Cebu Journal

by David Kravetz

January 13, 2005: Today I begin my trip to Cebu, Philippines for Lexmark.  I left on a coolish day from Lexington and hopped a plane to Detroit.  We were concerned about the weather in Detroit as a storm front was moving east.  As I sat in the Lexington airport I could see that the storm was hitting Chicago.  People on the flight to Chicago were even advised to use the restrooms at the airport because they were told they would not be allowed out of their seats on the flight.  I just hoped that we would beat it there.

Well, the flight to Detroit was uneventful.  It was very cloudy and drizzly, but the storm had not hit.  I did the usual check-in thing and went to the Northwest Airlines World Club (which was a benefit from flying World Business Class), checked my email and then went to the gate and waited to board the plane.

The flight to Nagoya and then on to Manila was on a 747-400.  I was fortunate enough to have a seat in the upper deck.  These Northwest Flights do not have a First Class section.  All of the Word Business Class was the top class.  We boarded the plane and immediately were served juice and drinks and snacks while waiting for everyone to board.  The seating in business class was quite unique and really comfortable.  The seats had electronic reclining and reclined almost flat with long extensions for the legs.  There was also electronic lumbar control.  We had pop out TV screens with on-demand movies and music.  It was pretty nice.

The flight from Detroit to Nagoya should take about 13 hours.  There would then be a 2 hour layover in Nagoya for refueling and then a 5 hour flight to Manila.  However, it was not to be---

My flight took us north over Hudson Bay.  All of Canada was snow-covered.  I could see the St. Lawrence waterway.  It was beautiful.  As we approached the North Pole (we could see our progress on a map on the little TV screen) we were informed that we were being diverted to Edmonton, Alberta because of a medical emergency.  Apparently, a 5 or 6 year old Filipino boy had an emphysema attack and couldn't breath.  A doctor on board had to give him some medicine to keep him alive.

Our arrival to Edmonton left us in an ice-box.  It was -30 degrees outside and you could see how frozen it was.  We were not allowed out of the plane, but had to wait on the paramedics to pull the young man and his family off.  They also had to retrieve their luggage.  Ultimately we were in Edmonton for two hours.  Finally, we took off for Nagoya.

Midway through our flight we were informed that our flight was being diverted to Osaka International because the Nagoya airport had a 9:30 PM curfew and we would not make it.  We arrived in Osaka at 10:45 PM.  We were required to leave the airplane, go through customs, searches, etc.  Finally, we made it back to the lobby.  There they had some snacks for us and we were to wait until 12:45 AM to reboard the plane.  This all went off fine.  Once on the plane, we were to depart at 1:30 AM.  As we taxied for takeoff, we were informed by the pilot that we had to return to the terminal because the plane was too heavy and had to get rid of some freight. So, we went back and were there for another hour...waiting in the plane on the ground. Finally, at 2:30 we were ready to leave again.  We taxied out and then the pilot said that we needed to return again because a maintenance door didn't close properly.  We were on the ground waiting in the plane for another hour waiting for that to be fixed.  We finally left Osaka at 3:30 AM.  I felt sorry for all of the people in Economy Class.  The plane was packed full...not an empty seat anywhere.

The flight to Manila was uneventful...especially considering the history of everything else.  I was concerned about making my flight to Cebu though.  Originally, I was supposed to arrive in Cebu at about 10:50 PM on Friday and then stay overnight in the Westin Hotel in Manila and then catch a 9 AM flight to Cebu on Saturday.  Instead, I arrived in Manila at 6:30 AM.  Once in, we had immigration, baggage claim, customs, etc.  I was amazed at all of the luggage from the plane.  I waited for 40 minutes for mine.  Many of the Filipino passengers had large boxes of stuff.  I finally got my luggage and cleared customs.  I had to get a ride to the domestic airport and fortunately had one.  I paid the guy a $5 tip since I had not had a chance to get pesos by this stage.

Manila, as with other Asian cities, is very crowded.  The trip to the domestic airport took about 10 minutes.  In that time I saw many Jeepneys (I'll have pictures of these later).  The country is covered with coconut trees.  It was about 80 degrees and very humid.

I got to the domestic airport and pretty much had good service.  The Filipino baggage handlers were eager to assist an American.  I found out that I was a good tipper...and they knew as well.  The Domestic airport is old and very crowded.  But things went smoothly.  Being as big as I am, I was aware of the many stares and chuckles.  People here are not used to seeing big hairy Americans.

The Filipino people are very gracious, kind and helpful.  I got where I needed to go and made it to my plane just fine.  I was tired, hungry, thirsty and hot, but no time to get anything nor any pesos to purchase things with.  On the way to board I finally had to get some pesos.  I exchanged $60 for about P3000.  The value of the Peso goes a long way.  I found out later that a P100 tip was a BIG tip.  So, my $5.00 tip was about P250.

