Feeling Like Forrest Gump

January 11th, 2012
Location: Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Terminal 3
Time: 11:17pm

If you have to hop on a freeway, drive through town, and arrive at your destination 15 minutes later then guess what, Manila?  That is not another “terminal” – that is a whole other freaking airport.

It’s 11 o’clock and I’ve just sat down to a chocolate blended and a BLT.  My flight from Shanghai arrived in Manila at 8:40 pm.  

I would just like to stop, take a minute, and say: Um, seriously?

Here’s why:

Hands down, most ridiculous airport experience of my life. 

First off, I arrived at immigration and queued up at the shortest line.  Bad news bears.  While my line stood patiently waiting, not moving, the lines beside us were slipping past effortlessly.  Beckon, survey, stamp. Next. Our lady was popping out of her booth every 30 seconds, dragging some other uniform over, discussing at length, and then repeating the process.  At some point we all wised up and got into new lines.  As soon as this happened, a new flight arrived, took up the queue we had vacated and were ushered straight on through, past us with our mouths agape and muttered curses. 

Still shaking my head, I pulled my backpack from the belt and headed out into the night heat, following the signs for departures.  After declining multiple offers for illegal taxis, passing 2 fenced off escalators, and multiple security guards I arrived at domestic departures . . . for Philippine Airlines.  At this point, I wasn’t even sure if I was at the right airport.  My information for my connecting flight put me at Ninoy Aquino Airport, while my itinerary to Manila simply said Manila, with the airport code of MNL.  After checking with a guard I discovered I needed to be at terminal 3.

Back down the stairs, past the taxi men , and the security guards dissuading passengers from using that particular form of transport, I managed to find the airport shuttle.  Now, mind you, all the signs are in English, which is great.  What is not so great is that the sign showcasing “Airport Shuttle” isn’t facing the doors through which people are exiting.  The sign instead faces the cars that are pulling through.  Call me crazy, but I’m pretty sure the people in cars aren’t too concerned about finding transport to the next terminal. 

So, there I sat on a bench for over two hours, waiting for this shuttle.  At one point I tried to find out if I could just walk there.  No, too far. Much too far. Just take the shuttle.  When I replied that I’d been waiting on this supposed shuttle for an hour, the man replied “Maybe there’s traffic.” Traffic. At 10 pm on a Wednesday night.

At this point the airport was starting to settle down a little, so the many security guards were congregating on the bench on which I sat. One of the security guards pointed out a shuttle that had pulled up – not in front of the airport shuttle sign, with the benches and waiting people, and the designated painted lines indicating the bus space, but 100 feet or so away. It was a dirtied white with a cracked windshield, and the only thing indicating its purpose was a half-sheet of paper taped to the inside of window which simply stated T1-2.  As I was headed to terminal 3, it didn’t help me much.

So, I just sat there to wait it out.  Other shuttle services pulled up, but those required fare.  This should tell you something – there’s actually a market for a paid airport shuttle service despite the presence (“presence”) of a free shuttle.  After I’d been sitting there for over two hours, exchanging pleasantries with the Filipino guards and other various strangers, another bus pulled up to the curb.  I didn’t pay it notice because it looked nothing like the other shuttle I’d seen (silly me, I expected uniformity), I didn’t see a sign, and it was parked behind a paid bus.  The guy who was driving the paid shuttle had been through 6 or 7 times at this point, and we’d talked.  As he was pulling out again, he opened his door and called out to me to that the bus behind him was the shuttle that I wanted.  

Thank God.

It’s entirely possible that in the hundreds of minutes I’d been warming that bench, that same shuttle could have pulled through without my notice given its entirely nondescript appearance.  But, ya know, I kind of doubt it.
When we arrived at terminal 3, after first stopping in at terminal 4, I hopped off the bus and made for the entrance.  I think I was supposed to tip but 1) I had no pesos on me and 2) dude, I waited on you for 2 hours.  I don’t think so. Also, you called me mamsir and I’m just not down with that. Not a tranny, but thanks.

I’d probably be really annoyed with this situation but there’s something about Filipino people – they’re just so freaking nice.  Minus the whole crime, dangerous, scuzzy side of Manila, these people are super hospitable.  I also think the ability to communicate in English has bolstered my spirits. 

Shoot, I’m in the Philippines.  It’s time to get a tan.  Talk to all you suckas stuck in cold climates later.  And if you ever find yourself in the Manila airport, just expect to wait and you’ll be a-okay.  Security will keep you company.

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