A Layover in Manila

I loathe air travel. Let me tell you about our 5-hour layover in Manila the other day. We’re flying from Tokyo to Melbourne with a stop-over in Manila. My wife’s mom, who’s Filipino, warned us to watch everything they do because they’ll drop a bullet in your luggage and ask for money not to arrest you. Shit like that. The plane that lands is like 80% Filipino and 20% white people. They herd us into the “customs room”. Both bathrooms are out of order simultaneously. I try to find water because I’m dehydrated because these people confiscated all of my water bottles before the flight and then attempted to sell them back to me on the flight at exorbitant rates. I refused to be a part of this, so I’m parched.

So they herd us into what is essentially a gymnasium with no bathrooms and no access to water. There is a large hospital-style counter in the middle of the room with maybe a dozen Filipino women mostly chatting with one another back there and occasionally yelling at a passenger to “Please be calm, honey” or to “Calm down, darling”. We have a 5-hour layover, but a lot of people are on connecting flights with 1-2 hour layovers. Scattered around the perimeter of the room are maybe 5 or 6 Filipino men (one can only assume as they look to be no older than 17) sitting in lawn chairs and playing on their phones. All of the wall outlets are occupied by airport staff.

All of the layover passengers’ passports are gathered up by one woman (HeadPinoy) who dumps them into a used Subway bag and walks off. We are told she is going to get our customs stamps. Had they gathered up all of the man-boys around the perimeter and had them run shanty-customs booths, this could all have been avoided. But they had Angry Birds to attend to. We wait for about 4 hours on this gymnasium floor. There was one more tiny adjacent room with fold-up chairs they had herded all of the angry white people into to wait, but we chose to sit outside to observe the happenings. Every 10 minutes or so, an angry white person would work up some nerve, bust out of his holding cell, and attempt to plea with the Filipino women behind the counter. They would be promptly put in their place in a mildly-disparaging, mildly-sexual fashion. For the record, all Filipino women speak English like white American gay men.

Two Chinese teenagers who are very close to missing their flight take out prayer beads and begin praying at the counter. Of the angry white people busting out of their chamber, one stands out: He started off the night with his baseball cap turned forward, but it is now turned back. He has on a skin-tight black T-shirt, distressed and bedazzled jeans, and one of those gym shoes with the ridiculously-large white foam padded sole. He says “Innit” a lot, but with the upward inflection replaced with raw aggression. He is incredibly persistent. He is brushed off even more curtly than the other angry white people by the Filipino ladies. We never saw him exit that room.

About two hours into this, Nicki Minaj starts blaring from what sounds like shitty phone speakers from the general direction of the counter. I assume it’s some white trash in their holding cell making a ruckus. Upon closer examination, it appears the music is coming from behind the counter. Several of the Filipino men around the perimeter perk up and sort of dance and head-bob their way out of their chairs, leaving their Angry Birds games un-paused with their phone on their lawn chairs. They slowly and melodically mosey on over – first to, and then behind – the counter and an impromptu dance, bump & grind party breaks out between the Filipino staff. The lady who carried out passports off in a used Subway bag several hours ago tries to get the angry English man in a backwards cap tilted vertically to join in. He mutters legal threats. This amuses her to no end.

The dancing turns into some light butt-slapping. Eventually, a disagreement emerges over music choice and soon two, and then three phones are playing different songs simultaneously. A tipping point is reached and the Filipino men gradually recede back to their Angry Birds lawn chair setups and the music stops.

By now, everybody who isn’t flying to Melbourne has missed their flights and it’s 4am. The head lady who walked off with our passports leaves again. Things have really calmed down. Everyone has accepted their fates. Most of the PerimiterPinoys are drifting in and out of sleep and the ladies behind the counter are huddled together whispering and giggling. The angry white man is sitting on the edge of his chair with his elbows on his knees, like a baseball coach watching a pivotal play, and has his face buried in his cap, like a baseball coach whose team just lost. Thirty minutes pass like this.

A melodic indigenous song begins to echo faintly through the halls. The HeadPinoy lady emerges. Her T-shirt is now partially rolled up to expose her naval, which is not how she left, and she is triumphantly clutching the used Subway bag of passports at shoulder-height. Huzzah! She is singing a song as she meanders toward the counter. She passed my wife, who is half Filipino, and I on her way and briefly stops and attempts to get my wife to join in on the song. She is disappointed when she does not know the words, but winks at her regardless. HeadPinoy dumps the passports out onto the counter and continues strolling around while singing and doing rhythmic-gymnastics-meets-burlesque-esque movements with the used Subway bag our passports came out of while an apparent subordinate calls out the passengers’ names one-by-one. Our passports are returned to us with stamps in place. Everyone who isn’t headed to Melbourne walks off with heads bowed. A long line forms at the only place in sight to purchase bottled water. A group of six Chinese teenagers with gold pinkie rings promptly cut it and have their credit card declined. Nobody on the Melbourne flight saw BaseballCapMan exit that room.

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