Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Back to the Twilight Zone

I’ve always told my friends that whenever I’m on my 6-month contract working on a ship, I can’t help but feel that I’m trapped in the “Twilight Zone”. It’s like I don’t exist for the whole time I’m away. This is probably because I’m so far from the people I care about the most.

E-mails and phone calls can’t really take the place of the good-old “conversation over dinner” with your family and consoling your friends that everything will be fine as you tap them on their backs while they vomit from drinking a keg.

When I got my flight itinerary, I was appalled by the fact that I was going to fly via Continental Airlines to cross the Pacific. I usually had Cathay Pacific which offered great food, ample space for your feet to move in, and your own monitor where you can watch movies and TV shows during your 14 to 16-hour flight. CA on the other hand was on the opposite side of the spectrum - the food tastes like it came from a public hospital, the space was cramped, and you have to have a giraffe’s neck to comfortably watch the movies they play on the projector screen.

Well, that’s coming from a person flying in economy class. I know the difference between the two airlines would be less if one was flying business, having his own cocoon and a steward at his beck and call.

As an OFW, it was great that they removed having us go to a POEA flat outside the main NAIA building just to have our certificates validated, now, you can do that on the special booth for OFW’s set-up in the Customs Section right after you check your luggage in. So it’s a big check to the NAIA Managment for that!

After I checked-in, had my POEA certificate validated to waive my terminal fee, and gone through Immigration, I went to my first stop - Tinderbox.

As this is the only place where you can smoke in the NAIA, it has always been the first place I go to as soon as I’m done with Immigration for the past 6 years. The drinks are fairly priced and the staff are accommodating. The cappuccino I had tasted like it was from Starbucks, without the unnecessary nausea of having to choose whether to have your milk, in soy, skim, full, or from a nursing mother with Hepatitis A from a third-world country. Sometimes, too many choice complicates things and Tinderbox is kind enough to save me from that.

From Manila, I went to Hong Kong - the only airport in the world I’ve been to where the escalators and conveyer belts talk to you.

From Hong Kong, I had a flight to O’Hare - Chicago. I haven’t been to that airport for around 4 years already. I don’t know if the “fiesta-like” lighting has always been there, but I noticed it this time:

I went out of the airport to smoke since I still had enough time before my connecting flight. An Indian guy went up to me and said “Shimasen, Konichiwa”.

That was utterly weird. I was in Chicago, smoking a FIlipino cigarette, and an Indian guy wearing a Chinese Budhist Monk outfit was talking to me in Japanese while pulling a hot pink luggage behind him.

I said “Watashi wa-karinai Niponggo desu.” Thank goodness I used to work for a small company sending entertainers to Japan so I knew a couple of Japaneses phrases that could save my life just in case I find myself stuck in Japan.

He laughed and said “Sorry, you grew up in America?”

“No, I grew up in the Philippines and I’m not a Japanese.” was my reply. I’ve always been amused by the fact that most Americans and Italians think I’m either a Japanese or a Chinese, while a lot of Asians think I’m either from Latin America or Italy. In this case, I think my fake brown hair did the optical trick.

It turned out he wanted to give me a book for “free”.

After skimming over the book’s cover, I told him I’ve always been interested in learning Budhism ever since I saw the movie about Tina Turner where she was chanting “Nam Yoh Rengge Kyoh” while her eyes were swollen from being smacked around by her husband in a limo.

After he handed me the book, he asked for a donation. When I said I didn’t have any money, he snatched the book out of my hand, said “God Bless” and hobbled away with his pink luggage.

I guess nothing really is for free these days.

After O-Hare, I had to fly to Miami Dade.

When I got there and was about to leave the carousel section to look for my hotel’s free shuttle, a cute guy who was wearing a “police-officer-like” uniform went up to me an asked if I were a crewmember from my company.

I hesitantly said yes, while an image of getting shackled to a 1-ton iron ball went through my head. When he said he had my transportation to the hotel, I thought that my luck was changing for the better.

It turned out that it wasn’t for the better ... it was turning worse.

Before giving us our luggage when we were in our hotel’s parking lot, he was telling me and the other Fipilipino guy I found already inside the van before getting in, that we had to pay 20 USD each. I told him that I know for a fact that hotel shuttles are for free. He said that he doesn’t work for the hotel and he was called by my company to pick me up. I asked him to tell me my name.

Ok, let me clear that up, I’m not suffering from amnesia, and if I did I wouldn’t ask a buff guy wearing short shorts for it. The only way I’d know this guy is for real is if he had a list of some sort with my name on it.

He pretended to look at the clipboard he had and shrugged. Then he said “But I know his name though!” and pointed at the other FIlipino guy I was with like he was a carrier of some viral plague about to set it loose in American soil. I said “Prove it!” and felt stupid when he removed a paper with huge marker-writtings of the Filipino guy’s name.

The other Pinoy guy can barely speak English and I felt he was about to drown in panic and misery. I told him that since I shared the van, we’d just split the 20 USD bill.

Entering the hotel was a bliss. Our company usually books us at Holiday Inn near the airport which was OK . This time though, we were booked at LA QUINTA HOTEL and all my travel hassles were kicked out from my consciousness.

I woke up 7am, waddled in the bathtub for 30 minutes, got dressed and went for breakfast. I stuffed my usually foul mouth with some great food (good thing La Quinta serves a lot of fresh fruit varieties in the morning, not just the usual American breakfast buffet).

8am sharp, the bus that will take me to my 6-month home/prison came.

After 45 minutes of listening to Beyonce’s HALO over and over on my iPod 3G Shuffle, I was on a que in the ship terminal thinking to myself ...

“I hope this contract won’t be as dull as my travel ...”

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