Excess Baggage


This blog entry about the events of Tuesday, December 21, 2004 was originally posted on December 23, 2004.

DAY 430:  To the uninformed, the Philippines may seem like “just another southeast Asian country,” with people that look like the people of other nearby countries.  This is a complete falsity, of course.  As my Let’s Go guidebook perfectly puts it, “the Philippines has been permanently thrown out of sync with the rest of Southeast Asia.”  The Pacific archipelago nation has a history unlike any of the others around, as it was a former Spanish colony eventually sold to the United States.  Catholicism is the dominant religion, not Buddhism, and traditionally, no one uses chopsticks.  Let’s Go continues: 

Described as a hodgepodge of “Malay, Madrid, and Madison Avenue,” Filipino culture fosters a range of ethnicities, languages, and lifestyles among which natives have found unity and an unparalleled love for life.  Their willingness to drop everything for a basketball game or a cockfighting match reflects the national philosophy of bahala na, roughly translated as “whatever will be, will be.”  At the heart of the Filipino tradition is a strong sense of community; Filipinos can’t bear doing things by themselves and, above all, value family, friendliness, and personal loyalty.  This cheerful attitude, along with convenient transportation, numerous English speakers, and inexpensive locales, makes the Philippines a budget traveler’s paradise.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.  Welcome to the Philippines.

MY TRIP BACK TO THE PHILIPPINES BEGAN in Bangkok’s International Airport when I was on the check-in line.  At the desk, two people ahead of me, there was a lone Filipino woman that was quite distraught.  On the scale, I saw she had a lot of luggage, and I figured she was over the weight limit.  I noticed the commotion and came to offer help.  It was Christmas after all. 

“Do you want some of my space?” I asked.  “I only have this [bag].”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, I know it’s just 25 kilos.”

“Oh thank you!”  Her name was Ida and she was a Programme Manager for the United Nations in Bangkok on her way back to the Philippines for Christmas.  No doubt her extra baggage was loaded with presents.  She showed me her ID badge. 

“My aunt works for the W.H.O. in Manila, and I have two friends at the U.N. in New York,” I told her, saying out the letters for the acronyms.

I put my bag on the scale, reducing the steep additional fee she had to pay.  Her new bill came down to 800 baht and she went off to the cashier on the other side of the terminal to pay it off.  I completed the formalities of my own check-in. 

“You shouldn’t really do this,” the Philippines Airlines employee told me.  She informed me that I was taking the risk of attaching my name to baggage that I didn’t pack myself.  Who knew what were in her bags?  If there was a problem, I’d be responsible. 

Oh yeah, I forgot about that part, I thought.  But it was already too late.  The bags were tagged with bar codes and took off to Airport Conveyor Belt Land.

Ida was nowhere to be seen as I waited around to see if she’d actually come back.  Shit, where did she go?  I wandered around the terminal and eventually saw that she was legitimately paying off her extra baggage fee.  “This is the first time I’ve paid.  I didn’t think I would have to.  We Filipinos are so giving, and it’s Christmas.”  I walked back with her back to the check-in area, but she was directed to go back through security again, which I didn’t want to bother with because I was starving at the time. 

“I haven’t eaten,” I told her.  “I’m going to find some breakfast, but I’ll see you on the plane.”  I gave her my seat number and got some Burger King on the mezzanine level.

BOARDING TIME CAME and I looked around for Ida on the way into the gate, and again, she wasn’t anywhere to be found.  I probably wouldn’t have been a little paranoid if the Philippines Airlines woman didn’t say anything.  I just banked on my common sense; Ida seemed like a decent person. 

The flight to Manila was interesting, although not as interesting as the flight I had taken with my parents in 1975 as a one-year-old, when, so my mom tells me, I spent most of the flight in the company of African-American entertainer Flip Wilson, who was on his way to see Muhammed Ali in the historical “Thrilla in Manila” fight.  This time around, it was me who was the older guy, sitting next to a little Filipino boy who went through spurts of laughter and spurts of hiding under his seat crying for his mother.  There were other children in the area too, also crying, but that wasn’t the worst of it; that came when there was a burning smell coming from the front of the cabin. 

Oh man, is this going to be pinned on me?

After the flight attendants investigated it, it was merely a piece of paper or something lodged in one of the heating coils of the oven that kept the in-flight meals warm.  Later on, on my way to the lavatory, I finally found Ida, who greeted me hello, and calmed down. 

Bahala na.  Whatever will be, will be.

