My colleague and I were discussing what makes us feel that we have truly arrived in a new country. For her, it is having her passport stamped. For me, it is staying overnight. Following either of our measures, we have now arrived in the Philippines.
The East Coast contingent of our cohort gathered in Detroit and flew together to Tokyo, where we met the West Coasters, who had traveled together from Portland.
East Coast cohort
The most memorable parts of the flight to Tokyo were the mountains of Alaska and the movies I watched: Selma, Finding Vivian Maier, The Drop, and The Theory of Everything. Twelve hours on a plane allows for quite a lot of movie watching! From Tokyo, we caught a flight to Manila for the final leg of our journey, arriving there over thirty hours after I’d left my house in Maryland.
I had expected a chaotic scene at the Manila Airport. Here’s a description from Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco:
The Ninoy Aquino International Airport is your apt introduction to my country. You’ll be struck by the ubiquity of armed guards, enticed by the glossy luxury shops selling duty-free liquor, cigarettes, last-minute presents; you’ll tumble out into a warlike fug – an overcrowded arrival area with desiccated, air-conditioned air, worn linoleum, and creaking baggage carousels; a quintet of blind musicians greets travelers with faves like “La Cucaracha” and “Let It Be”; a larger-than-life, smirking President Fernando V. Estregan welcomes you from a poster taking up the entire wall; a sign declares, “Welcome to the Philippines, the most Christian country in Asia”; beneath it , another, “Beware of pickpockets.” Grasping your possessions tightly, you pass through the gauntlet of taciturn but thorough customs officials before an exit orphans you to the insidious ninety-five degree heat and humidity and the swarming masses of other people’s family members, all of them periscoping necks to stare collectively at you.
Maybe things have changed since that passage was written, since I noticed no armed guards, no signs about pickpockets, no blind musicians. The persicoping family members were there, though, enough for one colleague to declare, “I feel like a zoo animal!”
Our wonderful hosts Alex and Norberto met us at the airport and shepherded us to the palatial Peninsula Hotel, where we were greeted with warm smiles and delicious drinks.
A great night’s sleep in a comfortable bed prepared me for a day of learning about Philippine culture, customs, and education.