8:45pm, the phone rang. It was the guard saying “time the go, the cab driver is concerned”.
That was the call to leave the Philippines. We had eaten dinner and 7 pm and the parade was still in progress. No way we were going to return to watch. From the roof top restaurant at the Apple Tree Suites, it was clear that the congestion was worse. A person could hardly hear the bands because of the bedlam going on around the area.
We loaded our bags and took off on the back way out of the area. Turning east on to Jones Avenue led to a pitiful sight. Parade marchers were sitting and sleeping on the road island. There was no place for them to go and no transportation. Kids seven years old to late teens all looking miserable, wishing they were somewhere else. Every corner, every curb, every wall, all had someone leaning, sitting, or slumping from lack of sleep. Long lines of people were trudging to find transportation to a place to sleep.
I told the cabbie to avoid the downtown and take the longer route over the new bridge to the Mactan airport. I could tell he was relieved that I didn’t insist on the shorter, less expensive route over the old bridge. I didn’t want to sit in traffic. I’d been in the Philippines for 2 months and I was sick of sitting in traffic lines!
Of course the traffic was heavy, but we kept moving, unlike Manila. As we passed the main downtown area, a fireworks display took off. It was lovely, traffic halted to watch the spectacle. We got stuck for a while, and our driver enjoyed the show as well. People ran from everywhere to get a better vantage point. It’s simply amazing that no people ever seems to get hit by cars or trucks. Of course they do, but it’s rare. The excited people had forced drivers to stop and wait for a few minutes.
We were at the airport a 10:15pm, plenty early for our 1:00am flight. We had a few little glitches, but everything was going well. Flight on time, we were at the airport, good weather, etc. 12 midnight rolled around, and the 39 hour day began.
Our flight ended up being a little late, but no big deal. This is time for a plug for Asiana Airline. The flights are comfortable, service exceptional, and food even better. I had a late dinner on board that was amazing. Fresh fruit, shrimp salad, beef burgundy, and a piece of cake. I’ve rarely gotten a decent meal on a US airline and the quality of food and service was a very pleasant surprise. They have a lot of little touches that make the long, miserable flights half way enjoyable and certainly tolerable. I hate sitting for that many hours!
Into Seoul and time for the 12 hour hangover, 7 hours into Monday. We got through customs and lined ourselves out for the free Seoul City Tour offered by Asiana. Another plug! The other option was a free motel room in lieu of the tour. Now how can you beat a deal like that? Asiana had the lowest fare by far and these perks as well.
Try getting something like that in the US.
After a one hour wait…
A bus picked us up and whisked us off for the 45 minute drive to Seoul. First stop, or rather drive by, was the Korean presidential Whitehouse called the Bluehouse.
Due to security reasons, the bus was not allowed to stop. There were a jillion government offices in the area. I guess South Korea has picked up on the US bureaucracy as well. Too bad.
Next stop was a Buddhist temple in the downtown area. Curious, I had to look around. This was the oldest temple in Seoul, I believe. The tree in front was 500 years old!
The architecture is something to behold. I’ve seen pictures, but I’ve never seen a building like this in person. I had to peek inside. There was a service going on, so I was as discreet as possible. Not to worry, Buddhists are very peaceful and polite.
I shot from the hip and was as quiet and respectful as I could be. I was offered a mat so I could bow and pray by a nice woman who saw me standing there. She got up and gestured to me a couple of times to take her place. Of course I declined, but I was touched by the offer. She is in the lower left of the picture.
The 500 year old tree. It has a pipe to support it as it leans precariously towards the temple. Buddhists are very careful to protect life, this tree is a well known icon of the city.
The baby Buddha outside with offerings on the table in front. Bottled water?
Traffic in Seoul. Seoul is the cleanest city I have ever seen. There is hardly anything on the roads that resembles trash. Maintenance workers are everywhere, watching and cleaning. A few plastic bags and an occasional cigarette butt were all a person could find.
Next stop was a recreated town from years past.
The houses. They were moved from several areas around Seoul. The families donated them to the museum.
Outdoor washing facilities
A house showing some of the furniture inside.
This looked like a little house for sheltering goats or sheep.
I shot this picture because I was going to ask the tour director what this was. Later, I figured it out. It’s a chimney. Fires were built under the houses to keep people warm in the winter. The smoke was safely exhausted next to the house.
These fancy houses all were built near streams, so a stream was recreated for effect. It wasn’t flowing this time of year, temperatures at night were in the lower teens and the water feature was frozen solid! The temperatures warmed into the lower thirties during the day and it was almost pleasant when you were in the sun.