LANDING IN MANILA’S NINOY AQUINO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT was easy; immigration formalities were a snap, and I got my bag fairly easily.  Ida wasn’t so lucky, with her four bags in different sections of the carousel belt.  I volunteered to stay with her until she got them so that we could leave together in case they checked the bag tags, but she told me she was okay and told me to go ahead.  I was a little incessant on staying with her, really to cover my own ass if there was any problem, but she politely tried to get rid of me.  I think she thought I was some creep trying to pick her up, which wasn’t the case at all.  I eventually did as she wanted and left her alone.

For the first time on my trip in airports around the world, Manila’s airport security actually asked to see my baggage code on the bag of my ticket to match with my baggage.  It cleared of course, but I wondered if one of Ida’s bags needed my sticker to be released.  It was too late at that point anyway, and in less than a minute I was met by my Uncle Mike at the exit gate. 

MORE THAN ANY OTHER CITY IN THE PHILIPPINES, Manila truly fits the description of “Malay, Madrid and Madison Avenue.”  The huge Filipino modern metropolis combines modern high-rises and Spanish architecture amidst traffic-congested streets and palm trees.  My Uncle Mike and I chat in the car as the driver took us through the city traffic to the affluent neighborhood of Greenhills, where he and my Aunt Connie lived, the area of town with two prominent symbols of Christmas illuminating the nighttime sky:  the Christmas tree and the shopping mall (picture above).  Greenhills Shopping Center was bustling with people doing their last-minute Christmas shopping; it was there we went to one of many restaurants for dinner.

In the spirit of the Spanish and American influences of the Philippines, we went to Uno Mas, a Spanish restaurant that served us Spanish paella and an all-time favorite American delicacy I had not seen in other countries thus far:  New England Clam Chowder.  We sat and caught up on my travels and other things, and then went out for dessert and coffee.  Outside, I really saw the American influence on the Philippines; there was actually a McDonald’s with a drive-thru window.

It was pretty late when we got back to the house, so I just turned into the bed they had waiting for me and went to sleep as the rest of the house was already.  The next morning, I found out that by some miscommunication, another group of my relatives had been sent to pick me up at the airport, and when they couldn’t find me, they had my name paged over and over on the P.A. system.  I thought perhaps Ida freaked out under suspicions of me, but then again, probably not.  Bahala na.

Next entry: Learning Tagalog

Previous entry: M.M.B.B. (the Many Meetings Back in Bangkok)

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Comments for “Excess Baggage”

  • GREETINGS FROM RIZAL, PHILIPPINES…  There you go; a Christmas bonus of three entries right before you Christmas-celebrators go on holiday.

    As I said before, The Philippines Episodes will come in spurts due to the many relative-visitation obligations I have here.  But hey, at least The Blog is up-to-date to the country I’m in.



    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/22  at  01:22 PM

  • Merry Christmas to you Erik and all the blog readers.  It seems that they have dissappeared lately….must be all the holiday activities keeping them away from commenting.  Thanks for the entries.  To all in warm countries, be glad….Southern Ontario is blogged down in a major snowstorm!  It sure looks like Christmas Now!!! Enjoy time with your families. Peace, Happiness and Health for the New Year. 
    To Liz & Janice in China…be glad you are in a snow free country!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/22  at  01:57 PM

  • Happy Holidays to all ... Thanks E! for the blogs & take care ... til you catch up again ... Merry Xmas ...

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/22  at  02:09 PM

  • Merry Christmas Erik, your little cousins will miss you again this year.
    Hope you enjoy your stay and say hello to all relatives back home.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/22  at  02:28 PM

  • Erik - Merry HoHo to you and your family. 
    Rose - don’t say the ‘s’ word!  I’m loving the temperature in HK - a balmy 23C.  Ahhh….

    Posted by Liz  on  12/22  at  03:14 PM

  • Erik & all BHs and SBRs alike, -

    Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!  Or to be more PC, let me quote Adam Sandler:  “Happy Everything to Everyone!”

    Enjoy your stay in the Philippines…I was just there this past April and had a blast.  From clubbing in Malate and Morato, island hopping in Boracay and the Visayas, staying at the Plantation Bay Resort in Cebu (dollar rates, but it was still tons of fun!), a stop over in Bohol, Puerto Gallera in Mindoro…seeing the fam all over Manila and Pampanga…oh man…I had so much fun!  I wish I was there for the holidays.  You feel the spirit so much more, minus the cold (although it’s about 60 degrees in NJ right now).  Anyway, for history, you can check out Intramuros or do one of those WOW Philippines day tours or whatever.  You can even check out the Rice Terraces, Chocolate Hills and the smalles monkeys in Bohol, etc…I know, you probably know all this already, but I figure I’d put my 2 cents in.

