Dear readers, remember that vacation I had WAY back at the beginning of the year? Well, here's Part I of the adventure…

Kicking It Pinoy Style

Your browser may not support display of this image.My trip to the Philippines began on an amusing note in Korea. After getting to the airport with enough time to spare, my friend and I proceeded to grab some breakfast at the nearest café to our gate. Unfortunately, the staff didn’t speak English very well and my friend was having difficulty translating “Can you toast my bagel?” Eventually, the cashier figured it out, then proceeded to take 15 minutes to get the thing toasted. I’ve worked at a commercial bakery before, 15 minutes is a crazy long toasting and in trying-to-catch-a-plane time 15 minutes is an eternity.

Too bad for us, we were flying Hong Kong based airline Cathay Pacific, the first airline I’ve encountered that lists the “board before” time in oversized numbers on their boarding pass. Let me break that down for you non-frequent fliers…every other airline I’ve ever flown lists the time planes begin boarding on the pass. That’s when you show up with a grimace on your face and wait your turn to get in line.

Those being the case, imagine our confusion when my friend and I arrived at the gate a mere 5 minutes after the time on our boarding pass. The plane was parked at the gate. How in the world did they get everyone on the plane so fast? I thought. We approached the check-in kiosk and attempted to board.

“We are finished boarding,” the stewardess stated in the unnaturally pleasant tone of voice all Asian airline stewardesses seem to master.

“But the pass says 740,” I protested.

“Yes. You should board before this time,” she replied with a smile. “Didn’t you hear the announcement?”

Obviously not.

It was at this moment a stout, uniformed Korean woman with walkie-talkie in hand approached. After exchanging staccatoed speech with the stewardess, she turned to us.

“Where were you? Why are you late?”

“We were right around the corner,” my friend responded.

“Didn’t you hear the announcement?”

“Why are we even having this conversation?” I said to her. Because I’m 30. And I didn’t pay several hundred dollars for a plane ticket in order to entertain inconsequential questions.

Cathay Pacific’s method guarantees that they will lay the smackdown on slowpokes. Show up before the time listed or else you too may miss your flight. While we didn’t react as badly as this woman, I kind of wish we did so I’d have more to write about. ;)

We came to the boarding area for our ‘replacement flight’ quite early. While we were lounging around, we were approached by a survey taker from the Korea Tourism Board. A bit after convincing the guy that yes, we live here, he took a seat next to my friend and tried to chat us up. By the time he dropped, “How old are you?”—a typical first-meeting question in Korea—I knew we were his break time entertainment. He plied us with the usual, “How do you like it here?” “Do you eat the food?” etc., then somehow, the conversation flipped to his interest in black American literature and he says that Roots is his favorite book.


Naturally, we’re both thinking this is the new pickup line around town. (I mean, I don’t even know any black folks who say Roots is their favorite book.) Whether this was before or after he slipped in a comment about “cool Korean guys like me,” I don’t recall, but I was impressed dude knew his stuff. He was dropping titles like The Color Purple, Invisible Man, and political theorists like W.E.B. DuBuois and Malcom X. If he was gaming, he was on point. Unfortunately, there was no time to test him on the dance floor to see if he’d done ALL his homework. he he…

Soon it was time for us to board. He followed us to the gate and gave us each the Tourism Board key chains we would have gotten for completing the survey. Cute!

The Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong was pleasantly uneventful. They know how to bring it! Our flight was only 3 hours but we still got a tasty little meal along the way. Likewise, on the 2 hour flight from Hong Kong to Manila, we were fed remarkably edible food again. To think, back home they’re charging $7 for convenience store quality sandwiches when folks in Asia are getting piping hot meals in the time it takes to fly from Nashville to Washington, DC. *sigh*

Because we had missed our flight, we arrived at the Manila airport significantly later than we initially anticipated. Still, we made it through immigration without incident and having been forewarned, hopped into an "airport-approved" metered taxi.

Your browser may not support display of this image.Our host for the first night was a law student at De La Salle University in Malate, Manila. He was our couch surfing connection via my adventurous traveling companion. It’s only one night, I told myself before agreeing. And dear God, am I ever glad it was!

