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.

Jeepni

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.

Rude, Red Tape, and just Ridiculous

Let me spell out the situation. Four of us are driving through half of Panama from Bocas del Toro to Panama city. Taking turns driving, the trip is still super long (11 hours) and as it is practically impossible to navigate through Panama city at night (signs? what signs?) we even had to take a bit of a detour… Our destination is Riande Aeropuerto Hotel & Resort where we had booked a room for the night. However, by the time we got there, it was around 3am, and our flights left around 8am, so it was more of a promise of a shower and a two hour nap. No matter what little bit of rest we were hoping for, it was going to be a great repose after such a long and stressful day of passing trucks on windy hills, getting stopped at least 3 or 4 times by panama police for their routine checks, even at 1am in the morning. I really don’t know what they’re looking for.. perhaps drug smugglers? Needless to say, all they found was 4 really tired people hiding their real feelings of “what, not again… really.. sigh” behind a fake smiling face just so they’d let us pass with the least amount of hassle.
So finally we get to the hotel, and when T tries to check in, they rudely say “no more than 3 people in the room”. “Hotel Policy”. Poor girl is trying to convince them that we aren’t even going to sleep, just want a shower, no other trouble. Instead of feeling a bit of sympathy for us travelers, they simply shake their heads, and say nope, oh.. and by the way, the 3rd person is extra $22.
WTF. For a shower? No, I don’t think so. Clearly we are all beyond ourselves, pissed off… etc.. All I can think about is how can I sabotage their room without causing extra costs to T’s credit card. Maybe pull all the sheets off and tie them in knots in the shower? or piss into their pool? really. from a distance, this probably seems funny now, but at the time, it was all but that.
So all these guys at the reception are all staring at us, watching vigilantly what we decide to do… as if they were some jail guards. C at this point has given up, and goes into the car completely angry, T is trying to hold back tears, and I am just trying to swallow it all and make a decision.. We’re all in it together, i think – they can’t possibly make half of us sleep in the car, even though there are 2 queen beds in the room… and who in their right mind came up with that 3 person in a room maximum?
Eventually, since T&T were flying out 1 hr after C and I, we decided that C and I would go upstairs and take a shower, change (by this time it was like 4:30am), and then come downstairs and give T&T the key so they could go up. We were hoping that by that time, the night shift would be exchanged by the day shift people so they wouldn’t notice.
Ok so we go upstairs, I pass out on the bed into a kind of half-awake state, and C is changing to get into the shower, we get a knock on the door. It is hotel security. C has only shorts on and no shirt at this point and is proceeded to be taken downstairs and forced to pay the extra $22 dollars for the “3rd person”. Wait.. what? there are only 2 of us in the room! Yeah, except that neither of us is the person whose name under which the reservation was made. !? !? on top of all the rudeness and red tape they already have shown us? F&@$!
Do not go to this hotel. Especially if you are traveling with more than 2 people. At least the porter helped me take up my bags, my attempt at befriending him so they would at least be a little nicer didn’t really work either.
When we switched with T&T, we told them about this, and of course they were equally as enraged. I’m pretty sure this night took 1 whole year off my number of years to live.
But it was a good test a friendship between the four of us. I think we survived it.. anyways it would be a pretty big shame if such a silly situation would ruin any relationship between us.

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.

When you have the most grandiose plans…

Is when something comes along and completely obliterates your plans. Today, it was Jetlag (and maybe the fact that I lowered my black screen to keep out the light from my room). However, I somehow managed to fall asleep at 11:30 pm, and come to my senses at 12:30… PM. That is 13 hours of unconsciousness. Here comes the funniest part: I had made a whole to-do list the night before to be completed before noon the day of my exorbitantly lengthy nap. Indeed, that list was supposed to be started at 7:30 am, for which I set my alarm to 7:30 pm.. (clearly unintentionally). List point 1. Go for a run. Haha. Right. Needless to say that did not happen. Instead I came to hearing someone fiddle around downstairs, thinking, who the heck is up this early. Only after did I take an accidental look at my watch to see how insane that person really was only to find out that it was perhaps myself that is insane to nearly end up missing my 1:30 pm class. Well that’s a first. So now here I am, thinking I got around Jetlag of 6 hours by going to class Tuesday and Wednesday normally, waking up at a respectable 8 am each day to be completely laughed at by my brain the following morning.. erm, afternoon, telling me: yeah right, nice job trying to trick me YOU FOO. And now I’m back to going to bed at 2am. A fűzfán fütyülő rézangyalát!