Quick recap: Mrs. Octane and I left the tundra on 20 December, spent a couple nights in Las Vegas where my brother-in-law lives and the three of us flew to General Santos City in the Philippines via San Francisco, Taipei, and Manila. After getting the tour and look-around from my father-in-law, his wife and their daughter, we all flew back to Manila on the 29th. On the 30th, BIL flew home to the states and the rest of us went on to Bangkok. We left Bangkok late on 2 January and retraced our steps back to Minnesota, getting home 4 January. As is my custom, I observed a lot of things:
Airports: First, BKK is really an amazing place. It's humongous, quite new, all glass, super modern, and it functions very well. It's maybe the most inspiring building I've been in architecturally speaking. TPE is nice but it's really one huge duty-free shop. I mean there's a bit of food, a currency exchange, even a museum, but not one news stand, magazine rack or place to get trail mix and one of those pens with the airplane that slides back and forth when you tip it up and down. MNL is a hit-and-miss affair as they utilize three very different terminals that are sometimes long shuttle rides to and fro. We nearly froze to death waiting 6 hours to check in and we're Minnesotans for crying out loud; just open the doors, Gloria; it was a perfect 72 degrees outside. GES is a quaint operations with its one entrance, two gates and no JetWays or taxiways; the planes turn around on big cul-de-sacs at the end of the runway. LAX usually creeps me out for reasons I can't quite pin down, but the burrito place in terminal 4 was just what I needed while we waited for our Vegas flight to be called. MSP, LAS, SFO are all just fine.
Airplane spotting is pretty fun. Lots of airlines and color schemes I'd never seen. In Taipei, I saw 10 China Air cargo 747s all lined up in a row, and in Los Angeles I saw a Qantas A380, which was not totally obfuscated by the Lufthansa 747 rolling in front of it. Whenever you fly over an ocean you always get the big-kid plane and better service. We flew Eva Air both ways over the Pacific and it was as nice as a 13-hour hump could be. I wholly endorse both Eva and the 777-300ER. On this trip we also flew on Northwest, United, Philippine Air and American. We we on board A320s, A330s, 757s, a 747 Combi and one dumpy old MD80 for the shortest of our dozen flights.
Anyone who says that only Americans stick out when they are overseas either hate Americans or have never been overseas themselves. Russians, Aussies, Japanese, Germans, Indians and Brtis are all fully capable of being loud, pushy, slobbed in t-shirts and flip flips and over-caloried.
Along those lines, it is not only the United States that is tight with its vehicles. In both the Philippines and Thailand, the rate of vehicle ownership is lower than the US, but there are cars, vans, SUVs, heavy trucks, small motorcycles, scooters and all sorts of unique contraptions on every road. The highways I saw in Thailand tended to be more modern than what I saw in Mindanao, and there are a lot more hired rides (jeepney, trike, tuk tuk) in both places, but both places do rely on internal combustion. In Thailand, large vans and SUVs are common, I even saw a drag strip outside of Bangkok. Most of Honda's vehicles are familiar to my eye; Civic, Accord, CRV, but Toyota has a lot of stuff I'd never seen - Innova, Wish, Harrier, Fortuner, Hilux, Estiva, Commuter, Vios and Avanza.
Both countries were heavily into the Christmas business. From the Muzak in airports to decor in stores and greetings by the locals, there was no 'happy holiday;' it was Merry Christmas. Maybe not so surprising in very Roman Catholic Philippines, but more so in very Buddhist Thailand, where they are clearly so secure in their own faith that being accommodating to Western tourists is no threat the their identity.
At the risk of sounding like Mr. Blackwell or a dirty old man, I have to say that Cathay Pacific cabin crew have the, uh, "smartest looking" uniforms; also nifty were Qatar Air, China Air and Eva.
Overly shy Midwesterners might want to leave their hyper modesty at home. Whether it's the locals bathing in canals or design of public restrooms or standard operating procedure of the masseuse, Thailand is no place to be a prude.
Tourist-centric or not, everyone we encountered was happy, polite and willing to help. Whether in a cab, restaurant, department store, airport, subway ticket booth, whatever; there were no surly, crabby, lazy, uptight grumps anywhere. Notice to waiters, bank tellers and bus drivers in my world - your crummy attitude will no longer roll off my back.
Other things I noticed:
- Since the region is at about 15 degrees north latitude, residential satellite dishes point nearly straight up.
- In the rural parts of the Philippines, someone is always burning something.
- I didn't notice much smoking; I was mistakenly expecting smoking to be more commonplace that it was.
- As a dog person, it was tough to ignore all the stray dogs.
- No one has BlackBerries or iPhones; plain-jane Nokia's are the standard.
- Even though I've accepted that tropical fruit just doesn't arrive here in perfect condition, I am now an a quest for pink guava juice.