From the air, Manila is an irregular sprawl of swill and turpitude, a cloud of smog hanging over it like the mushroom of detonation.
I’ve honestly not flown enough recently to say conclusively whether or not Philippine Airlines deserves its four-star rating. It does deliver in the things that really count, such as planes not falling out of the sky and keeping passengers well-fed.
On the newer planes, the in-flight entertainment system is top-notch and is comparable to those on the Gulf carriers, but on older planes you get, well, nothing.
And the seat selection process, when you buy tickets online and pony up $5 just to get an aisle seat in Economy—an aisle seat in the center cluster, mind you—is a bit of a nasty surprise.
But for the most part, Philippine Airlines is let down by the airport. Once you get past Immigration and Security, there are no food options, though there are plenty of options for single malt whiskey, cheap perfume and garish handicrafts.
I’m afraid I’m unable to comment on the quality of the arroz caldo, which is tucked away somewhere beyond the reach of mortals such as myself. But all of these we can put down to idiosyncrasy.
Being able to get the plane off the ground, up in the air, or back down on the ground, is the airport’s main job, and in this it fails miserably.
Airlines have taken to giving Manila to Hong Kong two hours and 30 minutes as “flying time,” because they know that a full hour of this will be spent sitting on the ground. Traffic in the capital is bad in the air as much as it is on land.
Travel tax is also an antiquated, unnecessary hassle, although I’m sure it is much beloved by the people who benefit from it in the government.
To add insult to injury, those with resident cards or passport holders of another country are exempt from paying travel tax, further penalizing those who have the unfortunate distinction of being solely a Philippine passport holder.
The remedy to this is not to tax them as well, but to abolish this altogether.
In the era of biometrics and electronic passports, Philippine passport holders are similarly punished by having them fill out a pointless immigration form; again, those who hold foreign residency do not have to go through this.
Being a Filipino, it seems, makes you a second-class citizen not just abroad, where it might be expected, but in the Philippines as well.
On the inbound journey, Filipinos are—oh, joy!—not required to fill out a landing card, but they must fill out a customs declaration, on which I’m sure everyone scrupulously declares every single item one purchased abroad.
It is so pointless that the Customs officer waved it away when I offered it to him; even he sees the futility of this paperwork.
All this usually happens after one has just experienced the efficiency and booming economy of a foreign country—as I remarked, it’s enough to turn one into a Dutertard.
One is lured by the idea that the only thing our countrymen lack is the “discipline” of an authoritarian government or dictator to fix the sloth and ineptitude that plagues our facilities and institutions.
You will also find, aside from efficiency, that the peso’s miserable state makes travelling a privilege exclusive to the rich these days. A sandwich in Oslo? That’ll be P600. A ride on London’s underground? P350 for a single trip. A meal at McDonald’s is about $20 these days or over P1,000 at the current rate of exchange.
These days I travel mostly by browsing other people’s Instagram accounts.
It’s not my intention to grouse—well, not too much, anyway. I do have a recommendation that is within the realm of reason, though.
Sometimes all you want is to get away from it all… to escape the mushroom cloud of Manila and actually see stars in the night sky and feel an unpolluted breeze against your cheeks.
We recently visited Lolo Doc’s Farm Resort, also known as Casitas de Victoria, Dr. Celdran’s family farm and resort in Batangas.
The highway going there is one of the most scenic and twisty drives on a well-paved road you can enjoy, with great views of the coast, and once there, the accommodations are clean and well appointed.
For those who like every minute of their out-of-town vacations to be filled with historical and cultural activities, or watersports and such, I understand that they are available in the vicinity.
We, however, were perfectly happy to lounge about by the half-Olympic-size pool, then amble over to the restaurant.
The food, I’m happy to report, is excellent: the paella is one of the best I’ve had in the country.
They are famous for their Iberian chicken, and the vegetables come fresh from the farm just over the fence.
If they add the prospect of a massage, it would make for a perfect weekend getaway.
As much as I complain about it, Manila, for better or worse, is home—how I wish it could be a more liveable city. To love it more, and for the sake of one’s sanity, it’s best to escape it as often as possible.–CONTRIBUTED