THICK THOUGHTS

Losing Language Losing Life

On a Yahoo News article dated Aug 23 and written by Kim Arveen Patria of the Southeast Asia News Room, it was reported that the Philippines is losing some of its languages.

Online database EndangeredLanguages.com showed that at least 15 Philippine languages are not only becoming less known but are also being forced to extinction by more widely used regional languages.
 
For instance, Isarog Agta, formerly used by communities living near Mount Isarog in the Southern Luzon province of Camarines Sur, only had six native speakers in the year 2000.”

The database uses information from the University of Hawaii’s Catalog of Endangered Languages and Eastern Michigan University’s Institute for Language Information and Technology.   Aside from Isarog Agta, “at least five other languages in the Philippines may soon be lost and forgotten, while two others are “threatened” and two more are “vulnerable.”  Together with Isarog Agta, the other  languages in danger of being lost and forgotten are: Sorsogon Agta, Lake Buhi Agta, Camarines Norte Agta, Batak, and Atta.  Listed as “threatened” are Dupaninan Agta from Cagayan while Manobo and Souther Alta are “vunerable.”

It is not surprising that all these languages are spoken by so-called “minorities” or indigenous people.  As to the reason why these

Agta hunters. Photograph downloaded from http://www.picturesofrecord.com as found in the work of P. Bion Griffin.

languages are declining, the report lists the shift towards the more widely spoken Tagalog and in the case of the population living in the Bicol peninsula, to Bicolano.

Indigenous people have always been marginalized in every way— be it the way they look, dress, behave, perform rites and rituals, and of course, the way they speak.  They have always been the poorest of the poor and have been victims of injustice  through armed conflict, land-grabbing, and even in their everyday lives.  With no access to opportunities that should have been their human right, they either die, in the case of the Batak of Palawan, or assimilate, in the case of the Agta.

Shameful.  While the rest of the urban population, particularly in Metro Manila, try their darnedest best to acquire faux American accents, our native languages are dying.  It is easy to dismiss these languages as mere antiquated vestiges of a bygone era that, for most of us, have no practical meaning and place in modern human society.  Wrong.  Languages are spoken by people.  There are only two reasons why languages die out.  One is the speakers have simply died.  And the other is the speakers have stopped speaking it.  Both cases point to a social problem that is rooted in social injustice.  In an age with advanced health care and sciences it is unthinkable for an entire population to die out. Not unless that population has no access to basic services such as medical attention, clean water, and a safe living area.

Why then do they stop speaking it?  It is easy to point to culture processes akin to Darwin’s survival of the fittest.  That the speakers have shifted to a more widely-spoken language for better acceptance in a larger wider society.  Acceptance rather than assimilation.  It is not unusual for people to hide their lingua franca in fear of being laughed at or being “found out.”  Unfortunately, looks such as curly hair, flat noses, and dark skin, are much more difficult to cover-up.

Language is the bearer of culture.  More than giving labels to a material world, it is a reflection of a population’s psyche.  A single word can have a profound significance among a group of people.  To the curious outsider, that single word can give a no less profound insight into that people’s life.

The struggle for basic civil liberties and the right to life is as old and as long as the epics they sing.  And perhaps one day, just like their epics, their languages and they themselves will be nothing more than mere recordings on discs and papers stored somewhere in an archive or published as part of a heritage series for scholars and the culturally curious to peruse, study, and comment on.  When that time comes, we have not only lost a culture.  We have lost people’s lives as well.

What We Can Do

1.  Support indigenous schools of tradition that propagate the community’s language and traditions.

2.  Support efforts such as those by the Summer Institute of Linguistis (SIL) which publishes educational materials in indigenous languages.

3.  When visiting communities, take the extra effort to learn basic phrases and expressions to make the speakers realize you value their language.

4.  Do not laugh at people speaking their native language.  If they speak in a more widely-spoken language such as Tagalog or Bisaya and they stumble and make mistakes, do not laugh at them.

5.  Respect other people’s cultures.

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A Queen in the Universe?

I am what I am

The controversy over Miss Canada Universe contestant, 25-year old transgender Jenna Talakova, and her subsequentdisqualification and later reinstatement, have had people doing a Sushmita Sen, asking themselves and others, “What is the essence of a woman?” The Miss Universe, in their landmark decision, has reinstated Ms. Talackova and has since paved the way for transgenders to join what is probably the world’s most famous and most popular pageant by 2013.

In the 7,107 islands (at low tide)  of the Philippines, beauty pageant-crazy Filipinos can’t help being drawn to the issue  especially with the announcement of Bb. Pilipinas Charities, local franchise holder of the Ms. Universe, that they were following the lead office’s decision thereby paving the way for transgenders to compete.

Make no mistake about it. It is the dream of a lot of gay men, not just transgenders, to be Miss Universe.  Even that 200-lb bench pressing guy at your nearest Gold’s Gym hiding underneath the veneer of heterosexuality in basketball shorts and a loose shirt, has at least once in his lifetime, took to some obscure corner in his room, hairbrush on one hand, and with all the courage he could muster, uttered the sacred invocation—– “Mabuhay!  I am Maria Antonia de la Reyna from the 7,101 islands of the Philiiiipppppiiiinnnnnneeesss!”

 Like all good Filipinos, I admittedly grew-up with the Ms. Universe pageant.  Time stood still in our household as we all tuned to the television set and with bated breath waited for Ms. Philippines to take to the stage during the Parade of Nations and in what would probably be her only moment of glory in the pageant, cry out, “from the Philippiiiiines!”  With even deeper breaths, we waited for her name to be called among the semi-finalists.  Of course, we were disappointed a lot of times.

I think I finally lost the Ms. Universe habit and with beauty pageants in general mid-college.  I don’t know why.  Somehow, I just lost interest.  I think the last pageant I fully watched was the one when Sushmita Sen of India took the crown.  When the pageant came to Manila and the entire nation burdened Charlene Gonzales with the role of championing Filipino pride and glory,  I didn’t pay much attention to it except the famous the interview portion and to notice that she looked like an old-fashioned debutant in her twill gown.  Beauty queens have since come and gone with a few Pinays managing to inch themselves closer to the crown than the others.  There have been a few mildly interesting news such as Miriam Quiambao and Venus Raj almost taking the crown and Ms. Angola, being the first black to win the pageant but I have since loss interest until now.

Who is the fairest of them all?

So should transgenders be allowed to compete in the Ms. Universe?

No.  I’ll say it again. No.  I have nothing against transgenders as I sincerely believe they are as human as you and me and deserve equal respect and love at the same level as all others.  However, being equal does not necessarily equate to being able to have everything you ask for.  Certain doors are open to everyone while some remain closed to some.  And it doesn’t necessarily mean inequality.  It just is because life is just is. We have to accept the fact that life has certain appropriations.  In the case of the Ms. Universe, it has been appropriated to women.  Real women.

The Ms.  Universe has always been about women both in the sex and gender sense of what being a woman is.  In the sex sense, Ms. Universe as a pageant celebrates female beauty not withstanding that contestants from a certain South American country reportedly undergo a series of reconstructions to make them more beautiful.  In the gender sense, the Ms. Universe pageant celebrates  what it means to be a woman in this ever changing world even if it includes parading in a swim suit.

