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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

No, seriously; I hate it

Just in case I haven't been utterly transparent, I hate flying. I always get an aisle seat because I'm claustrophobic and that horrible overhead baggage compartment hanging over the other seats drives me nuts. Aunt Marion likes the window seat for sleeping. Between us, for just that one time, we had an empty seat. It quickly filled up with our crap.

Because it was an international airline, they had such amenities as blankets, pillows and earphones for movies and such. I put on all my own equipment, blew up my neck pillow, and prepared to sleep after dinner. Because once aloft, they serve food. For the next 15 hours, they served food. A lot of it was lousy, but no one starved. My advice: always get the chicken. Fish, pork and beef are frequently prepared in unrecognizeable and unfamiliar ways. Our housekeeper warned me about this. Yes, all the food was Filipina, because this was Philippine Air. If one must fly to the Far East, I recommend it. But if you don't have to go, well, never mind.

The flight was 14 1/2 hours of hell. Toward the end I panicked and put my head on my tray. No one else knew what was happening. It was the claustrophobia. Pills wear off after a while. Across the aisle from me were some normal people about whom I remember nothing, which is to their credit. Three seats forward was a young American guy with mental health issues, pestering everyone. He was right across from the heads so he couldn't be ignored unless you were downright rude. I had to turn my back to avoid him. I warned my aunt about him, as I didn't want any trouble. Forward to my right was a family bringing an old woman home to die. It was so obvious and so painful. Many of us cried with them. I hope she found rest. Actually, I'm sure of it. On the other side of the plane was a child who, again, made my headphones, etc, pay off. I also made liberal use of my nook when I wasn't trying to sleep.

So several marginally edible meals, two movies and a round of hot washcloths later, we finally disembarked. Once we were there, we learned that, had the plane been heavy enough to require refuleing, we would not have been allowed to deplane. Luckily, the flight wasn't full, so we were able to go non-stop. Sorry I missed Guam, but given the alternative, I'm okay with it.

I got very dehydrated on that flight although I drank everything they threw at me, and asked for more. In the terminal, we were met by some young woman from the tourist board who brought us leis, but couldn't provide any water. I began to lose consciousness while we were waiting for the luggage. Luckily, my inner ear gives me a little buzz when I'm about to go down so I avoided falling although I was really in and out a lot. I kept asking and asking and finally hollering for water, and I told them unless they wanted us all to go to the hospital to rehydrate me right now, they would bring me water . . . well, eventually my carrying on had some effect, because a guide went out and brought me a nice bottle of hot water from somewhere. I drank it, believe me, and my cousin Carol wouldn't let me carry anything and supported me through the arrivals so I wouldn't collapse. In the bus I got another bottle of hot water. I was not happy. Offering something to drink is basic hospitality, and having water available throughout a terminal in a tropical climate is a matter of safety, sanitation and public health. I couldn't begin to understand why I had to make such an issue. Water fountains, people! Vendors with cold sodas, not warm bottles of booze. What the hell?

We had to hike a couple blocks to the bus, much like in Quito, where driving up to the curb is evidently not possible due to, well, I don't know due to what. They had a bus, a curb, and a road.; What more do you need? At the hotel I expected to be offered a drink such as juice. Nada. I asked for water. I asked and asked. I refused to go to the counter to check in unless I got some water, and again, finally it came. I rose hell over the lack of hospitality, and will do it again with the tour operator, who has sent a survey on the trip to fill out. I mean, the US is extraordinarily inhospitable compared to some cultures, but you can get drinking water everywhere, even if from a machine or sold by a grouchy person. It's just a matter of general public health. 

Anyway, we had landed at 4:30 AM and were promptly told to go eat breakfast. Really? They had been stuffing us all night. I took a shower went to bed instead. And I drank all the free water from the hotel room and called for more. Even in the Manila Hotel, a five star, you could not drink the tap water. The hotel, by the way is gorgeously old-fashioned and lovingly restored with a wonderful staff who know how to do anything, and where everything is, except water.

Here is an out-of-focus shot of the lobby, but, since I was dizzy, this is exactly how it looked to me.

