As I walked down the ramp from the aircraft I was immediately struck by how warm and humid it was, the first sign that I was entering an altogether new world. I made it through immigration without incident – I had taken for granted that Canadians can travel almost anywhere in the world without need of a visa, and little fear of refusal. It did strike me as curious that there are three queues for incoming passengers: Domestic, Foreign, and OFW – Overseas Filipino Workers who carry separate identity certificates.
At Manila Airport Terminal 3 you pass from Immigration to a large balcony overlooking the baggage hall. It was packed with travelers. I stopped to study the hall and then looked through the glass to the waiting throngs of greeters beyond. Already Manila was heavy with Christmas travelers. Or maybe this is the volume of traffic all the time in Ninoy Aquino International Airport. Somewhere out there was the waiting Carmen. She knew I was arriving around 8:00 pm; she said she would leave for the airport at 3:00! I said that was ridiculous, but she wanted to be sure she was there on time. Only later did I realize why she gave herself such a large time cushion – chaotic traffic. She also was concerned that I didn’t know at which terminal my Cathay Pacific flight arrived, but I said if you are there so early that will give you plenty of time to find out.
I retrieved my bags and worked my way through the exit and surveyed the throngs of greeters on the other side of a barrier, looking for a familiar face in a sea of faces. Hopeless. Carmen and I had talked about our Hollywood moment, locking eyes in the crowd and rushing into each other’s arms, and ‘the kiss’. I lingered at the exit looking for her but it looked as though our Hollywood moment wasn’t going to happen. The armed security guards in their crisp white military style shirts were everywhere. I decided I should stay in one place for Carmen to find me rather than me search in vain for her. I took up a station near a pillar in the greeting hall. After a while I drew the attention of one of those security guards. He looked at me and seemed to give me another five minutes. Five minutes later he gesticulated to me with his AK-15 that I should be moving on. I moved on. I left the building to be greeted by the blast of hot humid evening air and the exhausts of teeming cars and vans, honking their horns and lurching about, competing for a place to park and pick up passengers. I stood beside Pillar 8 for a while thinking, how in the world will I find her, or her me. I was tired and troubled. I stopped wondering about our missed Hollywood moment, and began to wonder how I could find a taxi and my own way downtown to Discovery Suites Hotel.
Then it occurred to me that Skype might work as well in Ninoy Aquino Airport as it did in Ottawa so dug out my i-Phone and called her. Success! Still, I had to shout to be heard and to hear her. ‘Where are you?’, I said. ‘Terminal 1,’ she said. ‘I’m at Terminal 3!,’ I replied. ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘I’ll be there soon.’ I hung up, more than a bit frustrated that she had been here for four hours and had not discovered which terminal I would be at. I waited, and waited. I decided to park myself and my bags on a bench near Pillar 8. I amused myself observing all these Filipinos struggling with their luggage and their relatives, just like any large airport in the world. After a while my philosophical bemusement turned again to tired frustration. What was keeping her? Well, in Ninoy it can take almost an hour to get from Terminal 1 to Terminal 3, and still find a place to park and find your passenger.
She called me. She was at Terminal 3!
‘Pillar 8,’ I reminded her. And waited.
Then suddenly I saw her, dressed in a one-piece thigh-high, off the shoulder jump suite, looking all the world like a teenager heading to the beach, with her cell phone at her ear. She looked up at the Number on Pillar 8, still talking to me on the phone, but she didn’t look around and she didn’t see me. And then she started walking briskly towards pillar #9, still talking on her phone with me. Now if you’ve ever noticed, cell phones are really just two-way radios, and only one person can talk at a time. She was talking to me continuously and as a consequence I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. I realized I’d have to go after her. I gathered up my two bags and followed her, still trying to get her attention on the phone. She was on her way to Pillar 10 by then. I kept speaking into my i-Phone: Stop talking, Stop walking!
She must have stopped talking at that moment; she heard me. She stopped. She turned around, and there I was standing right behind her. She squealed. And we had our Hollywood moment.
We gathered ourselves together and turned back to Pillar 8 and the waiting car, her son GR and her niece, Victoria. I guess their role was a combination of company, transportation and security.
Two hours later, I’m not kidding, we had made the 30 minute trip to Discovery Suites Hotel. We loaded my two suitcases and Carmen’s four bags onto the cart and checked in. Still not too late for dinner we made our way to the 22ndfloor Steakhouse. I was relieved to note that Carmen was completely at home here, even though her son and niece were a bit intimidated. We were off to a good start.
We said our goodbyes to GR and Victoria, and said hello to each other as the door to our suite closed.