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You wanna share a room?

I took an exam in Anchorage more than a week ago, and what was supposed to be a daytrip turned into an overnight action-packed adventure. Excuse the exaggeration. The flight from Juneau to Anchorage at 6 o’ clock in the morning was rather uneventful. It was my return flight at 8 o’ clock in the evening on the same day that turned out to be a shocker. Since I took an exam, you could imagine how much stress I’ve been through the past week, not being able to sleep much, let alone eat 3 meals a day. And so as expected, by the time I was on the plane back  to Juneau, I was exhausted. And because I couldn’t wait to get home and sleep, I let out a huge sigh when the captain announced that we were preparing for landing. I didn’t see much outside the window since I was on an aisle seat. What I saw were clouds and some lights. As the plane descended and while I was counting the minutes and happily looking at the visible lights and rooftops out the window, longing to be in the comfort of my own bed, the plane suddenly shifted and pulled up. What had happened?

“Sorry folks, 0 visibility down there, we will be landing in Sitka instead.” Groans and irritated chatter. By the time we were at the airport in Sitka, everybody was on their phones talking to their concerned loved ones about the change of plans. Honestly, I was lost. Do we wait for the fog in Juneau to lift? How long could that take? Do we sleep at the airport? Just as I was going to ask a crew member, we all then received news about having to pay for our own hotel room because the airport was closing in 30 minutes and “weather difficulty” didn’t count for airline-sponsored accommodations. Everybody was angry. This lady was really mad at one of the crew members and said, “I will never fly Alaska Airlines again!” And then I thought, “Isn’t this the only interstate airline in this part of the country? Does that mean she’s never going to visit Alaska ever?” I was waiting on the sideline, hoping something good would end up happening after this angry lady complained about not having enough funds for a hotel room (which was pretty much the same as my predicament), but I ended up being told by Sam to just get a hotel room and get some rest rather than stress about the cost and end up getting sick.

People started looking around for potential roommates and so I found myself searching for one as well. I approached this really nice lady and asked, “You wanna share a room?” To my relief, she gladly consented. From then on, we talked nonstop. Even when we were already both in bed, we continued to talk about our families, how she came to live in Juneau, common friends, her daughter, and a whole lot more. We fell asleep at around 1 am, woke up at 4 am and headed to the airport, since we were told our flight was going to be at 6 am. But of course we waited for 5 more hours at the airport. Foggy weather being as unpredictable as can be, we left Sitka at around 11:30am. Boy was I relieved to see Sam’s smiling face in the driver’s seat as he parked the car on the airport arrival curb. His “Welcome home!” was enough to remind me how exhausted and hungry I was, and so I broke down in tears.

Given the number of times I have to travel in a year to and from LA to visit my aunt, my rheumatologist, and my gynecologist, I would suppose this experience will definitely not be the last. Next time I will be more prepared. If it hadn’t been for Sam  telling me to grab a couple of granola bars before leaving Juneau, I would have collapsed from hypoglycemia before we even got back. Pessimism aside, you remember when the apostle Paul told us to “give thanks in everything”? Well, I am definitely grateful for this experience. I am thankful for the opportunity to visit Sitka, even if it wasn’t the most ideal tour package, at least the hotel shuttle driver was kind enough to give us a little history. I am also thankful for having met a new friend. She’s Asian, Thai, actually, and she was really nice. Most of all, I am grateful because the pilot decided to land the plane safely in Sitka rather than risk all of our lives landing on an invisible runway. Although this last item- the risks involved in landing a plane without being able to see the runway- had to be explained to me by Sam over and over again before I could understand why the plane didn’t have fog lights or if it did, why it didn’t help, or why the pilot had to actually see the runway before being able to land, or why the fog couldn’t be “fanned” out of the runway. Yes, I can be that naive.

Rocky Gutierrez Airport (Sitka)
Rocky Gutierrez Airport (Sitka)
At the Departure Area (Sitka)
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Egypt, Israel, Petra on our Second Year (Part I)

Regret is the worst feeling one could ever have after having gone to such remarkable places without taking the time to write a journal about it. Well, I did start taking notes on the first few days, but after that, I finally succumbed to allowing our camera to take over the role of documenting our experience. Right now, we have over 4,000 photos of the experience, and I haven’t even organized them. So when I thought of writing about our Holy Land Tour last November of 2011, I already imagined digging through my rusty memories for significant things I could share. That’s why I’m writing it in parts. It would make it easier to remember. So, here goes.