And then we re-assembled at 9 AM for the "city tour." But that deserves an entry all its own, with more pictures!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Our day on the town

My friend, Carol, and her spouse, Maureen, had arranged to collect us at 10 AM. And at 10 AM, they were in front of a different Holiday Inn. Fifteen minutes later they were at yet another Holiday Inn. Finally they arrived bearing Ghirardelli chocolates. Who cares what time it was? Not I. I have been to San Francisco on numerous occasions, including with Carol, and Joyce, so I had no preferences about where we went, except Pier 39 because I thought Aunt Marion would enjoy the seals, and she wanted to see a vintage trolley. I was really there more for the fun of the company than any sights, so anything and everything was okay with me.

I am the world's worst photographer. This shot was meant to be about the seals. Nice lighthouse, huh?

After Pier 39, we drove to the Presidio because it's historic and pretty. See? Check out the purple flowers (no idea what they are), which I tried to use to create interest. The bridge is back there someplace. Click or squint to see it better. A lot of soldiers returning from the Philippine death camps and hell ships were treated here during and after World War II.

Then we went to the Cliff House for lunch. I should mention that we drove by a lot of famous San Francisco sights, and even getting turned around in traffic gave us a chance to soak in a lot of architecture, such as in Chinatown.

Here's a view from Cliff House. It was nouvelle cuisine, and we all enjoyed our lunch very much. I think I had crab and artichoke ravioli. Something exotic, anyhow.

Following lunch, we drove briefly along the coast and then through Golden Gate Park, where there are windmills.Note how I cleverly concealed a streetlamp in this shot.

Then it was time to return to the hotel and pack for our late checkout. Took the shuttle to international departures and waited in a very long line of mostly Filipinas to board. Many, many children, much extra baggage. We met the tour operator and kept looking for Carol and Fred. I called and they said they were on a train. We had no idea what that meant, but we went on to the gate to wait for them, meeting other tour members on the way. Finally they appeared about 20 minutes before boarding, explaining they thought they'd give their family a break and try to get to the airport on their own, but their nephew came anyway, negating their intentions. Oh, well. We heard he was a good sport about the whole thing.

Once we were all assembled I brought out my surprise: Uncle Karl baseball caps, tan with his photo (see first post)  and red lettering identifying him as a Battling Bastard of Bata'an. Carol took many pictures. I don't have them yet, but later you'll see me wearing this hat in the Philippines.
Here's the poem by war correspondent Frank Hewlett:

We're the Battling Bastards of Bataan,
No Mama, No Papa, No
Uncle Sam,
No aunts, no uncles, no cousins, no nieces,
No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces,
And nobody gives a damn!

A day of flying and not flying

Tampa to San Francisco

A not-too-auspicious start. Joyce hates to drive, especially to the airport, or anywhere involving an Interstate, so I took a cab. Of course, stopping over in the US, I had to pay a baggage fee, which is among the many reasons I haven’t flown since 2011, and won’t for the foreseeable future. Not saying never. Just saying I don’t even want to think about it right now. 

In order not to have to get up at the butt-crack of dawn, I had to arrange a change of planes, at Dulles in DC. Of course we landed late and my plane to San Francisco was already boarding when I got off my flight from Tampa and the next gate was about three miles away on concourses with no people movers. I am 61, weigh over 200 pounds, and was wearing a 20 pound backpack. I made that distance faster than I ever had to, or actually did, in the Air Force. Of course, I paid in stiff joints all over for the rest of the trip.

Oh, and guess what? When I arrived at the gate, they were deplaning! The air conditioning had quit! And then it was one excuse after another until we took off 90 minutes late. Of course I was drenched with sweat, and things didn’t get much better at SFO, where the baggage claim may as well have been on the moon, but at least I didn’t have to rush. The hotel shuttle came right away and delivered me only about an hour late. Aunt Marion had already been there for hours and had spent the day with my cousins, and their cousins, or somebody. She said she had a great time. I was just glad my delays didn’t cause her any trouble. We gabbed till about midnight and hit the hay, because we had a tour of San Francisco planned for the next day.


Friday, April 25, 2014

Beautiful downtown Wellsboro, its real name

This post is out of position and has nothing to do with the Philippines. Go on to the next one. Sorry.

