Kawks on Planes

Them’s Fightin’ Birds

Approaching the check-in counter at PAL – You never say Philippine Airlines, that would break the rule of pronouncing the words that are behind all acronyms, and there are multitudes of them, in this country – I heard an unfamiliar sound. Well, not so unfamiliar really, the sound of a gamecock expressing his displeasure at being stuffed into a cardboard box with a few holes in it was more unexpected than unfamiliar. When I turned around, there were three men with carts that held their small carry-on luggage, which was almost discarded on the metal trolleys. What was perched in more organized and careful fashion on the carts were the prize (or hopefully prize) fighting birds.

Centennial terminal, what used to be the modern, departure and arrival point for all PAL flights into and out of Manila was now an unorganized, crowded terminal, part of the NAIA –Ninoy Aquino International Airport. After waiting in line to have my eticket and passport checked so that I could be allowed into the airport, I passed through the first screening – my bags were sent through the xray machine and after setting off the alarm, the front of my arms and my tummy was patted down so lightly I would seem the security-checker was frightened of what I might transmit through my clothing. My appreciation level for TSA agents suddenly improved exponentially.

Instead of choosing any counter in the domestic departure area, each departure was assigned to a different counter. After schlepping my bags to the noted counter, I was directed to the other side of the airport to counters 27 – 29, not 7 – 9. A little mistake, one of assumed carelessness on the part of the person responsible for sign making yesterday morning.


Philippinos Do Crowds Well — A Sunday Afternoon at Glorieta Mall

Navigating Airport Check-in

I was there in plenty of time, so there was no issue with waking back and forth a few times. You’ve got to learn to leave time to navigate Asian airports. Security lines are interminable, boarding behavior is unruly and an extreme sport and waiting for checked baggage to make it’s way off the baggage claim carousel requires the patience of a saint and perhaps a tranquilizer as balikbayan box after balikbayan box clogs up the process.

I was surprised to see a 747 parked at our gate. The flight to Cebu is just 1 hour and although Cebu is a gateway to other Asian ports, I just wasn’t expecting this. I figured that at about the time we reached cruising altitude in the big lug we would need to begin our descent. And that’s about what happened. We were served some small local bags of snacks – salted dried peas, crackers with spicy tuna and a pastry called custard which was basically a cake like sweet with some sugary filling on the inside.

They came by to pick up the garbage and we made our way back to terra firma. It took about forever to get my bag, which I did not want to have to bring and check, but because I would be staying at a hotel upon my return to Manila, I really didn’t have a choice. So I waited while the boxes made their way around the carousel.

Baggage Claim

Where were the Kawks I wondered? Were none of them flying to Cebu? Were they on their way to some special Kawk fighting tournament that was being held on some other island? Perhaps an island where kawk-fighting is legal? Not likely, but with corruption in the Philippines as notorious as it is, it’s entirely possible that there was some kind of tournament or show somewhere. These animals are treated like pets. They are potentially worth a lot of money so they get the royal treatment from their owners. I used to see them on leashes outside the neighborhood I lived in up at Clark. Frankly, I don’t know how people live with that noise, but to each his own.

No kawks in sight, but after my bag came around I made it to the exit where a car and driver were waiting for me. The day was a disappointment. The housing I was taken to was dismal, depressing, almost tear producing. The first place was just plain scary! It was furnished, however there was no way I’d sit my ass down on the couch and the thought of putting my head down on one of the beds caused me to start itching all over. To say it was dirty and grungy is an understatement. It was worse than Justin Kan’s bed with unwashed sheets and comforter by a long shot and you all know how filthy that has to be since the guy told us a few weeks ago that he had no intention of every washing his sheets since they were part of the rented furnishings. YUCK!

Housing Option Disappointments

I did see one potentially good housing complex, but the sales woman didn’t know of any owners that were renting right now, so that one was scratched off the list. I am not sure how comfortable I would feel living in one of those sky rise buildings anyway. They are perched on the side of a mountain overlooking the city and the sea and it would take little more than an earthquake, of which there are daily or a mudslide after a horrible typhoon to send one of the buildings down the side without regard to human life. A seriously bad movie in the offing for sure.


