Archive for the ‘Here & There’ Category

ARRIVALS

“We just need the blue and white paper. We already cleared customs, so keep your passport,” said this man behind me to a woman he was with.

We were in a queue to exit the Tom Bradley International airport three days before New Year’s Eve. It was moving along well, guided by the constant reminder of a staff to “Move up” and “Keep your passport. You don’t need it. Just prepare your customs card.”

“Don’t look nervous. You should look happy. You’re here,” he continued.

That was when I turned around and saw a Filipino woman – her passport was a dead give away – standing next to an American pushing the luggage trolley while speaking to the woman. Glancing at the woman’s mien, she looked pensive, deep in thought possibly, I surmised, about the reality of her new life in the US confronting her that very minute. She wasn’t a tourist I was very certain about that; I was only holding a passport while she had, aside from her passport, a file with other documents.

His line struck a cord in me. Arrivals can go myriad of ways. She must have been ecstatic at arriving in the US, but that elation must have been wrapped in apprehension at what awaits her new life which, indubitably, would be radically dissimilar from her former life. Everything would be different in all aspects: terrain, language, weather, culture, customs, and routine. She was alone in a way. Living in a new country isn’t always smooth sailing. Aside from battling homesickness, among many things, this feeling of being besieged cocoons an immigrant tightly that if one was to survive in a new world s/he has to steel herself/himself against the odds to succeed. 

My arrival at Los Angeles was nothing to compared to hers. Hers was a permanent relocation while mine was transitory, a promise made to my wonderful man to see him again. Like the Filipino behind me, I was ecstatic, thrilled, elated, but simultaneously anxious to the point of being apprehensive. A lot can happen and change in five months and questions whirled in my head: Does he still feel the same way? Do I still feel the same way? Would this be the beginning of the end? Will we fight? What will we say to each other? Will we get along?

Arrivals aren’t always what people generally perceive them to be. But the outcome can be altered by not overthinking and letting things unfold naturally. Following my own advice, I took a deep breath and a step to embrace my arrival.

Tom Bradley International Airport arrival

SOLITUDE 

The airport is one place that sees the opposite spectra of feelings: sadness in bidding one adieu or happiness in welcoming back a familiar face, a loved face. There is another dimension to the airport. It is a place of solitude particularly when you are a solo traveller. It is an isolation that provides a belated opportunity to simply be and to ruminate. There was, however, a time that being at the airport meant feelings of sadness as I grappled with the closure of one life and the slow process of picking up myself. Those days are gone. These days it gives me the solitude to collect my thoughts, process my feelings, and breathe slowly. It also gives me the much vaunted chanced to read – it is passion that has provided succor and refuge, delight and knowledge.

The Way to Paradise by Mario Vargas Llosa (NAIA, Terminal 2)

OF TOUR GUIDES 

Being a tourist in LA (or anywhere) is a tale of adventures laced with tour guide misadventures. The adventures are a given, but signing up a tour guide is a shot in the dark. It’s partly a boon because you don’t have to do a anything except show up at the appointed time and place; it is a double blessing when the guide is punctual, polite, and knowledgeable. However, it is the exact opposite when your guide’s favorite line is “I don’t know” and functions more of a driver.
Everything was copacetic with Ming, tour guide # 1, my guide for the whole day at Disneyland, Anaheim. He was loquacious and had perfect timing; he knew when to talk and to keep quiet. His bonhomous demeanor was definitely a plus point. 

“Disneyland is the most expensive theme park in California,” said Ming, slipping into work mode. “The one in Anaheim is the first Disneyland to open which was designed by Mr. Walt Disney.”

Speeding down the carpool lane, he continued with his spiel: “The carpool lane is really good. We go faster than other cars. The other and biggest Disneyland in America is in Orlando. There’s also a Disneyland in Paris and Japan. The newest Disneyland is in Shanghai – it opened June 16.”

In between Disneyland facts, he shared a bit of his life. He mentioned he is Vietnamese and has been residing in the US for six years now.

“This time is peak season for the travel agency,” he said when I asked how busy he was. “Then it is slow from September until before the beginning of Spring break. December is also very busy.”

Disneyland was already teeming with visitors from every walk of life brimming with excitement and accessorized with Mickey or Minnie headbands – with bow or lacy veil – when we got there. 

“Today is not very hot,” quipped Ming with a smile, as we waited for the Mickey and Friends tram to pull up.

