Faces of the Philippines – Meet Andy the Gourmet, Victor the German, Darlene the Receptionist, and Cebu Pacific’s Check-In Staff
Meet Andy the Gourmet:
Enjoying a fantastic day on small Daku Island off General Luna town on Siargao I share my wooden beach pavilion with a group of Filipino travellers. I quickly learn that most of them make a living in the UK and Canada, where they are mostly employed in the public health sector. In between my frequent forays down to the surf where my magic tricks have caught the attention of a bunch of happy-go-lucky village kids I spend most of my time chatting with a chubby 40-something year old lady whose husband actually owns this particular stretch of beach on the island.
Originally hailing from Surigao City on the nearby mainland, but now working and living in Bristol, they make a point in returning home with their 10 year old son Andy at least once per year. Andy is a bright young boy who speaks with a distinct British accent. He seems agreeable enough, but certainly isn’t happy at all with the food that’s being served.
“But none of this looks yummy!” he exclaims as his parents fill his plate with a mix of algae and meat dishes. Unenthusiastically he pokes around in his food and pouts. He has my full sympathy.
“Don’t be ungrateful and eat what the lord has bestowed on you!” his mother insists. Andy is not impressed.
Turning to me again she explains: “I love English food, but when we return home it’s always good to enjoy the cuisine we have grown up with. You have to excuse my son. He’s just used to British food and can’t seem to adapt to the traditional treats we are lucky to enjoy here!”
She points at the fatty goat stew, gooey seaweed, and raw mussels on the table in front of us.
“Please help yourself to as much as you like!”
Meet Victor the German:
Leisurely riding my rented motorcycle along the 15 kilometers of road leading from Siargao’s small and grubby capital Dapa on the west coast over to my resort on the other side of the island I spontaneously stop at a lone roadside restaurant. It’s called “Flying Foxes” and is owned by Victor, a 60 year old self-proclaimed famous treasure hunter who lives here with his young Filipina wife and two baby sons.
Victor is German and speaks English with a thick Bavarian accent despite his claim of having lived in the US for over 15 years before coming to the Philippines. And sure enough, Victor likes to tell tall tales from his checkered past.
“Seeing Obama being president makes me immensely proud being an American!” he shares with me in mangled English.
Victor explains that he stranded on this island years ago after having been lured here by Patrick, an allegedly dishonest compatriot, who told promising stories of yet undiscovered treasures hidden in Siargao’s dense jungle. Frustrated with the rampant corruption Victor’s now looking for a way to escape the island and return to Germany.
“Whatever you do, stay away from Patrick! He’s a crook of the worst kind! He cheats everyone and probably wouldn’t even stop at his own mother! You know what he does amongst other things? He talks poor local land owners into signing over their property to him, claiming he has a direct line to Jesus who he can lobby to start building a palace for them in heaven!”
Victor is positively fuming now. It takes him a while to calm down again.
“Stick around her for a while and you’ll be able to see 1000+ flying foxes escaping their caves and flying into the dark from here. Hence the name of my restaurant!”
Sure enough, short after dusk the sky darkens with an uncountable number of animals swooshing over our heads.
“Actually the locals call me the Fucking Fox!” Victor adds visibly proud. That title stems from the time before I got married and used to live and share my bed with all my five female employees. Ah, memories…”
Meet Cebu Pacific’s Check-In Staff:
Having just arrived from Siargao Island to Cebu’s Mactan International airport by plane I intend to connect to Manila after a generous three hour layover. Walking up to Cebu Pacific’s check-in desk handling all Manila bound flights I’m instantly put on hold.
“Sir, we are very sorry but our computer system is down. Please be patient for a moment.”
Expecting only a temporary technical glitch I stay put in the line. Sure enough, only a few minutes later I get signalled to once again move forward.
“Sir, may I see your ticket, sir?”
Having spontaneously booked the ticket only twelve hours earlier in a tiny internet shop full of shrieking kids playing ego-shooter games, but void of a working printer, this I cannot offer.
“I’m sorry. I don’t have a print-out. This is my passport and this my ticket record locator!” I say, confidently handing over my ID and a scrap piece of paper with the booking code on it.
“Sir, we’ll have to trace your booking on our passenger manifest. Please stand-by. “
A young skinny girl donning Cebu Pacific’s ubiquitous yellow polo shirt, tight jeans, and baseball cap grabs everything and starts browsing through a pile of paper with dozens of sheets full of handwritten names on it, neatly arranged in tidy columns.
“Sir, we are very sorry! We cannot find your name on our lists! When did you say did you make the booking?”
"Just yesterday night.“
"Sir, the computer system has been down for 24 hours already. As it’s Good Friday we don’t have anyone to look into the problem right now so we are forced to do everything manually. As we cannot find your name on our lists you cannot fly!”
