Thursday, May 31, 2007

Moscow Adventure

8:23 p.m., May 26, 2007 (Saturday)
NAIA, Manila

It's 8:23 p.m. and I'm here at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Gate 11 for my flight to Moscow via Frankfurt. The fun part of travel starts. After waiting for weeks to secure a visa, I'm finally ready to leave. Thanks to the Russian and Norwegian embassies in Manila for the suspense.

I had to do a last-minute shopping for a suit on Saturday morning. I have to. I'll be speaking before more than a thousand journalists during the opening of the World Congress of Journalists after the keynote address of former Russian leader Michael Gorbachev.

It's good that I lost weight these past days. My waistline has gone back to 33 and I can wear my size 32 pants. I don't have to buy a new pair of pants. In Norway, I'll be wearing Mujiv's barong and pair of pants. 'Yong pang congressman, ha ha ha.

To save on what little dollar some friends gave as "baon" and not to spend money abroad on "incidentals," I bought two packs of cigarettes, extra pairs of underwear and socks, and yes, a new toothbrush, a small tube of toothpaste, a small piece of soap and shampoo. (Most hotels in Europe usually don't provide these in their rooms.)

By the way, I'm typing these notes on WordPad because the guys at the office who I asked to format my laptop forgot to install Microsoft Office. Guys, wait 'till I come back, especially if I would not be able to open my speech. I wonder what other programs you forgot to install. (Well, I also forgot to bring a book to read in the plane.)

It was raining when I left Quezon City for the airport late this afternoon. There was also rain when I left for the United States two years ago. President Arroyo was also facing her own storm that time - an impeachment suit in the House of Representatives. Today, the Arroyo administration is waiting for the people's judgment after the May 14 elections.

I also have some storms to battle - then and now.

Coincidence has always played a role in my life. Some friends say I'm just good in timing. They even have this standing joke not to come with me on my trips to "dangerous" places, especially in Mindanao, because something might happen. I believe that coincidences are actually part of the natural course of things, only magnified by our sensitivity to events or instances due to specific situations. For instance, it's actually no coincidence that every time I travel it rains. It's just that I travel during the rainy season or during bad weather.

As promised, I will keep you updated about my trip and about the meetings I will be attending. I just hope that I can have Internet connection when I arrive in Moscow. It's a long flight. By the time you will read this, I will be in Moscow already. I will change planes in Frankfurt after more than ten hours.

Some sidelights:

When I arrived at the airport's airline check-in counter, the security people asked me if I'm a seaman. I said no, I'm a journalist. A guy said, only seamen go to Russia.

At the immigration counter, the officer asked me what I would do in Moscow. I said I'm giving a speech. He said: "Ang galing talaga ng Pinoy. Kayang-kaya talaga natin ang lamig. Saang maritime school ka magle-lecture?"

Aguy, aguy!

When I went through the second security check at the airport, before the boarding gate, the guards saw my t-shirt with the broadcast network's logo. One man asked: "Anong ikokober mo sa Russia? May gera ba doon?."

Gusto ko sanang sabihing may rali ang mga bading sa Linggo. Ikokober ko.

I tried to enter the Lufthansa lounge. A beautiful girl there smiled and asked for my boarding pass. I said I just want to take a leak. When he saw that I was booked in the Economy section, she pointed me to Gate 11, still with the very nice smile for me not to get embarrassed. I know, I know, I wanted to tell her. Baka lang makalusot. Gutom na kasi e.

I went to a Kopiroti stand and had a cup of coffee and four small pieces of sliced bread for P100. Yes, naiihi talaga ako.

In a few minutes, it would be boarding time, and off I go above the clouds, to never-never land, to sleep on the wings of a Lufthansa airplane, crossing continents and time zones that I only imagine, and making the best effort to kill time thousands of kilometers above the earth, nearer the stars this rainy evening, far from a beloved who is already in bed, dreaming, wishing, working for a better world for herself as I, the accidental journeyman, wonder what's in store in the future.

Good night.

8: 30 a.m., May 27, 2007 (Sunday)
Frankfurt Airport

Just arrived after a more than 12 hours from Manila via Guangzu, China, then over Russia and then Germany.

There were other Filipinos in the plane: caregivers going to Germany, Norway, Milano and other parts of Europe; about 50 Catholic pilgrims accompanied by some nuns on their way to some religious site; a number of seafarers on their way to ports in Copenhagen and Moscow.