My flight down to Cebu took about 90 minutes.  I sat in the front row next to the Parliament Congressman from Cebu.  He was very good in English and we had a very nice conversation about Cebu.  He told me the good places to eat, etc.

My flight into Cebu was a relief as I finally could stop my travels.  I arrived in Cebu at about 10:30 AM on Saturday (abt. 9:30 PM Friday Lexington time).  This meant that I had traveled for 36 straight hours. No wonder I was tired!!! On arrival in Cebu I was met by a Lexmark driver who took me to my hotel...the Shangri-La, which is located on Mactan Island, across a channel from Cebu Island.  The drive from the Cebu airport to the hotel was fascinating.  There were numerous shops along the road and many Jeepneys and TriCycles hauling people.  The shops reminded me of Nogales, Mexico.  There were fruit shops, meat shops, hand made wooden furniture shops, etc. I hope to get pictures of some of them while I am here.

January 15, 2005: The Shangri-La hotel is amazing!!  It is considered the number one hotel in the Philippines and is most certainly a Five Star Classic.  I have never been in anything as luxurious....even out-doing my cruise to Alaska last year.  The young lady that checked me in actually escorted me to my room on the 7th Floor.  This room has a Balcony and from my room I can see the ocean, the beach and the pools.  Pictures are here. The hotel is a large complex, with an open air lobby and open air restaurants.  There is a security guard at the entrance.  Everywhere you go on the complex you are greeted by the employees as if you are the only guest.

After calling Juli and then the people from Lexmark here in Cebu, I ordered room service for my meal (don't know if it was breakfast, lunch or dinner...I just had to eat something).  I then fell asleep at about 1:30.  I was awakened by some loud was 8 PM and the hotel had a large fireworks display!!  I stepped out to the balcony and watched for 20 minutes as the fireworks exploded right in front of my room.  It was amazing!!  I then felt energized and so I took a walk around the pools, down to the beach and back.  The sand on the beach was so soft.  Japanese children were playing in the water, even though it was dark.  It was very pleasant.

January 16, 2005: Today is a special day in Cebu.  It is the main day of the Sinulog Festival.  I will be going to the festival today and will take photos, eat local food and get a taste of the culture.  I am assuming it will be very warm.  Too bad I don't have shorts!!

I got up early this morning (5:30 AM) and walked on the beach.  I caught a beautiful sunrise and got more photos of the hotel.  You can see them added to the Shang page (click here).  I even included a photo of where my room is. It is already very warm here.  Though I am excited about going to Sinulog, I am not excited about the heat and humidity.  I had a nice breakfast of rice, kimchee, dried fish (a Cebu delicacy), sausage, omelet and fresh mangoes and pineapple.  The mangoes are luscious...I am sure Marissa will be jealous!!!

I leave at 9:15 to go to Cebu by Hotel Shuttle.  It will take me to the Ayala Mall, across from the Marriott Hotel where I will stay beginning tomorrow.  From the Ayala Mall I will need to walk about 15 minutes to get to the Sinulog procession.  I have been told that there will be a million people here to see the event.  I will take plenty of pictures and have a Sinulog page up tonight.

I took the shuttle in to Cebu this morning to go see Sinulog.  It was about a one hour ride on the shuttle.  This was my first opportunity to really see the area.  First impressions always seem to be the ones that last and I was basically awestruck at the dichotomy of dire poverty next to richness.  Along the roadway there are many small fronts that also serve as people's homes.  Many of these are small, old and dirty.  There were two or three locations along the river that were virtually tent electricity, no running water, no facilities.  I have seen photos of places like this, but I have never seen the real thing.  The average Filipino, at least here in Cebu, seems to live in poverty.  Jeepneys and tricycles are the most common mode of transport.  Many of the Jeepneys, which SHOULD hold 14 or so people, were packed like sardines.  As I said earlier, I will plan a slide show just on Jeepneys and tricycles while I am here.

Upon arrival in Cebu, I was dropped off at the Ayala Mall.  It is basically next door to the Marriott where I will stay beginning tomorrow.  I took a walk through the mall just to stretch and see what it is like.  Really no different than a mall in the U.S. except that you must go through a security check to get in.  Indeed, everything in Cebu has security guards.  Even the shuttle we took into town had a security guard accompany it.  All of the security guards are armed.

From the mall I had about a 15 minute walk to get to where the Sinulog parade was taking place.  You can learn more about Sinulog by clicking here. The parade actually began at 7:00 AM and was to continue until 7:00 PM.  After that there was to be a huge fireworks display.  I walked a good part of the course of the parade, taking pictures as I went.  I walked for about two straight hours.  It was hot and extremely crowded.