EGYPT

Yes, we were there before political chaos broke out. Thank God for that. We all  know that Egypt is a very old place, and that its history goes back to the 10th millenium B.C. According to wikipedia, it has one of the longest histories of any modern state. Its sands have been witness to ancient civilizations that continue to baffle a lot of archaeological and other scientists today. I wish we could have stayed longer and explored more of the ancient ruins but as it was, we were on a tour and we still had two more countries on the list. Here are some points to take note of if ever you plan on going on a tour of Egypt:

1. Don’t expect to be in an oasis when you get there. Egypt is mostly desert, so naturally, it’s all sand. That means dusty shoes and clothes, and some powder on your face everyday. Even the carpets and the curtains of hotels are full of dust. So if you have allergies and the like, (especially allergic rhinitis) I would advice bringing some antihistamine and taking prophylactic measures like steroid sprays before travel.

2. We all know that oil is cheap in the middle east. But we didn’t expect it to be THAT cheap! When we were there, gas only cost 45 US cents a gallon! Get this. Gas was at 45cents per gallon while a bottle of water (500mL) cost $2! As water was scarce in the area, the cost of bottled water was like a whole lunch in Mcdonalds. We did wish we had the same water absorption and storage capacity of camels.

3. Camels. Yes, camels are very interesting creatures. They actually exist as two species- the Dromedary, which is one-humped and common in the middle east, and the Bactrian, or the two-humped camel, more common in central asia. The tourguide warned us however, that the tourist camels “parked” in the Pyramids of Giza were expensive and their handlers would trick you into taking a picture atop a camel for $5 but then they coax the camel to suddenly get up and walk with you on top (of course you couldn’t just jump your way down) and then later ask you to pay for the camel tour. So beware. Trust me, two of our tourmates fell victims to this and had to pay $100 just to get off the camel.

4. The pyramids were majestic. Thinking about all the blood and sweat that the ancient egyptians put into these monuments would all the more make you stand in awe of them. It reminded me of that scene in Transformers 2 where that shapeshifting robot was on top of a pyramid and destroying it. Thank God for special effects. I heard though that although the robots were computer-generated, the pyramids were not. They actually went to Egypt to film it at the Pyramids of Giza.

5. We went into a perfumery with the owner showing us how they made perfumes from flower oils and such. You know when you’re in the middle of picking a scent in a perfume store and your nose somehow fails you after the 4th or 5th scent and it seems like they all the smell the same? Well, you could try smelling ground coffee in between to neutralize and allow your olfactory nerves to recover.

6. As we traveled by bus to Israel, we passed by the Sinai Peninsula and stayed at a hotel which was located at the foot of the supposed Mt. Sinai, where Moses saw God in a burning bush and where the first ten commandment tablets were forged. Sam had a once in a lifetime chance of climbing Mt. Sinai, and I was thankful that he took that chance even if it meant leaving me alone in the hotel room at 2 in the morning. The pictures he took of the sunrise on the summit of Mt. Sinai were breathtaking!

7. I am not very fond of Mediterranean Food. Even though breakfast was always buffet, I always ended up eating only cereal, bread and a hard-boiled egg. Not to mention putting a lot of bread and hard-boiled eggs in our camera bag for “baon.” At first we found it embarrassing, but after seeing a lot of European and American tourists on the buffet tables with brown paper bags and ziplocs in their hands trying to take as much food with them on their tour as possible, we naturally followed suit. We didn’t expect to see Westerners making sure they had some “baon” for the bus tour from the breakfast buffet table, but we were glad to have seen them, at least we weren’t alone.

8. We also went to the River Nile, where Egypt’s ancient civilization started to unfold. It’s fascinating how the river overflowed and flooded the land every year, bringing vegetation to life and feeding thousands people. I haven’t read much about the mechanism of the flooding but the season of plenty at the beginning of the year, followed by a drought midyear, had been consistent events in Egyptian history which led to the development of the early Egyptian civilization. Today, the flooding no longer occurs.