Continued the lanky tour guide: “There is only one entrance and exit to Disneyland. We meet to the right of exit then we take tram back to this parking lot. Don’t take train because you go different parking lot.”

Meanwhile, Jeff, guide # 2, paled in comparison to Ming. He was polite and punctual, but his tour guide skills left much to be desired. Driver, in fact, would be a better term to describe his function who just dropped you off and collected you later. He wasn’t much of a talker; we – me and two other people – only got to know of the destination we were heading once we got there. 

“This is Beverly Hills,” he announced after we had passed the huge sign.

It took much to not roll my eyes in exasperation and blurt out, “You don’t say.” But patience reared its head and I flashed him a wry smile. He redeemed himself when he cheerfully trumpeted in his monotonic voice we would be heading to the famed Santa Monica pier. This time I didn’t mind him letting us loose and coming back for us again. Then – Jeff’s redemption holding steadfast – he took us to Getty Center for its famed pavilions, gardens, and permanent exhibitions. However, his redemption was short lived. He expected us to be back at the parking lot in 40 minutes. Sacrilegious! Waiting for the tram ride to the arrival plaza already took 15+ minutes; pray tell, where is the enjoyment of viewing the collections in less than 15 minutes? Face palm.

Then there’s Al whose way of saying his name was peculiar. 

“Call me A-L,” he said when I asked for his name that Saturday morning before we set off for Universal Studios Hollywood.

I thought he was being funny but he was dead serious. It was how he introduced himself to the whole tour group. Like Ming, he lived up to his name of tour guide, as he rattled on details about LA: how earthquakes are usual phenomena, how traffic congested is less on the weekends, and that drought has been a problem for five years. 

Finally, there is Angela Lin, the schoolmarm of a tour guide to Las Vegas and Arizona, who slips into Mandarin and English when the needs calls for it. Shepherding a group of 60 people is no easy feat; her job is akin to a teacher escorting her students on a field trip which is a trying situation, to say the least, given the diverse interests, habits, and quirks. But she would brook no interference in her schedule. In her words, “I am sorry if I push you, but I have a schedule. There was this lady who was late and wanted us to wait for her for another 10 minutes. I told her, ‘Sorry’ and left her.”

The Taiwanese has been in the US for 30 years working in the travel industry, ferrying tourists – Chinese, Taiwanese, Indonesians et al – around the country. Prior to her US residency, she was a tour guide in Taiwan for 10 years. Compared to her male counterparts, she was convincing (her smile can disarm the most resolved in not spending an extra dime) in control of everything: no missing tourist, no delays, the requisite spiels about Las Vegas and Arizona, the dos and don’ts, the best shows to see in Vegas (she recommends “Ka” and “The Variety Show”), the urgency of buying bottles of water before heading to Vegas, and the location of the popular brands at the Outlets at Barstow and Desert Hills Premium Outlets.

“I come to Vegas on my free time and watch the shows. I earn money, I also spend money,” quipped the Michael Kors fan on the night she escorted the 19 people (me included) to MGM Grand for Cirque du Soleil’s new epic tale,”Ka”. 

On the downside, she keeps forgetting there are non-Mandarin speakers on the group and you have to remind her for the English version of her previous spiel. There’s also this annoying habit of evading questions.

Tour guides come in various shapes and sizes, armed with what they perceive is the best approach to guiding you through your adventures in a foreign land. Some do it badly while others do a better job. Adventure or misadventure, tour guides definitely lend mood and color to the overall experience.

“Signpost With 3d Characters Shows Travelling Or Guidance” image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

TOURIST MODE 

Tourist mode was activated the moment I boarded the flight and the passenger to my left – one of my four seat mates – engaged me in a conversation. The other two were lost in their world of newspapers, prayer books, and rosary.
“Ah, you are a tourist,” he nearly exclaimed in surprise, having initiated the conversation with an explanation of why he was traveling. His opening gambit was the plane: it was old; the seat area was too small; and the entertainment system was absolutely antiquated. There was hardly any room to move without hitting the passenger to your left or right. Moreover, I had to crane my neck to watch the inflight movie; after a minute I gave up and returned to reading my book. This was only after Abe, as he introduced himself, stopped talking only to resume our tête-à-tête a few minutes after.

He lives in Las Vegas and was on bereavement leave: his 91-year-old mother had gone gently in the night. Upon learning of the grim news, he quickly booked a flight back to the Philippines, but without his family. It wasn’t a social visit, anyway.