The costumes were colorful and the drums and musicians made for a very festive atmosphere.  There were literally hundreds of little stands set up selling straw hats, masks, grilled foods, drinks and fruit.  People lined each side of the street, sometimes 4 deep.  There were security guards and police everywhere.  As I walked along the route I often felt that I was as much the center of attention as the parade was.  I might as well have joined the parade.  Indeed, some of the pictures I have included in the slide show (click here) show people posing for the camera.  I had many people walk by saying "Hi Big Guy", "Hey Big Man", "Hey Big Senor", etc. At 6'3" I stood way above the crowd...and of course my girth as well was a drawing card.  Many little children came up to me to shake hands.  I was often reminded of my experiences as a missionary in Japan in the '70s where foreigners were still a rarity.

By noon I was exhausted.  The heat, the walking and the constant attention and heckling finally got to me, so I returned back to Ayala to catch the shuttle.  The return trip allowed me more opportunity to see the beauty of the area mingled with the tent cities, aluminum huts and other sites.  The hotel is in a large walled complex.  Almost like a palace.  When you leave the complex you are immediately into the other world of poverty-stricken people selling their wares.  I just can't get over it.

After a lunch of dim-sum, stir-fried vegetables and rice, topped off with a desert of fried bananas and pineapples with honey, I went back to my room.  I thought I would write, but I was exhausted.  I laid down at 3 PM and did not wake up until 10:15 PM.

Tomorrow I leave this luxurious hotel and begin work at Lexmark R&D in Cebu...across the street from the Marriott.  I am excited to get back to work, to be with people I know.  The last two days have been exciting, but lonely.  I miss my family and friends already.  Work should get my mind off of that.  It will be an interesting few weeks.

January 17, 2005: My first day at the Lexmark R& D Center began today.  It was nice to be with some people I know.  My original two managers are in charge here...Stan Combs and Mark Van Dyke.  I worked for Mark for 5 years in Lexington before he left for Cebu.  It's nice to be working with him for a while here, though I don't expect to see him much. 

I was picked up at the Shang at 7:30 AM and then brought to Cebu from there.  It was a beautiful clear morning and the drive was nice.  Not nearly as crowded as yesterday.  Along the road were numerous children on their way to school.  The high school girls and boys wear uniforms much like they do in Japan.  As we drove through Lapu-Lapu city we went by 8 LDS missionaries.  We stopped long enough so I could say hi to them.  I wondered if I would run into any Elders here.  Of course, this Sunday I should be able to meet some, if I can figure out where the church is.

I was dropped off at the Marriott Hotel first.  This will be my evening home for the next three weeks or so.  I have a corner room on the 4th floor,  It is a suite type of room with a small living area and then a bedroom.  It is much different than the Shang...more homey.  As well, I can hear the traffic below. I feel like I have places I can go and things to do, even at night.  The Ayala Mall is around the corner...restaurants, movie theaters, even a large grocery store.  And of course, the Lexmark building is right across the street.  In the picture below you can see the Marriott on the left.  The big brown building on the right is the building Lexmark is located in.  It takes up almost all of the floors of the building.  The Ayala Mall would be to the left of the Marriott.

I was picked up at the hotel by John Moro, the System Test manager.  We walked over to Lexmark and I was shown my daytime office on the 9th floor with a fabulous view of the sea, the harbor and Mactan Island.  I have never had an office with a view!!  I will add pictures of the view tomorrow.

John and a few others took me to lunch today.  We went to a Philippine cuisine restaurant, which none of the others had been to either.  It was really really good.  I enjoyed Lapu-Lapu (a type of grouper) soup, a scallop and vegetable dish in coconut milk, a squid and vegetable dish, some pork, calamari rings, and grilled tuna (yummy!!).  We had a good meal.

I then returned to the office for meetings and worked until about 5:30.  I am now in the hotel and getting ready for a relaxing evening.  Tomorrow morning I look forward to going downstairs and working out!!

January 18, 2005: I think that jet-lag has finally caught up with me.  After going to bed at 9:30 last night, I woke up at 2:30 AM and did Lexmark work until 5:00 AM.  I laid down for a "little nap" at 5 and woke up at 7:30 and was in my office by 8:30.  I guess I am a role model for Lexmark, whose motto is "We're Always Working".

Today I was pretty busy at work and did not have much time to reflect on things.  I had wanted to leave early to go get more Jeepney photos, but I left at dusk.  In fact, I was accompanied all the way to the hotel by a security guard.  I did not expect that!!  As I entered the upstairs elevator, one of the guards got on the radio...not really unusual.  But, as I walked out of the building a guard asked me if I was going to the Marriott and I said yes.  He followed me all the way and then when I was here, he said "Have a nice evening" and then said goodbye.  I don't think I have ever been accompanied by a security guard before.

