72 Hours of Highs and Lows

Yes, some random bitching and moaning, but hopefully some of you will find some of this somewhat interesting. Life anywhere is filled with minor annoyances. The trick, I suppose, is to control how you react to them. I’m getting better at this. But part of that means getting it out of my system by writing about it.

American Airlines and Cathay Pacific

I returned to Manila from Dallas on Cathay Pacific, using their “Premium Economy” class. Yes, I could have flown Cathay economy class. I could have flown some budget airline. I had choices.

I made this particular choice because of the amount of luggage I had. When I went to the U.S. I expected that it might be six months or a year before I would return to Asia. That meant that I had to pack for multiple climates – hot, cold and in between. I would be going on job interviews and hopefully finding a job. That meant I needed my usual assortment of jeans and t-shirts as well as suits and business casual. Then there was basic toiletries and medications, chargers and cables galore, and of course my camera, multiple lenses and accessories.

With all of that stuff weighing me down, I saw that if I booked economy class on some budget airline, by the time I paid for all of that baggage, the price difference was a lot less. Once the price difference became relatively trivial, I thought it made sense to pay a small percentage more for a seat with more legroom and slightly better food.

The thing is, Cathay doesn’t appear to have direct flights from Dallas to Hong Kong. If they do, they don’t have many of them. It meant flying a code share flight, Dallas to Los Angeles on American Airlines. American doesn’t operate a premium economy class, at least not for that flight. So that leg will be economy. Fine.

So now I check in for my flights at Dallas Fort Worth at an American Airlines counter. I show the woman my entire itinerary. She weighs my luggage. One bag weighed 50 pounds, the other 60. She tells me that one bag is okay, the other one is 10 pounds over, and I will have to pay US$100 for excess baggage.

I tell her, “No, I’m flying multiple stops, I booked premium economy, my allowance is 55 per bag, I can just shift stuff from one bag to another.”

“Well, I’ve worked here a long time and I know the limit is 50 per bag.” Her name was Dolly, which I assume was ironic. I show her my eticket and show her the luggage allowance.  “Oh.” So now I re-balance the bags to 55 pounds each, check in, I don’t owe any money.

Clearly this woman was not happy with being proven wrong. She gave me a middle seat. I didn’t want to deal with her any more so when I got to the gate, the agent there changed the seat. The flight was far from full and making the change took 2 seconds. Dolly never asked me where I wanted to sit, she didn’t take the fact that I was flying a premium class into account, she just gave me a shitty seat. I believe this negative attitude towards customer service gives some indication of why American airlines are not doing as well as their European and Asian counterparts.

Meanwhile, Cathay upgraded me to business class for both the LAX to HK and HK to Manila flights. Champagne, Chivas Regal and wine all helped me get some sleep and make the 16 hour flight to Hong Kong moderately less miserable.

T*Mobile

While I was in the U.S. I had a prepaid T*Mobile SIM. When I paid for the 2nd month’s service, I stopped into one of their shops to ask about forwarding and international service. I just paid the guy so he has my account record open in front of him and can view the details. The guy said it would be no problem to just forward the number to another number. He also told me that my plan had unlimited global data.

I get to LAX and go to forward the T*Mobile number to my U.S. Skype number. It doesn’t work. I call their customer service and they tell me there is no number forwarding allowed on prepaid accounts.

I arrive in Manila and turn on my phone and find out, you guessed it, no international data. I get an SMS telling me how much it will cost per day. I switch my phone off.

Bank of Philippine Islands

Arriving in Manila, once I get past immigration and customs, the first thing I do is look for a BPI ATM. I find one. I put in my card, I put in my PIN, I put in how much I want to withdraw. And only then does the machine let me know it is unable to dispense cash – presumably their systems are so horrible that they couldn’t have some display showing that the ONE machine they have for an entire arrival terminal is broken.

Globe Telecom #1

I needed a SIM card, as I ‘d cancelled my previous mobile service before leaving. Unlike other countries, my experience in Manila is that you cannot get a SIM card from convenience stores, only cards to “top up” your existing account. Globe and Smart both have small kiosks in the arrival area. I wanted Globe because the last time I checked, I don’t get 4G reception with Smart at my home.

The Globe kiosk was geared towards tourists. That meant that, yes, they have SIM cards, but no, there’s no cheapo 50 peso ($1) I-just-need-it-for-a-little-while card. I had to get a 600 peso ($12 card). But at least they had it and the transaction was relatively quick and painless.