I remembered my last trip to Europe in 1993. There were only few Filipino passengers then, mostly seafarers and some activists on their way to a meeting with European counterparts. The times have changed.

During check-in in Manila, I asked for an exit seat. It was a long flight so I preferred to have some leg room. The Lufthansa guy, however, said there was no exit seat available. He offered me a seat in the front row of the economy section. I found out, however, that I was seated with two nursing Filipino mothers on their way to meet their European husbands. I asked to be transfered to another seat beside Vergel, a Filipino seaman on his way to Copenhagen. Except for chats during mealtime, we slept throughout the flight.

Vergel will board a cargo ship in Copenhagen after three years without work in Manila. He said he has a four-month old child now who needs to be baptized. He needs the money for baptism so he accepted a ten-month contract.

When the plane was over Russia, I saw on the map that we were flying over the city of Almaty, a place a dear friend talked about with so much fun. How I wish to discover the city with my friend.

I went around Frankfurt airport to kill time and would have loved to buy books at one bookshop. There was V.S. Naipul's book on his travels to Muslim countries, which I was looking for a time already. It was published in 1998 and is priced at 14 euros. I decided against buying. Maybe I will find a cheaper copy in Manila one of these days. I know there will be a lot of papers to read in the conference and newspapers to browse in the airport to kill time.

Right now I'm sitting beside the glass window of Gate 1-52 of Frankfurt airport. There's a seven-story building on the left that reflects the morning sun. To the right is a building under construction, with a yellow crane hovering above. Jutting below me is the tail of a Lufthansa A-320 plane. Beyond the buildings are trees. Only a few cars and buses are passing.

Places are actually the same wherever your are. It's the same sun, the same sky, the same world we are in. Only people look different, but not that much. What makes sceneries, people, sunsets, sunrises different is how we look at it, how we appreciate the world around us, limited the view may be by our beliefs, feelings and outlooks in life. What makes relationships work is not love itself, it's a universal experience. What makes love work is how people, partners, lovers appreciate each others uniqueness, hate it, argue about it, and in the end try to change it for the better to make each other's life one's own.

Today's headlines:

From the International Herald Tribune

Bush looks past 'surge' for ways to cut troops
Every generation is first generation (for German Turks, foreign brides)
EU's next global target: Google

From the FT Weekend:

Germany clashes with US on climate
Eurotunnel back on track after investors approve new structure

Now it's time to read the papers. I would have wanted to take pictures right now but the 30D Canon in my bag is too bulky to take out. I should have brought with me an instamatic digital camera, if only I have one, ha, ha, ha.

11:57 p.m., May 27, 2007 (Sunday)
Mezhdunaradnaya Hotel
World Trade Center, Moscow

Already in Russia. I arrived here past 4 p.m. local time. I have a problem connecting with the electric socket. The system here is different. My battery is already low. Good that my Siemens phone charger has the right plug. I still have to look for an adaptor tomorrow to charge the laptop.

I have to look for a grocery this evening to buy water. The mini bar in my room has nothing in it. There's also no toothbrush, toothpaste and razor in the toilet.

Moscow is an expensive city. A Coca-Cola at the airport cost me 70 rubles. A lighter costs 30 rubles. A one liter bottle of water costs 80 rubles. The exchange rate is US$1 = 29 rubles.

I wonder if I would be able to tour the city. Aside from the cost, I haven't seen any nearby places to go near the hotel. The schedule is also hectic. I'm closing the computer now. The battery is down.

9:25 a.m., May 28, 2007 (Monday)
World Trade Center, Moscow

In 30 minutes, the former Russian leader Michael Gorbachev will be addressing the World Congress. I will have to be there. I already found a solution to my electricity plug adaptor. A chambermaid brought one to my room, although it was the wrong one. My plug could not fit. She said she could not do anything about it, except if I destroy the adaptor she brought and fit the one I have. Voila, I destroyed it when she left and had my instant adaptor. Next problem is Internet connection. I will find a solution within the day.

I still could not find a shop that sells razors. I will be speaking before the Congress at 2:30 this afternoon. I have to shave. Vanity, vanity. Nope, for once I just want to look good. I have a new suit, a good speech if I may say, and I will be speaking with fellow journalists around the world. I have to show the best of the Filipino people.