“The second flight to Los Angeles has a bigger and better plane,” he related, “and my sister is on that flight.”

Noting my slightly arched eyebrow, he continued: “Strange, isn’t it? Our bookings are different.”

“Ah, you are a tourist, he repeated. “Galing!” (Roughly translated from Filipino as “Brilliant!”)

“You can say that. School is out so I am a tourist again,” I replied, grinning.


I decided to don my tourist hat this school break to give my teacher’s hat a break for a couple of weeks. It has been more a year since I was a bona fide tourist, traipsing through Ambon, and I was getting restless. It was time to take a break from a routine, which was fast turning into a mundane one, and lose myself in another world. Getting lost is good every now and then. In fact, stepping out of the world of teaching is requisite for those who chose to devote their life and energy to moulding minds against all odds. A teacher shouldn’t lose his/her sanity in the pursuit of bettering the minds of the future leaders of the world.

Being a tourist – a stranger in another land – gives back the worn to the frazzle Ms G (read: me) and ilk whose passion for teaching, compassion for students, and energy in marking voluminous paper and thinking of new strategies to employ in the classroom got depleted to the max, leaving them scraping the bottom of the barrels. 

Being a tourist gives the crotchety teacher a chance to breathe normally, not out of exasperation or anger. It affords her/him to inhale positive energy and exhale negativity.

Being a tourist makes it possible again for the soul-frayed teacher to reconnect with herself/himself and be whole again. Unknown or ignored by most, as a teacher, I exert great energy in and out of the classroom; every lesson, every activity, every paper, and test is done with bounds of energy, both physical and mental, which ultimately get exhausted. How do I go about replenishing my exhausted energy level? I switch to tourist mode because it’s time to rejuvenate to be whole again. It’s time for some major me-time.

OLD SCHOOL

Author JB Fletcher used it to complete her mystery novels and she got her writing done without missing her deadline. She didn’t need any newfangled gadget to help her with her research for her stories that she did old school. But times are certainly different. Students these days do not know how lucky they are when it comes to completing their research papers, yet they still gripe endlessly of how hard it is to do research when everything is available with the click of the button on their tablet or laptop. A decade or so ago, research entailed a lot of legwork, effort, and a well-functioning typewriter.

Almost two decades ago, research paper writing began with trooping to the library come rain or shine, traffic or no traffic, which was the easiest part of the process. Every free time I had at university was spent dashing to the main library and scouring the shelves for references. The hard part didn’t begin until, armed with pen and notebook, I was in flipping through the card catalogue and jotting down the complete name of the author, title, and the book’s call number then going up and down the floors. Not to forget learning the Dewey Decimal System beforehand! Difficulty escalated with the tracking down of the books and looking for replacements if it wasn’t available, i.e. borrowed by another library user or out for binding or not borrowed but nowhere to be found on the shelf. The thrill of getting hold of a much-wanted reference was ineffable ecstasy which, unfortunately, was ephemeral. I was brought back down to earth from cloud 9 when the difficulty level went up a notch higher with the reading and subsequent whittling down of the bibliography list to the essential sources.

Nowadays, my students don’t have much legwork to do because research is easy. Google whatever and voila! In seconds, myriad results are listed on the monitor that they could pour through immediately. I wished it had been that easy when I was working on my papers! Results weren’t that easy to come by. But appreciation of the ease they have is overshadowed by the whining about having to write a research paper and – gasp! – thinking. “Using the grey matter”, as Hercule Poirot referred to thinking, didn’t figure much in their lifestyles.

This was what my generation used in writing research papers etc. [Djournal Coffee Bar, Grand Indonesia]

This was what my generation used in writing research papers etc. [Djournal Coffee Bar, Grand Indonesia]

Typing up the research paper old school would give my students a massive myocardial infarction. Imagine having to adjust the margins of the page, the spacing of the lines, and the page numbers manually which was frustrating to say the least. One mistake and you had to re-type the whole page! Then there’s that waiting for the liquid correction fluid to dry up before you could start typing over it. I’d get impatient so I’d use a fan to speed up the drying. Doing the bibliography using the conventional typewriter was easy-peasy than the footnotes which really tested one’s patience and determination in finishing the research paper. Old school typing is just half of the problem. There’s also that little issue of changing the faded ribbon of ink with a new one that more often than not is one incredibly messy affair.