    ABS-CBN contact is MIA.  she’s changed her number and email.  I’m assuming she was getting harassed by unwanted solicitors / people again….poor gal.  Sucks being rich in the Philippines sometimes…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/22  at  03:34 PM

  • MERRY CHRISTMAS ERIK.  Enjoy the time with your family.  I’m back with mine now in Michigan. You now have my full attention again. Take care.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/22  at  07:08 PM

  • Happy festivus!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/22  at  07:34 PM

  • merry christmas, cousin! i always read your blog everyday since i arrived here in US. its my 1st xmas here & i miss the philippines right now. regards to all our relatives there…. enjoy your stay in the philippines!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/22  at  07:44 PM

  • Erik et al:  Merry Christmas from China!  No snow in Changsha!  Best wishes to everyone.  Enjoy the festivites!  I am patiently waiting for Liz’ visit next week!  And I’m all caught up on the blog - hurray! I’m back in the loop!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/23  at  08:14 AM

  • Maligayang Pasko to you and your family in the Philippines!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/23  at  02:53 PM

  • happy holidays from snowy michigan smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/23  at  03:21 PM

  • Merry Christmas to All!!
    I’m still here in DC, where it’s windy and cold. We leave on the 31st for our RTW. I’ll try to keep up with you while we’re on the road.

    Have a great 2005 everyone!

    Posted by HeatherB  on  12/23  at  04:52 PM

  • Happy holidays and happy new year to all from the East Village, NYC…

    Erik: Now that you’ve slowed down to enjoy your holiday with family… I have a chance to catch up on the beginning of your blog.  Read for so long the other night, my eyeballs started aching…


    Michelle… welcome home!  See you back in “D-twaaa” grin

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/23  at  09:05 PM

  • Merry christmas Erik,
    thanks for the reply to the email!!

    Felicidades Filipino!!

    From sunny Cancun,


    Posted by Pablo  on  12/23  at  10:24 PM

  • Merry X-mas out there bro!

    Keep on keepin’ on!

    Word Life.


    Posted by Supreme Moman  on  12/24  at  12:41 AM

  • Merry Christmas Erik & everyone!

    Btw, how long are you going to be in the Philippines, Erik?  I might have a mission for you=)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/24  at  04:15 AM

  • Merry Christmas from Saudi, Erik…

    Enjoy the time with your family…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/24  at  05:55 AM

  • ALL - Erik will be NIZ until the beginning of 2005 (maybe around the 2 or 3rd of January)...so there will be no entries for the WHMMR…I suggest you take the rest of the mandatory vacation days that don’t carry over to next year, or just call out sick…or just start drinking!

    Seasons Greetings to all the readers round the globe!...

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/24  at  01:54 PM

  • NICOLE - Erik will be in the Philippines until All Roads Lead Back to Bangkok on January 22nd….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/24  at  01:56 PM

  • Hey ET-
    We’re now in Thailand for a few weeks, wondering where you’re going next - give us an email shout if you’re interested.

    Liz-  Hope all is well, I think you posted last from Hong Kong, we were there a few weeks ago, your thoughts?

    Happy New Years from a very techno-laden Bangkok..


    Posted by ajeep8u  on  12/24  at  01:57 PM


    I hope this holiday finds you safe and happy!! We miss you a lot!!

    Nancy, Tony and & DT.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/24  at  03:18 PM

  • Greetings from the Canadian mid-north.  Snowy here as usual!

    Merry Christmas Erik, enjoy your time with family.  I eagerly anticipate new entries, but in the mean time I will start reading the archives!


    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/25  at  01:42 AM

  • Erik: did you feel anything from the 8.9 earthquake Indonesia had?
    there’s supposedly thousands dead all around SE Asia.
    hope everything’s alright.

    Posted by Alyson  on  12/25  at  10:16 AM

  • http://abcnews.go.com/
    here’s the story . . .

    Posted by Alyson  on  12/25  at  10:25 AM

  • I’m behind, but I hope that y’all had Merry Christmases/holidays and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

    I quit my job, going to be in Thailand on the 21st - YEAY!!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/30  at  11:46 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today, RickSteves.com, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.

Next entry:
Learning Tagalog

Previous entry:
M.M.B.B. (the Many Meetings Back in Bangkok)


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