Below is an exchange of tweets posted by a person who uses the Twitter handle, @tagasalog, @CebuPacificAir, and (maestro, music please) myself. From the looks of it, @tagasalog got on a Cebu Pacific flight that got delayed. (I don’t think I’ve met @tagasalog before although he says in one direct message that he hangs out in Quezon City a lot when I asked him his name.)
No question about it: Victory Liner’s Manila-Baguio deluxe trips are one of the best transportation deals in town.
ORIGINALLY, I wanted to title this piece, “I went to Dumaguete and all I got was a crummy yoga mat.”
It was funny but untrue; an exaggeration.
After all, the yoga mat wasn’t crummy—it is a product of a tradition that, if left unsupported, will die and wither away like careers of certain pseudo-professionals such as, for instance, myself.
The trip to Dumaguete almost failed to take off.
This was because the cab driver bringing me to the airport decided to engage in some form of highway robbery.
The old geezer tried to sweet-talk me into forking out P400 for the airport run from Quezon City, citing high fuel prices, the time he reportedly spent “waiting” for me, and the huge costs of raising a family, mainly his.
I had no control over the first, requested no such arrangement regarding the second, and hardly cared about the third.
Had the offer been made during rush hour — a time when empty cabs were fewer than presidential candidates — I would have pawned whatever remained of my soul just so I could get to the airport on time.
But it was four in the morning.
The only people on the road were drunk drivers, drag racers, and cab drivers, one of whom was trying to swindle an unsuspecting passenger armed only with a travel toothbrush so old the bristles fell off.
Since I was not prepared to let go of my cash that easily, or at least not until I was threatened with physical harm, I told the cab driver to pull over because I wanted to get off.
He refused to call my bluff, knowing that nothing was worse than driving an empty cab along deserted streets during the wee hours (that is, next to being swindled inside one).
He then shifted smoothly into the charm drive.
After switching on the fare meter, he began to inquire about my final destination and proceeded to discuss the mundane intricacies of the weather.
I obliged, even though I was in no mood to chew the fat.
During what at that time appeared to be an inordinately long airport run, I even allowed him to use my phone to text his one and only wife.
And that, fortunately, was the end of my encounter with Mr. Not So Smooth Operator.
From then on, the trip to Dumaguete — from takeoff to touchdown — was uneventful.
Which was a good thing.
After all, I was temporarily leaving Metro Manila to take it easy.
And Dumaguete is among the very best places to let your hair down.
Life remains at an unhurried pace in the City of Gentle People that until now, even during weekdays, some offices and establishments close at twelve noon, allowing supervisors and staff alike to kick back and enjoy a two-hour siesta, well-deserved or otherwise.
The time-honored tradition has long unsettled workaholics, many of whom have probably chosen to move to Manila and lead lives at a pace of their choosing.
The siesta certainly worked wonders for slackers.
It did for me.
But that was 14 years ago, when cellphones were bigger than car batteries, laptops were the size of luggage, and I — ehem — was a fellow of the Dumaguete National Writers’ Workshop.
As a fellow, not only was I entitled to a three-week long, all-expenses paid stay in Dumaguete, I learned that drinking cold beer was the best way to while away a siesta.
Sure, I also benefitted from the advice of older writers, a number of whom implied that I was better off doing something else (i.e., selling shower curtains, aluminum siding, and other implements crucial to a functional, well-run household).
My first visit to Dumaguete changed my life for reasons too indulgent to be mentioned.
And early this month, for the first time in 14 years, I came back to see if I could bring back that pseudo-literary, slacker feeling.
Turns out I could.
Except that this time, I had to foot the bill.
No such fellowships were awarded to overweight, mid-career slobs yearning for fond memories, lost youth, and free beer.
(To be concluded)
Nothing in Particular would like to express its gratitude to Philippine Airlines, the technical staff who runs its Web site, and the marketing professionals who launched the company’s recent online promotion, “The Real Deal.”
Were it not for these brilliant, hardworking individuals, Nothing in Particular would have remained part of the cyberspace woodwork, a self-serving, self-referential, self-indulgent online journal of a media worker burdened with unjustified angst and unpaid debt.
