seriously think we just might be.

A trip to Hawai'i is dousing oneself with the three S's of ideal vacation life: Sun, sand, and sea. Sun is all around the powdery beaches and cool waters of the Pacific Ocean (okay, so it's not a sea).

Of course, Waikiki beach is the most popular one in Hawai'i, but for backpackers and ordinary tourists (read: no money!) there are plenty of public beaches to go. Two of these are Waimea and Northshore, both located near the historic Hale'iwa strip — the same strip preserved to provide tourists a glimpse of the old plantation town life in the islands.

An added attraction to this part of the island is another essential S: Shave Ice. Not just any other shave ice but a Matsumoto Shave Ice. As Japanese immigrants in Hawaii, the Matsumotos pioneered shave ice back in 1951. Back then, it was just a come-on for surfers and tourists to visit the Matsumoto general merchandise store (as there were a string of stores that peddled the same stuff). As fate would have it, shave ice took a popular turn with the emergence of the hippie generation when all things bright and multicolored (and addictive, hehe) were, well, cool.

Shave ice are far different from snow cones, as any native Hawai'ian would argue. Shave ice are finer in texture and the syrups are not artificially flavored, unlike the real (exotic, even) fruit syrups of shave ice (although, this part is arguable what with shave ice bubble gum flavor). The best part of this Hawai'an concoction is the ice cream underneath. After eating the powdery flavored ice on top, one finds a generous serving of ice cream treat at the bottom of the cone *yumm-eh!* Just a bit of advise: Don't oggle at the shave ice too long, it (as any frozen produce) melts!

So if you ever take a vacation in Hawai'i, don't forget to add the extra S in your SSS itinerary, okay? 

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