So, I’ll bet you’ve been wondering what I’ve been up to… There’s a bit to catch up on, but I’ll try to keep it short.
First things first – my vacation in the Philippines (pictures are on Facebook).
(confession: this took a while to write, and I’m not going to proofread it because I’m lazy. if you notice an error, make a comment – please and thanks!)
This was my second time traveling there, and once again I had an amazing time. Travel was a pain though… I waited to book my flights because I hoped to bring my dad. Unfortunately, he couldn’t come, and by the time it was settled, prices had doubled. I did a LOT of shopping, and finally determined the cheapest option.
- Booked through Delta one-way from Wichita -> Atlanta -> San Francisco
- Book through Orbitz two-way from San Fransisco -> Hong Kong -> Philippines
- Book through United (using reward miles) from San Fransisco -> Denver -> Wichita
Booking this way saved me about $1,500 – but here’s what happened. My first flight leaving Wichita was delayed 3 hours and I missed my connecting flight from ATL->SFO. I expected there might be SOME delay, so my flight leaving SFO wasn’t until noon the next morning and by some miracle, the agent was able to book me on an oversold flight the next morning. When I arrived in SFO, I had to run to the international terminal, get through TSA, run to my gate, and arrived just before they finished boarding the plane. Luuuuuucky!
I had a 12-hour layover in Hong Kong, and there was some neat things to do in the airport, but my layover was overnight, so I didn’t get to enjoy any of it. Instead, I bought a bus ticket and checked out the shopping district downtown. Hong Kong was formerly a British Colony, every sign had (good) English – making it pretty easy to get around. There was a TON of shops and a LOT of people. After a few hours of meandering, I went back to the airport.
Arriving in the Philippines
Upon my arrival, I was informed that a piece of my luggage had been lost. It wasn’t anything vital, but it took them over an hour to complete the paperwork. When I finally left, I was greeted by my Tita Nene, my cousins (Valerie and Jil), and their boyfriends (Jessie and Jason). First thing we did? Went to the mall, changed some money, bought a SIM card, and ate!
The last time I was in the Philippines, we spent most of our time with my cousins Ron Ron and Che Che. But four years later, Che Che is married and has a baby while Ron Ron works in Manila, ~3 hours away. I didn’t get to spend as much time with either of them as I would have liked, but I was honored to be one of Marcus’s (Che Che’s son) godparents. There was a reception to celebrate Marcus (with Videoke, of course!).
Throughout the trip we visited with family and friends. Some of them I hadn’t seen since last time, and others I met for the first time, including my Ate Ay Ay.
EVERYBODY asked about my dad, naturally, as it was often how I was introduced (as Domi’s son). Dad, everybody misses you.
Eat Bulaga! (A Filipino variety show)
Eat Bulaga is a very popular variety show in the Philippines. A large group of people from Mabatang (the barangay where my dad grew up) were traveling to Manila to be in the audience. It’s a tight community which my Tita Nene is still connected with – so we tagged along. They chartered a bus for the group and we left very early in the morning.
When we arrived, we were informed of the dress code. Apparently, men weren’t allowed to wear open-toed shoes in the studio – so Jason bought socks so that he, Jesse, and I could look super-cool in our flip-flops.
Inside the studio, an entire section was allocated for our group and they made sure to put the Americans at the front. We were the first people in the studio, and it was still early. Several performers were still rehearsing and people were actively working on the stage still. An intern stopped a couple of times to chat with me, which I didn’t think much of at the time. As the audience filled in, the stage crew began teaching us various coordinated dance moves… Turns out the show is very interactive! They also had a couple of comedians to warm-up the crowd, and they seemed pretty excited to find some Americans who knew little to no Tagalog!
At one point, the intern returned with a friend and asked if I would be a karaoke judge. Of course, I said, “Yes!” So I followed them backstage to a couple more interns and a girl who was also supposed to be a karaoke judge. They asked if I could speak Tagalog (not yet…) and then asked me to sing for them. I had never seen the show before, and really didn’t know what to expect… but after turning down suggestions for Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, I sang some Bruno Mars… they giggled, and asked if they could take pictures with me. Ok, now I get it.