But that all changed — at least temporarily — on the afternoon of Monday, April 27, 2009.
Eighteen hours after the airline launched its two-day online promotion, Nothing in Particular announced a set of reportedly “helpful” tips intended to assist prospective PAL customers in securing their discounted airfares through its Web site.
The so-called “tips” included a phone number that would bring callers directly in contact with customer management officers should they encounter problems with their online reservations.
So far, no one has yet said that the instructions were useful.
But then again, it’s the thought that counts.
After all, PAL’s Web site during those two days were inaccessible for the most part.
Besides rendering the instructions useless, it also frustrated the airlines’ many loyal customers.
Come to think of it, what’s new?
The airlines’ Web site is supposedly but an online manifestation of its reported real-world reputation.
Whoever said the internet enhanced efficiency has never bought a ticket from the Philippine Airlines’ Web site especially not during a promotion.
During those two grueling days, only a few were able to successfully book their flights and pay for them online.
A number managed to log onto the Web site, like myself.
However, this was more out of sheer persistence and perhaps even luck than anything else.
When time came for users to make a reservation, the software application that enabled them to pick a flight and choose a date was nowhere — it simply wouldn’t load on the page.
And even if users were lucky enough to book their own flights, some were unable to pay for them since their credit cards were rejected outright by the Web site.
Which was exactly what happened to me at about seven in the morning of Monday, just three hours after I decided to give it all up.
In desperation, I tried my wife’s credit card to no avail.
I later called to complain and was directed to customer relations who, in turn, helped process discounted airfares for my mother-in-law.
But I digress.
What I really wanted to say is that Nothing in Particular reached a record number of hits as Web surfers became curious about PAL’s overloaded Web site.
On Monday, hits reached 71, breaching its previous record of 61 in April 2007. The next day, the promotion’s final day, Nothing in Particular’s hits reached 178, nearly triple the record set two years ago.
For that alone, I only have Asia’s first airline to thank.
That, and a roundtrip ticket to the US West Coast that cost a little less than P26k.
Travel allows for the best education the world can provide.
Or so say those who can afford it.
Fortunately, a cheaper alternative is always available.
And it’s not necessarily made in China.
It’s called reading, an activity, usually solitary, that may not be as exciting as visiting foreign shores, flying business class, or flirting with flight attendants.
Once undertaken, especially with a good writer as a guide, reading allows anyone to take a trip anywhere — including the planet Tralfamadore* — without having to clear immigration and undergo intensive cavity searches.
While travel transmits knowledge firsthand — how to get the best seats in economy class**, how to request alcoholic beverages in an Islamic country***, and how to avoid looking like a promdi in Manhattan**** — reading does the same but through filters, the writer’s inclinations and idiosyncrasies.
Whichever of these two activities is considered the best teacher in this school we call life remains arguable.
For those indifferent to the pleasures brought forth by the well-crafted sentence, the quick, cutting remark, or the penetrating insight, reading may never be able to hold a candle to any other activity, including the lure of travel.
But that’s just one school of thought.
Others prefer to read and stay at home.
Given a choice between reading a well-written essay by American gonzo journalist P. J. O’Rourke and a trip to any one of the world’s hellholes (i.e., Pasay), certain individuals, including myself, may prefer the former.
Who can blame me?
Nobody, save perhaps for certain irate Pasay residents and the mayor himself.
After all, they can always cite the city’s historical and cultural landmarks which help make this country and the world at large a better place.
Although Pasay may offer attractions even to overstimulated, cynical urbanites, the experience of touring the city may be matched by the vicarious thrill of reading any good book.
Hundreds of them abound.
These include Author’s Choice by Kerima Polotan (who by the way gives a picture of the Pasay of yore), Occasional Prose by Adrian Cristobal (which remains sadly out of print), and yes, any of the books written by P. J. O’Rourke (All the Trouble in the World and Holidays in Hell are my personal favorites).
For the past year or two, I have been so consumed by reading a number of books that they have convinced me to temporarily ignore all other activities regarding my life, such as it is.
