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Random Travel Notes 9 September 3, 2008

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Up and Away.
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Here we go: the ins and outs and ups and downs of the trip to New York and back!

Unstressed. Because I traveled light, it wasn’t too hard to pack, and I got over the entire process in about 20 minutes the day before I left. So for the first time in a long time — I usually pack up until hours before I have to go, fatigue be damned — I actually managed to get some sleep on the eve before the flight. Fancy that.

All smiles. For once, I must say that the service at the old (NAIA) airport was actually quite good. Maybe this had something to do with the long-delayed opening of the new terminal, but I couldn’t help but notice how most of the staff were particularly pleasant, courteous, and actually quite helpful. There were still a few hiccups, though: at immigration the place was still organized in the “form a separate line at each counter” mode, and one line was being held up because the immigration officer was chit chatting with most everyone in his line (obviously taking the “service with a smile” sticker on his window way too seriously). The cynic in me is tempted to conclude that, yet again, the folks at the airport have all the cosmetic matters down pat even if the underlying systems are still shot. Yet I suppose the happier thought would be to point out that maybe there’s hope yet for travelers to and from the country.

“Start spreading the news…” While waiting for my flight, I noticed that the music being piped into the airline lounge consisted mostly of jazz standards. This was just at the edge of my consciousness as I was making and fielding a few last-minute phone calls prior to departure. At some point, however, I just had to laugh at the universe’s sense of humor: building to a crescendo in the background was the familiar chorus to “New York, New York”. Go figure.

Upgrade, downgrade. Before boarding, I began to wonder whether the plane I’d be on would have the new cubicle class configuration I got to experience on the short leg of my last trip. And I was! It looks like Cathay have finally rolled this out to the rest of their fleet. I was also in for another treat: for the Manila-Hong Kong leg of the trip, I got upgraded to First Class! The last time this happened I didn’t find the perk particularly enjoyable, but this time around I was quite impressed. The food was the best I’ve ever had on an airline, and Cathay’s new first class configuration is very spacious and comfortable — so much so that when I ended up back in cubicle class for the remainder of the journey, I felt…deprived. Spoiled, I am.

Delay, delay. Whoops! Jet lag!. All told, I experienced a cumulative delay of three to four hours on the way to New York. The two major delays happened at Hong Kong, where security screening was taking longer than expected owing to the sheer volume of people suddenly in transit (perhaps from the Olympics), and inbound to New York, where the plane was held in a holding pattern for over an hour (and almost had to divert to Boston). The delays were inconvenient, to be sure, but the unintended consequence was that I ended up getting into my apartment at an ungodly hour, and thus was unable to appropriately reset my body clock given everything I had to accomplish for my trip. So the jet lag hit me particularly badly this time…albeit just long enough for me to get over it in time for the flight home (argh!).

Moving. So most of the trip was spent moving out of my apartment. Frankly, I was sad to have to leave the place. The location was good, it was spacious for a New York studio job, and even if the rent was rather much by the time I terminated my lease, it was still way below average by city standards. Anyway, this being the first time I’ve had to pack up my stuff and ship it home (among other things), I thought I was mentally prepared for how stressful it would be. I wasn’t. I think I gave it the good ol’ stiff upper lip, but really after all the stress I promised myself that when I got home I’d give my mom a big hug because now I understood the stress she went through moving all our things from one house to another. So when I got home, I did…and promptly received a lecture in the process. This is why I love my mom!

Buzzards. There was a fair amount of things I didn’t intend to bring home that needed disposing, which I duly offered to family friends and the building superintendent. Somehow, I got the sense that this is probably what it feels like to be carrion for vultures, with the exception that I was probably as happy to part with my things as they were to take it off my hands. Of course, in at least one respect I got screwed over: the superintendent had told me he had a “buyer” willing to take my furniture away for a song, but at the last minute the person backed out and instead the super said I could just leave what I had to leave behind and he’d throw it out for me. Yeah, right. But hey! He was pretty nice about it, so I don’t really mind. Most of the stuff was Ikea, anyway, meaning very little salvage value (if at all).

Need TV! I arranged the disconnection of my major services with a couple of days to go before the flight home. While most of them took effect the day after my scheduled departure, I had to terminate my cable TV service days before I left. In the process, I came to realize how much comfort being able to watch TV is when I’m on my own. In the days after I returned the cable box and shipped out my TV, I still found myself gravitating to the spot where the boob tube was to turn it on out of routine. Such are the idiosyncracies of modern life, I guess.

Confirm? Like a typical Filipino, the things I didn’t intend to carry home with me I put in a balikbayan box to have it shipped home. I found a (Filipino) company that could take care of it for me, arranged to have my boxes picked up and was told that they would be by in the evening a few days before I was set to leave. This worried me a little (what if they can’t make it?) but I took it in stride. Still, when the day came around I rang up the company again just to make sure, and this is the conversation I ended up having, verbatim:

Company Rep: Hello?
Me: Hello! I just wanted to confirm that someone will come by tonight to pick up my boxes?
Company Rep: It’s confirmed.
Me: …
Company Rep: Hello?
Me: …Uh…right. So…it’s confirmed?
Company Rep: Yeah. It’s confirmed.

And no, I didn’t even introduce myself. Bizarre, to be sure, but they did come by. So it was confirmed!

Suprise, surprise. With one day to go before my flight home, everything was set. My boxes had been shipped out, my bags were packed, all accounts that needed to be settled were settled and closed, and I was one with the universe. Then I received an unexpected surprise: on my way out to dinner, I noticed that an envelope had been slipped under my door that looked conspicuously like the one that I’d receive with the statement of account for my rent. And it was — with a bill for next month’s rent at double the rate. This sent my anxiety into overdrive: was I being screwed by my landlord? It turns out that I wasn’t: the next morning I called the management company to sort it out, and was told that the bill was automatically generated and just reflects what would happen if I stayed on without having renewed my lease. Still, that was one almost-surprise I’d rather not have received.

Blue Van. These past few years, if I had a lot to carry I’d arrange a service to the airport through Supershuttle. So it was this time around. Soon after I was picked up and on my way, it dawned on me that on each of my trips with Supershuttle never had I been on the same route out of the city to the airport. It’s such a shame that I hadn’t paid more attention before, because I’m sure that by now I would’ve seen so much more of Queens in the process!

Messy and confusing. The last time I commuted to JFK above ground, there was major construction ongoing. Now that it’s finished? The airport has to be the least driver-friendly in the world. There are more confusing twists and turns on a per square foot basis than I’ve seen in quite a while. It boggles the mind how a city like New York can’t have a friendlier airport to service its visitors. Oh, wait, that would be Newark…

Baby on board. For some reason, there was an inordinate amount of infants on my flight home. I thought I was the only one who noticed while waiting for the flight to board, but apparently so did other passengers, at least one of whom asked the staff if this was mere coincidence or if there was something else going on. Everyone hates having to be stuck on a flight with bawling infants, so I resigned myself to the fact that my luck had finally run out in this regard. Actually, it ran out even sooner than that: while waiting to board, I ended up seated next to a kid from Screamsville and his amah from hell who just couldn’t let the kid sleep in peace. Seriously.

Ready to go! And so it came to an end. There were no hiccups on the way home, no inordinate delays or unpleasant incidents, which is perhaps the best way to wind down my stay in the city I’ve called home for three-odd years.

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