I would like to believe that each and every woman who competes in the pageant brings with her the courage and the experience of her womanhood.  It  includes her transformation from a gawky adolescent to a shimmering beauty queen.  It includes  her determination to succeed as a career woman or a genius who can both be mentally and physically attractive.  It includes all the ups and downs of life just because she is a woman as determined by her chromosomes and her culture.  Her being a woman is a result of her gendered experiences.  And let me say this.  A woman who has always aspired to be beautiful, to be admired and loved for her beauty, and in doing so has opted to celebrate herself in a beauty pageant doesn’t make her any less than a woman who aspires to win the Math Olympiad. They’re just both women.  Period.

Transgenders, no matter their emotional and psychological make-up,  have none of these.  A new sex can be surgically placed but a new gender cannot.  Whatever desires, yearnings, and experiences they may have as a woman trapped in a man’s body all remain in the locus of their being a transgender.  They may find emotional and physical release in hormone injections and plastic surgery but it does not release them from their gender of a man transformed into a woman.  If chromosomes, the most basic unit of biological assignation of sex cannot even preclude gender, what more with plastic surgery?  Where will be the shared experience with women across all ethnicities and across all generations?  Some in the gay movement may argue that the road to civil rights, equality, and social transformation is equally shared by all “minorities.”  Yes, there are shared experience but no equal experiences.

As gay activism continues to battle for civil rights and equal opportunities and transgenders take their own special places in society and in its culture, both have to be cognizant of the fact that in the area of gender, there are appropriated spaces.  To recognize one’s gender is to recognize other genders as well.  To claim your place in society is to respect the place of others.

The place of a woman, a biologically and culturally determined woman, in a beauty pageant is the Ms. Universe just as the place of a transgendered, also biologically and culturally determined, is the Ms.  Tiffany.  I wonder if the very same gay movements who hail the decision of the Ms. Universe pageant would be as accepting if lesbians start clamoring for their right to join  Mr. Gay World?

If the Ms. Universe organizers and owner, Donald Trump, think of the pageant as a mere parade of beauties rather than a parade of women, then perhaps its acceptance of transgenders to compete alongside with women is justified.  After all, in a contest where the only question that matters is, “Who is the fairest of them all?”  physical beauty, whether courtesy of  chromosomes or plastic surgery, takes precedence over gendered experiences.  In such a scenario, the Ms. Universe then would be beauty pageant in the truest sense of the word.  That being the case, then it is justifiable why I have since lost interest in  beauty pageants of any kind.

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Travel Firsts

First time experiences are always the most exciting.  When traveling, whether in foreign soil or in domestic shores, these firsts almost always the ones that have the most lasting memories.  Inevitably, the firsts are usually followed by seconds.. and thirds… and…

First time to travel alone.  Thanks to Cebu Pacific’s cancellation of their Hanoi flights when they first launched it way back in 2009, my traveling companions and I decided to go our separate ways and re-route our flights.  They chose Singapore while I chose Malaysia and Bangkok.  I had a really tight schedule as I crammed KL, Melaka, Penang, and the Cameron Highlands in less than a week so I could spend my New Year at Bangkok.  Thank god for Malaysia’s efficient transport system I managed to get from point A to point B hassle-free.  Did I feel lonely traveling alone? Nope as there were other travelers I met such as  a Vietnamese, a Japanese, and a some Germans I shared a bonfire with at Kang’s Lodge in the Cameron Highlands.  New Year’s Eve in Bangkok, a British guy chatted me up at Richard’s in Silom.  You’re never truly alone unless you opt to stay away from everyone.

Tea.. tea... as far as the eyes can see. In the Boh Tea Estate in the Cameron Highlands

First Christmas From Home.  There must be something about the sand and the sea as my Christmases away have all been at the beach.  I was only in high-school then when my mom packed all of us kids and come church friends to some beach in La Union.  It was our first Christmas away from home.  We had the usual Christmas dinner including lechon but it had none of the rowdiness and fun that we always have at home.  Rowdy was the stampede to get inside the church for the final mass of the Simbang Gabi.  I still remember gathering with the throng of people at the small plaza fronting the Agoo Basilica.  Close to midnight, the church doors  flung open and people stampeded inside.  My sisters and I managed to get a to a precious pew where we spent a good part of the mass nodding off to sleep.  It didn’t help that the entire mass was said in Ilokano.

This stream is for fairies. Fairy Stream, Mui Ne, Vietnam.

The quiet beach of Mui Ne in the south-west coast of Vietnam is hardly the place to spend Christmas.  It was my first Christmas away from home and from family. Except for a thin Santa Claus and some attempts at Christmas decorations in the bigger resorts, it could have been any other day. Missing were throngs of people you would expect on Christmas Eve.  Some Caucasians were all dressed-up for some fancy dinner in one of the better restaurants. My friend and I just had dinner at the cheap Vietnamese eatery we had been eating at for the past couple of days then had some drinks at one of the bars.  I turned in early that night as there really wasn’t much going on.  I did miss having Christmas at home especially since I do most of the cooking and I love to cook for other people.  Still, it hasn’t stopped me from getting on a plane to somewhere to spend my holiday vacation.  Last year, Christmas was in pretty Hoi An (Vietnam again!) where I feasted on a set meal of Hoi An’s specialties all for less than $5!

First in the US of A.  Who doesn’t dream of going to the US of A?  Call me colonial-minded or brown-skinned American but Krispy Kreme, Hollywood, and burgers and fries has got me convinced that I gotta make a stop here somehow.  I gotta thank my job for this one as it paid for my airfare and a couple of days of expenses.  My introduction to Uncle Sam?  Rockin’ Las Vegas!

4 Queens + 1. Las Vegas.

If getting a US visa is like winning the lottery, then actually setting foot on this most precious of soil and getting past immigrations is almost akin to knockin on heaven’s door.  Only in this case, it was furnice-like hot!  It was a hellish 39 degrees when I arrived.  Stepping out from the cool terminal onto the desert heat, I had to literally jump back in as the heat slapped me on the face.  Hard.   The air was so dry I had to buy lip gloss to soothe my charred lips.  Later on in the evening as I stared at the light and sound show at the old downtown, I kept muttering, “I’m here!  I’m here in the US!”

First Vietnamese Motorcycle Ride.  I’ve been on the back of a motorcyle a couple of times.  Once on a rough unpaved road that wound up the mountains in Surigao and another in Panay.  I was headed to some mountain villages for field work.  The track was better fit for goats rather than any form of transpo but the driver was careful and seemed to know how to manage the ride. Still,  even on paved roads  heading to a late meal of strin gray in Fuene Osmena St.  Cebu and checking out an exclusive resort-type accommodation in  Siem Reap in Cambodia, I had always been white knuckled.

Crazy motos on attack mode.

Given my fear of motorcycles, I vowed never ever to attempt to ride on in Vietnam.  Anyone who has seen how the Vietnamese drive their motorcycles , especially in the cities, would know that riding one amidst them is not for anyone who values their lives.  I’d take a slow cyclo anytime. But things don’t usually go the way you plan them to be.  Especially when you’re in Vietnam.  And most especially, when you’ve arranged to meet-up with a local.

The friend I had met at a travel networking site drove-up to me  on a— what else?— a moto and told me to hop in.  I couldn’t say no because: (1)  He promised to take me to a really good place for Hue’s specialties and (2) Him riding a moto while I followed on foot is definitely stupid. With a prayer to my lips and a thumping heart, I rode on the back of his scooter and told him to keep his speed to a 40.  I had my fill of bahn bao and arrived back in my hotel in one piece.

Yummy "bahn bao" at Hue. This is worth overcoming your fear of getting on the back of a moto.