Next stop was lunch. We had a tasty dinner of marinated beef and onions with noodles, rice, kim chi, lettuce, bean sprouts, red fish paste, and other condiments to wrap in the lettuce leaves. Entirely yummy. I bought a little bottle of rice wine that tasted exactly like vodka and was just as strong. No way I could drink much of it, I didn’t want to get drunk. All I wanted was a taste and I got a whole bottle. No one else wanted to try any so I left most of it. Sigh.
Last stop was for souvenirs. We got some tea, jewelry boxes, a little metal owl, and…chopsticks. More on that in a bit.
Back to the airport for the flight home.
Crossing one of the many bridges in Seoul, I noticed these apartments. Later on, I was astounded at the number of apartments along the highway and the size of the buildings. This is a small smattering, apartments similar to these lined the freeway for 10 miles!
High speed train to Seoul Incheon airport. South Korea, at least Seoul, has great infrastructure. It was pleasant to move quickly from one place to another after being jammed in with people for two months in the Philippines.
We got into the airport and I had to repack my carryon bag. And guess what, I had to repack the chopsticks and…
They were made of metal. With sharp pointy ends. I was disgusted with myself, they would surely be confiscated at security. A waste of money to buy them. I was ready to throw them away, but Praxy (bless her heart) told me to give it a try, maybe hide them in my pack. I balked at that, but decided to leave them in the paper bag and set them boldly and openly on the conveyer, so it wouldn’t look like I was trying to sneak them on. And…security never batted an eye. They did open my pack and looked my binoculars over very carefully, then let them pass as well. The guard laughed when he realized what the binoculars were. I figured there was no way I’d get the chopsticks on Horizon Air in the US, but I took them out of Korea anyway. Again, more on this later.
I watched aircraft to pass the time.
and got a nice shot of two Asiana Airbus 330s through the terminal window after sunset. There was very pretty sunset, but the airplanes wouldn’t cooperate when the light was finally correct.
30 minutes later we were leaving Asia. 18 hours into Monday. I was astounded at the size of the city of Seoul. It must be over 25 miles across. We ate dinner over Japan, another very tasty meal. This time tenderloin steak, potatoes, cooked veggies, ham and cucumber salad, and cheesecake. How do they do it? Six out of six excellent meals on the trip. Not a bad average. I tanked up on the free red wine for dinner. I had a plan to sleep. Wine plus a prescription sleeping pill so I’d get some sleep. It worked. I slept soundly for 4 1/2 hours on the 9 3/4 hour trip from Seoul to Seattle. Boy, was I stiff and sore when I woke up!
Approaching Seattle, I had a brainstorm. We had to claim our luggage to clear customs. Why not put the chopsticks in the luggage before customs? So I did exactly that, switched the chopsticks from my carryon to my suitcase in front of a customs official. It worked, the picture I took of them was in my home in Pomeroy.
The only thing I can figure is that chopsticks are so common in Asia, they aren’t considered a possible security threat. These metal ones are stainless steel and very strong. In the right person’s hand, a real weapon. I’m sure that TSA would have instantly grabbed them, and rightfully so. I’m a little disturbed about the whole thing.
We were now 27 hours into Monday. Unless we had briefly hit Tuesday before the international dateline.
On to Horizon Air…
and the flight across Washington. It was nice to have a one hour flight as opposed to the 4 1/2 hour and 9 3/4 hour flights! We stopped in to a local pizza parlor to be greeted by family welcoming us home. American pizza. I gorged myself. Then, the one hour drive from Clarkston, Washington to Pomeroy. Home. 32 hours into Monday. Bedtime early, Monday finally ended after 39 hours at midnight. I missed that milestone. Fortunately I was able to sleep, a lot of my friends have terrible problems with jet lag on the return from Asia.
That’s it. If you’ve read every entry, you have some insight into a two month trip to the Philippines. Of course a lot more happened, but it is omitted for one reason or another. Some of it may be mundane, some was complicated, some were things that I thought weren’t interesting enough to write about. I have one more entry a little later on, maybe in a day or two. I’m debating with myself about it, because some of the items are a little negative. It will give people a bit of an idea of what to expect. By that I mean, what things might happen in the Philippines that would at best put you out of your comfort zone, or at worst, ruin your trip. And some of the real neat things that make adventures like this worth a try.
A trip like this is certainly not for everyone. I’ve traveled extensively in Mexico, and the Philippines was much more of a challenge. I questioned my own sanity a couple of times. But I now know the country, the people, the geography. Everywhere I went, I was welcomed and treated well.
I hoped you enjoyed following Praxy and my trip as much as I enjoyed writing about it. Comments are always welcome.
Ken McIntyre 1/18/2012 4:30pm