Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Kamagong Journals Part Four: The Airport

I never have any pictures of the international airport in Manila. One reason is my camera is packed in the bottom of my carry-on so that even if I lost every single bag (which happened twice this trip), I always have my camera and pictures that I've taken. Bags and clothes can be replaced but pictures can't. Another reason is that after 30 hours of being inside airplanes and airports, I'm ready to get out into the other world and I am in no mood to take pictures. The third reason is that the Manila airport is a full on assault to my rural Iowa senses, very crowded and full of people who like nothing better to do than to lighten a 'rich' white guy of his belongings. This means offering me taxis, carrying my luggage which everyone knows is full of pasalubong/gifts, picking my pockets or stealing a large camera hung around my neck. For those reasons, I just keep my camera safe at the bottom of my backpack strapped securely on my back.

Upon arrive and once you clear immigration and customs, you immediately find yourself outside the terminal and in the midst of  a huge crowd of porters and taxi drivers. A very tall white guy stands out as an easy mark and thus I tend to get a lot of unwanted attention. I don't blame them because if I was in their shoes and only making a few dollars a day in wages, I would want to hit up the people most likely to give me big tips for my services. In most airports, this is the area where you would meet the people who are waiting for you to arrive on your flight but not in Manila.

The first time I ever flew in to that airport, I spent a half hour standing there fending off all the taxi drivers and porters while waiting for my fiance to arrive and rescue me. What I didn't realize is that I had to cross the street and go down a large ramp and cross yet another street before I reach the barricaded area where all the families are waiting for arriving passengers. There it is truly a free for all of people and noises which combined with the hot humid air full of exhaust fumes, assaults me like nothing else can. Fortunately for me, I'm a tall white guy in a land of small brown skinned people so the people searching for me generally see me well before I see them and rescue me. Soon I am settled into the average minivan with twelve other people who came to greet me and heading towards the mountains of Baguio. In the Philippines, aunts, uncles and long lost cousins want nothing more to do than spend ten hours round trip in a van going to the airport to see a family member.

On the return trip back through the airport heading home, the Manila airport is also unlike every airport I have ever been too. When we pull up to the terminal entrance and unload our luggage onto carts to wheel into the airport, we can only get as far as the door and then they are immediately scanned with x-ray machines, along with all your carry-on items. The worst part is that your luggage carts can't make it through this area so you have to pile up your luggage on the backside of the x-ray scanner conveyor belt and find another cart to pile them onto. Your next stop is to check in at the desk where you get your tickets as far as the first layover in the States and your luggage is checked in. Then you head through a myriad of check points where your tickets are checked, your passports checked, your carry-on luggage is scanned again and finally you make the extortion booth. The Manila airport is the only airport I have ever been too where you are forced to pay to go between the check-in desk and the departure gates. It costs about $12 per person to leave so I always have to keep a pocket full of pesos to make it through that area.

Once lightened of the pesos in my wallet, we once again have to make it through two more security check points where they check our tickets and passports. Once we arrive at our gate, we must first have our passports and tickets checked a third time and then at the bottom of the stairs, our carry-on luggage is searched by hand. Finally you reach a room full of seats where you can await for your flight. However if you need to use a restroom or get a drink of water, you must go back through two or three layers of the security (bathroom two layers, drink three layers as I found out with two kids) and repeat them on your way back. The worst part about it all is that I really don't feel anymore secure than I do at airports with less checkpoints and layers, only inconvenienced. The only explanation I can come up with for all of it is that there is such a huge amount of unemployed people willing to work for next to nothing that it is the governments way of subsidizing the poverty by creating all these jobs in airport security. So if you are ever flying out of Manila, make sure you double or triple the normal amount of time you think you need to get through all these checkpoints before you reach your departure gate and make sure you save P500 in local currency to make it through the extortion booth.

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