Wednesday

The perks of staying in a hotel with the reception and restaurant areas under construction include getting free room service, because there is no other place to eat breakfast. Breakfast was delivered to our room as we put the final touches on our packing, by none other then Edgard the security guard. Edgard was the only staff person we had seen the whole trip, but he was stellar at his job, and at all the other jobs around the hotel that had fallen to him.

When it was time to leave, Edgard refused to let us carry our bags the ten meter walk to the front gate, instead insisting that that was his job. Ten meters later, when our shuttle wasn't there to pick us up exactly on schedule, Edgard insisted that he knew the shuttle driver and would call for us. He called, and sure enough the shuttle driver had forgotten us. Several minutes later the shuttle arrived and Edgard secured our bags in the back of the minivan.

The minivan was already mostly full, and becoming more and more packed as we bee-lined around the city picking up more and more people. Finally, with only one seat left, we stopped at a village and picked up a local family of four. The Filipino man and woman sat snuggly next to each other in the remaining seat like a couple of Tetris pieces with their two kids on their laps. One of the other white tourists on the shuttle said, "If someone had asked me a minute ago if we could fit a family of four in here I would have said no. I would have been wrong."

We made a few rest stops on our way back to Puerto Princessa. Every one of them had beggars and more guys selling pearls. We finally got sick of saying no to everyone and just sat in the car and watched them press their noses against the window while holding up the little plastic boxes of pearl-looking beads.

We arrived at the airport in plenty of time. When we reached the waiting area, I was excited to see a little shop selling ramen, but of course after I ordered it the guy pulled out a package of instant noodles. For an extra dollar I could get an egg cracked over the top of it. At least that was something fresh.

The flight to Manila was only an hour long. It was nearing sunset by the time we gained altitude, and the sky was vibrant orange from above the cloud cover. It was a fantastic sight.

When we landed, a couple nearly ran us over trying to get off the plane first. People running around in a frenzy on airplanes always crack me up. Like Fletch says, "We're all getting there at the same time."

We made our way over to the information counter to ask what the best way to get to our hotel would be. The hotel was only across the street, but the Airport was massive with multiple terminals and with shuttle buses running in between, so across the street might actually mean a few miles away. When it was our turn at the counter, a chubby Chinese lady pushed her way in front of us, already trying to ask whatever she was trying to ask. A lot of Asian cultures are like that. There's no concept of standing in line; just shove your way as far forward as possible. They're not being rude, it's just the culture. I've gotten used to it. That's not how things work in the Philippines though, because the lady at the counter snapped at the Chinese woman that it was our turn. I couldn't help but laugh. The same Chinese lady almost got arrested later on by trying to exit out the door back to the area where the planes were. 

We had decided to come back to Manila a night early, first of all because we didn't want to risk a same day flight getting delayed and cause us to miss our international flight. And secondly because there were movie theaters in Manila, and Fletch and I hadn't been to the movies in months. We had chosen a hotel solely based on its proximity to the movie theater. I know for most people, going to the movies is not at the top of their list of things to do in another country. You can do that at home. But our home has become a series of underdeveloped rocks in the middle of the ocean. Going to the movies has become a novelty that we only get to experience when we are passing through a city.

What felt like hours later, we finally managed to get a taxi to the Remington at Resort Worlds, hurried to check in, then ran next door to the mall where the cinema was located. The theater was hidden upstairs in a back corner, causing us to lose our way several times, but we finally found it. Two tickets for Bad Grandpa included unlimited popcorn and soda. The movie was entertaining, but not nearly as entertaining as the anti-piracy commercial at the beginning. Most of the illegal copies of movies you download off of the internet come from some guy in the Philippines sitting in the theater with a camera phone. The Philippines in turn as gotten very serious with their anti-piracy campaigns. The commercial was more intense then some of the action films I've seen recently, and involved a guy with a camera getting chased out of the theater by a cop, resulting in a massive chase through the city and ultimately getting held at gunpoint and arrested.

After the movie, we walked around the mall some as the stores were closing. It was strange to be in a mall again; a place with everything you could ever need in life and more, all large enough to house the entire population of the country where you just spent the past year.

Thursday

Our hotel included meal vouchers for breakfast, not on site, but in one of the casinos in the mall next door called NYPD. The restaurant had an impressive buffet, and an even more impressive menu, but all the vouchers were good for was the continental breakfast.

The taxi from the hotel to the airport took an hour, even though we could see the airport from the hotel. Too many one way streets that were under construction meant that the commute in that part of the city was currently a nightmare.

Once we were checked in, given a sniff of approval from the bomb-sniffing dog, and through security, Fletch left to find a money exchange office and get rid of our Philippine pesos. Instead of having to deal with currency exchanges, he found a machine that would deposit the currency directly into your PayPal account. Brilliant!

Fletch had booked our flight on to our next destination through Korean Air instead of United. We usually flew United due to Fletch's membership status, but they did not serve the next stop on our itinerary. I was not disappointed. The last time we flew any great distance with United was when we visited home from Palau last August. Three straight flights totaling a little over 24 hours in the air and we never got so much as a bag of pretzels. Between my first and second trips to Thailand they had stopped serving alcohol for free. Sometime between arriving in Palau and leaving they had removed all the entertainment systems from the seat-backs, and instead expected everyone to have a tablet (and speedy Internet) on which to download their app. The movie selection on the app was mediocre. United was becoming noticeably more disappointing with every trip.

If United was a frozen meal you pop in the microwave then Korean Air was a five course, seafood dinner. No airline seat is big by any stretch of the imagination, unless you upgrade to first class of course, but Korean's economy seats were at least comfortable for someone my size as opposed to crammed.

Water bottles and slippers were left on everyone's seats. Every seat had an entertainment system on the back, with all the new movies that have already been in theaters but haven't been released to download yet. A USB port was next to the entertainment system to charge personal devices. A full meal was served after takeoff, and it was good, real food too. The vegetarian meal came with fruit, salad, and a nice vegetable lasagna with carrots and zucchinis. To sweeten the pie, another service cart was rolled down the isle after dinner with mango ice cream. Beers and wines were served before the meal and coffee and tea were served after.

The bathroom was stocked with individually wrapped toothbrushes with toothpaste and L'OrĂ©al hand lotion. Should you take a nap, there were stickers to put on the back of your headrest with 'Do not disturb,' 'Wake for meal service,' and 'Wake for duty free.' Every hour or so a flight attendant would walk down the isle with a selection of juices and water. Korean's economy class was every bit as nice as most US airlines' first class, with the exception of the seats. 

Where have these 'Please Do no Disturb' stickers been all my life?

For the second leg of our journey, I noticed that on the entertainment system there were both front-facing, and downward-facing cams to watch the plane take off. That was fun to watch. Another surprisingly good dinner was served with a salad of mozzarella, tomato, basil, balsamic roasted eggplant, and pesto. I'd never had so much fun flying. A day later when we landed, we walked off the plane happy with the trip for once instead of hungry and exhausted. 

Watching takeoff in South Korea.