Funemployment Diary, Entry #14: Flying Home (if Only for a Day)

Manila skyline

Manila skyline photo by Henno Kruger. Click to see the original.

All trips have to come to an end, and my trip to Manila ended yesterday with my flight home. In total, my trip lasted a little over 24 hours with me arriving at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) on the 4th of July at 8:30 a.m. Philippines time (8:30 p.m. on July 3rd Eastern daylight time) and having cleared customs, grabbing my luggage and hopping into a cab at Toronto’s Lester B. Pearson Airport on the 5th of July at 9:15 a.m. Philippines time (9:15 p.m. on July 4th Eastern daylight time). I went to bed last night around midnight and woke up at 6:30 this morning, which I hope means that I’ll adjust quickly to North American time.

Large billboard ad inside Ninoy Aquino International Airport featuring Paris Hilton promoting a new condo

Terminal 1 is NAIA’s international terminal, and one of the first things you’ll see is Paris Hilton. Right now, the big billboard that you see after crossing the security threshold at the door (where all your bags, including checked luggage, get x-rayed) is an ad for some new condo development somewhere in the Metro Manila area for which Ms. Hilton is a spokesmodel. She really does get around.

Sign: "Bullets not allowed for carriage / Offenders will be prosecuted by Hongkong police upon landing in Hongkong"

Here’s something you’ll see if you’re flying Cathay Pacific from Manila: a reminder that you can’t bring ammunition on a flight to Hong Kong, whether it’s as carry-on or checked luggage. The rules seem to allow guns, however; you just can’t bring bullets.

This is just plain wrong. Yes, the evidence of millions of flyers every year suggests that packing heat is quite unnecessary for air travel, but there just might come a time when I need to blast some chump, and what am I going to do then, hippie?

Terminal 1 lobby at Ninoy Aquino International Airport

NAIA’s Terminal 1, which serves all the non-Filipino international airlines, is totally ghetto. In fact, it’s infamous for being terrible, having been ranked #1 in Sleeping in Airports’ 2011 “Worst Airports” list as well as appearing in Frommer’s recent “10 Worst Airports” article. It’s poorly organized, sloppily run, terribly lit and plagued with the ambience of a flea market. Don’t get me wrong: I like the flea market vibe, but not at an airport.

Cathay Pacific ticket counters at Ninoy Aquino International Airport

You could pluck someone from 1985 and drop them in the present-day counters at NAIA and they wouldn’t know anything was amiss until they saw someone pull out a mobile phone. There are no advance check-in terminals to speed up the process, and even with a dozen counters, each manned by more than one person in the make-work tradition of the Philippines, it’s still slow going.

Luckily, in one of its few concessions to actually being in the 21st century, NAIA has free wifi, and I amused myself by reading an article that attempted to explain why there isn’t a word in Tagalog for “efficiency”.

Whiskey and cigar bar at Ninoy Aquino International Airport

This is Asia, so every airport has to provide some kind of place within the airport to smoke. In NAIA, it’s a combination whiskey and cigar bar.

I made my way down the long hallway leading to the gates…

Hallway leading to gates at Ninoy Aquino International Airport

…and was disappointed to find that they still hadn’t changed the way gate lounges work.

The set of chairs around each gate is cordoned off. You can sit only in the seats near the gate for your flight; you have to show your boarding pass to be let into the cordoned-off area for those seats. Each cordoned-off area has some airport workers acting as gatekeepers (again, more Filipino make-work).

"Velvet rope" cordoning off departure gate seating area at Ninoy Aquino International Airport

Of course, the washrooms and snack bars are outside the cordoned-off areas, so if you want to relieve yourself or get a drink, you have leave the cordoned-off area, which requires leaving your boarding pass with the area’s gatekeepers, and reclaiming it when you return.

Gate 6 lounge at Ninoy Aquino International Airport

Naturally, there are no power outlets in the waiting area. It’s all part of the “third world country in the 1970s” vibe that NAIA seems to be going for.

like visiting the Philippines, but I hate that ghetto airport.

Cathay Pacific 747 parked at Ninoy Aquino International Airport

Soon, it was time to board the flight to Hong Kong. It’s probably the most travelled-to destination from Manila, which is why it needs a high-capacity jet like a 747, even though it’s barely a 90-minute flight, well within the range of a regional jet.

Cathay Pacific entertainment system showing a Linux boot screen

The inflight entertainment system needed a quick reboot.

Cathay Pacific entertainment system start screen

Much better!

