This is how Filipinos greet strangers

I travel a lot. Everyone who knows me knows that. But ever time I embark on a new trip, I forget how exhilarating it is to finally land at my destination. In the last couple seconds of flight, I couldn’t help but grin, I’m here! I’m in Manila!

My plan originally was to find the shuttle to my hotel, but I did exactly what anyone would tell you not to do: hop into a car with a stranger. Mom and Dad, I know you’re probably freaking out right now, so let me explain…

During my flight, I was sitting next to a Filipino lady who invited me to dinner with her friends after arriving. I have yet to regret any impulse plan I’ve made, so here I go.

After dropping my bags at the hotel, we sat into the car and started driving. I knew not where, but looking around, I was astounded to witness the craziness of traffic: motorcyclists passing inches away from the side of the car and in between trucks with only a couple of feet between them. The surprise vehicle of the day was a truck full of sleepy-looking chickens.

sleepy chickens

Construction even at 9pm on a Friday night made the roads even more unpredictable, with lanes shut down, traffic going every which way, cars and Jeepnis* stuffed with breathing bodies, with some more hanging on the roof. As the cherry on top, we were forced to avoid the not so occasional pedestrian popping out of nowhere.


Regardless of the kind of situation that would drive any American up the wall, everywhere I looked, the Filipinos were smiling, even laughing: no sign of any road rage! Perhaps it has just become the status quo. I have much respect for them.

My new friends and I arrived at our destination after about one hour: it was a Filipino restaurant attached to a meat/fish, or “wet” market as they call it. This was the first time I had witnessed this sort of arrangement. We went over to the market, picked out crabs (they were still moving!!), shrimp, and fish to be cooked to order for us.

Wet Market

The live music started as we sat down, and had a round of mango shakes. Wow. I can never go back to US mangoes. These shakes, made exclusively of ice and mangoes were the best pick me up: flavorful and sweet, perfect as jet lag was kicking in.

Mango shakes

By the end of the night, I felt humbled by the incredible hospitality of these ladies, especially when I told them I came to help out the community in Tacloban as part of the post-typhoon efforts. They thanked me for helping out their people, paid for my part of the food, and even drove me home afterwards. With a large smile, I hit the bed like a log and slept until awoken in a confused daze by housekeeping knocking on my door. (It was 11am).

*Jeepnis are the method of public transport in the Philippines. They are like a Jeep from the 1990s, but extended in the back like a bus with no windows, and usually fit from one to 20 people, or more if the roof is used.

In First Class

My roommate warned me about Condor – that apparently they try to gain money by making their passengers pay to watch anything past two or three channels on TV, and that the meals were very basic, and anything past the default foods cost extra money. So I had brought extra food just to be prepared for this ten hour trip from Portland to Frankfurt. However, to my positive surprise, they decided to upgrade me to first class; maybe there weren’t any seats left in the economy class. Of course all the warnings from my roommate were no longer applicable.
I entered the airplane, and found my enormous seat, where the legroom was such that I couldn’t even reach the seat in front of me!

Not that I’m complaining! Just before sitting down, my “bench-mate” who looked to be a young guy, perhaps some entrepreneur arrived and sat into the seat next to the window. For a while, I fidgeted around trying to decide what to put in the overhead compartment, and what to keep around me, then sat down. Soon enough, the guy next to me and I started talking, and it turned out that he was also one of the last ones to drop his bag and check in – perhaps the reason for being upgraded, because just like me, he wasn’t excessively rich, infact he was just a student.
The rest of the flight passed with us laughing at the enormity of luxury that existed in the business class – the complexity of our chairs, the lights, large tv screen, armrests, thickness of the blanket, etc… Dinner started with an appetizer, then a main course, of which we had the choice of a catfish on a bed of rice and steamed spinach, beef with soft potatoes, or a vegetarian pasta dish. Then a cheese plate with wine, finally dessert of crème brulee and strawberries with crème. Finally let’s not forget the tea/coffee to finish with. In laughing and eating for a while, it became clear that we had a lot of things in common, starting with the fact that we were both of two cultures – he German/Greek and American , and me of Hungarian and American descent, both of us with dual citizenship. It took about two and a half hours for us to finish all the food, at which point we realized that we were pretty much halfway through the flight and that everyone else had long since scarfed their food and were sleeping nearly horizontally in their first class couches. After watching a movie under “romantic” reading lights, I fell asleep.
It was his gentle nudging that woke me up, I think in the middle of a violent dream that I don’t remember, but I was a bit embarrassed because I couldn’t really formulate real sentences for about a minute, ironically being winded by sleeping, or perhaps waking up. Of course, it was the steward in the aisle who pretty much directly asked me what I wanted for breakfast, but had to ask me twice as the first time all I heard was just some noise; maybe my ears were still asleep.
Of course, it took us once again twice as long to eat breakfast as the rest of the passengers, the jokes about how ridiculously excessive the service was in the first class continuing. Normally I don’t take photos of food, but this time I did, IMG_4671
aiming the reading lights in the direction of the neatly arranged pieces of food, quickly snapping the photos before the steward passed by again asking for the 10th time if we wanted another glass of wine or
After landing, the guy and I exchanged phone numbers and email addresses – it sounded like maybe we’d reconnect after getting back to the USA, maybe to do a bike ride or other active thing. At least I’d ask him some suggestions for when I go to Berlin a bit later on. It was fun to experience the space of the rich with someone else, and spend about 1/3 of the flight slowly enjoying the food a luxe, bite by bite.
We passed the border guards pretty quick, both using our American passports. Afterwards, we parted, him finding his friend to pick him up, and me, to find the next flight to Toulouse. Not a bad start to my trip 🙂