It was really out of necessity that I reluctantly strode on the back of a moto in Sapa. I had made my way on foot to the H’mong village of Sin’ Chai and wasn’t very excited to go back on foot as I had hurried away from a dog that came rushing out from one of the houses.  If you must know, I am deathly afraid of dogs especially when they’re out on the streets.  A woman had found someone to drive me back to the town.  With half of the village assembled and amusingly watching me,  I played strong, managed a nervous giggle, and waved good-bye.  “Please.. not fast, ” I whispered to the middle-aged driver.  It wasn’t half as scary as I thought it would be considering the narrow and twisting path we had to take before we hit the main road back to town.  About 10 minutes later, I was dropped off at the back of the market, a little white-knuckled but less afraid.

 

It's not bad lighting. It's the thick fog. H'mong of Sin Chai. Sapa.

Bored and with nothing to do in town, I took the offer of a moto driver to head to the waterfalls.  “Not too fast, ” I whispered again.  The burly driver was very nice and kept to a comfortable speed and allowed me a few stops so I could take photos of the mud houses along the winding road out of Sapa to the Silver Falls. It’s interesting how one can rapidly jump from being deathly afraid to being excitingly wanting to ride a moto.  By the time I got to the falls and taken my pictures, I had thrown all fear to the wind and when the driver asked if I wanted to go to a village further out, I readily said “yes!” Back in Hanoi, I was hopping at the back of motos whisking me around the city.  If it weren’t for the time constraint, I would have probably hired one of those Harley-Davidson guys to take me from Hanoi all the way to HCMC!

I’ve been riding motos ever since.  It’s cheap and some drivers make really good guides.

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All Packed and Nowhere To Go

My backpack is back on the top shelf of my closet.  Some of my foodstuff are happily making their way down my digestive track.  So why am I blogging instead of resting in my tent at the campsite of Tirad Pass in Ilocos Sur?

8:00pm.  I am on my way home from Katipunan. Getting a cab was easy and traffic was very light.

8:30pm.  Jay texts me asking where I am.  He is at the Partas station in Pasay waiting for others.

9:00pm.  My friend tells me he is about to leave his place to get to my house. I tell friend to wait.

9:30pm.  I give friend the go signal to head to my house.

10:00 pm.  Friend gets lost getting to my house and blames me for my directions.  I tell him to go bug off.

10:05pm.  Jay texts me that he and the others are on a bus already.

10:30pm. I am at dining table wondering aloud whether I should go or not.  I realize that I only Jay in the group and he’s not even the organizer as he’s a mere tag-along like myself.  I rally others to my reasoning.

10:35pm.  Vivian tells me that if I don’t want to head to the bus station alone, she’ll accompany me.

10:45pm.  I make alternative plans.

11:00pm.  I decide not to go.

 

Enough said.

 

 

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Surviving Passport Renewal

I’ve still got 10 months left on my current green passport but decided to renew it anyway just to be safe as I will be traveling in December to January and don’t want to encounter any hassles when I enter a country in January with exactly 6 months validity on my passport.

I was warned by Julie and Jeannette of the horribly long line and wait for the processing so I came armed with a bottle of water (which went unnoticed by security), some snacks (again unnoticed by security), a magazine, and my Ipod.

Traffic at EDSA was really bad and it took me all of 2 hours and a half to get to the new DFA Consular Office along Macapagal Ave which was right on the route of the MIA-611 bus.  Got off the bus and headed straight to the gas station beside it as I really needed to pee badly.

Large canvass tents had been set-up outside where you wait at the area assigned to your schedule, in my case, 10:30am. There was a huge crowd but everything seemed orderly as security guards helped keep everyone in place.  What is it about public buildings that serve citizens’ needs that don’t seem to be built functionally?  This was a new building and the people in charge of it should have known by now that there would be huge volumes of people filling it.  Shouldn’t they have put a really large holding area inside rather than set-up those tents outside where it’s steaming hot and humid?  Surprisingly, everyone seemed to be well-behaved without the usual shoving, pushing, and line-cutting even when the queue started and everyone transferred from one seat to another which really was such a primitive way of forming a queue.  The DFA should invest in an electronic queuing system so everyone can just wait for their number rather than playing musical chairs.

There were only about five windows processing the documents which made for a sloooooowwww and long wait.  It did not help that the guy seated next to me kept on shaking his leg and running an update now on then on the queue (in Filipino), “The line is so long….  why is it slow…. we’re almost there… ”  I wanted to tell him that craning his neck and talking to himself will absolutely not do the line any good and he will be better off playing some game on his mobile phone.

By the time I got to a window, I had choreographed 3 Zumba songs, scored about a thousand points at Word Mole,  eaten half of my cheese-stick, and was ready to faint with hunger. It took less then five minutes for my documents to be processed as I was just renewing my passport.  Others, particularly first-time passport applicants, weren’t so fast.  Others had to present several documents with the DFA officers asking them a lot of questions, one guy on the window beside me was told that he needed to show at least two documents on the list given him, and so forth.

Everything was quicker after that.  I paid the Php 950 at the cashier on the second floor then had my photograph and signature taken then paid for the Php 120 delivery fee— all done in about thirty minutes!

Back at the ground floor, it took about 20 minutes to get Rhoda’s passport at the releasing section.

The procedure is actually really quick and uncomplicated.  What really took long was the document processing.  They should have more windows open considering that the processing isn’t as quick as one would hope it to be, especially with first-time applicants.

It was past 1pm by the time I left the DFA office and headed to MOA for a really late lunch.

May I Suggest:

1.  A bigger INDOOR space where people could wait comfortably.  Yeah, a passport seems to be privilege rather than a right, but could we at least have a little dignity and peace while we await that privilege?

2.  More windows servicing the document processing.  This is the cause of that really long wait.

3.  An electronic queuing system so we don’t have to play musical chairs.  We can just sit in an air-conditioned place and wait for our number to flash on the electronic board.

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Memories from the Mountains

Clouds engulf the mountains surrounding Mt. Lobo

Today is the anniversary of my mountaineering group, Guys4Mountains.  If I were to identify the pivotal moments of my life which have duly changed me and the course of my existence, taking that first hike up the muddy slopes of Mt. Romelo (aka Famy) in 2005 with a motley group of guys would be one of them.

Guys4Mountains at Pico de Loro

My first taste of the outdoors was hiking in the forest and up some hills in the interiors of Panay while on fieldwork among the Sulod people.   It was a 3-hour walk to the remote baranggay where we were to spend a couple of nights documenting their music and dance.  One of my most memorable experiences during that trip was having lunch by a river in the middle of a thick forest.  Leaves were fashioned into plates and water drawn from a nearby spring.  Birds sang above us while we filled our tummies with rice and river crabs.  We trailed the river until it was up to waist.  Our guide then pointed to the steep hill flanking one side of the river and said we were going to take a short-cut.  I looked up and wondered where we were to pass.  Out came his bolo and we were soon hiking up on a trail he had made.  Trees soon gave way to cogon until finally we reached the top of the hill and before us lay the mountains of Panay.  We followed a trail that finally led us to the small village.  That evening, I listened to my informant chant the adventures of the Sulod hero, Labaw Donggon, in one of the oldest and most exciting epic chants in the Philippines.

Ever since I have craved for fieldwork and even recreation that would take me beyond the fringes of my usual physical environment where nature ceases to be mere surrounding but a way of existence.

