Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Days The Airport Denied Me Christmas (Almost)

“I am sorry sir but you have no seat reservation for this flight!”

“Say that again please?” Seemingly annoyed, the Chinese check-in clerk repeated what she just said as her eyebrows realigned parallel to her slanted eyes. This time, the words rammed into my ears like a runaway train.

I felt my head spinning as I retorted. “What do you mean I have no reservation? I’m only on transit!”

“I’m sorry sir but looks like you did not confirm your seat for this flight! Next please!” her neck craning sideways searching for the passenger behind me in queue.

I just shut up in disbelief because I was afraid my next words would be expressed by my clenched fist punching her face. As I moved back to one of those mono-block seats waiting for another dislodged passenger like me, I tried to recall the events that brought me to this predicament.

It was Christmas season that time. 1995. I was booked to leave Shanghai morning on the 23rd of December. I knew that Christmas season has always been on top of all the peak seasons. But this is China, not a predominantly Christian place, so go figure.

Everything seemed alright because our HR officer who issued me the ticket gave me her reassurance. Besides, I had come that far already (checking in my luggage with Manila as final destination, completing the flight to Hong Kong) only to be denied a seat for my next flight. My understanding that time was that once a passenger confirms his seat for the first flight, the seat for the next flight is confirmed as well. Besides, what happens to the checked-in luggage?

I figured that some VIP, business mogul, president or Mafioso who wanted to go home for Christmas that time ran out of tickets and changed the rules. This is some grand-scale conspiracy probably connected to the time of JFK assassination, I mused. The dislocated passengers in the transit lounge started growing in numbers from different countries, race, color and body odor. It seemed the whole place had been transformed into a new Zion, an assembly of chance passengers coming from around the globe. Each had his own story to tell.

1. One couple, an Australian guy married to a Filipina said his friends told him how festive
the Philippines celebrate Christmas so he wanted to check it out. They were bound for
Boracay. Exhausted waiting, they unpacked their blanket, spread it on the floor and
started camping. Wow! Such a memorable experience that was for him!

2. A Filipina working as a caregiver in Europe, panic-stricken and uncertain how she could
staying the airport indefinitely with limited money and resources

3. A bunch of Filipino seamen from Johannesburg coming in loud and strong at first but
ending up like wrinkled prunes after learning they have to wait as chance passengers

4. Multitudes walking, climbing, rolling and running. Here and there, left and right, up and
down,everywhere like Willard’s battalion of mice finding their way out of a gigantic maze

5. Me – stunned like a soldier on his way to Afghanistan. I had no extra clothes. I was
getting smelly. I needed a bath. I was waiting for a slight provocation and I would fire my rifle
indiscriminately. Shite!!

I rang my brother who lives there. He told me to leave the airport. The immigration will surely grant me a temporary visa because of regional diplomatic ties he said. I was hoping I could still wait as a chance passenger so I took his advice as an option which turned out a mistake later on. So I waited (perhaps my experience influenced the plot of the Tom Hanks’ film “The Terminal” without my knowledge).

Night came. A familiar baritone voice attracted my attention. It was my boss, probably more surprised than I was. I told him that the check-in clerk insisted that I did not confirm my seat for the next flight so I would have to wait as a chance passenger. After reckoning that I would take ages before I could get that chance, he told me to upgrade my seat in any empty slot in the business or first class. “No problem, I will pay’ he added. So I did. My next flight would be morning the next day.

I thought I was finally free from worry so I decided to leave the airport to spend the night at my brother’s home. Then trouble came. The immigration officer questioned me why I did not show up immediately after our plane landed earlier that morning. So I sweated out explaining to him what happened until he eventually buckled under and granted me a three-day stay.

