Thursday, April 19, 2012

Dispatches from Manila 2: HJ and the very long day

Ok, first off. I would like to introduce you to HJ.

This is HJ at the Dallas Airport ready to leave for our big trip to Manila.

HJ as you can see is a California Sea Lion. His name is HJ because I got him for my roommate when we went to see a House Jacks concert in San Francisco a few years back.  Much like Flat Stanley, HJ is a traveling fool and we try to take him with us whenever we go on any trip (except to reenactments, he doesn't really like the gun fire).

So, for those of you who don't know, if you leave Dallas and head to Manila, you are pretty much in for a looooooong trip.  According to the travel books, you commonly lay over in Hawaii or Japan. We got to lay over in Japan.  In Tokoyo at Narita Airport.  I am used to going through airports like LAX and DFW where you can kind of sort of maybe if you squint your eyes see the town you are connecting through waaaaaay off in the distance.  Not so much in Narita.

Here are the photos from our gate:

See, no twinkling lights or Hello Kitties floating in the background, or nothing.

Soooo, in order to let you know that we are REALLY in Japan, I put up HJ in the window and took a picture of our plane as we waited.

I know, that could TOTALLY be any where.  Japan Airlines does not just fly in Japan.  Buuut, does anywhere have an assortment of odd and unique Kit Kat bars?

No, they do not.  Apparently, even though Josh Gates swears that Pringles is the most common food on the planet, Kit Kats might be a close second.

Soo, it takes something like 27 hours from the time I leave the house with SuperShuttle, sit around at DFW, have a 4 hour lay over in Japan, get to Manila and get through customs and get to where we are staying.  You would think that would be the longest day of my life.....

But with views like this, it wasn't so bad.

Most of these are pictures from my condo, the last one is from my office building looking back to where we are staying.

But like I said, this isn't the longest day.  The second Saturday I was there was a very, very long day.  I had woke up at around 7pm Manila time on Friday (we work the same hours as normal hours in the US so everything is backwards, and I'm beginning to feel a bit vampiric after two weeks of this) and gone to work for my normal shift.  We got to leave early because of a server issue, so I was home around 3 in the morning instead of my usual 6.  I laid down for a couple of hours so I could get up and talk to my roommate before I left on my big adventure.

My supervisor and I had been invited by some of the folks where we are working to have a tour of Intermuros, Old Manila.  This is a very historic area, and you can find lots of information about it on the web.  It sort of reminded me a little of the French Quarter in New Orleans since the architecture is similar and it's hot as heck as you walk around.

Soooo, I meet my supervisor about 10 am downstairs, walk to one of the cafes and grab what we like to call breakner (breakfast at dinner time) and then around 11 am we head over to meet the two girls that are going to make sure that we manage to get across half of Metro Manila to meet up with our "tour group" from work.

Except instead of two people, there is only one. So we sit down and wait.

And Wait.

And Wait.

Apparently Manila is like most LARGE cities in the world, traffic is HORRENDOUS, add to that, apparently 99.9% of the population get their pay checks bi-monthly on the 15th and 30th and you can kind of see why it took our second person almost an hour to get to the meet up point.  Oh, and apparently there was some kind of protest or something.

Anyway, and that point we decided that we are going to get a taxi to take us to where we are meeting up instead of taking Jeepneys and trains and such trying to get there to meet everyone at 1 pm.

What's a Jeepney you might ask? I'll tell you in a bit, cause that WILL come into play in a little bit.

So, we are finally off to Intermuros, which as I said is sort of like the French Quarter in New Orleans, we walked around and saw the sites and somewhere on my little baby camera I have pictures to prove where we were. 

But really, we got to see Manila Cathedral, and St Augustin's (which is an awsome 400 baroque church).  They had to practically peel me away from all the Santo's costumes in the museum at St Augustin's.

After St Augustin's we went to Fort Santiago.  This is a very important place in Manila and Philippines history for several different reasons.  The National Hero Jose Rizal was held at the Fort before he was executed for speaking out against Spanish colonial rule in 1896.

Now, I'm not in the best shape, unless you count pear-like which I suppose is a shape of some sorts, so the amount of walking that we had been doing was at that point starting to really get to me.  Add to that the fact that I have started in the last few months to take high blood pressure medicine which means that when I get dehydrated I really, truly ill. Add a sprinkling of high 90 degree heat and who knows how many double digit percentages of humidity to the party and you really have a recipe for disaster. But, luckily I have we have the incomparable Rommel for our tour guide who was kind enough to walk several blocks away to get me water so I could venture on.

And venture on we did.

Our next stop was Rizal Park, but since that was about a half mile or more hike from our present location we decided to take that most uniquely Philippines mode of conveyance, the Jeepney.

Cue history lesson (don't worry, it's short)....

The Philippines is a lovely archipeligo that has had a very unfortunte history, they have been administered by several colonial powers including the US (who was only there from the very late 1800's to the 1940's).  When we left (right after WWII) we left some lovely parting gift to the people of the nation: several thousands of pounds of suplus Jeeps.

Now the people of the Philippines are very industrous, hard working folks that make the most of what they have, so they took those Jeeps, cut them in half, extend them with sheet metal and then put them into services as something between a taxi and a bus.

And they are by far the safest things on the road.

So away we went to Rizal Park, which was very nice, being right off of Manila Bay there was a great breeze and since it was getting towards late afternoon the heat was beginning to go down a bit. So we walked around, and somewhere there are photos of this (I promise, coming soon!).

By this time it was like 5 or 6 pm and I was starving (hadn't eaten since 10 that morning) and so was the rest of us so we headed to the nearest place to eat and sit down somewhere in the AC (Woooo) and plot our next step.

Janice and I were pretty much ok with going back to the condo at that point, but we were convinced that we needed to go to the Mall of Asia.  Apparently there was some very big fireworks competition there and that weekend was the last weekend of it.

So, after we ate, and said goodby two of our number we hailed a taxi and away we went.

So, I like shopping A LOT and growing up in Los Angeles I'm used to large malls (Del Amo mall ROCKS!) but nothing really prepared me for this mall.  Over 7 THOUSAND shops spread out over several city blocks and people everywhere.

I'm going to breeze through this next part, partially because I've been working on this post on and off for a few WEEKS now and partially because some parts of it are a bit of a blur.

Let's just suffice it to say that the fireworks were pretty good, the place was packed and we were on our way to grab another taxi by around 9 pm.....

That's where all of the fun started....

So, we went to the taxi stand and the line is long, like half a block long and this is the only authorized place to get a taxi.  We could hire a private car to head out to our lodgings, but the rates these folks are quoting is about three to four times as much as we paid to get from our place to Intermuros (which is farther than where we were at that point).  So we decided to wait.

And Wait....

And Wait....

Did I mention earlier that there was some kind of protest going on, and a big fireworks spectacular?

Well, we waiting in that line until.... oh, I don't know, around 11 and finally decided that we weren't going to be getting a taxi anytime soon, altough there were people coming out of the mall and flagging taxis down that weren't playing by the rules and standing in line.

So we decide to head over and see if we can get a Jeepney to at least head out of there.....

No Jeepneys. :(

So we finally go stand on the side of main entrance street (mind you the mall closed at 10 pm, and there were STILL people being dropped off at 11) and finally managed to convince someone to take us back to where we were staying for the grand total of 1000 pesos (it had only cost about 200 pesos to get to Intermuros).

I was back in my room at.... 12:30.

By far one of the longest days of my life......