Saturday January 16, 2010
14 hours after leaving Sydney, we had finally landed in Manila. We made it slowly off of the giant empty seated plane, following the exit signs out. We gave one of our cards to the flu detection people wearing masks standing in the middle of the airport along our way, before hitting the customs line. We made it quickly through; the adorable straight faced plump Filipino woman behind the counter stamped my passport and smiled, finally, when I thanked her. Now it was time to get our baggage. This was an even slower process then entering and exiting a plane. The entirety of the plane’s passengers stood around the carousel, crowding every crevice, every spot, every space available in front of, the yet to come out, luggage. A few minutes later bags began to circle around us, but none of ours were in sight. Then, John’s teal bag came around, as Liam ran through the few available spaces, weaving in and out of old women, large bags and trolleys, to chase down their bag. More luggage came out and then nothing. Our bags were surely not the only ones missing as the remaining people stood around waiting anxiously for their’s as well. We stood patiently for the next round of bags. They began to come up and around. Chenoa now found her’s. Mine was the only one left and I began to freak out, even still, knowing I shouldn’t. Bags came out and went around, but still I was yet to see mine. Finally, it appeared and off we were to the final round of customs. We handed in our 3rd and final form and breezed through without question to the outside world. This is where we met our first bunch of friendly Filipino security guards.
I’ve never seen anything like it. Security, as we were to find out later, was everywhere. They lined the streets at random places; they stood at nearly every door of their many malls and yes, they lined the streets outside of the airport. Standing out from the just recently exited doorway, John took out his sheet of directions on where we were to meet our ride. As he stood there looking around in confusion, while Alex stood leaning against him, I’m not sure if he was closer to tears or passing out from pure exhaustion, but a security guard came over to help. He read John’s email of directions and pointed us in the right way. We went down a small hill to another waiting area, overcrowded on one side with waiting ex-passengers and security guards, the other side with huge families waving signs in the air and jumping around in anticipation for the arrival of their long awaited loved ones.
We stood there, our eyes gazed out in every which direction, looking for... well quite honestly I don’t think any of us really knew as to what we were trying to find. A tall Filipino man missing his 2 front teeth and wearing a weathered polo-esque style shirt came over and the next thing I knew, the procession of our group followed him to a white toyota parked in the middle of the street directly in front of us. We loaded ourselves into it, while the man went to get someone else. A few seconds later he came walking back with the other person who had been waiting at the other side for our arrival. The mysterious missing toothed man was in fact Arwin, our driver who worked for the other man, John’s father, otherwise known as Roy. How Arwin knew it was us, never having met us, was at first a mystery to me. After looking around and seeing but only one other caucasian man, still with dark hair, I realized the large group of all blondes and the kids with blue eyes was a dead give away. We stuck out like a group of sore thumbs in a room full of hand models, swollen, bright, worn and awkward in this place where everyone else obviously fit the mold. All packed into the car, we were off to our sleeping destinations.
Even at nearly midnight the streets of Manilla were packed, polluted and noisy. With nearly 11 million people in the city, Manilla always seems to be crowded with cars, buses, motorcycles and the (new to me) Jeepney. This is a system of transportation, in which an opened back VW love van type mobile was crammed with as many people as could possibly fit on its side benches and then went around the city. We were just in one of the many cars, sitting in what was nearly rush hour traffic in the middle of the night, which just seemed to be a normal thing here. Even in LA we get a little bit of slack with the traffic in the wee hours of the night.
I looked out the windows to see bright lights, tall buildings and pedestrians walking along roads where I wouldn’t think to walk, trying to take in everything, although my mind was withering away from exhaustion. After a good amount of time spent in the car, we finally reached a large apartment complex and entered into the driveway. We were walked up with Roy to apartment 10C, to his daughter’s house, where straight out of the elevator, we saw an open door to the kitchen with a plump Filipino woman sitting there watching late night soaps. She went around to open the main entrance, and showed us to our rooms. This was Tinet, the cook/ “maid” (a word I absolutely abhor!)
“You need water?” She asked us.
“Um, well yes that would be lovely.” Chenoa replied back.
“Okay, goodnight.” She said as she closed the door behind her, and went to her sleeping quarters. Chenoa and I laughed and sat down on our clean white sheet, perfectly made bed, while we debated whether or not we wanted to gather our energy to take much wanted and needed showers. Apparently neither of us did, as we both put on our pajamas, hopped into the pristinely done up bed and dozed off; excited to see the city in the light the next day.