Strangely, the next day was full of sunshine. I had a restful night. I was wearing signature clothes (or imitation which I didn't care) my brother lent me. I was smelling like Hugo Boss. I was escorted to the airport by my brother wearing a suit and tie. He paid our breakfast and my airport tax (which is no longer required now). He lent me some relief money. I met the chinky-eyed check-in clerk again. This time she was wearing a pleasant grin identical to that of the stewardess in the poster at the wall behind her. It looked like she had been exorcised and had totally forgotten the evil trances she had the night before. And during the flight I learned why first class IS first class – “Would you like to have some coffee, Sir?”, “Would you like to watch a movie, Sir?”, “Care for champagne, Sir?”

There is glory after pain.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Misery and Joy

Sweet and Sour. Good and Bad. True and False. Right and Wrong. Rise and Fall.

Black and White. Night and Day. Pain and Glory. Misery and Joy.

Something in here struck my curiosity just now. If I look at the pairs of opposite words on the first line the positive words precede the negative one. If I look at the pairs below the negatives precede the positives. The next logical question would probably be…”Why?” We have experienced opposites since the day we were born except one which will come to every living organism like us when it is time: death. Sorry but metaphysics is not what I want to share here.

Did anyone of you watch that movie “Unbreakable”? If you give that movie a little bit of deep thought you will agree with Elijah Prince, the character played by Samuel Jackson suffering from a congenital disease of “glassy” bones, that somewhere in the whole Universe there is someone who possesses the exact opposite of his physical condition. Strong, unbreakable against his own, weak and fragile. In the story, that person was David Dunn, played by Bruce Willis. In real life, sure it happens. But what’s thought-provoking is if it is true that there is a more personal connection just like what the movie suggested. Like Elijah did to David, will you take pains to find out who or what is at the side opposite you?

In the movie, the ending revealed that in his fervent search for his opposite, Elijah on several occasions orchestrated accidents to single out the survivor who would escape unscathed. Finally, the train accident brought David forward to him, providing the conclusion that has eluded him throughout his life. You will probably realize that some of the answers are too painful to accept in real life as well. Although perhaps not in the same context, some parallels happen daily in life, all over the news. Some few examples are:

- Cities destroyed by war or natural calamities; booming construction projects
- Outbreak of a disease; sales of medicine and health protection
- Geese force-fed in farms harvesting their liver; the heavenly delight of eating foie gras in an elegant party
- Homesickness by OFW’s working away from their families; record-breaking billion-dollar worth of remittances to Pinas economy

This is the irony of life and each day we live it is always there. Most of the time we are not conscious of the ugly opposites and if we are, we simply ignore and insist staying on the side we are currently in. Very rarely we give them a thought and in seldom occasions that we do, we brush them off our minds immediately just like moving our eyes away from an unpleasant sight.

Until another roll of the dice and time selects us to be on that ugly side. And a message from the two sets of opposites above unfolds.

Sweet and Sour. Good and Bad. True and False. Right and Wrong. Rise and Fall – I decided that these are the choices we make in our lives. We can behave to make ourselves look sweet or sour to people. We can decide to do good or bad. We can be truthful or lying. We can do something right or something wrong. We can rise or fall. The positives precede the negatives. The positives are always presented first. And reading them in the opposite direction sounds awkward and a bit tongue-twisting, isn’t it? But in life, we are often not aware of the real choices until we rise above the surface. And the moment we are our decisions change:

- Geese force-fed in farms harvesting their liver; the heavenly delight of eating foie gras in an elegant party (or now that you know, will you stop eating this?)

- Homesickness by OFW’s working away from their families; record-breaking billion-dollar worth of remittances to Pinas economy (or now that I know will I still carry on for the sake of my family?)

Black and White. Night and Day. Pain and Glory. Misery and Happiness. – I decided that these are problems and solutions, losses and gains, death and resurrection we experience in our lives. The failures and defeats that require sacrifice until success and triumph. And the bitter lessons that each learns from the experience will make the negative go only in one direction to the positive and never back.