Writing the research paper is another whole issue. I live by the dictum “to write you must read and vice-versa” which has carried me through the years I have been employed as an editor and teacher. Reading is like breathing to me; to tell me to take a break is akin to saying don’t breathe. However, today’s generation, at least in my experience, is a generation that abhors reading with a passion because reading has lamentably become synonymous to being un-cool. Heaven forbid that a student should be seen with his/her head buried in a book! Reading a classic or an article has been replaced with reading updates on whichever social media platform they’ve signed up. So, wonder no more if you’re faced with someone whose writing skills (don’t forget the reading and speaking skills) leave much to be desired.

Being old school has been raked through the mud long enough. Newfangled gadgets are fantastic as they add ease to an otherwise arduous process, but gadgets can never replace a fundamental aspect of research paper writing which is the all-important, old school skill called critical thinking.

THE ANGKOT AND THE JEEPNEY

“Do you have angkot in the Philippines?” asked a colleague several months ago.

“We have something similar,” was my brief reply.

This exchange is common in my daily dealings with my Indonesian colleagues. There’s this comparison of objects, words, and whatnot that I surmise was a way to situate me and get a picture of how life is in the Philippines. For example, in terms of language, a multitude of words are similar such as words for umbrella, bowl, to stab, and even that Latin word gratis. Then there is there public transportation. We have the public buses and the taxis, but not the motorcycle-for-hire, or ojek as it is known in Indonesia, that ferries customers to any destination in the area. The motorcycle in the Philippines is a privately owned vehicle. However, there is one public vehicle that is both similar and different at the same time.

The angkot from Ambon in Moluccas

The angkot from Ambon in Moluccas

One is definitely Indonesian and one is definitely Filipino. The angkot, a very Indonesian form of transportation, is the Filipino version of the jeepney, to put it one way or vice-versa. Depending on where you are in Indonesia, the angkot can be a well-maintained vehicle or as run-down as it could possibly get. I discovered on a recent trip to Ambon in Moluccas that its angkot is very clean, shiny, and blasting loudly with music. A huge speaker is usually place at the back of the passenger’s cabin which could wreck one’s eardrums unless you tell the driver to lessen the volume of the radio. The angkot is a good alternative to hiring SUVs when the latter is fully booked and you need to get around the island. The angkot in Bekasi pales in comparison particularly the ones that are numbered 26 and 05A. The seats are worn out, the inside is dirty, and the windows are stuck so you’re stewing in an oven. It’s really not your day if your driver has got ants in his pants!

The Philippine jeepney somewhere in Manila

The Philippine jeepney somewhere in Manila

Meanwhile, the jeepney is a reworked version of the US military jeep. In its heydays, it was decorated to the point that it made it difficult for the driver to see through the windshield because of the bric-a-brac on the hood. All that remains are the cheeky signs inside that put a grin on any bored commuter. The jeeps are longer than the angkot readily sitting 24 passengers at one trip or a much tighter squeeze when the barker is persuasive. At times, passengers who don’t want to wait for the next one just hang on from the entrance.

The payment system is distinctly different. The angkot passenger pays once he/she alights. For the jeepney, payment is made once the passenger boards and if you’re far from the driver the payment and change are passed down the passenger line. Sadly for the jeepney driver, there have been cases of passengers jumping off and skipping payment, and even petty theft (i.e. phone and jewellery snatching.)

Hanging on from a jeepney is an option when you really need to get going.

Hanging on from a jeepney is an option when you really need to get going.

Tight squeeze or not, clean or not, the angkot and jeepney provide an economical alternative to the cab where the fare remains constant unlike the cab’s meter that keeps running even when traffic stalls. The only downside is when it’s pouring buckets.

THE VIEW

Its stunning view needled my mind endlessly. Not visiting the place would certainly be sacrilegious the next time I was in Bali. So, it was one sunny Saturday afternoon in the early part of April, Pak Gde behind the wheel, that I trundled along the new expressway that made a short cut from Sanur to Nusa Dua, to The Mulia, Mulia Resort &Villas.

The moment my foot touched the resort’s floor my gaze fell on the scene at the end of the lobby. Through the half-opened floor-to-ceiling jalousie-styled swinging doors was the magnificent view that I only saw on the Internet. Walking through the marbled lobby pass the Cascade Lounge, the afternoon breeze drifting lazily through the pillars, my eyes never left the beguiling landscape of sun, sky, surf, and elegant surroundings.

Finally, behind the colossal doors, sofa sets beckoning one to sit down, was the  sublime scenery.