Welcome to Portland, Keepin’ it Weird

Note to self: Thursday night is a bad night to go out if you have work the next morning… in general, that is, but sometimes one needs to make sacrifices. And sometimes those sacrifices are actually worth it, given the experience one has.

Wow I’ve been writing way too many formal documents.. So. Yesterday was my cousin’s birthday. The day I flew to Portland, he picked me up, and asked me if I’d be DD (not drunk driver, but designated driver…) for his birthday. At that point, I was well rested, happy, ready to start work, excited for new things. Didn’t even think about it, said sure, no problem.

Had I thought ahead of time, I would have realized that his birthday is on a Thursday, and he’d want to go out Thursday night. Seems normal, right. Here’s the catch: Thursday != Friday => If I go partying Thursday night, I still have work the next day, and like every other day of the week, I have to wake up at 6am.

So being DD.. means I got home at about 2:30am, went to bed at 3 and got about 3 hours of sleep, and then expected to function the next day. For those people that may not have jumped to this highly intuitive conclusion: BAD IDEA.
But I was willing to make a sacrifice for my cousin, and said, ok, I’ll survive.
And I think It was totally worth it. The experience I had was one synonymous to the title: a kind of taste of night life to Portland, OR, where I finally understand this bumper sticker: “Keepin’ Portland Weird”

Here is the highlight of last night’s adventures:

After going to a conveyor-belt sushi bar, another bar with a lot of game tables, and a dance club called “Dirty”, the token gay guy in our group said: “We need somewhere better,” not that we hadn’t bar-hopped enough already.

We leave the dance club, and walk down the street, passing an outside courtyard area that slightly caught our attention: an outdoor tent area with a “pen” of feathers and mattresses where they had hired three girls dressed in cheer-leader-like clothes who were clearly supposed to be emulating a pillow fight in the middle of a ring of guys.. however, there was no one in there and the girls were obviously bored out of their minds 😀 [weird point no 1]

So here comes [weird point no. 2-infinity] Walking further, i look ahead, and spot a sign in front of a club saying “Female Impersonators”.. think to myself out loud, “what the heck are female impersonators??” The guy i was walking next to just gave me an amused look, and laughed: “..You’ll see :D, ” Ah so that’s where we are going! o_O As we get closer, we start passing more and more people where their genders were highly questionable – in both directions.. females that looked quite convincing, but there was just something not right: large cheekbones, enormous bone structure, fake hair… It’s like spotting a phishing email: if only one thing looks wrong, it’s not necessarily a phish, only if multiple things just create a picture of, oh this can’t be true…and of course, there were slightly smaller stature male-looking females running around everywhere.

We get to the door, and approach the bouncer (I was of course fumbling around my purse trying to find my ID again.. I’ve never used the card so many times..). After checking it with a cursory glance, he takes this huge stamp and infects my right wrist with these words: “Great Dye Job!” LOL. Rainbows to the max..

And inside: dance floor, bar, coat check, tables… all normal.. but they might very well have been upside down, because the inhabitants of this bar completely turned what is considered normality in the normal society, completely upside-down. Groups of these female impersonators dancing like it was no tomorrow, as well as hipster-dressed males.. there was barely one human in there that looked “normal”..

