The hardest part of my trip yesterday was just getting to the airport that morning and getting on the plane to Detroit. Up until that point, there was the option of turning around. Not that I would have, of course, but just having the option, no matter how small the chances are of taking it, makes things infinitely more challenging. It introduces the element of doubt, and the tendency to hem and haw and spin one's wheels. But once I was up in the air on the first plane, it was smooth sailing from there. I was free.
Being in such a foul mood to start the journey, I was anxious regarding how I would appear to my family who I hadn't seen is almost a year. But when I saw them in the Detroit terminal and they nearly walked past me because they didn't recognize me with short hair, that opportunity to laugh was a huge relief.
|The Itchons in Row 42.|
|The menus. Wish I could have taken pictures of the food.|
|This quinoa pilaf with herbs and pine nuts was amazing. Thank you, Jess!|
The next leg of the trip, the nearly 13 hour flight from Detroit to Nagoya, sounded daunting at first. But it actually wasn't bad at all. I got to sleep, catch up on reading, and play video games and Sudoku with my Dad and sister. And the food wasn't as bad as I expected. But that being said, it was also nothing I would ever order willingly. I was happy to have packed snacks in addition to some delicious food my sister cooked for me.
The layover in Japan was short and sweet. Just like the first time I was there 25 years ago, I was again mistaken for a native leading around his 'tourist' family. We were going to get back on the same plane, and it was really interesting and smile-inducing to see everyone speaking to one another in a blend of Tagalog, Ilocano, and English, helping each other with luggage, and acting like old friends and neighbors as we waited to re-board, get back in our same 'cozy' seats, and finish the trip.
|Why draw stick figures when you can draw cartoons?|
|Thirsty? Ah, Japan, till we meet again.|
And though it was the same plane and the same seats, the experience was head and shoulders above because of the change in flight attendants. So pleasant, helpful, and memorably hospitable. My Dad and I immediately took notice of that. While previous inquiries as to the presence of dairy in my gluten-free meals flying to Nagoya had elicited looks of confusion and exasperation and ultimately no answers, my first meal flying to the Philippines was not only beautiful and palate-pleasing, but the attendants also immediately came to me with answers, even if it was to confirm that there was dairy in some components of the meal. Awesome.
And it was a good thing that I had eaten relatively well, because the business of the Manila airport was exhausting just to watch. Lines after lines and an unspoken order amidst the chaos, proceeding through security, customs, baggage claim, and trying to squeeze our way through the throngs of people and their Balikbayan boxes to get to our car.
|Packed airport at 10:59pm.|
|The blur nearly captures the energy of that moment.|
But it was so worth it when we finally arrived around midnight at my grandmother's place. And just as expected, there was an entire spread of food waiting on the table for us. My grandmother was overwhelmed with emotion, speechless,and visibly trembling as she hugged and held each of us. And after most everyone retired to bed, I stayed up with her a little bit longer to talk and catch up, speaking directly into her "good ear" in my best version of Tagalog. It was a beautiful affirmation of why this trip was necessary and why I need to make the very most of every moment and every conversation.
And why 25 years will never pass before my next visit back.
|A nearly 104-year old smiling from ear to ear: Priceless.|
Please stay tuned for more updates and photos as I continue to rediscover the Philippines, my relatives, and what being Filipino really means to me. Will there be food that is gluten-free and dairy-free for me to eat at restaurants as I begin to travel around the islands? Let's see.