They took me to the makeup guy who covered my face and sent me on the way. The actual judging was no big deal. They gave me an iPad with scores to swipe through. I didn’t have to give any feedback on the singers – just hold up the iPad and smile for the camera. They did say my name on the air, which has led to a number of unsolicited Facebook friend requests.
The show has several hosts – and they were LOVING the white guys (Jesse and Jason). Jason competed in game – he did well, but was beat handily. Both of us were paid for our air time (although I think he got more than me!).
The island of Palawan is known as a big tourist draw – and it definitely felt like it. We flew there so that we could tour an underground river. Unfortunately, typhoon-like conditions prevented us from going on our originally scheduled day – but we made the most of it by touring various parts of Puerto Princesa, and our underground river tour was rescheduled for the following day… the same day we were supposed to fly back to Luzon. Despite the long drive and long lines, we managed the tour without missing our flight.
Oh, and a bat pooped on Jil! Classic.
Mt. Pinatubo and the Gift-giving Hike
This was probably my favorite part of the trip. We hooked up with a group (PinayKeyPoint) who organizes a hike to the crater lake at the top of Mt. Pinatubo and back down. To get there, we had to take a jeep through a (mostly) dried river valley. The ride was rough and dusty (ashy, actually), and felt like about an hour long. We made a couple of stops along the way to give toys to some of the Aeta children – which they were very happy to receive.
After the jeep ride, we started our 7km trek. Personally, I thought the trek was beautiful, but it was a bit long. We were happy to arrive at the top, and the lake was gorgeous. Had I brought a book, I could’ve easily spent the day there!
When we returned to the Jeeps, a large group of Aeta was waiting for us. All of the hikers had gifts – we brought soap, toys, and food. The Aeta were very grateful for everything we brought. We all agreed that if there was anything we could change about the trip, it would be to bring more for them.
Time to Myself
When I was planning on traveling with my father, I made sure he and I would have plenty of time there. However, when he couldn’t come, I failed to adjust my schedule, so I ended up staying a few days later than Val, Jil, Jesse, and Jason. I took one day just to rest, and it was nice. We had nearly non-stop activities since I arrived, so it was nice to have a little time to just relax. In fact, I took it easy for the rest of my trip. I visited Manila once more and gave myself a photo-jogging tour through Orani. I really enjoyed this, but the best night was Karaoke with my cousins and some new friends!
Karaoke in the Philippines is very different from karaoke in the United States. Let me summarize US Karaoke:
- If you want to do Karaoke, you have to find a bar
- Be sure to check which days they have karaoke, and that time it starts
- Hungry? I hope you enjoy bar food…
- On a slow night, you might get to sing a handful of songs. If it’s busy, you might get 2.
Karaoke is much more popular in the Philippines. So while you will find it at many bars, you’ll find it many other places too. We went to the Crowne Royal Hotel in Balanga. We snagged a room which had a couch, a table, a TV, and a Karaoke machine. The room wasn’t big, but it accommodated our group well enough – and since we were few (and some didn’t care to sing), I got to sing as much as I wanted! They even had full dinner and drink menus, and we happily indulged.
Really, the experience was so much better. Although, I do have to say that I had to go without some of my standard karaoke songs and I couldn’t get anyone to sing a duet with me. Besides that, wouldn’t change a thing!
Traveling back home was much smoother than getting there. In fact, the only memorable incident was hearing the phrase “baby momma” as soon as I passed through immigration in San Fransisco.
When to go back?!
I’m eager to head back. I made some new friends that I’d like to see more of (although, it’d be nice if I could speak more Tagalog!), and I always enjoy seeing my family. Ron Ron graduates on March 26th, which is within a week of Easter, which I’ve wanted to experience in the Philippines since I was a kid. Hopefully this will work out, but I will need to assess my finances before I can decide.