Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Email from Gary in Philippines

I just got a long email from Gary so here are parts of it for your reading enjoyment: (sorry the formatting isn't too nice)

It is now 9:30 p.m. Last night I hit the wall at 8:30 and could function
no longer, so I went to bed, and then woke up at about 3:00 and got up. At
least I didn't have any trouble being down stairs at 5:30 to leave for the
airport :-) Tonight, I still feel reasonable, so I might make it back to a
regular schedule by today.

We just got back from a dinner for the invited speakers, and I checked at
the registration desk on the way in about getting Internet access. You'll
be glad to know that the postage for this letter is only $6.00. For $1.00
I could probably put it in an envelope and you'd get it in 10 days, so
maybe $6.00 for instant delivery isn't that bad. The Hotel Services book
in the room said they had 2-hour, 4-hour, 10-hour etc. cards, but when I
checked at the desk they've just changed to $6.00 per day, so i have
unlimited use until noon tomorrow -- I'll just be asleep and at the
conference most of that time.


We planned to get to the airport two hours in advance, but ended up 2.5
hours early because there was virtually no traffic on the roads. They had
His and Hers metal detector and Xray lines since they pat everybody down.
The terminal was brand new and shiny and so was the plane we took. It was
Cebu Pacific which is the local budget airline but they had a brand new
plane. They have an interesting approach to loading and unloading the
planes. Ian told me that the old board by rows routine never worked in the
Philippines since everybody always came as soon as they mentioned the
flight, so they load from two ends at once. When they call the flight,
everybody comes and they have two lines, one for the rows 1-16 and the
other for 17-31. Then the 1-16 line continues down the jetway and into the
front door of the plane as usual, but the 17-31 line goes down the stairs
to the tarmac and walks the back of the plane and goes up stairs to enter
in the back door of the plane. When they land, they open the doors at both
ends, so the plane empties twice as fast!

The highlight of the flight was "game time". Ian told me this is a regular
feature on this airline. On our flight, the game was "Name that Tune".
The two stewardesses stood together at the front of the plane. After one
explained the rules, the other one started singing a pop song, and the
first passenger to correctly shout out the name of the song won a Cebu
Pacific towelette. The had three towels to give away, so we got to enjoy
three rounds. I kid you not!


Lunch was a hoot. It was a local chain that has local cuisine. For
drinks, we had green coconuts. Yes, they brought out the whole coconut,
shaved down a bit to a six sided solid, with the top cut clean through to
make a removable lid. It was served with a straw to drink it and a spoon
to scoop out the soft meat. The main dish was chicken and rice served on a
wicker plate like you have for using with paper plates, except the paper
plate was a giant leaf that had been cut to make a big circle. They also
ordered squid on the side-- their bodies were stuffed with vegetables and
cut into many small slices.

The event seemed to go okay, though it was hard to tell how much they were
really getting out of it. I think the professors got more than the
students. This is apparently a certificate culture, so they made
certificates of completion for all the students (for sitting through 3.5
hours). They brought a blank certificate for the three of us presenters to
affix our official signatures, and then duplicated them onto fancy paper.
And as we were leaving, the lady in charge ducked into her office to grab
our speakers' gifts, which amounted to a 3-pound bag of groceries. Again,
I kid you not. It includes a package of dried mangos, and 5 different
packages of cookies/biscuits. At least I won't have to worry about
breakfast since they also have coffee in the hotel room.

Tonight there was a dinner for the invited speakers and the all the staff
of the university who are putting on the conference. Ian was invited to
come along as well. It was kind of amazing. We were in the back room of a
restaurant. After taking drink orders, they just kept coming with plates
and bowls of Philippine specialties, like sour soup with tamarind, oxtail
in peanut sauce, scallops on the half shell, fish that is still looking at
you, chicken kebabs, and a bunch more. For a drink, I had green mango
shake (not because I ordered it, but because that is what they brought --
but it was okay). And then the Filipina that I was sitting next to
insisted that I should try "halo halo" for dessert. That's Tagalog for
"mix mix", and it is shaved ice with all kinds of things mixed in -- purple
yams, green hard jello, jack fruit, corn flakes, coconut meat, and more
that I couldn't identify. Like I say, I kid you not.

It's been an interesting day! I also learned to go to a new kind of
euphemism today. Instead of asking for the WC here, you ask for the CR --
the comfort room.


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