So of course the first day there, after Johnny sort of left, but not really, Ollie got out some way. I no longer remember the particulars but I can still hear Joyce screaming. Anyway, being the more philosophical of the two of us, I went inside to call the police to keep a lookout while Joyce ran around outside like a chicken with its head cut off, except, of course, a real chicken head can't scream. It was almost sunset at that point and I figured he'd taken off into the woods behind the house and would be gone till morning, or forever. I was in the kitchen, calling, looking out the front of the house, describing Ollie, when suddenly Joyce pops up in the front porch window, holding him over her head. Disaster averted!

I thanked the dispatcher for her patience and went to get the details, and of course, help Joyce up the front steps with the dog. Did I mention Joyce brought her cane along? She never uses it except if we anticipate a lot of stairs with no railings. Well, Tse-Tse- Fly had zero railings. So she ran out without the cane and was trying to carry Ollie up the porch stairs, which wasn't going very well. So I got them in and Joyce said he had actually crossed the road twice, right in front of her, and the second time he got close enough to grab. I guess his over-bonding with his Mama surpassed his curiosity about running away in the dark in the woods. It was nothing but good karma/divine intervention that kept him from being run over.

Next day, neither of us wanted to move from the house because the weather was sort of dribbling rain, but frankly, I wanted some kinds of food we didn't have (like bread, which the general store didn't have, although they had trapping bait). So we both finally managed to take showers in the Coffin (the bathroom was exceedingly narrow, especially for people who are excedingly wide) and drive to Wellsboro. It was the kind of drive Joyce hates (narrow road with lots of twists, turns and tailgating) but the kind of scenery she loves, by which I mean vistas of turning leaves. So I drove while she shrieked about one thing or another. After a looong time in the supermarket, she came out with lots of stuff in brand new shitbags and we started to drive home, except the town was so pretty we pulled over to take pictures. Not only were the leaves changing but they had decorated for Halloween/Thanksgiving and they have these wonderful old gas street lamps, of which you can see one if you click the top picture. They are always lit (we discovered later) but sometimes hard to see. And later on, because we went to Wellsboro frequently, there'll be more pictures of different parts of town. It's so nicely-preserved, and we never even heard of it, and stumbled there entirely by accident because of Johnny's rental cabin ad. This is the kind of thing that makes travel so wonderfully entertaining and enlightening. Everyone ought to do more of it.

Post-Philippine Depression

Well. This trip was very interesting, but some things didn't go so well. Some of it was simply a matter of being in a Third World country, and some was rotten timing, such as my sweet, darling old dog Nick departed his earthly life the day I got home. So it's no wonder I'm depressed, but we're working on it with the help of our newly-adopted dog, Theo. He's doing his best to fit in. And this blog will serves as a form of therapy, at least, that's what I'm hoping.
Nick, top, was 19. Theo, bottom, is three. So, about the trip. In 1940, my Uncle Karl was shipped out to the Philippines as a pursuit (fighter) mechanic. There was no war when he got there, but on Dec 8, 1941, all that changed. He defended the Philippines as an infantry soldier (the planes were all destroyed in the first wave of Japanese attacks) until April 9, 1942, when the Islands were formally surrendered, more or less. He then became an unwilling participant of the Bata'an Death March, was sent ultimately to Cabanatuan, an enormous concentration camp, and died there of amoebic dysentery at the age of almost 23. And for 70+ years thereafter, his family thought he was buried in a mass grave at the camp as an unknown.
Last year a US Army volunteer contacted me (through to say they thought they knew which unknown grave in Manila was my uncle's. The Army had known this since approximately 1950, but somehow failed to tell anyone in our family. Ultimately, Uncle Karl was interred, disinterred and re-interred five times, always with a designation showing he was a SPECIFIC unknown, presumed to be him, but not officially identified. The Army collected DNA from my family and went back to sleep. We, four of us, decided to go to the Philippines and follow in Uncle Karl's footsteps, al the way to his 99 and 44/100% certain grave.

Every year in early April, the Philippines hold Araw ng Kagitingan, which is Tagalaog for "Day of Valor." It serves as their Memorial Day and is timed to coincide with the Fall of Bata'an, April 9. On either side of that date, a battlefield pilgrimage of relevant sites is organized by Valor Tours, who does these things all over the world at various battle sites from many wars. So my Aunt Marion (Karl's youngest sister), cousins Carol and Fred, and I, signed up to go. We had eleven months to get ready. Apparently, we could have used a few more months, but more on that later.