July 25, 2015: My last morning in Hong Kong was relaxing; my flight wasn’t scheduled to leave until 11AM so I didn’t have to check out of the hotel early. I still woke up at 6 AM with lots of time for a couple cups of coffee in my room before locking my bags and taking them down to the lobby. I had a taxi pick me up at 08:00 to take me to the airport. I could’ve pulled my roller bag several blocks to the pick-up point for the airport bus or taken the metro then transfer to the express train to the airport, both of which were cheaper than but not as convenient as taking a taxi.
It took about 30 minutes to the airport, built on one of the outer islands away from the city. It was under construction and nearly complete when Hong Kong transferred to Chinese authority in 1997, opening in 1998. The new airport was a huge improvement over the old Kai Tak airport that served Hong Kong since the 1920s, in Kowloon and built on reclaimed land with the runway extending into the harbor. The new airport has one of the largest terminal buildings in the world and is modern and efficient. This was my first flight into or out of Hong Kong since 1969 when we flew into the old Kai Tak Airport, with the flight path directly over Kowloon.
At the airport my adventure in China finally ended, in two weeks I experienced a little of what the vast country had to offer and made a slew of new friends. The flight on Philippine Airlines left about an hour late, arriving in Manila late as well. I was worried about catching my ride because my friend Archie would pick me up and I didn’t know how to contact him about the delay. I arrived at the Philippine airlines terminal which I had only used once before, also every time before when I visited the Philippines my friend Allan, Archie’s brother who worked at the airport, was there to meet me and could coordinate with Archie driving in. This time there would be no Allan, he’d taken a new job overseas in Doha, Qatar. But it all worked out OK, Archie called a friend working at the airport and learned about the delay, and I saw his black van coming down the road as he drove in.
In the Philippines I always stay with friends, the Gonzalvo family in Los Banos, a city about 2 hours south of Manila and home of the University of the Philippines, Los Banos, UPLB; one of the premier universities in the country, founded during the American Colonial period in 1909. During my short one week stay I really didn’t do much of anything exciting but had time to relax; in seven days I only worked in 4 visits to the spa for foot and body massages.
Other than visiting friends, going to the public hot springs for a morning soak, taking daily swims in the resort pool and generally relaxing, the high point was visiting the Balubad Elementary School in Lumban, a city an hour’s drive from Los Banos. It’s a small elementary school on the edge of the city, the students a mix of farm families and city kids. It has a sizable proportion of poor kids and the community is very supportive. Several years ago the community wanted its own elementary school, the local children went to a larger school several miles away and it was very hard for some to attend. Philippines schools don’t have a transportation system so each family is responsible for getting their children there, many families couldn’t afford the expense of transportation and it was a long way to walk. The community donated the land and the school district provided the school, now serving about 280 students.
A few years ago I learned that many of the families were unable to provide lunches for their children to take to school and many had little food even at home. The principle at the time, Dr. Roselie Tamina is my friend and was setting up a feeding program for those kids; my mother and I became the sponsors. It’s a great program that really works, at the beginning of each school year all the students receive a medical exam and those diagnosed as malnourished are in the program. The school staff provides all administrative support and the parents do the shopping, cooking and clean up so there are no administrative costs, all the money goes to providing food for the kids. Each day they get a morning snack and a full cooked, nutritious meal after classes; it may be the only balanced meal they get all day. The documented improvements in attendance and scholastic achievements are dramatic.
Every year when I visit the Philippines I stop by to say hello and see the kids; seeing them and their smiles is a joy. I stopped by the school, all the students came out to say hello, wave and smile, those in the program put on a short performance for me and I met some of the parents who do all the actual work while I shared their meal. During lunch I spoke with the District Superintendent who was there to greet me, along with Doctor Tamina who is now principle at another school and Beth Cabiscuelas the current principle. The program is a model recognized by the school district and which other schools are eager to adopt. The problem with expansion is of course money, the districts don’t have the funds and sponsors for more schools are needed. In the five years of the program the number of students in the program has varied from as many as 30 to a low of 15 this year. Considering that the program receives just $1200 for the entire school year, the fact it can provide meals for 30 kids amazes me. If anyone is interested in finding out more about the program, please let me know.
Because my visit was so short I didn’t get to travel very far afield but did see several very good friends, even working in a night out for dinner with my good friend Doctor Jeng Cariaga. We had hoped to go somewhere with music or entertainment, but settled for eating at a new, trendy little restaurant in Los Banos. When I say little I mean it; entering the side door of a small house, the entry had room for maybe 2 people standing and the 5 tables maybe sat 15 people, with room to squeeze between tables, if you were very slim; which I’m not.
On Saturday night before flying home, the Gonzalvo clan and I went out to dinner at a very nice restaurant near the university campus. There I noticed a sign that they had music on Friday nights, I wished I had known that the night before when Dr. Jeng and I were looking. It was a very popular restaurant and a bit trendy with great food and lousy service. Instead of normal menus, each table got a tablet computer as the menu and you picked out your order on the tablet. It almost went well, once we figured out how to use it, and they only got 3 of our orders wrong.
August 2, 2015: The morning I left, Archie and I had to leave the house about 05:30 to get to the airport two hours early for my 09:30 flight; it was early Sunday morning so traffic was very light. I’ve visited the Philippines enough that once at the airport all went well and my flight left right on time. About 20 hours later, after layovers and plane changes in Tokyo, Japan and Vancouver, Canada I arrived in SeaTac Airport in Seattle at 2:30 PM the same day I left Manila; the International Date Line really can mess with your internal clock. My traveling was nearly over, just a shuttle ride and I was back in my own house by 5 PM, journey and adventure complete.
Enjoy the Journey
Scott C. Ames
When you start on your journey to Ithaca,
then pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
From the Poem Ithaca by K. P. Kavafis (C. P. Cavafy)