This plane’s inflight entertainment system was an older one from the previous decade, before they made the switch to touchscreens. It had one of those old-school controllers with a phone and “TV remote”-style controls on the front…

…and a QWERTY keyboard and game controls on the back:

I tried a few of the games, and they were terribly clunky and pokey, as if I was playing on a bargain basement PC from the early 2000s. Which, in fact, was what I was doing.

Hong Kong’s airport may be only an hour and a half away from Manila’s, but it’s worlds away. It gets consistently good reviews on Skytrax, and with good reason: it’s bright, clean, spacious, modern, efficient, full of amenities and comfortable. It also has some spectacular views of the mountains and the harbor.

Tarmac at Hong Kong airport, with parked planes in the foreground and mountains and a plane taking off in the background

Long gate hallway at Hong Kong airport

I love the airport’s huge windows:

Large windows overlooking the tarmac and runways at Hong Kong airport

The central hub is like a high-end shopping mall, and there are plenty of places to get all sorts of food there:

"Global Flavors" - ad for restaurants at Hong Kong airport

If you’re running short of time, there are also restaurants by the gates. “My Nosh” — a great Engrish name for a place — was one of the spots near my gate, but I chose to go to the noodle place across the hall:

"My Nosh" restaurant at Hong Kong airport

I’m a bit of a planespotter, so I spent a fair bit of time just looking out the window and checking out the jets. There are all sorts of airlines that you don’t normally see in North America, so it was a bit of a treat. Note the China Airlines jet in the background — that’s one of the Airbus A380 monsters.

Hong Kong airport tarmac - EVA Air jet in foreground, China Airways A380 in background

Once again, it’s an Asian airport, so there has to be a smoking room. This one was packed:

Here’s the noodle place where I grabbed some lunch, which was thick noodles and char siu pork:

Tables with TV screens at Beef Noodle restaurant in Hong Kong airport

Each of the tables came with a complete set of condiments: salt, pepper, soy sauce, two kinds of chili oil, sugar, sugar substitute, non-dairy creamer and a TV! I caught a bit of a medieval Chinese drama. Couldn’t understand a word. but there was a cool chase scene with some soliders.

Here’s the Boeing 777ER that took me from Hong Kong to Toronto, non-stop:

Cathay Pacific Boeing 777ER parked at Hong Kong airport

It’s a 15-hour flight. Luckily, I had reading material on my iPad and there were a number of good options on the inflight entertainment system (this flight had a more modern one with a touchscreen).

Here’s the view from my seat (made up of a set of stitched-together photos):

We took off from Hong Kong…

Cathay Pacific entertainment system map showing plane over Hong Kong

…passed by Taiwan…

Cathay Pacific entertainment system map showing plane approaching Taiwan

…swung east of Japan, after which I decided to finally watch The Hunger Games (not bad)…

Cathay Pacific entertainment system map showing plane passing east of Japan

…and about fifteen hours later, we landed in Toronto.

Cathay Pacific entertainment system map showing plane approaching Toronto

I’m back in Toronto as I write this, but not for long. Tomorrow, I’m off to Tampa to catch up with Anitra and be her date for a wedding on Saturday, and shortly afterwards, I have to make a quick jaunt over to the west coast…for reasons I’ll reveal soon. I may be funemployed, but I’m certainly not idle!


Happy Independence Day

To my American readers: have a safe and happy 4th of July!

To Katie Holmes: Better late than never to the cluetrain, I always say.


Farewell Manila

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Doc Searls. Click to see the original.

I’ve had a couple of lovely weeks here in the Philippines — it’s great to be here after being away for a dozen years — but it’s time to head back to Accordion City and start the next phase of my summer vacation. Phase Three, a couple of weeks in the U.S. for various and interesting reasons, starts this Friday.

I’ll post more photos and stories from the Philippines, but in the meantime, I’ve got to run. As I ride this, I’ve got to catch a ride to Ninoy Aquino International Airport in a half hour.


Star Trek: The Original Series, but with a New Opener

I love this treatment for the opening sequence for the original Star Trek series!


Funemployment Diary, Entry #13: Touring Bohol

The Chocolate Hills

The Amorita Resort, where we stayed while we were in Bohol, provides its own tours and guides for its guests. Me and my family — mom, sister, bro-in-law and her kids — signed up and got a guide named Cathy and a tour van to take us around. Our first stop: the Chocolate Hills.

