Paalam mga Kaibigan

My brother arranged a Grab for me at 6 AM Friday and I got to the Manila airport by 7 AM. I left a little surprise for them in my guest room closet: Grampa George’s iconic hat for Eric, and a cool Starbucks Boracay bottle for Maylin.

Sir Eric and Queen Maylin, in Mandaluyong City

I always like to talk to the local drivers when I travel, and the Grab guy was as nice as any. The conversation steered its way to politics and he made the statement that America is the most powerful nation, so Filipinos respect us the most.

I had to explain that it depends on how you define “powerful” today. America might still have the most powerful military but everything else here is crumbling — especially culturally. The true power I saw here was Asians treating family, friends and strangers with courtesy and respect.

There was a line a mile long outside the terminal but a uniformed baggage handler grabbed my bags and said, “Have something ready for Security and they’ll let you right in.” Well naturally I thought this was a heist but before I could put up a fight he signaled to the Security guard and he slipped my bags right on the conveyor. So once inside I happily gave him my last few Pesos.

In the Immigration hall I was reminded once again of our cultural differences. The lines were excruciatingly slow, as expected. Philippine citizens on one side, everyone else on the other. None of the Filipinos were cursing, swearing or even talking loudly. Yet several American millennials surrounding me were doing all those things at once. An elder Filipina-American from Kentucky had struck up a conversation with me and I wanted to tell these kids to shut their yaps and show some respect. I was embarrassed.

My Delta plane loaded up and then of course sat on the taxiway for a half hour due to poor Air Traffic Control. But four hours later I was in Narita again, where I had to go through two more security checkpoints even though I was on a connecting flight in the same terminal. Delta had warned me about this but at least my bag was checked all the way from Manila to Portland. Eric had explained the the Philippines had failed their TSA audit for being lax.

Landfall at the Oregon Coast, near Astoria and the mouth of the Mighty Columbia River

Eleven uncomfortable hours later I was in Portland, where American incivility reared its head again at Customs. An ugly white uniformed woman was yelling bruskly at new arrivals to pick the right line or face her wrath. I was shocked when she literally yanked the arm of a tired Filipina and told her to get out of the Americans’ way. Turns out they were US citizens. Her first clue should have been the smiling husband’s US Navy cap. Again, I was ashamed to see kind, humble people treated this way by a TSA agent who very likely voted for Trump. Oregon, remember, was originally founded as a white supremicist utopia.

Racial profiling like this is why the civilized world increasingly sees us as the Ugly Americans. But no one treated me this way in Japan, the Philippines and especially Boracay. To the contrary, I felt like I didn’t deserve being treated like a rock star.

The US Customs agent asked me three questions:

“What were you doing in the Philippines? How long has your brother lived there? Did you buy anything there?”

“I’m going to give my wife a pearl necklace,” I said, exhausted.

“Good idea,” he said. “Welcome home.”

Ironically my lovely wife Olivia wasn’t waiting to pick me up at the airport as expected. I had apparently screwed up the time zones on our Calendar so we both thought I was arriving Saturday. Yeah, 34 hours after I let her know I was leaving Tokyo? LOL, time travel can be confusing, po. 😉

Goodbye for now, my new friends. I hope to see you again soon!

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