The crater of Mt. Asog

It had been raining for a week the weekend we headed to Mt. Romelo. The soles of my old basketball shoes gave way, I slipped more than a dozen times, and generally wallowed in mud.  But as we celebrated the Chinese New Year  that evening with tikoy and a dozen stories, I knew I was going to be hooked to mountaineering for the rest of my life. I had done things I never knew I would be able to do—- float on my back on a swollen river while trusting my buoyancy (and my life) to a kid-size plastic life vest, go up and  down a small cliff with nothing but tree roots as foot and hand holds, and be with strangers and know that they would look after me.

Hanging bridge on the way to Mt. Kabunian

The next week, I joined Guys4Mountains in their hike to Gulugod Baboy. There were more than thirty of us on that climb and it was one big happy family. That was a really memorable climb as I was sick weeks after with no known pathological reason as determined by the doctors.  Finally, I went to a mangtatawas who asked if I had seen anyone on the mountain.  The old lady then performed a short ritual which immediately banished whatever sickness I was feeling.

I haven’t been climbing as much as I want to. In fact, after my Romelo and Gulugod Baboy in 2005, my busy schedule prevented me from joining other climbs.  It would be a full year before I would climb again.  I made up for it though in 2006 with more mountains and my first major climb up Mt. Ugo followed by Mt. Pulag (Amabanggeg-Ambanggeg) a couple of weeks later.  Pulag was a little miserable as it was raining in the summit and there was no clearing.  Worse, my down-filled jacket was soaked to the skin leaving me bitterly cold.  I have yet to experience the famous “sea of clouds” and see Pulag in all its splendor.

The view from the summit of Mt. Ugo

Long before the “skyway” was built and before camping needed special permission in Pinatubo I joined Sabit Mountaineers there.   It was my first time to join another group and little did I know that it would open the way for me to meet more mountaineers and head to more mountains. Heading back the next morning to Sta. Juliana on board the 4×4, it started raining heavily.  The steep mountains of lahar that rose above us slowly disintegrated before our very eyes as the O’Donnell riverbed turned into a sea of muddy rushing water that threatened to engulf the vehicles.  I was seated by the driver and I couldn’t imagine how he would know where to pass.  Nobody spoke as the rain came in torrents.  Only when we started seeing the huts of the Aytas did we start heaving sighs of relief and terror was soon banished by laughter.  A different kind of terror would befall us a couple of years later when we returned this time taking the  “skyway.”  Seated at the front seat, I gasped in horror as the 4×4 ahead of  us flipped 3 times down the steep road.  No one was injured but tt was enough to scare the passengers who were all first-timers.  It’s moments like those where you truly believe in divine providence as you ask yourself why you chose the vehicle where you are seated now rather than the one ahead of you.  We were all shaken.  At the jump-off point for the  45-minute hike to the crater, it was decided that I lead the rest of the hikers while the organizers head back to Sta. Juliana.

The turquoise crater lake of Pinatubo

Follow the Leader.  That was my first experience of leading a group. I wasn’t really familiar with the trail but I kinda just followed my instinct and sense of direction (which fortunately, was working that time).  Years later, I would lead Guys4Mountains up the punishing trail to Mt. Tapulao, having just climbed it a couple of weeks earlier.  With the group’s first attempt ending unsuccessfully, everyone was determined to finish the climb this time all the way to the bunker camp and the summit the next morning. Personally, I was determined to beat my 5 hour record.  With less load this time and being familiar with the trail, I reached the bunker camp in 4 hours in time for lunch.  Adding to my motivation of trying to better my record were two bigger groups who had gone ahead of us.  Since none of us brought any tents and we weren’t sure if they had one, being expedition leader, I was determined to make it to the camp first and reserve bunkers for us. I couldn’t be stopped and passed one climber after another until I was alone on the trail with Oio behind me.  At the second water source, we just took a few minutes off to refill our water bottles and take a breather.  It turns out, we had the bunkers to ourselves as the groups had brought tents with them.

The punishing trail up Mt. Tapulao

Punishing on the feet with its stony and monotonous paths,  Tapulao is too beautiful not to be climbed again.

Pulag? Nope! It's Mt. Tapulao

I have to give my hat off to expedition leaders especially in mountains that involve a lot of logistics.  Tapulao was easy to arrange as it did not require any special permits or prior arrangements aside from transportation.  Staying with the lead pack is fine with me. Being expedition leader is something I would need to think about as it involves more than making an IT and sticking to it with the infinitely more difficult.

The Unseen.  Some people believe in spirits that inhabit the forests, rivers, and streams of mountains.  The Malays call them “orang buniang” or the “Unseen People.”  Taman Negara in Pahang in Peninsular Malaysia is said to be teeming with them.  In his book, “Travels in the Malaysian Rainforest, ” author Tan Teong Jin, tells of meeting two men who appear out of nowhere on the trail to Gunung Tahan.  They head down the trail from which he came from but are not seen by the others heading up.  In jeans and shirts and none looking like they had just spent days in the jungle, they looked strangely misplaced in the steaming rainforest that had no habitation in that area.

Negotiating a tree trunk in Taman Negara

My encounter at Taman Negara in the three days I was hiking in the inner jungle from Kuala Keniam to Kuala Trenggan was with hordes of leeches.  Maybe my stinky sweaty shorts scared them off.

On my first climb at Tapulao, some people reported hearing voices along the trail. “Itulak mo na yan, ” (push him) a voice from the air had whispered to someone.  In the early evening with the fog closing in, while heading to the entry way to the camp to look for the last two hikers, the expedition leader turned back sensing very negative vibes.  In the thickly  forested slopes of the last hill you need to descend returning from Mt. Tenglawan in Bakun, Benguet, my friend  was almost running as he could sense someone trying to catch-up with him as the hairs on his nape stood and goose-bumps covered his arms.  It was past seven in the evening and he was urging another friend a few meters before him to hurry up.  While camping at Poctoy beach in Marinduque after climbing Mt. Malindig, some had things missing or had physical brushes with spirits.  My only supposed-supernatural experience was the one at Gulugod Baboy and it was more of an after effect which I attributed to me purposely breaking off a rotten branch so no one would use it as a hand-hold.  Maybe I had disturbed someone.  Even Mt. Cristobal, the anti-thesis to the positive and mystical Mt. Banahaw, remained disappointingly ordinary.

Breathtaking view from Mt. Batulao

No Mountain Low Enough.  I’ve long given up on trying to understand what makes a mountain easy or hard to climb.  Is it the height?  The trail?  The distance?  Everything is relative it seems. Whatever it is, I’ll never take a mountain for granted again. I learned that in Hibok-Hibok in Camiguin.  As we entered the forest, some turned back prefering to just relax at Ardent Hot Springs as the trail became steeper. On estimate, it would only take us 3 hours to the summit but what a trail it was! Two hours into the climb, Rowell has stopped clowning around and I was just in automatic pilot staring at my feet as we climbed steeply holding on to rocks and roots to haul our tired bodies up. We had under estimated the mountain and had not brought enough trail water or food.  Catching our breath after an excruciatingly steep part, I asked Rowell how many more minutes to the top.  “One hour, ” he mouthed.  I almost burst into tears as Polo leaned on me.  I wanted to turn back already.  But we all egged each other on saying we had taken a plane ride and a ferry and we were not about to give up.  Finally, we reached the top and out came the wings we had brought for our fairy pictures.  Congressboy had turned back so I got to use his angel wings:) Descending, Bench and I were almost running as we were so thirsty.  When we finally reached the waterhole, we flung ourselves on the water pipe unmindful of the nearby carabao lolling on the mud.  Water had never tasted so good.

