From the Philippines to the USA!

For some reason, I love the whole being in airports and getting on airplanes thing. I have a fascination with airports (just like I have a fascination with signs)! I love the idea of going around an airport and discovering what shops and stores particular airports have and what they are selling inside. That’s why I’m not really into small airports for international flights, there’s nothing to do while waiting for your flight. The Manila International Airport in Pasay City is like that – any of the terminals you use there isn’t enough shopping and although they’ve renovated the place to a more acceptable standard, there is truly nothing to do at that airport. Unfortunately, this is the main airport of the country! In my personal opinion, international airports should have at least 100 stalls at a minimum with food being at least 20! My favourite airports that have a good balance of places to see and discover so you don’t get bored are the airports in London (Heathrow), Barcelona, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taipei, Qatar, Tokyo (Narita), and Bangkok to name a few. It was a good thing that it didn’t matter that there was nothing to do in the airport because I was so nervous about leaving the country! It was for 5 years and not some odd week vacation. Leaving something behind that I needed and that would be hard to replace in America was a big fear. But I tried to lighten my mood by chatting away with my Filipino Fulbright friends – I was technically the last to leave the country as all of my fellow Filipino Fulbright Scholars already landed in the USA.

The inside of NAIA Terminal II boarding gates.
The inside of NAIA Terminal II boarding gates.

The flight to the USA was good, I can’t remember the food much but I’m sure it was good enough. The flight that Fulbright gave me had me pass through Los Angeles, California before taking a domestic flight to Seattle, Washington. This was great since I have family at Los Angeles that I haven’t seen for maybe a decade! If you think about it, the visa process is what makes one not visit family abroad, money can always be saved for such things but some countries, particularly the USA, have a bad reputation back home of an arbitrary process when applying for the visa, especially during the interview. One thing for sure is that the USA is losing a lot of tourism dollars from Filipinos who want to go to the US but are turned off by the visa application process! But I understand the US position, since there are unscrupulous Filipinos who take advantage of their tourist visa and stay inside the country illegally!

Okay, so where was I? That’s usually how we Filipinos talk – we can have two to three unrelated conversations at the same time (something I realized might be unique to us, definitely not something my American friends like!). Okay, back to airports and airplanes and meeting my cousin. I made sure to request Fulbright for a long enough stop over at LA so that my cousins could bring me around nearby and I could say hi to them before I see them again for Christmas (I already planned to have Christmas there which would be in a few months time anyway). I was excited and also still feeling a bit sad and like on the edge.

I planned to visit Manhattan Beach which was nearby the airport and I looked at the area and found this place called Tacolicious that had high ratings and also a nearby ice cream store called Manhattan Beach Creamery. Since my cousin Aida, who we in the family fondly call Manay, was unable to take a leave from her new job, Jacob was there to greet me! We had a hard time to find each other because it was my first time in LAX in ages and it totally changed (it’s a huge construction site!). But we did finally get to meet and we went to his car at the parking garage and he had gifts for me! Nice clothes which I found really useful. Then we were off! Wow, I said to myself, hey America looks the same as the Philippines, but if it were on steroids, haha! Everything was bigger, the materials they used seemed to be much more technological (in the sense that they have the factories and technology to produce materials fit-for-purpose), biggest was that I was seeing a lot of construction sites with wood framing (back in the Philippines our predominant construction type is reinforced concrete). After eating we went to the beach and even if it was sunny and relatively hot, the wind was cold!! Back home, the ambient temperature is hot and the wind is hot and the wind from the sea is a little warm. After bringing me around, Jacob brought me back to the airport and I was off to Seattle! I was having bad case of butterflies-in-the-stomach knowing this was it! My Ph.D. journey was going to actually become reality after many years of thinking and planning for it.

Me and my cousin Jacob in his car on the way to Manhattan Beach!
Me and my cousin Jacob in his car on the way to Manhattan Beach!
Me and Jacob at Manhattan Beach!
Me and Jacob at Manhattan Beach!

Landing at the Evergreen State…

It was odd to look out the airplane window and see that the skies were orange. I felt like I was landing in Mordor. With orcs just behind those line of trees saw peeking out the airplane window and with the mountains on the horizon hiding goblins underneath them. Apparently, the Seattle wildfire season for 2022 which began in March, was the third most destructive and even caused Seattle to top the world as the city with worst air pollution (topping even Beijing with 240ppm). The sky was way too orange and the landscape and terrain was very different from what I was used to back home which together made everything look surreal. It was much more alpine forests and temperate climate (technically subarctic boreal) than the wetlands and narrow plains with hot-humid weather back home. Plus, again, the sky was orange! Did I mention that? Thus, whatever images the word Evergreen State might have conjured in my mind from reading things about Seattle disappeared for the time being, as the saying goes, first impressions last!

To be continued…

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