Friday, July 15, 2011

A JOURNAL OF AN UNFINISHED JOB

I AM OFF AGAIN for Manila. Prepared hard myself to have a “conscious” sleep so I wouldn't oversleep, of course, and miss my 5:00 AM flight. It had been raining for the past six days and I don't see any reason this weather would slack for a day or two and that makes me somewhat worried in the back of my mind. One thing that assures me though is when it is raining in Manila it is hot in Cebu and when it is hot in Manila it rains in Cebu!

Leave my home at 2:30 AM for the Mactan-Cebu International Airport on January 27, 2011 under a steady drizzle and I don my windbreaker because it is cold. The taxi take me there in less than an hour and I have a lot of time. Now my eyes badly need a shutdown as I sit inside the airport terminal doing nothing and just waiting for the gate to open.

A half-hour before departure, I follow a long queue of passengers and boarded a Philippine Air Lines Airbus A330 connected to a boarding tube. I squeeze myself on a cold seat nearest the starboard window and I imagine closing my eyes. I got jolted to reality when the steel bird got airborne.

Outside it is dark and I got lost in my thoughts and hum myself of some forgotten tune until another jolt from thermals beneath make my neck crane to a twilight horizon. Oh, it's a start of another day of work. I hate myself thinking about it. I'd rather have this plane take a quick U-turn to Cebu and forget about the stress I'm about to face later and the following days thereafter.

Take a taxi to Paco and the driver charge me four-fifty pesos and what a way to begin the day! Ninoy Aquino International Airport to Paco is less than ten kilometers and I am made to pay for an amount that is congruent to a 20-kilometer distance and I can't even see the stinking taximeter! No time to argue. Don't need a headache at this early time.

I will go to Camp Crame later in the day to answer an errand but, first, I gotta settle down to find a place to sleep during night. My itinerary demand two days and one night at the least. My best option would be to become a freeboarder under the benevolence of my wife's relatives just as I have done the previous trip in June 2009. Anyways, I get a welcome reception and eat a quick but hearty breakfast.

First thing to do is to retrace my usual route. Up ahead I espy the UN Avenue station and waited for my train to arrive that would take me to EDSA. As it came, it swallowed what few people loitering nearby, including myself, into its still-spacious vowel until the LRT became the MRT at its EDSA terminus and, this time, a mass of people converge going north and south.

I drop by the Santolan station and walk the few steps to Camp Crame, the home of the Philippine National Police, and automatically my object of attention is the Firearms and Explosives Division. Some new firearm purchases need to be processed and licensed and for a whole day I become an on-the-job trainee as a fixer. The place is like a market and people are dealing and haggling on imaginary guns drawn in brochures and saliva-soaked words.

Later in the afternoon, my papers hit a snag after a breeze in the morning. The FED is reinventing itself and is streamlining its system in accord with ISO 9001:2008 certification. Well and good. But I still see so many shady characters inside the building like vultures waiting for something to jump on. I shudder at this notion and got lost in translation as my Tagalog is quite inadequate to maintain a smooth conversation with Luzon natives.

Meanwhile, I burn Cebu with outgoing calls for some documents at that late hour that I need for tomorrow. Need it fast. I begin to sense my frailty at this moment and I feel a little old. I go back to my billeting place a little bit worried but, after a healthy all-vegetable dinner, the worries left. The Internet put some nails to that!

The second day (January 28) see me facing the same wall as yesterday as I find my way through the labyrinth of bureaucracy. The documents have not arrived in the morning and today is Friday. Meaning, no papers can be processed until Monday. Another thing. Since today is a Friday, all personnel are leaving the office early for the parade ground and the flag retreat. Shucks!

Definitely, today is not the day of my breakthrough. I sulk myself inside St. Joseph's Chapel and get on with a positive outlook. At the last hour, my documents from Cebu finally crossed over the electronic highway and that make my purpose worthwhile and for just a short while. My planned flight for today is out of the window and I have to make my last shot on Monday, I guess.

As I walk to the gate, I saw the most popular item inside the camp that is making a lot of attention long ago from media and Greenpeace. I am talking about the electric-powered public jitney ferrying people around the camp for free! Although, I am on the verge of defeat, seeing the electric car itself sends me a bolt of energy and joy. Taking pictures of the vehicle became my instant obsession.

On the way to the apartment in Paco, I buy a battery charger for my Motorola V3. I don't have one and I need one, especially now that the cellphone went dead. I pass by a small truck selling fresh vegetables and fruits and I mingle with old matrons and Manileñas haggling with the lone vendor and I bring food provisions good for several meals for my gracious hosts.

Saturday (January 29) is a day reserved as holy for Seventh-Day Adventists which, my hosts are. While they are away on worship service, I stay at the house and read a book about John F. Kennedy. I am supposed to be in Cebu today and join Camp Red in Mount Babag. Unfinished work make that impossible. I finish the book in the afternoon and start on another – The Man Who Swam the Amazon - by ultra-marathon swimmer Martin Strel.

Sunday (January 30) comes and I take a stroll after lunch. No, I don't go to a mall but I visit instead the Manila Adventist Medical Center. You see, I have something that I crave for which the Adventists only produce and sell. It is their cinnamon loaf bread. I buy three loaves plus two cans of glutein. Along the way, I also bring along another plastic bag of fresh vegetables. Finish the second book by nighttime.

In the morning of Monday (January 31), I book a plane ticket from Zest Air which has the only plane to leave Manila for Cebu at 7:00 PM. Then I go back to Camp Crame to continue my work. All my efforts went for naught as the slow bureaucratic process broke me an arm and I raise my other arm in surrender. I manage to leave the papers to someone whom I trust before exiting at 3:30 PM.

As I begin to leave, I became curious of a school of gobies frolicking in a small heavily-silted canal just across FED in Camp Crame. How they got there, beats the hell out of me. The canal is fed by clear water, probably from a leaking pipe and it is on a high ground. I could not imagine how a species of fresh-water fish could survive the extensive modernization and pollution of Metro Manila.

Anyway, I need to be on the road to NAIA before five else you get caught in its legendary traffic. Made my thanks to my generous hosts before saying adieu. My Habagat Viajero is heavy. Inside are four loaves of cinnamon bread that I am bringing for my family and for my officemates. They all love the bread, thanks to the SDA bakers.

I arrive at the domestic airport at 5:45 PM and promptly subject myself and my bag to xray machine and searches before joining a long line to a counter. Another security barrier is breezed through before I could seat on the passenger terminal. An announcement came on the speaker informing the Cebu flight delayed and reset to 9:30 PM. That's alright but I'm hungry.

I wolf a huge siopao1 as I waited for my plane and, later, the gate opens to the tarmac. I sit near the portside window of the Airbus A319 and listen to the hum of the engines as the plane is hurriedly refuelled. Once it got airborne, it squeezed through a lot of air pockets shaking and rocking the fuselage and the engines roared as it levied for more elevation.

The sound of the machine is so disturbing and it quite alarmed me. Used to work on engines and I know a part is worn by the sound of it. I may be wrong and I hope I am. An hour later, the wheels touch the runway and it is not a pleasant landing. It is still raining in Cebu and too few taxis for so many passengers making a beeline. I gamble on a colorum2 and I arrive safely home at around eleven. Cherokee, my youngest, is still up tinkering a lappy and his eyes brightened when I showed him the cinnamon bread.

Document done in OpenOffice 2.1 Writer


1Chinese bread stuffed with meat, chopped boiled eggs and other ingredients.
2An unregistered and unmarked automobile.

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