An angel on the summit of Hibok-Hibok

It was really slippery mud that turned Mt. Kalisungan into what we dubbed as the “minor that became a major” climb.  I was expecting a Gulugod Baboy-like climb.  The steepness of the trail was quite surprising.  Of all the mountains I’ve climbed, I’m still hard put to pin-point which would be the most challenging as every trail always has something unique that makes it different from others.  Sure, there are really easy ones like Manalmon which sticks out like a thumb in the middle of the rice fields; Buntis, with its gentle slopes unless you’re with a guide who really doesn’t know where to go and guesses  a trail that ends at the foot of a mountain range and asks you if you can manage an almost 90 degree ascent; and Talamitam which has both a shorter but steeper trail and a longer more gentle one.

Mt. Buntis

Camp Gourmet.  No matter how bad your food is, it will always taste good when eaten at camp after a long day’s hike.  But for some of us, we go the extra mile of creating feasts while others subsist on noodles and the usual adobo.  Bluefairy is especially adept at magically creating wonderful dishes fit for a gourmand no matter where he is.  At Sabit’s anniversary climb in Mt. Manabu, no amount of rain could stop him and the rest of us in his group from preparing canapes, cream of mushroom soup, and chicken in spicy sauce.

At one of the climbs in Gulugod Baboy, Congressboy offered a martini complete with an olive and served in a martini glass to every climber as he reached the campsite.  My food would always depend on two things: how easy or difficult the climb is and if there will be any water source.  Easy climb with a water source means a feast.  A difficult climb even with a water source would mean something less lavish.  Some stuff I would never leave home with would be chocolates, lychee jelly, and lots of trail food.  I’ve since discovered the magic of pre-cooking food then assembling everything for a nice warm rice casserole at camp.  Wraps alo make very good no-cooking meals. I once enjoyed a salmon belly and veggies wrap by the crater lake of Pinatubo.  For dessert, smores will always be a camp classic.

Rejoicing at Mt. Ampacao

Because I love to eat so much, food is a motivating factor sometimes especially in difficult climbs so I always make sure that what I have for both lunch and dinner is something really delicious.  It’s that “I can’t wait to eat” factor that also adds to the excitement of reaching Laban Rata at Mt. Kinabalu.  It’s not exactly gourmet or even really lip-smacking but it  was just sheer shyness of showing my appetite to my seat mates and Via Ferrata mates that kept me from gorging on the  the buffet spread.  After the summit climb and Low’s Peak Circuit Via Ferrata the next morning, back at the Pendant Hut, I must have eaten almost a dozen sausages and toasts.

Dawn over Borneo at the summit of Kinabalu

I’ve always had good memories of my climbs.  God and the mountains have been very good to me.  There has been no accidents except for minor slips and no untoward incidents.  As the world lay below me from the summit, I can’t help but say a prayer of thanksgiving to the Creator for the beauty around me.  People often wonder what makes one climb a mountain or even just head to the outdoors.  It does sound crazy to forgo with the comforts that is available to us.  Why skip a bath, sleep in a tent, and subject yourself to all that exhaustion, and pain sometimes?  I really can’t say.  Some would answer because the mountain is there.  Some would say because the view from the top is breathtaking.  The closes I think I can think of is because a climb up a mountain is always a cathartic experience.  It simply needs to be experienced to be understood.

Negotiating a section of the Via Ferrata at Kinabalu

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To Be Or Not To Be Alone

I’ve been traveling alone for the past few years and though it has its benefits such as having complete control over your entire trip it does have its minuses.  I’m fiercely independent and like to think I can always handle things on my own.  Plus there’s a little control freak in me.  Get the drift?

For those thinking of going the path less traveled, here’s a brief rundown on what to expect when you take that trip all by your lonesome self.

1.  You’re completely responsible for yourself and yourself alone.  No need to look out after others.  That means you save a whole lot of time being considerate to your companions. Eat when you want to eat and sleep when you want to sleep.

However, since your responsible for yourself only, when something untoward happens to you, you’re also completely responsible for yourself.  No amount of travel insurance can replace the help and concern of a companion.  Once, while walking the streets of Phnom Penh, I accidentally stubbed my toe on a raised pavement.  It split open and bled profusely.  Hobbling back to the guesthouse with a trail of blood, I cleaned it and washed it while surfing the net for the nearest doctor in case I needed stitches.  The relief of seeing my friend back at the hostel immediately seemed to make everything all right.  The wound eventually healed after a couple of days.

No emergencies here. A dash of salt and this leech will be on its way to the other world.

2.  No sharing.  The most affected expense in solo traveling would be accommodations unless you stay in a dorm room.  I’m a backpack traveler but dorms just don’t cut it for me.  I don’t mind staying in small guesthouses but having a room to myself where I can just fling my stuff  is the one luxury I cannot afford to give up. . Staying in a mixed dorm room in  Shanghai, the couple I shared it with were asleep by 10 pm so coming back from a late night out, I had to keep the lights off and tiptoe about.  On the other hand, dorm rooms are a great way to meet other travelers.  Mind you, the spelling is correct— “meet” not “mate.”  I don’t mind shared bathrooms but when it comes to the bedroom and I really do mind my privacy.

My upper berth accommodations on the train from Lao Cai to Hanoi. This is a self-pic by the way with the camera on the ledge for the luggage.

For people like me whose tastes buds also like to travel, eating out can also be limiting as  you can only try few dishes at a time as you have no one to share it with.  A recreation of the imperial feast at Hue would be no fun if you’re alone not to mention the strange looks you’d get with all that gluttony.  But hey!  Didn’t the emperor order all those delicacies to be made for himself and not for the entire court?!

A tray of "bahn beo." Fortunately, I had a Vietnamese friend to share this and other yummies with; though I don't mind having everything for myself.

All this dimsum at Ning Bao Dumplings at the Yuyuan Gardens in Shanghai would have been impossible if my sisters weren't there to share them with me. Still, we got strange looks as there was just so much food.

Taking the easy way out and joining a tour?  Have your ever ridden a school bus where everyone knew everyone except you?  That’s how it is when you join tour groups.  You’ll most likely end-up being alone in a crowd.  What’s bad sometimes is when you’re seated already (preferably at a spot of your choice) and then a couple or a group comes in and you’re made to switch to another seat just so the two of them could sit together.  You kinda feel sometimes that you’re the filler accepted in tour groups to reach either the bare minimum for a tour to take-off or the absolute maximum to rake in a huge profit.   Some of the more off-the-beaten-track tours like the ones that head to jungles or mountains  require at least two people and most agencies can’t let you join another group.

3.  “Do you want me to take your picture?”  I’ve been asked that a couple of times.  Once while I was standing at The Bund in Shanghai and smiling at my camera which I held in front of me.  I did buy that long stick  you screw at the base of your camera like a tripod but my pics still bear that “you took that picture by yourself” trademark—your arm in front of you and your face filling-up the entire screen.  Might as well have taken the picture at home as any scenery or landmark showing where you are is blocked-off by your huge face.  Putting the camera somewhere like a rock or a table isn’t too reliable either.  So I finally bought a proper tripod. It has been my best friend every since.

This is what happens when you take a self-pic and put your camera on an available stand such as a rock (West Lake, Hangzhou, China).

4. Flexi-travel.  Waking-up one morning in my hotel room in downtown Davao, I decided to simply head to the wharf and catch a public boat to Samal Island.  Unfortunately, the next boat was not due to leave in a couple of hours.  Spying a bus with a signboard that read “Kaputian,” I boarded it and got off at the end of the road where a nice white beach beckoned.  Stayed for an hour of two just basking in the sun then took the bus back.  Aaaahhh… the pleasure of spontaneous travel.

