Monday, December 6, 2010

Advance Team Arrives to the Philippines

It amazes me how adrenalin works. One moment I could be on the last four hours of a 28 hour trip, and the next I am pumped with energy and excitement. That can easily describe our (Drs. Tom Clark’s and Tom Jackson) arrival to the Philippines.

Every trip Tom and I are learning something new. This trip was a continuation of wifi and phone service networks along the route, as well as money exchange locations. But the real exploration came when we sat down in the plane that took us from Atlanta to Seoul. First, our day started about 5:00 a.m. in Louisville where Dr. Clark picked me up at my home. It was a very short drive from my home to the airport and we arrived easily by 5:15 a.m. There were very few people at the Delta Airlines counter so check-in went extremely fast for the both of us. We both had our backpacks, a small carry-on suitcase, and I checked a medium size suitcase that contained clothes and dental supplies. My small suitcase had mostly “gifts” I would need for our visit to the U.S. Embassy. For that reason I had limited space and needed to bring the dental supplies. I packed for five days, assuming I would do laundry twice during my entire stay. My trip is a total of 14 days.

The line at Louisville TSA security went fairly quickly and we soon found ourselves at the gate with about 90 minutes to spare. This was perfect. Sometimes the most challenging flight is the first one because if it is delayed it can totally ruin the remainder of the schedule. That has happened a few times before, but not this time. We arrived in Atlanta on time, went to the airline club lounge for snacks and coffee, exchanged some money, and then arrived at the gate. Korean Air does things a little differently, and our experience now with them helps. We went to the counter and traded in our Delta tickets for the Korean Air tickets and then just waited. We boarded early to obtain the prized overhead bin space and then “tuned-out” for the next 15 hours.

This was a 747. Not our favorite - that distinction belongs to the Airbus 380, but it was nice. Both of us didn’t have anyone sitting beside us. Can you say GREAT flight!? It is so nice not being squeezed in a full plane. Factor in that both Dr. Clark and I have the nice noise-canceling headphones – well, let’s just say we were happy. I think I overheard one person on the plane complain about the movies this time. You won’t hear that from Dr. Clark and I. We were in movie heaven with over 28 films to pick. I started watching “Salt” before we even left the ground. I then watched “The Expendables.” I took a nice nap midway during that movie. I think it was about an hour or so. All and in all I watched six movies on all the legs of the trip. The remaining movies I watched were “Inception,” “Cairo Time,” and I ended my Seoul leg with “The Enemy Below.” That is a 1950’s classic. On the Manila leg I finished “The Enemy Below” and also watched “Takers.” Now, there were many other movies to watch and several comedies and romantic flicks. Clearly I did the “boy” movie thing on this part of the trip.

The Seoul leg was 15 hours in the air…and it went by fast. Between the naps, the walks, the food, and the movies, it just did not feel very long. I paused the movies to walk around. I also drink a lot of water and exercise on the plane whenever I move around so the time seems to go quickly. This flight had 2.5 meals. The first was lunch and the choices were beef or Korean rice. I always take Korean rice. I do it for the adventure and to acclimate myself. After all, I am on a Korean owned airline. Korean rice, as they served it, came in a bowl. The veggies and such where in the bowl and I added the rice, sesame oil, and flavor (a tube paste) into the bowl and mixed. A dessert, roll, wine, and water also came with it – as does real utensils. Amazing huh?! Not really. We even had real utensils on the Manila flight. And, we didn’t have to take off our shoes. Isn’t it odd that security in South Korea is so smooth, practical, and effortless (as security goes) but in the U.S. it is far from it?

The second meal on the flight was dinner and I took the beef. The alternative was Korean fish, and fish is usually the one item I tend to avoid on a flight. Others may feel different. I took the beef and enjoyed it. That also had a roll, dessert, vegetable salad (good), and wine and water. The ½ meal was the famous “meat in a bun.” That came with water, tea, or coffee.

We landed in Seoul and enjoyed its awesome airport. It is designed for the transit and has many shops and cultural things to explore. Dr. Clark and I checked them all out. Not! We had a couple of hours and had a couple of tasks to complete. It was pretty cool since our arrival gate was 22 and our departure gate to Manila was 21. Still, we walked to see how much it cost to exchange money to Philippine Pesos. It was a horrible rate so we passed. I then needed to correct something on my Manila ticket, which went really fast, and then we went and hung out in the KAL (Delta Sky Team) lounge and had more snacks, cleaned up from the long flight, checked emails, and relaxed.

The flight from Seoul to Manila went very well also. It was a really nice Airbus 330 and had the better version of the entertainment system. It was much better than what we had on the long leg. Still, this flight isn’t short, even though I often want to think it is. It takes 3:45 to fly from Seoul to Manila. That is longer than Atlanta to LA, get the point? It would be a long flight if it were not for the longer one to get to Seoul. They had a nice meal on this flight (I took the beef since I already had the Korean rice).

The University of Louisville delegation will not fly through Manila. When they travel it will be direct from Seoul to Cebu. We came through Manila to meet with U.S. Embassy officials to promote and gain support for our efforts abroad. We also will tour a couple of the universities and spend some time with our host in-county and point of contact, Paquito Claravall.

Manila is a very, very, very large city. We arrived about 11:10 p.m., about 28 hours total time. Customs went well and the most important news came a few minutes later – my one packed bag with dental supplies arrived! I have been to the Philippines in the past and stayed four days before my luggage arrived. I was only staying a total of six days on that trip. In the Manila airport we found the absolute best money exchange rates so we swapped our USDs for PHPs, waited for the shuttle (about 20 minutes) and then road it to the Bayview Hotel (about a 15 minute drive).

Our day is filled tomorrow, and late in the day we leave Manila for Cebu on Philippines Air. Tonight the wifi is down in the hotel so I am using my back up aircard to submit this blog entry. I also spent some time prepping for tomorrow – some of those things we often do not see that we do before meetings or when promoting one’s campus abroad. I am also charging up things. Our two-pronged plugs are working fine (remember they must say 110-240v on the adapter. If it only says 110v then do not plug it into the wall unless you have a “converter.” Not an “adapter” but a “converter.” The converter takes the 220v system in the Philippines (or elsewhere) and converts it to 110 volts. Again, most newer gadgets come standard with 110-240v. Thus, the phone, laptop, etc., are all plugged in after the long trip.

Manila is incredible at night. What a fantastic city and amazing country. I can see why the people I have encountered in the Philippines have so much pride for their country and communities. We feel welcomed in many ways.

Be sure to follow the blog for more information. I will add some photos later.

Submitted by Dr. Tom Jackson, Jr.

No comments:

Post a Comment