Philippines - Day 1 (Traveling)

This is entry #3.  
Link to entry #2.
Jolayne is also chronicling our trip here.

This post occurs over the course of 3 days (including our date-line hop).  We left LAX at about 1pm on Friday and flew north (not west) up through San Francisco, Seattle, and into Alaska.  Then we sloped west over the ice cap and through Russia and I suppose China before we took a very noticeable detour around North Korea and then landed in South Korea at 6pm on Saturday.  Then a couple hours wait on the ground before another 4 hour flight into Clark field, Philippines.

Click here for (Jolayne's version of) a lovely story on the two-mile walk I made my kids (and wife) go on prior to heading to the airport in LA.

I know it says day 1 and is actually day 2 if you count from when we left., but the days in this trip are sort of arbitrary anyhow so we crossed the date line.

After several months of planning, the day was here.  It creeped right up on me, to be honest.  I'd labored many dozens of hours, often late into the night, to make all the appropriate plans.  Taking my (still young) family half way around the world required more than a casual visit to Travelocity.  As an aside, I cannot say enough good things about TripAdvisor.  That site has saved my bacon!  Between all the useful hotel/activity reviews and the traveler forums, I've learned the majority of what I feel I need to travel savvy and safely.  I kid with my mom that she's a "cruise director" on our family reunion trips.  Always organized and planned.  I suppose I was no less the cruise director on this trip, and I had dozens of pages of notes to prove it.

Another planning note: if you ever plan a complex trip like this, may I suggest you use Evernote to keep all your details.  It's an app for your computer or mobile device.  You can paste/attach most anything, and it'll synchronize to all your devices and computers, and it's easy to share with friends and family.  Evernote has been indispensable to me on this trip (and most other parts of my life).  I could probably come up with several dozen additional planning notes; perhaps I'll make a (likely boring) entry out of that for future posterity.

Our first flight was from Denver to LA on United, where we spent the night.  Not much to report.  I'm traveling on my Star Alliance Gold status, which is really great; it gives access to the layover lounges and quick access to check-in, etc. at the airports.  It's really made a nice difference on the trip.

Our second flight was from LA to Korea, aboard a 747-400 (first time traveling on one perhaps since my mission, despite my lengthy travels).  It was an aging plane, and I found it to be quite loud inside during the flight.  But the seats were comfortable and the seat pitch was great for coach class.  The seats reclined nicely and we had a great 9" touch-screen AVOD system to keep us occupied, despite our many hours of movies that I'd ripped for the trip.

LAX-ICN Flight, 11pm home time, 3pm Korean time, Somewhere over the polar ice cap

We're about 9 hours into our long 13 hour flight now.  The kids have behaved just great.  We're so fortunate to have been split up such that there's an open seat between us, albeit on split up rows.  It gives enough room for sleeping.  

I managed to sleep for a couple hours and now I'm trying to hold off until the next flight where I can hopefully sleep for a couple more.  We arrive to Clark around midnight, which should then give about 8 hours sleep before we hit it on Sunday morning.

Our departure from LAX was about an hour delayed, though it doesn't seem to be any big deal.  We had 3 hours scheduled in ICN anyway on the layover.

Our first meal was served about an hour after taking off from LA.  I managed to plan ahead and called the airline for special kid meals for Misha and Kristen.  That turned out quite well, and they were able to eat food more to their liking.  In general, I'd say the airborne food was better than I expected, although not all flights were equally palletable.  I tried the Korean Bibimbop for the meal, and it was ok, but I probably didn't mix up all the pieces exactly how you're supposed to.  About 5 hours into the flight we all got a little stir crazy, but then fatigue finally set in and now everyone except Amy and I are sleeping.

Throughout our Asiana flights I observed that the flight attendants really earn their keep.  They seemed to always be busy, and they were NEVER caught without a smile on their faces. They even cleaned the lavatories; I can't imagine seeing that on United.  What a welcome change from air travel in the US.

The in-flight entertainment system died a few hours ago and they had to restart the whole thing; but I was sleeping and didn't care.  I watched a couple movies, but didn't feel like doing much else afterwards.  The plane itself is pretty loud compared to some planes.  My noise-cancelling headphones have been nice.