Sometimes you arrive at place and discover you’d rather keep your luggage packed and head off somewhere else or you wanna spend a few more days.  Arriving in Suzhou, I decided that two days was enough so I spent an extra day at Hangzhou which I infinitely liked better.

Solo travel means being able to decide on anything and everything you want to do during your trip.  Where you want to go entirely depends on your own interest and agenda. Convincing your travel companions  to watch yet another re-telling of the Ramayana this time in a wayang kulit performance  in Jogyakarta can be a little difficult if their interest is more on batik and getting a good night’s sleep.

As an early riser it can be a bit frustrating when you’re traveling with people who wake-up at mid-morning and spend the rest of it having breakfast and getting dressed for lunch.

5.  No talk.  Unless you’re a born social butterfly or dragon fly (I made this one up for the guys who would cringe at the reference of being a butterfly) being by yourself simply means you have no one to talk to on that long bus or train ride.  The further you go from the tourist trail, the less chances of being able to talk to someone especially if you can’t speak even the most basic phrases of the local language.  You’ll soon discover that smiling to replace conversation can be a bit tiring and may be the cause of additional laugh lines.  My advice:  learn the language enough to have a simple conversation with.  Saying “aaaah” and “oooh” during sign language while trying to make a local understand that you need to go to the toilet does not count as conversation.

Sometimes though you’re lucky to meet really nice people in places where travelers, especially backpackers congregate.  At the very least, you get to have international friends at Facebook.

One friend I made in Vegas.

If it weren't for this Vietnamese guy I met, I would not have had the tried one of the best and most authentic Hue food experience.

Traveling is supposed to change you and since taking that first trip traveling solo I’ve never looked back since.  It really can be lonely but it can also be freeing.  The path is there waiting for you.  Take it.

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Nothing Beautiful about “Pilipinas Kay Ganda”

Hmmm... some people say that the logo looks strikingly similar to this one of Poland's

 

Spot the ....difference?

There is nothing maganda” bout the new DOT slogan, “Pilipinas Kay Ganda.”  Maybe those who thought of it were avid fans of “Game Ka Na Ba”and thought that the similarity was cool. Come to think of it, “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” does sound like the name of a game show.  I can almost hear Kris Aquino in her shrill voice looking at the audience and screaming, “Pilipinas Kay Gandaaaaaa!” The thing is, it doesn’t even sound good.  Marketing is all about catchy slogans.  It’s too cumbersome.  There’s no play of words or sounds.  In short it’s plain  “panget” (ugly). “Pilipinas Panget” even sounds better to the ears. Besides, with ganda being appropriated by everyone in popular culture and in street language , it may not exactly have the kind of appeal that  the DOT would want to have. Mention the word “ganda” and I associate it with Vice Ganda and BB Gandang Hari.  Perhaps the DOT should consider hiring those two as Tourism Ambassadress.  Go all out with the ganda.  After all, we are a nation that strives on appending our culture, whether tangible or not, with showbiz personalities.  I can just see it.     A giant billboard on the Philippine embassies around the world.  Coconut trees and tarsier  in the background. Vice Ganda and BB Gandang Hari dressed in the colors of the flag, ltheir lithe figures leaning back like two bamboo poles looking like Si Maganda at Si Maganda.  Above them  “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” hovers over their heads like a giant sun.  I can almost hear Ricky Reyes in his nasal voice  saying, “Ganda!”

Why use Filipino? Is it for the domestic market?  Have we lost all hope in attracting foreign tourists and have instead shifted all our energies in attracting our own?  Sure, the domestic market should never remain untapped; that’s  the rationale of  the holiday economics bill that GMA introduced (and we thank her for that) .  But shouldn’t the DOT, like any tourism department around the world, focusing on selling the Philippines to the world?  We need more dollars not  more pesos.  For the domestic sector, the old slogan, “Huwag Maging Dayuhan sa Sariling Bayan” should be revived and promoted instead.  It may be long but it sounds good and reaches out to the Pinoy’s sense of self.  So it is baffling to think  why  Filipino was used. How can you sell something to the world market with  a slogan  (that represents your product) that your  target audience won’t be able to understand.  The DOT probably thinks that with Filipinos in every nook and cranny of the world,  the next foreign backpacker off to the next adventure or the next high-rolling socialite seeking the next luxury destination must have learned at least some basic Filipino from their friendly OFW next door. If they wanted a Filipino word, “Mabuhay” would have been of better use as it ranks alongside “Sawasdee” and “Selamat Datang” in the universal consciousness.  We’re probably going to be the first country in the world that would put up billboards and other marketing materials promoting our country around the world with a translation.

From Wow to Ugh. “Wow Philippines”  was short, catchy, and fun.  I liked it.  Everyone says “wow.”  Prior to that, it was “Islands Philippines” which was also very nice and conjured-up images of paradise.  Those were slogans comparable to “Amazing Thailand”, “Malaysia Truly Asia” and “Cambodia Kingdom of Wonder”.  Slogans that not only are catchy but something that anyone  in the world would understand. Why the DOT had to let go of “Wow Philippines” which was launched under Sec. Gordon and carried over by Sec. Durano is beyond comprehension.   But then again, we’re talking of a new administration that seems bent to erase anything and everything, that the previous administration seemed to have done, whether good or bad.  It’s a case of breaking something that’s fixed.

Any traveler, local or not, knows what’s wrong with Philippine tourism– the lack of proper tourist information centers, the dearth of usable information that should be found in official websites, infrastructure, visa processing, etc.  And now, we can’t even attract them courtesy of our ugly logo.  Sure it takes more than a logo to bring tourists and keep them here.  But just as Manny Pacquiao has become part of the national identity by which non-Filipinos have come to identify us with, “Pilipinas Kay Ganda”  once it debuts on the world tourist stage becomes part of the national identity.  As an invitation to travelers, it is an identity that would be incomprehensible.  Well, maybe it really says a lot about what we are—- incomprehensible.

It’s not surprising then why travelers would rather go the extra aviation mile to head to Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia.  Why they would rather suffer the inconveniences in Vietnam and Cambodia. or even head to Myanmar in spite of certain ethical issues that may arise from it.  Yes, the Philippines is truly maganda but we can’t even communicate that.

 

 

 

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I’m Afraid to Fly and I Don’t Know Why

I am strapped to my seat.  Helpless to do anything except to mumble my prayers.  I look calm with my eyes closed and hands clasped on my lap.  Unbeknown to my seatmates, I am absolutely terrified.  Once in a while, I peer around and see everyone simply going about their business. One is reading a newspaper, another is writing on his Sodoku game book, and most are asleep (or maybe pretending just like me).  A voice comes over the PA system.  The doors are shut, people scurry about, and we begin to move.

I am on board a plane and we are ready to depart.  Everyone is ready except me.   I can never be ready enough to say, “I’m okay.  We can fly and I’ll stay calm all throughout.”

I’ve always loved flying when I was a kid, not that we took a great many flights and all of them were just either to Hongkong or Singapore.  I especially liked the take-offs when the engines revv-up and the plane goes speeding down the runway then eventually takes flight.  I feel a gleeful adrenalin rush as the nose points to the sky and the ground drops away.  But when I grew up, I developed a fear of flying.  Maybe because I’ve seen too many movies on plane crashes or I’ve just gotten plainly paranoid.  But despite of my fear, I’ve never avoided air travel and have never really had a panic attack even when flying alone.

