Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Arrival of Joe

The air went from a controlled stale cold to hot heavy dampness that instantly clung to my entire body like a cheap plastic raincoat as I stepped outside the airport doors. A smell not entirely different from that of a roomful of wet dogs assaulted my nose. Having spent the last twenty-six hours in various planes winging around the world, I'm pretty sure they got a similar dose of my smell. A crowd of people speaking in a different language all jostled to be the first one near me and tell me something that I did not understand at first. Gradually I began to make out"Hey Joe," before they rambled into a broken thickly accented English pitch to get me into their taxi cab.

I have been through my share of airports but the international terminal in Manila is unlike any I have experienced. In most airports, as soon as you clear customs and security areas, relatives can greet you still inside the building and the assorted taxi cab drivers, bus drivers and other similar sorts must wait outside for your business. At the international terminal in Manila there is no indoor meeting place for arriving passengers. You are funneled through security and directly through the outside doors where the taxi cab drivers, bus drivers and other similar sorts wait to greet you and all the relatives are relinguished to the bottom of a winding ramp out of sight. At the time, I didn't know this and started wading through the hordes of Filipinos anxiously trying to get me in their mode of transportation and relieve me of a few or many American dollars as I tried to find someone less than five feet tall in a crowd full of people less than five feet tall. Over and over it was, "Hey Joe, need a ride?"

Now my name isn't Joe and part of my brain was trying to solve why I was being mistake for Joe while frantically searching for my bride to be. It was only later that I would learn that Filipinos often refer to Americans, especially tall blonde Americans as Joe, short for G.I. Joe. The American military has a long history in the Philippines and so it was understandable but it was something that I wouldn't yet undertand for a day or two.

I walked up and down the sidewalk searching amongst the plague of locusts calling out Joe but without success. Fortunately, my future wife pleaded with a guard at the bottom of the ramp to come up and rescue the American gringo and after a dozen trips up and down the sidewalk, I finally saw her. As soon as we met and hugged, the crowd instantly parted like Moses and the Red Sea. I was with a Filipina and they knew that there would be no liberating me of my money in their taxi that day. But like mosquitoes hungry for some blood, there was other foreign prey about and they went off in search of it.

Reunited, we walked down the ramp to meet ten of her closest relatives. In the Philippines, families are very tight knit, so tight that if one yarn in the family goes somewhere, dozens come along for the ride. In my case, they were coming to pick up an American in a van and ten were all they could bring along and still be able to squeeze the American in edgewise. All the seats behind the driver had been stripped out and replaced with two futon like benches that faced each other with a twelve-inch aisle between them. Everyone sat facing each other and due to the lack of foot room, your feet were placed on the facing bench between two people whose feet were on either side of you. My goal for the trip had been to meet the family and undergo a wedding blessing of sorts since all 500 of my bride's closest family members wouldn't be able to make the wedding back in the states. I had hoped to meet them gradually but now crammed cheek to jowl in a minivan, the getting to know you phase started quite quickly. The engine was started and after clearing the airport we sped off onto the streets of Manila and into the night.


R. Sherman said...

Nothing like meeting the foreign future in-laws for the first time. Fortunately for me, Frankfurt Germany is little more subdued.


The Real Mother Hen said...

Hey Joe, this is interesting :) I wish I have that kind of experience, but unfortunately I don't. In fact come to think of it, I don't know any Filipino at all, despite plenty of them work in Singapore.

sage said...

sounds like some Central American airports... going right out from customs into the hot steamy air wtih taxi drivers and money changers waiting to pounce. Great description.