Travelling With Parents

There’s unnecessary urgency everywhere. That constant push, that arm motion. Come on! Get closer to everyone. We’re going this way. I realize you’re already going this way, but I need to make this motion. Come on! Maybe even pushing you physically. Into an elevator. Into a camera frame. This way! After you, sir! No, after you.

“Which is more stressful,” I ask my cousin, “not knowing what you’re going to be doing in the next five minutes, for almost every five minutes, or…being at work.” He answers, “Not knowing what you’re going to be doing in the next five minutes. I kind of like it.”

But then he’s been here before. Knows what it’s like to follow wealthy people around, to wave the bell hops off with no tip, knowing that they’ll be taken care of at the next room, where the parents are sleeping. He’s lying across two beds at the City Grande hotel in his underwear and nothing else, watching TV and charging his phone without a voltage transformer.

You depend on the parents for everything: the plan, the money, the talking, the ordering, the tipping, the boarding passes, the lying to customs about the corned beef you are bringing home.

When you’re all downstairs in the hotel lobby in Manilla there’s nothing for you to do and there’s nowhere for you to sit and there are spiky potted palm bushes in all the corners and everyone is on edge. Your aunt asks you where your cousin is and you point at him; he’s surrounded by luggage at the front door. She says he needs to pay attention and stick together and everyone needs to pay more attention but it’s impossible after all that travelling to pay attention to anything when it isn’t at all clear what’s happening and you can’t demand answers from anyone because the man is at the front desk putting down hundreds of dollars for your hotel room. So you just stand inside the thorny embrace of a palm bush and hope no one sees you but of course they do and they call you a fool for standing there but you move and you’re run over by a man dressed in all white who’s sneaking around trying to surprise his friend. So you move back.

Then suddenly it’s to the elevators and you leave your luggage there on the carts and there are twenty people on this elevator, we’ll wait for the next one. And then your cousin is pulling you into the elevator bodily saying, come on! You’re white! Because your cousin is sure that you’ll be held for ransom. And then you’re stuck staring at your family with the door closing behind you and not enough room to turn away.

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Guard Rails in Palawan

Hello. I just got back from my trip to Asia. I feel weird.

I wrote some stuff about it. I’m going to post it a little bit at a time. Hope you are entertained.

Here’s the first one. It’s called Guard Rails in Palawan.

I left home thinking I would find something different. I thought that Palawan was a remote place where people collected nests made from saliva hidden in limestone crevices perilously high above a blue and white surf. When I got off the plane at Puerto Princesa, and I saw the banners declaring Palawan the “World’s Best Island” courtesy of both Conde Nast and Travel and Leisure, I failed to adjust my expectations.

When a futuristic Toyota cut through the mob of motorcycle taxis and stopped in front of us, I got inside without thinking twice. I sat in the worst seat, with my Birkenstocks up on the wheel well, not believing that we’d be in a van like this for very long. No doubt we’d need something more all-terrain once we cleared the airport.

Our driver handed us dried plantains dipped in brown sugar, bottles of water, a guest satisfaction form, and a paper with a web address for leaving a review on Trip Advisor. I registered the smallest hint of cognitive dissonance. I ate the plantains and took pictures through our blacked out windows.

The paved road went on and on, and when the turns got sharp I saw guard rails and I shifted in my seat. We came up behind a bus with a man standing on the roof, apparently making sure the baggage didn’t fly away. I tried to take his picture. The bus was so tall it would no doubt fall to its side soon. What would he do then? Men were pouring asphalt on either side of the road. They wore flip flops, shirts pulled up above their stomachs, and their faces were wrapped to the eyeballs in fabric that blew in the wind from the passing cars. They looked like mystics. On and on and on went the road. For five hours we drove, passing motorcycles with metal cages built around them, allowing them to hold families of four and five. Passing more of those buses with the men on the roofs. Passing cows and goats and a giant pig and even a couple of monkeys, all of them along the very paved road to El Nido.

Damn these roads. Why did they build roads here? Why are we still building roads in the 21st century? Who needs cars. How about public air transportation? How about catapults? Evolution doesn’t work that way. You can’t throw away the design, you’ve got to iterate. Besides, when you’ve got a hammer, everything looks like a nail; and when you’ve got a sleek Toyota van and a resort fifty miles from the airport, you put the people to work turning their backyards into asphalt and guardrails.