ICN-CRK Flight, 11pm, somewhere over the South China Sea

Asiana Flight 707 A321, new plane, in the back row (asked to move there so we could stretch out a bit).  They have great in-flight entertainment, with a touch-screen system that has tons of things to do (even play games or call to another seat), and I thought the food was better than the long-haul flight as well.  They ran out of chicken and were very apologetic about my "having" to have the fish (apparently the Asian selection), but I found it to be quite good.

The kids have been just great throughout this long journey (Jo, Amy, and Kristen are sitting 9 rows in front of me, and I'm in the back with Misha).  We spent about an hour in the Asiana lounge in Incheon prior to boarding, and it was my first heated toilet-seat experience.  It had a bunch of buttons to help with the washing part, and I was a little nervous to try them (all the buttons were in Korean), thinking it might make a big mess.  We noticed when we landed after the 13-hour leg that our feet were quite swollen.  Mine looked like absolute sausages.  It went away quickly enough we looked pretty funny.  These are Misha's sausages that she volunteered for the record.

On that topic, our travel attire throughout the trip was pretty comical by itself.  We looked like a mismatched bunch of trailer trash.  But at least we were comfortable.  And for 20+ hours, I really could care what I look like, buddy.

The poor girls are absolutely exhausted, but have managed to sleep a few hours on each flight.  I slept a couple hours on the first flight but not since then.


We are almost there.  After what seems days of travel and months of planning, we're within an hour of touchdown.  For some reason, I'm super nervous right now (tears quietly running down my face in the back of this airplane).  My mind is just racing with what I guess are typical pre-game jitters.  I wonder if things will be recognizable, whether my plans will work, whether my kids will adjust.  While I'm sure deep down the answers to everything are just fine, it doesn't resolve the present feeling; I'm kind of a mess.

I suppose it's like speaking in church in a sacrament meeting, where the stake president has asked us to simply prepare ourselves by "filling our lamps" and then to proceed by the Spirit (not knowing beforehand the things which we should do), in lieu of having all our remarks prepared.  I get jitters most months before I stand up there as well.  And I always precede those experiences with a solemn prayer (or three) that The Lord will be with me as I need Him, so I'll know what to say.  He always is.  Then when I stand up to speak, it's always just fine (just like game time).

I know He will be now as well.  Learning to trust completely and to have more complete faith has been a central topic (I can't yet say lesson because I don't yet feel as though I've learned adequately) in my life over the last several months.  Not just because of the Philippines, but because of most everything in my life.  This seems a transitional or even transformational period for me; sort of life-defining even.

Within a few hours, I'm sure my fears will be rested and my questions all answered.  Until then, I will just trust.  Trust like I did the first time I landed here 18 years ago, knowing even less of what was to come than I do now.  

The biggest lesson I have learned so far in this experience is that The Lord is in the details.  He is in the details more than we will ever know or see, and on occasion He shows himself to us through those details to remind us of His presence.  After a solemn prayer and some more reflection, the feelings I had as I started this entry have passed; I know we are here for the right reason, and since we've done the preparation necessary, we have nothing to fear.  These two passages came to mind and have helped me to be at peace:
2 Nephi 4:34 O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.
35 Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh. Yea, my God will give me, if I ask not amiss; therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee; yea, I will cry unto thee, my God, the rock of my righteousness. Behold, my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee, my rock and mine everlasting God. Amen.

D&C 84:88 And whoso receiveth you, there I will be also, for I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.
I can't help but think that this is gonna be good.


Our arrival into Clark was largely uneventful.  We landed shortly after midnight, only a few minutes late, and made it through immigration and customs in about an hour.
Arriving at Clark was somewhat surreal since there was no passenger service there 18 years ago.  In fact, the airport wasn't open at all at that time.  It had been closed down since the Americans left in 1991 (about 4 years) and was in disrepair.  I remember on one p-day how we took the car out on the taxiway for some fun, even parking under one of the old B-52 hanger enclosures at one point from some pictures.  Today, most flights arrive and use airstairs, but there are a few jet-bridge gates, and we used one of them.  It's a small terminal but was clean and generally efficient.  I found the Asiana crew to be extremely friendly and courteous.  