Well, at least gay guy was happy 🙂 I just tried absorbing this scene, and truly enjoyed watching all the weirdness that Portland had offered in just 1 night…

Of course that doesn’t mean I didn’t hate myself the next morning, but the experience was definitely worth it.

Life goes on, with a little bit of luck

Yesterday I had this great idea to go biking into Washington DC from near Dulles Airport, a distance of about 38 km / 24 miles. I had been hungry for some exercise after a seven hour plane ride from London, and thought it would be practical since my sister who is living in DC wanted to hang out that afternoon. So why not, it’s only about a two hour ride granted we push through at a moderate pace. So I proposed the idea to my mom who had taken the day off to be with me, and since she’s just as crazy as me sometimes, said it was a great idea.
But… since I was only home for one day, we also just HAD to go berry picking beforehand. And of course on the way there, we ran into the main street of the US open for golf. Mr. Murphy played it well again.. this of course made our little trip out to the countryside a little more lengthy, resulting in a speed-picking of tart cherries and blueberries, but in the end were absolutely delicious, so worth the trouble 🙂
Afterwards, the ride to DC wasn’t too bad; I didn’t get really tired. We even switched bikes so that I got the one with more friction from the thicker mtn. bike wheels. Something cool: we were amongst the first bikers to cross a new bridge they opened up over I495, the beltway of Washington DC. That afternoon, we paddleboated with my sister, then went to a really good Indian restaurant for dinner. By 21h00, I was ready to collapse.. it hit me so fast. But I did have my reasons: biking, paddle boating, under the sun since 9h30 that morning resulting in a nice burn on my back, not to mention the jetlag from Europe. The thought that I still hadn’t packed my bag for my Interview/vacation in Oregon didn’t help my case. On the way home, I passed out in the car so much, that when I had to get out and walk up to my house, a bout of nausea hit me. I was literally sick from lack of sleep and energy. After a tablespoon of pure honey as a boost, I tried organizing myself (but I’m pretty sure my room looks like someone’s luggage exploded), packed my hiking bag with the most minimalistic packing I’ve ever done (I was not about to pay another $25 to get my bag checked), checked into my flight, and collapsed onto my bed, setting my alarm for 5am, probably three-quarters of the way asleep already.
My alarm was quite faithful, and started happily chirping precisely at 5 in the morning. Normally, one would think that sleeping some time, even as little as 4 hours would help, but waking up, nausea was once again making its rounds through my body…
Nevertheless, my mind felt sound, spirits up. On the way to the airport, the light outside was the most amazing I had seen in a while, the sun coming up at an angle it only does during the longest days of the year, shining towards a backdrop of dark clouds. All of a sudden, my father points to something in the sky. Looking towards his outreached finger, I caught glimpse of the most beautiful double rainbow illuminating the sky towards the airport. I said to myself: if this isn’t a sign of luck, I don’t know what is. I even snapped a picture of an airplane flying stright into the rainbow as we approached the airport. Absolutely stunning.

Leaving Toulouse

It is easy to leave someplace I don’t fit in. But leaving someplace where you are loved and part of the crowd, have laughed a lot, learned a lot, and met some amazing people.. it is quite the opposite.
My plane was scheduled for an 18h05 departure, and I had not packed anything yet the morning of the flight. However, I got everything together in 2 hours, to be able to enjoy my flatmates’ company for the last couple hours. They prepared lunch for me, put on music, and danced to it with the windows open.
At 10h00, I met with an elder lady I taught Hungarian to the last month, and upon us taking a photo together, she asked me if I had a ride to the airport. I was prepared to take the bus, but she insisted on taking me, so we arranged for her to pick me up at 15h30.
When the time came, my two flatmates and I hopped in the car, the third flatmate to come meet us at the airport from work. After checking in, we had about half an hour to spend together.
This half an hour will remain with me forever.
My Spanish flatmate had brought his guitar; on our way up to the observation hallway on the 2nd floor of the airport, I got a call from another friend, wishing me a good trip, expressing his sadness that he couldn’t see me the night before. Once up there, he took out his guitar and began playing. We sang along with him as I experienced the most bittersweet goodbye of my life. Three amazing young men as my entourage, wishing me all the best for the future, filling me with feelings of true friendship. I will miss them dearly, as well as my one flatmate who couldn’t make it due to some previous engagements. Thank you all for your kindness, sweetness, and love during my stay in the most amazing city of cultural diversity I’ve ever seen.