Upscale Forbes Park Neighborhood — Makati, Manila

I had an early dinner and headed to the room to get some sleep since I had to be up at 4:45am. I woke up numerous times – a jet lag side effect – and at one point realized that the rumbling I felt and heard was the guy in the room next to me! It’s a good thing I had to be up early or I would have taken to banging on the wall to get him to turn over. AHHH!

[rockyou id=70594284&w=400&h=300]

Departing Cebu

The airport experience leaving Cebu this morning was an eye opener. I’ve gained a whole new respect for TSA. While we all have our annoying TSA stories, too much attention to what’s passing through security in airports across the US is a more comforting feeling than what I encountered as I was making my way back to Manila at the crack of dawn.

First of all, the car that came to pick me up was a Shangri-La car. Interesting. I was all the way in town at the little more than 2 star Marriott. I suppose when I asked for a car instead of a taxi they panicked and didn’t want to tell me they don’t have hotel cars and called the Shang for help. It was a funny thing to see, but not unwelcome.

The airport was fairly active for 5:15 in the morning. There was a 747 on the ground when I got to the waiting area, so I suppose a few hundred of the people passing through were making their way to the jumbo jet.

Security Pat-down or Feel-up

I was wearing the usual jewelry which has been setting off the machines at security lately, so I expected to hear the alarm as I passed through, but the pat down I received, or the touch of a butterfly that passed for a security pat down was not at all comforting. First I was asked to remove the bracelet, and as always explained that I’d need a screw driver to remove it so just go ahead and run me through the extra security measure. I tripped the alarm yesterday when I departed Manila, but no one stopped me. After I was checked out, I heard many more beeps from the machine, but not a single pat down for any of them. That doesn’t do much for the sense of security. The way the boarding passes are collected is frightening as well. I was on a 747 yesterday and with possibly 400 people, they simply pulled the stub and handed it back to people without even glancing to see what was printed on the card. Although they made a feeble attempt at calling by row numbers, that was, as usual in Asian airports, a total joke. It was a mob scene and apparently it was all the meek and diminutive boarding staff could muster to get a boarding pass from each passenger, or person that walked through, but the idea that one of us might not belong on the plane did not seem to be a cause for concern to any of the PAL staff members.

This morning’s boarding ritual was not much different, although with far less passengers. I was seated in an exit row and when the flight attendant came by to check that we had all read the exit row instruction card, he was holding it upside down. Let’s hope it’s never ever necessary to really know what’s on that instruction sheet.

Baggage Claim

We made it to Manila and my bag made it out a bit more quickly this time. I think what helped the situation was that there were no balikbayan boxes this time. No boxes full of Costco or Walmart or Target purchases making their way to the Philippines. This time there were baskets with contents wrapped in newspaper. I hate to thing of what might be in those baskets, but suspect each was filled with something from the sea. Better not to think about it. None of the baskets were cock-a-doodle-doo’ing like the cardboard Kawk boxes.

I made my way to the exit where a rep in a crisp white shirt and black pants from the Shangri-La Makati was waiting for me ,helped me into the car, and off I was to a hotel that I used to call home. As a matter of fact, today was my banner day. The girl that checked me in handed me a Shangri-La shopping bag with a big smile and a note welcoming me back for my 55th visit to this particular Shang. My task for the night is to repack my bags to figure out how to squeeze in the thick terrycloth robe with my initials monogrammed on the front. Nice gesture, not very practical for someone like me that likes to pack in the smallest possible bag for a short trip.


Shot taken from 28th Floor of Makati Shangri-La — August, 2001

Same Vantage Point 6 Years into the Future — May, 2007

The packing exercise will be far better than watching Justin sleep since it’s just approaching 3:15 am his time and 6:15pm my time.