The highlight of my day was going with a couple of others to the Ayala Mall and having lunch at a Japanese fast food restaurant.  They had all of my favorites--ramen, katsu (pork cutlet) curry, a variety of don-buri (rice and meat) dishes, some sushi and gyoza (pot stickers).  I had katsu curry, extra spicy and some gyoza.  As the Japanese would say "O-Hisashiburi" (it's been a long time).  The taste was heavenly.  I think I will be visiting often I think.

I am pretty zonkered today, so this will be about it for my journal.  Sorry, no pictures today.  But there will be some good ones by the end of the week.  There are so many interesting things to see here.

January 20, 2005: It is now 6 AM on Thursday in Cebu.  I am still struggling with jet lag...not really a struggle, maybe I just don't want to sleep.  Yesterday I worked from 7:30 AM to 8:30 PM.  It was a long day because I had a video conference with Lexington.  Anyway, I came back to the "apartment" and watched some TV.  I was really excited to see the Amazing Race, Fear Factor and Alias last night.  I had already seen the Alias version though, so I turned it off.  But, at least I know when these shows are on!!!

Filipino TV is quite interesting.  They speak in Tagalog, Cebuano and English.  Sometimes all mixed together.  Taglish is very common on TV.  There are lots of song and dance shows on some stations.  I have not seen much in the way of Filipino TV dramas, but then again, I am not here during the day.  They are very much into the Japanese cartoon shows. Most of them are dubbed, but there have been a few with English sub-titles.  I enjoy watching those to see how the translations match up with the Japanese.  Some of the translations have been pretty hokey...let's face it, kids from the Samurai period of Japan didn't talk like 21st Century Southern California kids, if you know what I mean....

At the hotel, I have cable, so I get the usual Cinevision, HBO, etc.  CNN is the International version.  The people here LOVE the NBA.  NBA games are shown live every morning. They are usually repeated in the evening.  I found that ESPN has international versions as well.  The other night I caught ESPN Sports Center on TV in Chinese, with Chinese broadcasters....the subject matter = NBA results and NFL results.  It was pretty funny.  The cable here also has stations in French, German, Arabic, Spanish, Japanese and Chinese.  All of the major broadcast stations from these countries, as well as the BBC from Great Britain.  Quite a cornucopia. 

I find it interesting that they are still showing Sinulog on TV.  During the actual day of the event, there were two stations covering the entire day's events live...all day.  Many of those are being rerun daily on the local Cebu stations.

Actually, I don't really watch much TV.  I just have it on constantly when I am in the hotel in order to keep me company.

Some of the Cebuanos I work with are arranging a roadtrip for this Saturday.  Lexmark will provide me with a van and driver if I want one (which I do), and then some of the guys from the office will accompany me.  We are planning on going to the Northern Provinces of Cebu and seeing the culture and the scenery.  I am not into the usual tourist fare of shopping and snorkeling.  I really want to see the people, the goats in the road, the coconut trees on quiet beaches.  The Filipinos are such a friendly and gracious people.  They are fine hosts.  I am sure we will have fun this weekend.  It will be a needed respite from a week of adjusting and working hard.  I can't wait!!!

January 20, 2005 (PM): Well, it is evening here in Cebu and I am in my home away from home....the Marriott.  I had a terrible coughing fit at work and had to go to the Lexmark doctor.  She basically diagnosed me with Asthmatic Bronchitis.  She gave me a couple of prescriptions and recommended I go home (yeah right---the Marriott) early and get some rest.

So, I left early.  I had to go to the Marriott, drop off my laptop and then go next door to the Ayala Mall where the pharmacy is.  This is a huge mall, about 4 or 5 stories.  Everything is in it, including a huge store called the Metro, which has a big grocery store on the ground floor.  I made it to the pharmacy and waited about 20 minutes for my prescriptions.  Of course, I got the usual stares from everyone--must be that I am so striking and charming!! 

After that I went down to the grocery.  I really wanted something to drink besides water and Mango juice since I have kicked the soda habit.  I picked up some Cranberry Juice and V-8 juice and a large bottle of Gatorade.  This store has everything.  There are international foods galore...I saw tortillas and empanadas too!!  If only I had a kitchenette!!  At 3 PM on a Wednesday the mall was packed...everywhere. 

I saw something interesting in the mall today.  Everyone there was using their cells and sending instant messages....everybody!!  Heck, I even got an IM on my cell from one of the people at work while I was in the mall.  When in Rome.....

Well, I should follow doctor's orders and go to bed.  Maybe I will feel better in the morning.

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