Bohol, with its combination of rolling hilly terrain and being an island sheltered by large islands or island groups, would be a great place to hold an Ironman triathlon. It’s got all the challenges for the athletes and for the spectators, it provides a lot of breathtaking views.

Creative Commons image courtesy of Wikipedia. Click to see the original.

It took a while — the better part of an hour — to get from the resort to the hills, but it was worth it for the view.

The Chocolate Hills set Bohol apart from just about anyplace else on Earth. They’re naturally-occurring cone- and dome-shaped hills formed by the erosion of the island’s mostly-limestone geography. They get their name from the colour they get during the Philippines’ dry season (October to May), when the sun dries their vegetation to a chocolate brown.

We’re currently a month into the wet season, so our tour guide said that right now, they’re more like the Pistachio Hills.

Between the hills are lush green valleys, like the one pictured above. To get a better view, we were taken to an observation point atop the highest hill in the valley. The staircase below took us up to the top:

From there, we got a commanding view of the surrounding hills:

Here’s a shot taken from where all those other tourists were posing for photos:

Here’s the obligatory self-portrait:

After a little looking around, it was time to head back down to the road where the van was waiting:

Before heading to our next destination, I took one last photo from road level. There was a great view of some of the hills and a lot of the surrounding greenery:

The Tarsiers

Creative Commons image courtesy of Wikipedia. Click to see the original.

Tarsiers are weird little creatures — they’re the smallest of all the primates. They’re found only on a number of Southeast Asian islands, including Borneo, Sulawesi, Sumatra and in the Philippines, where they live on the island of Bohol.

They’re tiny little monkeys with big eyes (each eye is about equal to the size of their brain). The eyes are a product of evolution and their being nocturnal. They prefer to stay in forests with small branches, as they climb only those things that they can wrap their fingers around.

They don’t move much during the day, which made it possible to get some pictures of them at their sanctuary. Of the four tarsiers we managed to see, only one was awake, but he was positioned in such a way that it was only possible to get backlit photos of him.

Loboc River Cruise

The Loboc River on a sunny day.
Creative Commons photo courtesy of Wikipedia. Click to see the original.

After the tarsier sanctuary, our next destination was the Loboc River, a slow-moving river and tourist attraction. There are as many as a dozen riverboats taking tourists up and down the river, many of which are floating restaurants. In addition to being part of our tour, it was also our lunch spot.

These boats — basically platforms mounted on two large outrigger boats and pushed by a small tug — carry about fifty passengers, not including the crew and serving staff.

Lunch is served from a buffet and is made up of classic Filipino comfort food: chicken and pork adobo, shrimp, pinakbet (a stew of vegetables including bitter melon, okra, string beans and eggplant), philippine barbecue (grilled pork kebabs), fried chicken and all sorts of tropical fruit.

This was my view from where I ate:

Once again, the obligatory self-portrait:

The boat travels about an hour upriver while the passengers eat, after which it reaches this point and turns around:

On the way back, we made a stop at this floating platform to catch a performance by a chorus of two dozen women, each one playing a ukelele, all performing pop songs that anyone from North America (or steeped in its culture) would recognize:

When we arrived, they were playing The Everly Brothers’ classic, Bye Bye Love. We hopped off the boat and onto the platform, caught a few more numbers and then continued downriver:

Seeing our boat, a number of stray dogs gathered nearby on the shore:

They’re used to getting scraps thrown to them from tourists on the boats, so they all sat at attention, waiting for their lunch. After a while, about eight or nine dogs had gathered, some scrapping with each other for the best spot on the riverbank:

Next: More beach bummin’


Quotes About Canada

Before Canada Day is over, some choice quotes about Canada:

“Ah, sweet Canada Day! The day that Americans give thanks that, in case global warming turns out to be real, their new homeland lies supine and succulent, ripe for the plucking.”

“Canada is basically what happened when France and England got together to try to create the friendliest country on Earth.”

Archer on the terrorists who want an independent Nova Scotia: “[They’re] armed with what? Pamphlets about Canada’s responsible gun control laws?”

“If Canada didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it.”

Maciej Ceglowski: “Any sufficiently advanced society is indistinguishable from Canada.”


Happy Canada Day!

I may be on the other side of the world and twelve time zones away, but that’s no excuse not to celebrate Canada Day! Happy birthday, Canada, the country where I spent most of my life and more opportunities than I can count.

In celebration, here’s a little blast from the past:

and here’s the patriotic article from which it came.

Happy Canada Day, everybody!