As the tourguide went through much of Bible history, it was fascinating that he knew so much of it. Our Bible is not only God’s book of love and instruction for us, it is also the greatest book of history ever known. As we imagined ourselves in the sandals of the Israelites who roamed the desert for 40 years after the Egyptian pharaoh let them go, we couldn’t help but wonder how they managed to actually cross the Red Sea (which we also crossed, on a bus, through a tunnel), roam around that desert for 40 years, and finally reach their destination after generations of leaders. It’s different when you read the stories from the Old Testament, it’s really something else when you actually walk on the ground they walked on and experience the heat of the sun, the thirst, the hunger, that they went through. I probably would have died in the desert if I was with them. What I saw and everything I experienced in Egypt and even the trip out of Egypt was remarkable indeed. It made me realize the greatness of our God even more. It reminded me of how God had been faithful to His people, and how He promised to be faithful in the generations to come. Wait ’til I write about our next destination- Israel.

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*this is what Sam rode halfway up Mt. Sinai, they had to walk the rest of the way.

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*This is how it looks from the top of the supposed Mt. SinaiImage

* Sunrise on Mt. Sinai

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Beijing on our first year

I can’t say that Sam and I both love to travel. He’s more of the stay-at-home type. I’m more of the adventurous type who could afford to get lost in the middle of nowhere. Since we got married, well, now he doesn’t really have a choice but get lost with me (chuckle). On our first year as a married couple, in December 2010, my parents treated us with a trip to Beijing (it might have been a strategy for us to give them a grandchild, but nope, it didn’t work). Three months before that trip, I fell down the hospital stairs after my morning rounds and well, broke my ankle. I was in a cast for 3 months. They finally took the cast out a week before the Beijing trip. Great timing for a fall, one might say.

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*just look at that expression on his face

Anyway, this trip was exciting for me because it was Sam’s first time outside the country and I couldn’t wait to see that usual child-like, excited expression that becomes plastered on his face everytime he’s into something new Well, true enough, he was so much excited that he took off his jacket at the arrival area in the airport, just to experience how cold it really was. And it really was! It wasn’t cold actually, it was freezing at -5’C. He couldn’t stop talking about how frozen his toes were when we stepped out into the cold night.

Anyway, so here are the things that made that trip memorable:

1. We had a FREE 5-day tour of Beijing and its sights. Yup, you read that right, it was free, more like unexpectedly free. It was an unexpected gift from my dad’s boss. And it included our own private english-speaking tourguide (named Nina), transportation and lauriat food!

2. It made me hate cold all the more. It made my aching ankle hurt more. As usual, Sam loved it! I remember we had to wear 3 layers of socks just to keep our feet warm.

3. Naturally, since my ankle was still healing, it was very painful out in the cold, much more when we had to walk miles just to get around the palaces! So, Sam had to carry me on his back a lot of times while we walked through gardens, museums, palaces, practically everywhere. Sometimes breaking  your ankle has its perks. 😀 Oh, and did I mention we had priority boarding status on the plane and that I was on a wheelchair the whole time at both the Philippine and Chinese Airports?

4. I learned that we couldn’t eat chinese food for more than 7 days in a row. After the 3rd day of eating chinese lauriat food, we just couldn’t take it anymore, so our tourguide brought us somewhere to eat pizza buffet. Even the smell of Chinese food was intolerable already.

5. When eating, always do a taste test. Eat a little piece before eating a whole spoonful. This is especially helpful when the server places a plate of jiggly chocolate jello on the table, and you think it was desert, and when you eat a whole spoonful, it turned out to be steamed pork fat. So much for chocolate jello.

6. You know that chinese translation/ speaking app? Well, it helped us a lot, well, maybe just a little. We learned that one word could mean a lot of things, depending on how you pronounce it. Like when we asked for cold water, for example, we got an empty glass. And when we repeated it, the waitress gave us a table napkin.

7.  By the way, restrooms aren’t restrooms, they’re called WCs- as in Water Closets. And some of them have cubicles that don’t have doors. So imagine squatting on the floor to pee and facing the sinks and the mirror, with people coming in and out of the restroom.

8. You know those automatic hand dryers in restrooms? You would appreciate them more in extremely cold weather. We were always on the look out for WCs- not because we felt like peeing, but because we wanted to warm our freezing hands under the hand dryer.

Ten days in Beijing was quite an experience. The place has so much history that even the trees tell you stories. Thanks to our tourguide, she had me really interested in listening to her stories and the history that China bears. We may not have a chance to go back to China, but I will always remember that adventure. How could I not when Sam carried me on is back most of the time?

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*did we lose some pounds just climbing up the Great Wall?

* See that look on his face? That spells E-X-H-A-U-S-T-E-D from carrying his wife on his back.
* See that look on his face? That spells E-X-H-A-U-S-T-E-D from carrying his wife on his back