When my friend had told me some guy in Manila agreed to have us over I thought everything was gravy. No need to interrupt our other host for a few sleeping hours since we were headed off to Boracay island the next morning anyhow. My friend told me the guy’s profile mentioned he had a maid which I thought was superb. Not only would we 1) not have to stay alone with some random guy we met off the internet, 2) we wouldn’t have to worry about actually doing anything since household help was available, and 3) I also figured he must have a little money since he could afford a maid while he was still in school and all. Ha. Ha. And Ha.

Some of you may have heard me gripe about the size of my “apartment” in Seoul. In this case, the word “apartment” most certainly deserves quotation marks since my ENTIRE living space is the size of my bedroom in my last apartment and my last apartment was the smallest one I'd ever lived in. I only bring it up because this guy’s place was SMALLER than my place in Seoul.

Let that marinate before we continue.

Your browser may not support display of this image.So my friend and I are in our airport-approved taxi and the guy can’t find the building. We drive in a loop around the university on the street where the apartment building should be but after passing the same two Starbucks 3.5 times, we let him know we’ll get out and give it a walk. Now, for those of you who haven’t been to Malate, it’s not the sort of place that looks like you’d want to walk about haplessly. Think a random block in Queens, NY, Itaewon in Seoul, East Nashville, or Downtown Norfolk. Sure, other people are out doing their thing, but you don’t wanna be wandering around there with a piece of luggage and a face that says, “I’m not from here.”

But there the two of us were, doing just that. We rolled up to the neighborhood Starbucks and after a moment’s quandary, I volunteered to ask the nearest local to use their cellphone since there weren’t any payphones in sight. I chose a guy who appeared to be sitting alone, took a deep breath, and rolled myself and my little luggage over.

“Hi. Uh, could I use your cellphone?”

No response. This is the Philippines. I know you understand English dude!


Did he just say that?! Does he not see my luggage or does he really think I’m doing this for personal amusement? By this time, a couple of girls came to the table with lattés.

“We’re supposed to be staying with my friend but we can’t call him because our cell phones don’t work here…we live in Korea."

“Where does he live?” Clearly, this was this guy's late evening entertainment.

“In Cruz Towers,” my friend finally chimed in.

“Oh,” said one of the girls. “It’s right there.” Finally, someone with sense…although not enough to explain “right there” without further prodding.

After soliciting proper directions (and not getting to borrow a phone!) we began trodding a construction-ridden patch of sidewalk. After verifying our location with one of the security guards, we had arrived.

Now, imagine for a moment, a door opening to a narrow rectangular space about two arm widths wide and oh, 1.75 Toyota Camrys long. That’s what we were working with. And we were greeted with not two faces, but three! Dear God! At least the inauguration’s on, I thought. So, I suppose, counting Barack Obama on TV, we were greeted by four faces…

Our host invited us inside and introduced the two girls who were with him. The older was his maid and the younger, his girlfriend. I can’t really say he “showed us around” since it was WAY to small to have an “around” but he acquainted us with the space. He explained that the bed was for my friend and I. “I hope it’s ok,” he said. I assured him that it was. I was far more concerned about where he and the maid were sleeping and wondering when his girlfriend was gonna roll out since the room was clearly beyond capacity with two people in it.

Our host asked if we were hungry and despite our assurances that nothing more than a small bite to eat was even remotely necessary, he ordered the maid to cook us 11:30 p.m. We managed to scarf down a few bites while we watched the bazillion people in Washington, DC cheering at the inauguration. The situation was surreal. I could hardly wrap my mind around the fact that I was watching one of the most historic moments in US history from thousands of miles away. The dreams of so many Americans were being realized through the first black president in a moment when I myself was fulfilling a personal dream of visiting the Philippines—major and minor moments all at once.

The answer to the girlfriend question became clear soon enough. After we had changed into pajamas, and climbed onto the bed, our host pulled out a sleeping mat from underneath the bed. His girlfriend started to make herself comfortable. Something moderately intelligible like, “Hope you don’t mind if she stays,” rolled out of his mouth. Actually, I’d much rather she didn’t but I’m not actually in a position to make demands at the moment…

Sometime after the maid finished washing the dishes and cleaning the small kitchen, we finally settled in to sleep around 2 a.m. Having watched President Obama be sworn in, I fell asleep in awe of history being made and the circumstances of my travel. I woke up to a new day.