“What if I manage to produce a print-out of my ticket from my email inbox? I’m sure it must be possible to access the internet somewhere around here for a moment?” I ask with a slightly annoyed undertone while very apparently peeping at the girl sitting behind the adjacent check-in counter who’s checking her hotmail inbox with a bored look on her face.
“Yes sir, that would be okay!” the check-in girl smiles. “You can find an internet shop at the far end of the terminal. They also have a printer there.”
Not quite the answer I was hoping for, but promising enough. Lugging my bags in the said direction it doesn’t take me long to find the mentioned shop. A prominent sign greets me hanging from the door knob.
“Closed for the holidays!”
Slightly distraught I turn to a bystanding lady security guard.
“Excuse me Ma’am. Where to go for internet around here?”
“Try the mall next to the airport!” she competently informs me.
With all my luggage I head out into the heat and jump into one of the few waiting taxis.
“To the mall please. I need internet urgently!” I instruct the boyish looking driver authoritarianly.
“Sir, the mall is closed! It’s Good Friday, sir!” the driver informs me indifferently.
“Take me to any other internet shop that’s open then! And hurry!” I instruct him, thinking how this is all is starting to give me a real headache.
Over the next thirty minutes we tour all far and remote corners of urban Mactan Island, pass half a dozen closed internet shops until we finally find one that’s open and, yet again, full to the brim with shrieking, ego-shooter game playing teenage kids.
Opening my Gmail inbox I quickly locate my booking confirmation message, open it, and click on “Print”.
“Why won’t this print?” I impatiently inquire with the comatose looking teenage shop attendant.
“Sir, we don’t know why! Printing those documents doesn’t work on our printer, sir!”
Finding it increasingly hard to hide my frustration I inform the boy about my predicament.
“Sir! Wait just a moment!”
Fishing an 8 Gig USB memory stick out of the depths of his hip-hop style pants’ pockets he plugs it into the computer, saves the ticket onto the device, and runs out of the shop and across the street without saying another word. Three minutes later her returns, drenched in sweat and breathing heavily, holding a colored print-out of my ticket in his hands.
“How much do I owe your for this?” I ask, thanking him profusely for his most unexpected initiative.
“Sir, it’s free of charge! Have a very happy Easter, sir!”
Fifty minutes before the scheduled time of departure I hastily run up to Cebu Pacific’s check-in counter again, relieved to have made it in time yet still immensely annoyed they have put me through such an ordeal in the first place.
“Here’s my ticket! Can I go now?“ I ask with an intentionally cynical undertone.
The girls behind the counter eyeball me with a blank look on their faces.
“Of course, sir! Any problem, sir?“
Meet Darlene the Receptionist:
…resonates in my ears as I walk up to the front desk of the Dusit Thani Hotel in Manila’s mostly upmarket Makati district. Having just arrived to Manila’s NAIA-3 airport terminal roughly 20 minutes earlier getting here has only taken me a fraction of the usual time that’s usually needed to negotiate the traffic choked streets of the capital.
It’s Good Friday 2009. Manila is a ghost town. Millions of its migrant workers have left the city to return to the provinces for what to most of them is the most significant holiday break in the whole year. Its streets are empty, many of its shops and even malls are closed. Who would have thought it possible, this normally violently oscillating and gargling metropolis has found some temporary peace.
A lobby full of largely unoccupied staff welcomes me, one of the few takers of the hotel’s rather generous holiday promotion package this weekend. They are all clothed in Thai silk and comfort, bow their heads and wai me more or less gracefully. One could almost be mistaken to have been beamed to Bangkok.
It’s my friend Amando’s 40th birthday today. Knowing that he will stay in the city throughout the whole weekend having to catch up work on researching and writing his dissertation I’m looking forward to spending some quality time with him. So that he too can benefit from the Dusit’s allegedly good and generous breakfast buffet as well as the pool I decide to register him as my travel companion.
“Sir, could you please let me know the name of your companion?” Darlene, the beautiful girl behind the front desk attending to my request inquires.
“The name’s Sabinay. Amando Sabinay.”
Unsuccessfully suppressing traces of a Siamese smile on her pretty face Darlene looks up at me and asks…
"Sir, would you please confirm you are requesting a king-size matrimonial bed, sir?
“That’s correct!” I respond, unsuccessfully suppressing traces of embarrassment on my wryly smiling face.
Darlene happens to be a bad actress. Having picked up the two keycards to my room and walking to the elevators her giggles still resonate in my ears.
An extremely nice series! It didn't do a lot for promoting the Philippines to me though. It's funny, that's one country that should appeal to me, but just doesn't.