What Am I Afraid Of?

1.  The feeling of nothingness below me.  It’s strange, but I’ve done some indoor wall climbing and even the Via Ferrata at Mt. Kinabalu and have never been afraid.  Maybe because I’m on a harness and strapped to a cable. I don’t have fear of heights either as I cross hanging bridges, monkey bridges, ride ziplines, and go mountain climbing. Perhaps because unlike a boat where the ocean supports the vessel, clouds don’t support a plane.  The feeling of being suspended on air with nothing to catch you terrifies me. Boats and even ships sometimes turn-off their engines when they see an enormous wave up ahead to keep their vessels upright and afloat.  They simply ride the wave.  But jets cannot turn-off their engines to simply ride any turbulence or wind shear.  I read at a website that should engine failure occur in jets, they don’t simply drop down.  The jet simply glides at it slowly loses altitude.  There’s supposed to be enough time for the pilot to try to get the engine going again.  It’s this logic that actually makes me think I’d feel safe in a ship.  After all, engine or no engine, there’s the ocean to keep it upright.  Plus you can always launch a lifeboat and sail away.  You can’t escape from a dropping airplane with a parachute.I even think the whole idea of aerodynamics is one big miracle.

2.  Turbulence.  Inspite of the endless assurances from the aviation experts that turbulence will not a cause a plane to crash, all that shaking and dropping, especially when in an updraft (where the plane is violently sucked-up then dropped; which I felt once on a ride to Osaka), starts my heart pumping.  I close my eyes, lean against my seat, and try to think happy thoughts.  If it’s kinda long (more than 30 seconds), I grab my arm rest and start praying.

3.  Engine sounds.  Okay laugh at me.  But whenever the engine suddenly hums a little quieter, I sometimes think it’s gonna stop.  Taking so many flights on an Airbus 319/320 has already gotten me used to the sounds the aircarft makes from the time it begins to taxi to the time it speeds down the runway to take-off.

4. Claustrophobia.  Paying a little amount to get front row or emergency exit seats is a small price to pay not just for the extra leg room but for the extra visual and breathing space.  Cebu Pacific planes are kinda notorious for their maximized seating capacity. On a flight back to Manila from Bangkok, three hefty Russian guys were seated behind me and one guy was asking to be transferred to another seat as he looked like he was about to burst from seat.  In spite of the 14-hour flight from Manila-Vancouver-LA, I felt totally relaxed as it was a large aircraft.  Small aircraft absolutely terrify me.  The smallest one I’ve taken was a Zest turbo-prop plane bound for Caticlan.  I had to stoop to enter and it was so cramped.  The fact that it was a Chinese-made plane just increased my anxiety.

Islnds

How I Cope

I’ve got my system down pat.

2 hours before the flight. I check-in. I check-in early to give me enough time to relax myself at the airport lounge.  I have no appetite and simply want to drink lots and lots of water.  I attempt to sit quietly at one corner or If I am traveling with someone, chat him or her up.  Otherwise, I pace around the airport, peering at shops, perusing menus, or simply reading the flight announcement boards.  I also go to the rest room a lot.

30 minutes before boarding time. I find an empty row at boarding gate and sit quietly.  My pulse quickens a bit but drinking some water calms me. f for any reason, boarding time is delayed with no prior announcement, I get fidgety and a million thoughts run through my head— is there something wrong with the aircraft? isn’t it ready yet?  As soon as boarding announcements I made, I take 2 tablets of benadryl to relax me and make me sleep.  I also have a bottle of water with me to take on board.  I let everyone go ahead as I don’t like lining-up especially at the cramped aisle of the plane.

Inside the plane. I take my seat, buckle up, and try to sleep.  At take-off, somehow feeling the aircraft rather than looking at it relaxes me.  With my eyes shut, I feel the plane barreling down the runway.  It lifts off the ground.  I peer at my watch to see what time it is.  I know that take-offs are crucial and it would take about 15 minutes for the seat-belt sign to go off. Only then will I heave a sigh of relief.   If it takes more than that, I get worried.  I try to get some shut-eye, even for short-haul flights. All throughout the flight, I wait for the captain’s announcement of the flight path, weather conditions, etc.  It comforts me to know that there is someone human in full control of this big mass of metal somehow managing to float among the clouds.  I really appreciate captains who speak clearly and audibly.  In my Cebu Pacific flight from Shanghai last July, I really liked how the captain told us where we are at the moment, the places we would be flying over, and the flying conditions.  He spoke very clearly and calmly as he told us that the weather was good and we were expected to arrive in Manila a few minutes in advanced of the expected arrival.

30 minutes before landing. I go to the restroom to freshen-up.  Once on a rainy flight from Davao to Manila, the plane went through turbulence while I was peeing.  When I got back to my seat, my friend told me that the flight attendant was looking for me.  It was sheer terror as the plane felt like it was riding through large waves.  It was the final descent already and I was desperately looking out the window trying to site the lights that would signify we were close to landing.

Final Destination. But my most panicking moments did not at all happen in the plane.  I was with my mountaineering group and we were bound for Bacolod on a Cebu Pacific flight.  The Saturday afternoon flight had already been delayed for a couple of hours due to the weather conditions in Bacolod.  This of course already set me on red alert.  Finally, we were told to board, we were at the tail end of the line when we noticed a commotion in front and people started turning back.  The flight had been cancelled and instead there would be a special flight for us the next morning at around 8 am.  We were back, checked-in and waited at the lounge.  Then the delays started all over again.  It was already 8am and the 7:30 am flight had not initiated boarding procedures.  I was the loo when the announcement came, “Due to weather conditions, all flights to Bacolod are delayed.  Please wait for further announcements.”  I read the writing on the wall or perhaps I remembered scenarios from “Final Destiny.”  I went to the counter and told the crew I was not going to take the flight and to please have my luggage off-loaded.  The nice lady tried to convince me to stay put as she had gotten news that the 7:30 am flight had just been cleared for boarding.  And it was.  The announcement came and the people started lining-up.  But I wasn’t going to take any chances.  I described my bag, gave my details, and she radioed someone.  At the check-in counter, there was my bag waiting for me.  I got my terminal fee refunded at a small office behind the payment booths.  I also got a partial refund of my plane ticket.

Frequent air travel have reduced my anxiety and fears a big deal.  Some flights have had me skip taking my pills. While some, I slept almost the entire trip, lying down on an empty row.

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35 Secrets Your Pilot Won’t Tell You

I’ve always been uncomfortable… okay.. I admit it… afraid of flying.  I saw this article online and thought I might share it.  For other flight worriers like me, read it and …. either be more afraid or un-afraid.

35 Secrets Your Pilot Won’t Tell You.

by Reader’s Digest Magazine, on Thu Oct 14, 2010 9:52am

We asked 17 pilots from across the country to give us straight answers about maddening safety rules, inexplicable delays, the air and attitudes up there—and what really happens behind the cockpit door.

What they told us will change the way you fly. 