Uber Kiss of Death

I go outside the terminal and I head for the smoking area. I have to make my way through a phalanx of taxi touts, some of whom are possibly legit, some of whom may be targeting foreigners for other purposes.

I get to the zone, I light a cigarette, I check Uber. It’s one in the morning and that should be okay but on first past, no Uber available. On second pass, there is one.

“Completing a ride nearby.” In Manila that is the Uber Kiss of Death. If it says 8 minutes away, that usually means more than 20 minutes. I wait. I light another cigarette. It stays at 8 minutes for 10 minutes. It jumps to 20 minutes. And then, without warning, “Finding your ride” because the driver has cancelled on me.

The next Uber, a tiny car (and remember I have a lot of luggage), 20 minutes away, “completing a ride nearby.” So I cancel on him. I walk over to those white “coupon” taxis. I tell the lady my destination and she plugs it into an app and shows me 960 pesos. Uber would have been 300. UberXL would have been 550. On the other hand, those touts all over the place would have insisted on 2,000. At least I don’t have to wait and they give me a taxi that’s a mini-van, so no problem to fit my luggage. Of course, these guys don’t use Waze or any other sort of GPS, so I have to direct him all the way back. I tipped 100.

Globe Telecom #2

On Sunday, I went to the SM Aura “Premiere” mall in BGC. One thing I wanted to do there was set up a new post-paid mobile account. I go to the Globe shop on the 4th floor. The shop is unusually empty. That should have been the tip-off.

The guy there spends 15 minutes explaining to me the options and I finally select the combination of plans that I want. And only then does he tell me that oh, he’s so sorry, their systems are down, he can’t open the account for me, but I can fill out the paper work and then come back later. “Can you at least give me a SIM card now so I don’t have to come back later?” “No, sorrreeeeee.”

He couldn’t have told me before we started? He had to waste 15 minutes of my time first?

Why were the systems down? Because Globe was doing some sort of upgrade. On a Sunday afternoon, 3 PM, prime shopping time. How long would they be down? The guy had no idea. They couldn’t wait until night time when all of their shops were closed to do it.

Lugang Cafe

While at SM Aura, my friends and I opted for lunch at Lugang Cafe, a vaguely Taiwan-style Chinese restaurant. I’m making note of this because the service was so poor.

There are four of us. They hand three of us food menus and the fourth just gets a drink menu.

They take my friend’s spoon away because it’s dirty. They never bring him a replacement.

They bring a huge bowl of wonton soup, meant for sharing. They do not bring smaller bowls. We had to ask three times for the bowls, while the soup sat there getting cold.

All of which would have been forgivable if the food was better, but it is aggressively average at best.

Uber #2

Finished with everything else at SM Aura, I try to get an Uber. I don’t know what the hell has happened to Uber in the Philippines. They’re getting almost as miserable as regular taxis, just in different ways.

The first one I get, it says “8 minutes away.” Ten minutes later, the car still has not moved and it still says “8 minutes away.” Finally the car starts moving. It slowly makes it to where I am. I didn’t check the time but I’m sure it was at least 15 minutes. And then the car continues going right past me. I send a text message, “where are you?” The guy replies, “I’m here.” I reply, “No you’re not.” And he cancels on me.

Hey, when I cancel an Uber ride, I have to pay a fee. What about when the driver cancels on me after making me wait 30 minutes? Why no penalty to him?

Next Uber, almost the same thing. “6 minutes away” becomes 8 and then 10. In reality it was probably more like 20. Meanwhile I look over and see that rarest of sights, an actual line of empty taxis waiting for passengers. Finally the guy shows up at the right place, tiny little Toyota that’s almost as dirty inside as a regular taxi.

Waze is telling him to head south instead of north, to head to C-6 instead of C-5. He doesn’t want to do it. “Pasig is so close,” he tells me. I have to get out my phone, check Waze and show him that C-5 is not moving at all, that it will be 55 minutes if he goes that way or 30 minutes if he goes to C-6. I still had to talk him into doing this. (By the way, SM Aura to my house is 10 kilometers via the C-5 route. So that’s almost an hour to go 10 kilometers on a Sunday afternoon.  The C-6 route is 13 kilometers.)

In Summation

I said to a friend of mine, “I’m only back for 48 hours and already I hate Manila.”

He replied, “That’s why I never leave.”