It's sad that I will be doing this alone. Like any other small country from around the world, the Philippines has only one delegate to the Congress. The other countries, however, also sent a government delegate. The organizers said they sent invites to all the embassies to send a representative from the home country. Indonesia has one, so my friend Heru from Jakarta is not alone. The Indonesia government representative foot our bill during dinner last night. I hope the Philippine Embassy in Moscow will send a representative at least during the opening of the Congress. If not, then I will have to do this alone.

The Congress is one big meeting with more than a thousand people already registered. The World Trade Center hotel is fully booked for the meeting. Delegates from each continent are meeting to press for their respective agenda. The Asia-Pacific delegates will still have to meet and decide what issues to raise, who to vote, among others. I expect a long meeting with other Asian delegates, knowing fully well the politics and orientation of every country in the region.

I'll keep you posted. Gotta go, for Gorbachev's address.

2:37 a.m, May 29, 2007 (Tuesday)
Moscow, World Trade Center

Stoned drunk!!! Blame the Lithuanians, Cambodian and Indonesian counterparts!

11:58 p.m. May 29, 2007 (Tuesday)

I just came from a village where the Russian Union of Journalist hosted a dinner and a cultural presentation for us. There was a lot of drinking, dancing and singing under huges tents in the woods. I took a lot of great pictures, which friends from Lithuania - Jonas Staselis and Dainlus Radzevicius - asked permission to have a copy.

Jonas, a photographer and vice president of their union, and Dainlus, the chairman, have become good friends. Lithuanians love to drink and talk and drink and talk. We've shared stories and found out that we have really similar experiences in working in the media, making friends, drinking and, yes, we talk a lot about beautiful girls.

Jonas gave me a copy of their book on photography and CD of photos that they publish every year. They have a group similar to the Philippine Center for Photojournalism. Actually the only difference between us and the Lithuanians is they have the money and we don't have.

Today's sessions are rather boring, aside from me having a bad case of hangover due to last night's red wine, cognac, vodka, beer and all the other drinks shared with the Lithuanians, Indonesians, Nepalese, Indians, Kosovars, Russians, Australians, Cambodians, and the rest of the gang who dropped by our table in the bar until two o'clock in the morning. I can't imagine now how I survived the drink and came to my room and then later woke up at eight o'clock this morning.

1:08 p.m. May 30, 2007 (Wednesday)

Ang hirap kapag nag-iisa. Solo flight talaga, walang suporta kahit galing embahada. Nakakainggit ang Indonesian, pareho lang kami na nag-iisang delegate, pero pinupuntahan siya araw-araw ng representatives ng kanyang embassy para kamustahin kung gusto ba niyang mamasyal, kung may kailangan ba niya ng tulong kahit sa Internet connection man lang, o para sabihan kung saan siya makakabili ng tubig.

Nagtanong ako kung paano nalaman ng embassy nila na nandito siya, ang sabi ng mga taga embahada nila may invitation daw lahat na embassies and foreign missions sa Moscow. Meron pa nga daw meeting earlier na sabi ng mga Indonesians, hindi daw nag-attend ang Pilipinas. Tinawagan ko ang Information department ng Philippine Embassy dito sa Moscow at sabi ni Mr. Derek Atienza, meron nga daw siyang invitation pero he will try daw kung makaka-attend siya.

What's good, however, is I don't owe anything to the government. Baka makikiusap pa na magdahan-dahan ako sa pagsasalita. Hindi pupwede yon. Pero Philippine national pa rin ako at trabaho nila na tumulong sa mga nationals na mapunta dito. Kahit man lang ipakita nila kung saan ang embassy natin.

Anyway, tuloy pa rin ang balitaktakan sa plenary. Ang hirap pa pakinggan dahil Russian at ang bagal ng translation. Di pa ako maka-connect sa Internet. Di ko alam kung natanggap ng Norway ang aking email o kaya ng opisina sa Manila. Pati itong computer nagloloko pa. Hay, buhay, di na ako nag-eenjoy sa byaheng ito. Actually, pwede rin sanang mag-enjoy kung may pera lang akong pwedeng gastusin, pero napakamahal ng bilihin at pamasahe dito at hindi pala-kaibigan ang mga Ruso, aside from the fact na di kami nagkakaintindihan dahil madalang ang Russian na nakakapag-ingles, kahit mga journalists.

May meeting mamaya ang regional groupings para i-raise ang issues ng bawat rehiyon. Dapat lang. Naka-apat na araw na ako dito wala pa ring nangyayari. Ngayong hapon pa lang ang talagang simula ng business of the congress. Trabaho na nga lang ako.

No comments: