Thursday, February 16, 2006

Kuya's Philippine Journals: The Last Day There

The dawn of my last full day in the Philippines greeted me and it was only now on my second night in Tarlac City did I realize what was wrong. The broken rooster and his harem were still up in the mountains and crowing chickens were nowhere to be heard. My wife and I threw the last of our belonging together, tip toed over the sleeping forms of partied out Filipinos and made our way downstairs. We ate a quick breakfast of cake and rice left over from the day before and quickly packed into the van that I have come to know so well over the last few years.

We drove west toward Subic Bay where my brother-in-law’s wife lived and worked to drop her and my niece off at their house. We then drove around a little checking out the old United State military base that was abandoned in 1991 during the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo that ended up burying many of the provincial towns that we passed in yards of ash. Even today almost a decade and a half later, there was still signs of that long ago eruption. The base itself and portions of the city were very clean and American looking. There were traffic signs, painted lines separating the lanes of traffic and neatly manicured green lawns. There is a large expat population here and in nearby Angles City which might explain some of this neatness.
Eventually after stopping to rest our legs at the China Sea for a short while, we turned the van towards Manila and began the long drive into town. We found a nice motel near the airport for our early departure and the price was right. For two double rooms, the bill would run around $100 and after hours spent in the van driving over bumpy roads in the heat of winter, I was more than ready to get out and spend the night. My mother-in-law however is a thrifty person and hasn’t ever passed up a chance to get a cheaper rate. So after going in to negotiate a rate while the American (myself) stayed out in the car to assure they wouldn’t get gouged, she came out and wanted to go down the road to check out more prices. I pleaded my case to the wife, said the bill was on me and convinced them to stay here for the night.

But it wasn’t that easy. Motels in the Philippines are pretty strict about occupancy in the rooms and I’m sure because of the abundance of poverty that there are numerous attempts to turn a room for two into a room for a dozen. So my mother-in-law told the clerks as my wife was paying that there would only be four of us staying. The problem was that there were five of us. So four of us went up to the rooms leaving our driver Tito Pito waiting in the hot van until the coast was cleared. Because I was an American and probably the least likely to be questioned, I was designated to go get him a little later but I couldn’t bear to see him stay out there any longer than I had too. So a few minutes after the motel room attendants disappeared, I went down the backstairs and fetched Pito. I didn’t try to sneak back in because I was more than willing to fork out the extra money for him and though they saw us they didn’t say anything. They did make several excuses to knock on our doors several times pretending to offer us this or that but I know they were looking for any extras. Due to various people showering in the first modern showers of the trip, they never did find any.
After we all got cleaned up and repacked the bags to airline standards, all five of us walked back out to the van and drove to a Japanese restaurant just off of the main drag beside Manila Bay for a last meal as a family. It was a fancy restaurant with huge live tanks where we picked out our meal before it was caught and cooked in back. There were more cups, saucers, chopsticks and various other utensils covering most of the table surface confusing us all as to the proper etiquette of eating. To add to the pressure, all during the meal the waitress stood nor more than a couple feet from the table and quickly whisked off anything that we weren’t using. I don’t know if she was hiding our eating etiquette ignorance or protecting the kitchen staff from having to do extra dishes but it certainly was unnerving. To make matters worse, of our table of asian people, I was the only one who knew how to use chopsticks and spent some time teaching the others. Blots and stains soon covered the empty spaces of the snow-white table cloth from aborted attempts to get food from plate to mouth but everyone had a good time and that is what counts… unless you have to wash the table linens.

We made our way back to the hotel rooms and got the air conditioners cranked. This Filipino had the entire room electricity tied to a device near the door where you had to insert the key fob in order to make the circuit. This prevented unnecessary waste of electricity from those who might wish to cool down their rooms during supper. While waiting on the air conditioners to do just that, I decided to open up the curtains and peer out at the night time Manila sky which I imagined would be very beautiful from four stories up. I pulled open the drapes and was rewarded with the following view of Manila, Philippines:

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