 “I’m constantly under pressure to carry less fuel than I’m comfortable with. Airlines are always looking at the bottom line, and you burn fuel carrying fuel. Sometimes if you carry just enough fuel and you hit thunderstorms or delays, then suddenly you’re running out of gas and you have to go to an alternate airport.” -Captain at a major airline

“Sometimes the airline won’t give us lunch breaks or even time to eat. We have to delay flights just so we can get food.” -First officer on a regional carrier

“We tell passengers what they need to know. We don’t tell them things that are going to scare the pants off them. So you’ll never hear me say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we just had an engine failure,’ even if that’s true.” -Jim Tilmon, retired American Airlines pilot, Phoenix

“The Department of Transportation has put such an emphasis on on-time performance that we pretty much aren’t allowed to delay a flight anymore, even if there are 20 people on a connecting flight that’s coming in just a little late.” -Commercial pilot, Charlotte, North Carolina

 “The truth is, we’re exhausted. Our work rules allow us to be on duty 16 hours without a break. That’s many more hours than a truck driver. And unlike a truck driver, who can pull over at the next rest stop, we can’t pull over at the next cloud.” -Captain at a major airline

“Some FAA rules don’t make sense to us either. Like the fact that when we’re at 39,000 feet going 400 miles an hour, in a plane that could hit turbulence at any minute, [flight attendants] can walk around and serve hot coffee and Chateaubriand. But when we’re on the ground on a flat piece of asphalt going five to ten miles an hour, they’ve got to be buckled in like they’re at NASCAR.” -Jack Stephan, US Airways captain based in Annapolis, Maryland, who has been flying since 1984

“The two worst airports for us: Reagan National in Washington, D.C., and John Wayne in Orange County, California. You’re flying by the seat of your pants trying to get in and out of those airports. John Wayne is especially bad because the rich folks who live near the airport don’t like jet noise, so they have this noise abatement procedure where you basically have to turn the plane into a ballistic missile as soon as you’re airborne.” -Pilot, South Carolina

“At some airports with really short runways, you’re not going to have a smooth landing no matter how good we are: John Wayne Airport; Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Chicago Midway; and Reagan National.” -Joe D’Eon, a pilot at a major airline who produces a podcast at flywithjoe.com

“I may be in uniform, but that doesn’t mean I’m the best person to ask for directions in the airport. We’re in so many airports that we usually have no idea.” -Pilot for a regional carrier, Charlotte, North Carolina

“This happens all the time: We’ll be in Pittsburgh going to Philly, and there will be a weather delay. The weather in Pittsburgh is beautiful. Then I’ll hear passengers saying, ‘You know, I just called my friend in Philly, and it’s beautiful there too,’ like there’s some kind of conspiracy or something. But in the airspace between Pittsburgh and Philly there’s a huge thunderstorm.” -Jack Stephan

“You may go to an airline website and buy a ticket, pull up to its desk at the curb, and get onto an airplane that has a similar name painted on it, but half the time, you’re really on a regional airline. The regionals aren’t held to the same safety standards as the majors: Their pilots aren’t required to have as much training and experience, and the public doesn’t know that.” -Captain at a major airline

“Most of the time, how you land is a good indicator of a pilot’s skill. So if you want to say something nice to a pilot as you’re getting off the plane, say ‘Nice landing.’ We do appreciate that.” -Joe D’Eon

“No, it’s not your imagination: Airlines really have adjusted their flight arrival times so they can have a better record of on-time arrivals. So they might say a flight takes two hours when it really takes an hour and 45 minutes.” -AirTran Airways captain, Atlanta

“It’s one thing if the pilot puts the seat belt sign on for the passengers. But if he tells the flight attendants to sit down, you’d better listen. That means there’s some serious turbulence ahead.” -John Greaves, airline accident lawyer and former airline captain, Los Angeles

 “There’s no such thing as a water landing. It’s called crashing into the ocean.” -Pilot, South Carolina

“A plane flies into a massive updraft, which you can’t see on the radar at night, and it’s like hitting a giant speed bump at 500 miles an hour. It throws everything up in the air and then down very violently. That’s not the same as turbulence, which bounces everyone around for a while.” -John Nance, aviation safety analyst and retired airline captain, Seattle

“Is traveling with a baby in your lap safe? No. It’s extremely dangerous. If there’s any impact or deceleration, there’s a good chance you’re going to lose hold of your kid, and he becomes a projectile. But the government’s logic is that if we made you buy an expensive seat for your baby, you’d just drive, and you’re more likely to be injured driving than flying.” -Patrick Smith

When Not to Worry

 “Pilots find it perplexing that so many people are afraid of turbulence. It’s all but impossible for turbulence to cause a crash. We avoid turbulence not because we’re afraid the wing is going to fall off but because it’s annoying.” -Patrick Smith

“People always ask, ‘What’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened to you?’ I tell them it was a van ride from the Los Angeles airport to the hotel, and I’m not kidding.” -Jack Stephan

“I’ve been struck by lightning twice. Most pilots have. Airplanes are built to take it. You hear a big boom and see a big flash and that’s it. You’re not going to fall out of the sky.” -Pilot for a regional carrier, Charlotte, North Carolina

 “Most of you wouldn’t consider going down the highway at 60 miles an hour without your seat belt fastened. But when we’re hurtling through the air at 500 miles an hour and we turn off the seat belt sign, half of you take your seat belts off. But if we hit a little air pocket, your head will be on the ceiling.” -Captain at a major airline

 “If you’re going to recline your seat, for God’s sake, please check behind you first. You have no idea how many laptops are broken every year by boorish passengers who slam their seat back with total disregard to what’s going on behind them.” -John Nance

“There is no safest place to sit. In one accident, the people in the back are dead; in the next, it’s the people up front.” -John Nance

Advice for Nervous Fliers

 “The smoothest place to sit is often over or near the wing. The bumpiest place to sit is in the back. A plane is like a seesaw. If you’re in the middle, you don’t move as much.” -Patrick Smith

“If you’re a nervous flier, book a morning flight. The heating of the ground later causes bumpier air, and it’s much more likely to thunderstorm in the afternoon.” -Jerry Johnson, pilot, Los Angeles

 “Please don’t complain to me about your lost bags or the rotten service or that the airline did this or that. My retirement was taken to help subsidize your $39 airfare.” -Pilot, South Carolina

 “Here’s a news flash: We’re not sitting in the cockpit listening to the ball game. Sometimes we can ask the controllers to go to their break room to check the score. But when I fly to Pittsburgh on a Sunday afternoon, the passengers send the flight attendants up at least ten times to ask us the Steelers score.” -Commercial pilot, Charlotte, North Carolina

“I am so tired of hearing ‘Oh my God, you’re a girl pilot.’ When you see a black pilot, do you say ‘Oh my God, you’re a black pilot’?” -Pilot for a regional carrier

Those Silly Rules, Explained

“We don’t make you stow your laptop because we’re worried about electronic interference. It’s about having a projectile on your lap. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to get hit in the head by a MacBook going 200 miles per hour.” -Patrick Smith

 “People don’t understand why they can’t use their cell phones. Well, what can happen is 12 people will decide to call someone just before landing, and I can get a false reading on my instruments saying that we are higher than we really are.” -Jim Tilmon

“We’re not trying to ruin your fun by making you take off your headphones. We just want you to be able to hear us if there’s an emergency.” -Patrick Smith

“We ask you to put up the window shade so the flight attendants can see outside in an emergency, to assess if one side is better for an evacuation. It also lets light into the cabin if it goes dark and helps passengers get oriented if the plane flips or rolls over.” -Patrick Smith

It’s Not All Glamour Up in the Air

“When you get on that airplane at 7 a.m., you want your pilot to be rested and ready. But the hotels they put us in now are so bad that there are many nights when I toss and turn. They’re in bad neighborhoods, they’re loud, they’ve got bedbugs, and there have been stabbings in the parking lot.” -Jack Stephan

 “We miss the peanuts too.” -US Airways pilot, South Carolina

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