The Granta Book of Reportage had exactly this effect on me. From the moment I read Ian Jack’s introduction until Wendell Steavenson’s Osama’s War some 400 pages later, I was held in thrall, recognizing I was being transported to places that, like Pasay, isn’t exactly on my list of places to visit.
Despite the desperation, the violence, the iniquities that occur in these places, writers in the Granta anthology — which include James Fenton who wrote about Edsa I in a separate Granta issue — show further proof that reading occasionally does trump travel, didactically speaking.
*The fictional planet in the earlier works of Kurt Vonnegut. It featured prominently in what I consider as his best work, The Sirens of Titan, one of the very few books I’ve read three times.
**Always ask to be seated in the bulkhead seat, which offers larger legroom. Besides being a heaven-sent convenience during long haul flights, the attendant will recognize you as a seasoned traveler even if it’s your first trip abroad.
***Show your passport upon checking into a hotel and order before nine in the evening (or at least that’s what I did when I took an all expenses paid trip to Pakistan, courtesy of the Pakistan government).
****You can never go wrong wearing black in Manhattan, especially during the cold months. Wear some other color and you stand out like an idiot. What can I say? Been there, done that.
When in Rome, ape the locals.
Or go native.
Or at least try to act like you know your way around.
This is not difficult, especially for Filipino tourists visiting the Eternal City for the very first time.
Filipinos, after all, are to cultural adaptation as the Chinese are to producing pirated DVDs. And just like illegally-copied video discs, the said Filipino trait remains unfettered by regional restrictions.
But then again, this trait — as far as Rome goes — appears to be irrelevant.
Romans are still likely to be irritated whenever strangers interrupt their routines by asking them for directions.
Just like sharp-tongued New Yorkers, Romans have perhaps nurtured a dislike for tourists, simply because their city has too many of them, Filipinos or otherwise.
Besides clogging buses and trains, these visitors delay pedestrian traffic by reading street signs, studying maps, and posing for pictures.
How does it feel like to live in a city absolutely swamped with visiting foreigners?
I barely have an idea.
I live in a city notorious for being the Philippines’ squatter capital and I’m pretty sure that that’s not a top tourist attraction.
What I do know is that for the first half of 2006, approximately six million people visited Rome. The Philippines — which is 60 times larger than Rome — only had 2.8 million visitors during the same year.
So what does this mean?
There is a shortage of Romans patient enough to give directions to the next bus stop while there is a surplus of Filipinos — at least 30 to a tourist — all too willing to answer any questions under the sun, proud of their abilities to communicate using broken English, complemented by various hand and facial gestures.
This discrepancy posed a problem for my wife and I when we were about to leave Rome and the bus we needed to catch was running late.
If we missed the bus to the train station, it might take awhile before we could board a train to the airport. A later train to the airport might mean a delayed connection to Paris, compromising the last stop of our European adventure.
We had become so desperate that we considered taking a cab. The idea was quickly dismissed when I learned that it might cost me an arm, a leg, and my other organs, unsavory and otherwise.
Why was the bus late?
I didn’t know but I was tasked to find out.
Armed with my poor English speaking skills and my atrocious Italian, I ambled to the station attendant and asked when was the bus arriving.
She answered me in broken English and then she shooed me off.
Was this racism?
Were my questions being dismissed outright because I wasn’t white? Was I making a fool of myself because I didn’t know how to speak their language properly? Was I being treated unfairly because I was overweight and therefore used more soap than thin people?
I didn’t know.
But I found out soon enough.
As I sat beside my wife in the waiting area, I saw various other tourists — some of whom spoke in English — getting the same treatment that I got. They asked the same set of questions that I asked but they were summarily dismissed, like appeals of lawyers with losing court cases.
Not long after, the bus arrived, making us consider the incident with some measure of fondness. (We did catch the plane to Paris, after all).
My wife and I loved Rome — we still do — despite having stayed for less than a week. And no bus station attendant, no matter how ill-tempered, was about to ruin that memory for us.
(This piece was written after a trip to Europe in 2007. It was finished more than a year later when a temporary alcohol shortage prompted me to do something else on a Saturday night. It was also published in GMANews.TV)