The lightning arced sideways in the sky; its electric white and hot blue appearing as a flashbulb pop at a birthday party. Being several hundred feet in the air while viewing this didn’t quite have the most pleasing affect however. Surprisingly, the flight remained quite smooth. Or perhaps going on twenty hours of flight-time, I was just numb.
I was going to the Philippines, I was informed, making this not only the longest trip I’ve ever been on for work, but also personally – my previous excursion to a Pacific island was my Hawaiian honeymoon. The itinerary that was provided to me established that I would safely be in the air for most of the day. The term “safely”, of course, being the variable, “most” being the constant. From the time I woke up on Saturday morning, which seems like three or four days opposed to the two that the date on my watch shows me, my life was full of acronyms. PHL to LAX to ICN to MNL.
LAX was insane. Not only was the weather extremely hot outside, but the bustle and congestion inside did not alleviate the heat any. A fun observation from LAX’s International terminal was that tall, English-speaking Anglos were definitely in the minority; but that could simply be LA for you. The company flew business class, which allowed me access to the Asiana lounge, another treat. Finding it, however, was a bit more of a trick. Obviously you have to work for you comfort. The end result was pleasant enough, and that’s all that matters.
Asiana’s business class was both comfortable and spacious and the stewardesses did their best to make the 12-hour flight not feel quite like 12-hours. Maybe ten-and-half instead. Between reading, a three-hour nap, and the in-flight movie (The Sentinel starring Michael Douglas, Keifer Sutherland and Kim Basinger, mediocre but watchable, 6 out of 10) it wasn’t until the final hour-and-a-half that I really wanted to be on the ground more than anything. No, there was one thing that I wanted more. I really just wanted to turn around and go back home.
Seoul Incheon International was beautiful. Sleek modern designs placing tall windows in between walls of neutral grays, calming off-whites and wood-paneled floors. Flat screen monitors were connected in every gate broadcasting news and sitcoms. While waiting for my connecting flight – standing, mind you, no need for sitting at this point – I was greeted by a church youth group heading to Manila for a week’s vacation. They were a fun and lively bunch with plenty of smiles, everything a church-based youth group should be. I think they were excited to see an American and were able to practice their English a little. We just went through the absolute basics first.
Where was I from? Philadelphia.
Do you know where that is? Just below New York.
How old was I, they asked. I lied and said thirty. They lied right back and said I was both young and handsome.
They wanted to know what I thought of Korea. I truthfully told them I could not wait to explore Seoul some upon my return.
We parted with waves and more smiles.
Flying from Seoul to Manila is when I noticed the lightning. And the rain. Still, the flight itself wasn’t bad. Perhaps business class has better stabilizers than coach.
Manila International was everything Seoul was not. Cafeteria-tiled floors, institutional greens, low ceilings. I was greeted with a blue flag welcoming me to “Bird Flu Free Philippines”, which I guess is welcoming in that manically humorous way. What was surprising was customs. Unlike some of the European countries I’ve been to – such as Italy and France – where incoming customers are treated as MVPs along with an EZ-Pass free lane, Manila actually had queues, required scans of your passport, and, gasp, collected the previously-supplied customs form.
The rain hadn’t let up even though monsoon season is coming to a close and the taxi’s heavily-tinted windows did not allow me to get a good view of the ride in. One of the elements of travel that I enjoy the most is that first ride in a foreign city. Even if it’s just a highway, I like to see how the signs are laid out, what the lights look like, the cars on the street. Through the black-glazed windows, I was afforded none of that as only the brightest of signs penetrated. Also penetrating was the driver singing to love rock love ballads. Not much else to listen to on a Sunday night, I suppose.
Monday morning and the rain started up again with a clap of thunder. Hopefully I will be able to post again this evening with a report on my day in Manila.