- Booming construction projects learned from cities destroyed by war or natural calamities

- Sales of medicine and health protection learned from outbreaks of diseases

- Our redemption from sin learned from the death of our Lord Jesus on the cross

In misery joy awaits.

And this gives me the reason to see the purpose of every opposite no matter how ugly it is.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Shortest Job Interview Ever

How do you know that a prospective job will be engaged to you?

Before I explain this perhaps we make one step backward first and find out what causes us to look for a job. Answers to this one are always personal but in times like this when the economy is bad the most possible reason is to stop oneself from being unemployed. This happened to me 17 years ago but at the wrong timing and at the wrong place. Wrong timing, I was retrenched due to redundancy the day I came back to work after a blissful two-week wedding honeymoon. Wrong place, our company was one of the very few facing financial crisis that time. That was the moment my wife and I just stared at each other in disbelief.

So for a while I went on a sabbatical. My wife was the interim breadwinner. We moved on, I moved on and kept looking for another means to earn a living. I found one but kept on looking as I needed to prepare for a family that would get bigger soon.

A chain of events ensued. In my desire to bring back the old salary I was receiving from the company that laid me off, I accepted an offer from an overseas appointment. Being a recently married man and soon-to-be father, I knew it was a difficult decision to leave a young family for all its intents and purposes of providing a better life. Yet in a rather bizarre coincidence another door of opportunity swung open. Two weeks before I fly to the Emirates a local headhunter recommended me to a managerial position required by a leading local tile manufacturer. After briefing me up for a job interview schedule, the consultant advised me that, although a local company may not match the salary offered to me abroad, the joy of being together with the family will always remain priceless. So off I went to the interview which was on a weekend. The amusing thing was that same day on my way to the interview I dropped by the office of the overseas job liaison officer earlier and picked up my contract. I was holding the envelope with the contract inside during the interview.

A senior guy came up to the office. We shook hands and exchanged greetings. He offered me a seat and told me to make myself comfortable. He introduced his name and position as the Company Vice President with a resolute countenance of both a seasoned executive and an unrelenting patriarch. After a few light discussions on personal whereabouts, he turned his seat sideways, held my resume arms high and browsed so quickly that I presumed that was his final glance over it. Then he faced me, looked at me in the eyes again and slammed my resume on the desk. I swallowed a lump of saliva whole.

“You know, Angelo, I’m not going to beat around the bush. After reading your resume…I’m impressed!!” he announced, a remark that merges scolding and praising.

Time stood still on me that time, my mouth ajar. This time he ricocheted with a question.

“Ok, how much?”

That was the cue. And with a swift twist of the wrist I declared my worth. The rest is history.

Shortest interview ever.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


This month passed by without a major storm. Thanks for that but no thanks no matter how perfect it is like Ondoy was last September (despite driving our lives back to zero).

October is almost over. Two bermonths are done. In my native country, the Philippines, we call the last four months of the year bermonths and September being the prelude to the Christmas season making every kid aged from one to ninety-two to get early excited. Until Ondoy (alias Ketsana, or rather vice-versa) spoiled it. But that's behind us now. No matter what, nothing and no Grinch can stop Christmas from coming.

October is special to me for some personal reasons. It is the month my mother and my only living parent celebrates her birthday. At her age another year of longevity is a gift from God in which there are no words that can describe one's feeling of blessedness. It is also the month that my wife and I exchanged vows 18 years ago. Again no words to describe my feeling of blessedness from that moment thereafter: kids, family, togetherness in good times or bad times, in sickness and in health, in sunshine and in Ondoys, in prosperity and hardship, in life or something like it.

And right now just before this month ends I decided to add another reason to make it special although in some smaller dive. Blogging. First time. And it feels fun. Perhaps for some time. Like taking a bath in the rain or storm like Ondoy with the whole Marikina as a swimming pool of geographical proportions. Or perhaps not.

Wish me luck as I will on everybody each time I blog.

Hello everyone!