Sunday, January 4, 2015

Philippines Day 1: Arrival in Manila

Day 1: December 22, 2014
Every January, I suspend baking for as long as I can hold out. Partly because I'm still recovering from all the holiday baking I did in December and partly because January is when most people make a resolution to diet and eat healthier; I really try not to crater their good intentions by putting out sugar and fat-laden baked goods. I've usually recovered by February and even have people start commenting on "how long" it's been since I've baked for them and was I sick? I've even had people helpfully tell me they're not on a diet so I wouldn't be cratering them if I were to bake in January. But, regardless, I hold out for as long as I can. This year I'm going to go a different direction with my blog for the next few weeks and take you with me on my trip over the holidays to the Philippines. There, never let it be said I didn't support your healthier eating habits. At least for the first 31 days of the new year.
My niece and I before our flight
My other niece and my sister before their flight
My nieces are graduating later this year and it seemed like the optimal time to go before they started working full-time after graduation. My niece Shyla and I flew out of SFO while my sister and my other niece Lauren flew out of LAX and we all landed in Manila within an hour of each other. There's a 16-hour time difference between the West Coast and Manila and it was a 14-hour direct flight so we left on Saturday night and landed in the wee hours on Monday, Manila time.
Noise-canceling headphones = lifesaver
Although I love to travel, I'm a notoriously bad traveler because I rarely sleep on airplanes because of the noise and the inability to lie flat (ah, to be able to travel business class or first class without mortgaging an internal organ to pay for the upgrade) and have difficulty adjusting to the local time zone because by the time I get off the plane, I'm ready to fall horizontal and catch some zz's, regardless of the local time. But this time, I splurged and bought myself a pair of noise-canceling headphones. I was a bit skeptical on how good they would be. I had done my homework online on what to buy, which ones were rated well, what to look for, etc, but the one thing I hadn't had time to do before I left was go to a brick and mortar store to try them on for myself. So the first time I really put them on to test them other than when they arrived in my quiet house in my quiet neighborhood, was when I got on the plane. As soon as I flipped the switch to turn on the noise-canceling function, my life changed. Seriously. Wow, these things really work. No longer could I hear the loud roar of the plane engines or the ambient noise around me. Proof was that I slept a whole 4 hours straight on the plane. For me, that's pretty amazing.When I finally took the headphones off, I felt like I was being deafened by the plane noises. My travel life has taken a whole new turn.
Arrival at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila
Touchdown in Manila - my sister and Lauren met Shyla and me in baggage claim. It took awhile for our suitcases to come out but passing through Customs was a breeze and we were picked up by my cousin Albert and my dad who had arrived a few days earlier with my mom. We have a house in Metro Manila that's set in a "compound" with 4 other houses that also contain family members. It's affectionately known as "Villa Mahinahon" which literally translates to a villa of calm and relaxation, untroubled. Filipino humor often names things that are the exact opposite, haha. Calm and relaxed, my family is not.
Lechon (roast pig) in the making
I have a number of relatives in the Philippines and although it's been 7 years since my last visit, the nice thing about family is it doesn't matter how long we've been gone or how out of touch we might have been, we're still family and there's still unconditional acceptance. My nieces haven't been back for 12 years and much was made of how much they've grown since they were 9.

Since it was our arrival day, we didn't have any outings planned as my parents (wisely) knew we were unlikely to be up for much activity and wanted an adjustment period to the local time, local temps and local humidity. But, not wanting to waste a day of our 10-day visit, my mom arranged for my sister, my nieces and me to have mani-pedis done at home. One of the nice things about the Philippines is you can get a lot of in-home services come to you for a fraction of what they would cost in the US. Case in point, the wife of a neighbor from a family we'd grown up with back when we lived in the Philippines, came over to give us all manicures and pedicures. She did a very thorough job and it took just over an hour for each of us to get a thorough nail treatment. All for the equivalent of $5 USD per person and that's with us paying her more than her going rate. Nice, huh?
By the time my nails were buffed, polished and looking more spiffy than usual, I was seriously lagging in energy and wakefulness. But it wasn't night time yet and we were all trying to stay awake so we could adjust to the local time more quickly. So off we went with my cousin Abby for a walk around our little town and to buy "tsinelas" or slippers. Tsinelas can refer to indoor or outdoor slippers. Slippers can be flipflops or the more traditional Filipino-style slippers. I already had a pair of the latter and needed flipflops more sturdy and longer lasting than the cheap ones I can find at home so I bought myself a pair at the local store, relying on Abby to do the bargaining for me. Almost anywhere in Asia, it's customary to haggle. I'm horrible at it and don't expect to get any good deals with my American accent and my tendency to keep translating the Philippine peso into dollars and thinking "hey, that's much cheaper than back home." Fortunately, Abby is good at it and we let her do our bargaining.
A pair of tsinelas
I won't post a picture Abby took of us in the tsinelas store because you can clearly see I'd only gotten 4 hours of sleep in two days. Believe me when I say I slept well that night. On our walk, we also saw Puto Bungbong being made - more on that in a future post as I also hope to showcase some Filipino recipes as part of this month's blogging.

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