If you’re following my articles, I’ve just landed, found my luggage and have met my Filipina girlfriend for the first time in person outside the airport. Which leads us to the next part of my wonderful adventure…
After a long welcoming hug and kiss, I realize I am surrounded by a large group of people. Who are they, and what do they want?
It turns out that it has been a long time tradition of loading as many people as possible into a van and coming to greet family and visitors at the airport. It’s not just a tradition, it’s almost a cult following. I joke, of course, but it is something that they take a lot of pleasure in doing. I am greeted by the entire city where my wife is from. Ok, ok, I am exaggerating a little. But, compared to the U.S. where you’re not allowed to go and sit anywhere near the airport it’s a huge difference. I welcome the experience, after all, they are all her family, and I have the honor of meeting them for the first time. I shake their hands, give hugs, and we quickly start to make our way to the van. I stop… WAIT!
I have to exchange money. I was told to exchange money at the airport by her aunt. So, we go back, explain to the guard I forgot to exchange my currency, and he politely lets me past the gates. I get the exchange and find I am suddenly carrying 1000PHP bills!! What in the heck!? I think they’ve made a mistake! No, I knew the exchange rate was going to give me a large amount of currency, but I never thought I would get a 1000Php bill. I never saw one before. In the U.S., the most is 100USD bill. Anyway, I stuff the money into several pockets of my shorts, and head for the van.
We load up, and we’re off. Manila at 2am was crazy. I’d hate to see it during the day! Does anybody follow driving laws? Are there driving laws? I don’t even see street lane markers! It’s a free for all! Man, give me an American junker from the 70’s and I would take it on! I’d still probably lose, but it would sure be fun! We leave Manila pretty quick and we’re on two lane roads, meaning one lane each direction. I learn they have hired a driver that is used to driving in Manila and back and forth from Pangasinan. Excellent, we are in GOOD HANDS! Or so I think. I didn’t know that you could get three cars wide in one lane in a blind curve. This master driving wizard has shown me a new skill! After I finish praying, and finally saying screw it, it’s a good day to die, I give up watching the driving, and concentrate on learning more about my girlfriend, and everyone that is in the van. Tagging along for the ride is the driver, the van renter and family member, two brothers, an aunt, a cousin and last but not least, her mother. I get to my luggage from over the back seat and pull out some gifts I brought. Nothing major, just some t-shirts that have “Detroit” written on them. As if I’m proud to be from there. Hey, it’s an important city, but nobody really likes the place. But, I digress.
We drive for what seems to be an eternity. I’m tired. I’ve been on two planes totaling 18 flight hours, 3 hour lay over, two hour security lines in Detroit, and now five hours of driving. I’m staring at her Aunt’s house. I get there, unpack, and collapse on the bed. I awake to crowing chickens, and beautiful sunshine. Man, it’s cold. This aircon works great! I gather my things for a shower and open my bedroom door to go to the bathroom. (I know… it’s a CR) Wow. It’s hot out here, and I think they have an indoor mister because I’m getting wet. I head to the shower, clean up, change clothes, and get ready for the day. I’ve slept two hours and feel like I could run a marathon… or at least walk one. What the heck? Where is all this water coming from? Answer? Me! I didn’t know I had so many pores, and that they could give so much water! Seriously, I’m going to spend the next ten days wet from my own sweat? It sure looks like it.
I come into the living room and everyone is there. Did they wait for me while I slept? How did they know I was awake? Ah… texting, the Philippines life-line. So, they’ve come to take me shopping at the big mall!! AWESOME!!! I hated the malls in the U.S., so I’m sure I’ll just LOVE these!! It actually wasn’t bad. I think we got there before too many people were there, or it was just big enough that there didn’t seem to be many people. Either way, it was a better experience than in the Detroit area. Then it hits me… people are staring at me! Is my zipper open? What is it? Oh… I’m the white guy in town! It also doesn’t hurt that I’m 6’-0” tall and over 300lbs.
I later find out that I also look like a wrestler that wrestles in the Asian wrestling circuit. So, maybe they’re thinking I am him. Either way, I’m a celebrity whether or not I want to be. No big deal, and you know why? Because they are being so nice to me! I’ve never had so many people be nice to me! So, at this point, I’m loving life and enjoying the attention. After buying a large amount of groceries to stock up the refrigerator at her aunts house, we get everything boxed up and we get ready to go. We push out the cart to the curb where our driver is waiting. The parcels are loaded, and we’re ready to leave. Or so I think. I notice a couple walking past me with a cart. They’re staring as if they’ve seen a ghost. They keep pushing their cart as they stare. These people were so intent on looking at me, that they pushed their loaded shopping cart right off a two foot edge. That woke them up from their dream state! So, the guy gets down there and tries to pick up the cart, but it’s loaded with packages and can’t budge it. At this point, I was working out and had no back injury, so I thought I would help him out. I lift the cart, with packages, up from the ground and set it back on the ledge. Their jaws drop, and I load up into the van. We’re off, and I got a kick out of seeing the expression on that man’s face. It was priceless, and I’ll always remember it!
So, this cart full of groceries which would have cost me easily $200USD only cost me about $60USD. I was happy about that too! I know that once we get to the Philippines, we’ll be eating from the market more than the mall grocery, and should save me even more money.
It was this first trip that I realized that I was someone, and something the people here seemed to rarely see. A very large white guy, with blazing red goatee. They didn’t run from me in fright, or say things to hurt my feelings. They welcomed me into their stores, into their homes, and into their lives. That’s VERY different than what is done here in the U.S. Culturally, it was one of the best experiences of my visit. Acceptance by complete strangers.
There’s more to come, so look for my article next week! Until then, Paalam, ingat, and God bless!