Oliver Aliac was kind enough to pick us up, and we nearly filled his large L300 van with all our junk.  It's an interesting little story by itself at how we met Oliver.  Truth is, we hadn't met him.  In discussing our fundraising with the bishop and how to get funds into the country, Emil suggested I contact his mother in law Elsie Aliac, who lives in California.  I did and when she found out what we were doing, she was super helpful.  Oliver is her son and was sort of enlisted by his mom to pick us up from the airport.  He happily did so (as so many people in helping us) and we met for the first time as we departed the airport.  (We later met his family again in Manila at the LDS temple, so there's proof that even on the other side of the world it's a very small world indeed.)

Driving immediately out of the airport you'd think you're still in the US, even at night, as Clark was originally built as a little piece of the US until it was abandoned when Mt Pinatubo erupted in 1991.  It's the peak of summer here right now; temperatures were in the low 80's when we landed.  This was a big (and at first, welcome) change from where we started, where winter was still very present even though the calendar said it was Spring.  We couldn't tell much about our surroundings since it was dark, though we did head over to Fields Ave to make an ATM withdrawal, which I had been worried might be problematic.  It wasn't.  In fact, it's the best way to get money into the country, I think.  It's a couple bucks charge on the home side, plus 1% from Visa, plus $4 (P200) here for a P10000 withdrawal (about $250).  Not bad.  All other conversion mechanisms were looking to charge me 10%+, and I didn't want to use greenbacks for everything, though I did take some as a backup.  I pulled out P20000 ($500) to get us through our first several days.

It was about 2am when we finally checked into the Otel-Apartele in San Fernando.  I didn't know too much about the place.  They had a web site (many hotels in San Fernando did not) but the pictures were only thumbnail size and TripAdvisor was quiet on the place.  This hotel was the last thing I booked, only a coule of weeks before the trip, as I had waffled back and forth numerous times on where to stay.  This turned out to be a great choice.  The hotel is not full at all; only a few rooms are booked (there are about 25 rooms total).  We have two rooms about 4 doors apart.  Jo, Misha, and Kristen are taking the room on the end with 3 twin beds and I'm in the "Superior" room with Amy, which has a queen bed plus a twin.  I'm sleeping diagonally in order to keep my feet from hanging off the end.

The rooms are somewhat bare by US hotel standards, but are just fine for our needs.  There's a small TV with cable (we were able to watch Handy Manny yesterday morning in Tagalog even!), though not too much place to put our stuff up off the floor.  The A/C is a huge blessing, and the superior room even has carpet, which I don't recall seeing more than a handful of times my whole mission.  There's hot water, though it smells quite badly of sulpher.  We didn't seem to pick up that smell after our showers though, so no big deal.  The bathroom isn't large, but it's clean and the toilet is western style, and that's what we wanted most.  There are definitely nicer places to stay, but they were all much more expensive, and this is not only close to our friends but also more in keeping with the spirit of our visit.  We paid P3150/night for the two rooms; less than $80.  It was very reasonable.  Hotels in Angeles City (near the Clark airport and where the expats like to hang out and party) would have been much more expensive (and distant for us), so we lucked out.

The staff at the hotel have been exceedingly nice to us.  I actually thought it might be due my great (yup) language skills or something, but then Normita busted my bubble yesterday when she told me she'd visited them and prepped them on our arrival.  Ah ha!  Nonetheless, the staff have been very friendly.

After getting settled, we all got to bed pretty quickly.  It was after 2am local, Easter Sunday.  I was a little amped up from the arrival and so took a sleeping pill and also shared one with Amy.  More on that later.

Next: Entry #4


Deni said…
Chris, I am very much enjoying your chronicles of your journey back to your mission. I only wish I could have sent more money...

Thank you so much for sharing your story. I have felt the Spirit as I have read through your thoughts.
kevandcan said…
What a powerful story to share - truly The Lord is involved in the details when we strive to serve His children

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