July 30, 2007

The Big Push into La La Land
Manila (Luzon), Philippines

A long, sleepless journey; a stunned nomad.

The Big Push

July 27, my time in Laos was up. In two days a flight was waiting to take me to the Philippines to meet up with my lovely Afro-Peruvian friend, Tatiana, but first I had to get out of northern Laos and back to Bangkok.

Northern Laos to Bangkok

Catching the early-morning bus out of Luang Prabang wasn't as hard as giving up my quiet, comfortable, US$5/night room at Vilay Guesthouse. Calling an audible (and breaking my original travel itinerary), I pushed past Vang Vieng to the capital city of Vientiane, and watched the dwindling sunset fade into the Maekong as I crossed the border back into Thailand with a pair of young monks encountered at one of the bus terminals. It had a been a long, dusty, 14-hour ride in a bus filled with sacks of vegetables in the isles and people that smelled like the livestock they managed, and I was pleased to have the company of the golden-cloaked monks in my tuk-tuk taxi, instead of the Lao civilian with an AK-47 variant tucked under his jacket.

I managed only a few moments of sleep on a noisy ground floor room on the Thai border that night, before getting up the next morning and purchasing a train ticket back to Bangkok.

My general policy is not to travel the same path twice, but if I have to, then in a different manner than the first time. Knowing full well that the bus ride taken to this exact same town less than two weeks ago was anything bus visually stimulating, I opted for a sleeper-class train ticket to usher me the hundreds of kilometers back to the capital.

I idled the rest of the morning and afternoon away by finishing off another novel, and exchanged it for my fourth Andy McNab book (in two weeks) from a local bookstore. I didn't know it at the time, but I would end up starting and finishing the entire novel on that train ride back to Bangkok.

The train, fraught with delays and lacking air conditioning (which I knew of in advance) was a stuffy, sweaty mess. I couldn't sleep a wink, and spent 16-something hours enjoying the book and wondering why I didn't take the comfortable nine-hour bus journey instead.

Arriving in Bangkok yesterday morning, I picked up an inexpensive (150 baht) room at the New My Guesthouse near Khaosan Road. I was tied, but had no desire to use it for sleep—I had plenty of errands to run—but just use it as a place to shower and store my backpack until grabbing a shuttle bus to the airport later that night. It was inside this room that I discovered one of the most random items I've ever seen discarded in a hotel room.

A good cold-water scrubbing later, I remembered that the color contrast between my hair and my beard had been nagging me, and I finally made up my mind to do something about it. I found a salon nearby (for the right price) and instructed the reassuring pair of Thai women accordingly. The result of the coloring attempt was a total disaster.

My hair doesn't look like the ashy blond/brown of my beard, but like someone dipped my head into a bucket of ink the color of dark-chocolate. I was, and still am, stunned (and rather mortified) every time I look in the mirror. What a mess.

Bangkok's International Airport ticketing concourse

Darkness couldn't fall fast enough as I waited to depart the Khaosan area and make my way to Bangkok's swanky international airport/greenhouse for my fourth time since arriving in the region this May. I must admit, the look of the ticketing concourse at night is quite a sight.

Fatigued, and patiently waiting to check into my flight in a long line of middle-aged Filipino women with a collection of very large suitcases (who were wrapping up their group holiday/tour), I tried to put the color of my hair out of my mind as they rotated cameras and bodies during an impromptu photo session that found me sandwiched between women that barely came up to my shoulders.

I see no reason to trust the airlines with my backpack, and since it's small enough to fit in the overhead compartment on most flights, all I need to do is remove any powders, liquids, creams, gels, lighters, knives, and cans to take it with me on flights. I was recently given a little red duffel bag that seemed up to the task, and I tossed a small handful of the items security would take issue with into the bag.

Placing the little duffel of 2.5 pounds on the movable belt to be checked, the ticketing agent gave me a puzzled look and questioned me two or three times over—"you're sure that's it?" After just having checked several hundred kilos of suitcases she seemed rather stunned.

The Philippines requires an onward ticket out of the country, which the airline delivering the passenger is charged with enforcing—meaning the airline asks to see proof of your flight out of the country. This was not the first time I successfully fooled an airline agent (or immigration official) with my fake onward ticket technique (I like using a faux flight back Seattle), and it certainly won't be the last.

Even though I've been to Bangkok's new airport several times, I've actually never departed from it. Passing though the immigration checkpoint where seated officials with Logitech cameras the size of golf balls mounted on poles snap a photo of your face as you're being processed, the departure concourse just beyond is rather impressive. At night the entire scene sort of reminds me of a contemporary nightclub.

The international airport adds an interesting little twist on security screening process. Instead of creating a security choke point where all passengers are funneled through a singular checkpoint, there are no x-ray machines and metal detectors found directly after immigration officials stamp your passport. Instead, the shops, eateries, and chic lounges are immediately accessible, with the security screening taking place just before entering each gate cluster. It would seem the benefits for passengers are numerous, and I enjoy the concept that you can take all the food and beverage you want into the departures concourse while you wait, as long as you don't take it to the gate (where the whole liquids/creams/etc policy is enforced). Bravo BKK.

I was flying Cebu Pacific, a relatively new LCC (low cost carrier) on the scene. At US$125 for a one-way flight from Bangkok to Manila, the price didn't wow, but it was the cheapest on the market. The only catch was the flight time—only one flight per day, and it's at 1:30 in the morning.

I really didn't care for my Cebu Pacific experience. Although the Airbus A300-series jet was brand new, the seating configuration was obviously designed with the average physical attributes of a Filipino in mind—I was cramped. The flight was in the dead of night, but the crew kept the cabin lights at maximum for the majority of the three-something-hour flight. I pinged an attendant and inquired about the obnoxious lights, but her lack of English ended our conversation prematurely. The food/beverage cart passed by at some point and I asked for a cup of water, to which this attendant replied that they "no longer provide water for free," but she could sell me a bottle for 40 pesos. I looked at her in disbelief—there's low cost, and then there's just plain stupid.

Easily the best part of the flight this morning was the sunrise as we started our descent into Manila—I felt like I flying inside of a heavenly painting of oil and acrylic (like a scene out of What Dreams May Come). Peering down at the island of Luzon, Manila stretched out in ways I've never seen an island city sprawl before. I later the population was huge, on the order of 1.5+ million (the highest population density of any major city in the world).

Philippines passport stamp

My Filipino immigration official ranks up there with many other asinine government agents I've had to deal with. This fellow's lasting mark on me will be in the form of the entry stamp he placed on an already full page in my passport (when there are plenty of empty ones to select from), squeezed into margin of the header.

From the air I could see the incredible collection of impoverished dwellings that comprised segments of the city (particularly along the winding banks of a river I flew over). On the ground, in the early morning hours, I couldn't help but feel like I was looking at Guatemala City—and that's definitely not a good thing.

La La Land

Tatiana arrived in Manila yesterday afternoon, about 12 hours before me. I taxied to the hotel from the airport and showed up at the hotel door—absolutely exhausted, as I still am, after less than five hours of sleep spread over the past three nights. My brain and body are fried.

It was three hours ago in a darkened room that I gave Tatiana a much needed hug—waking her, as my flight from Bangkok arrived at daybreak—when she took my wrist and put my hand on her abdomen.

"Your son," she said, hesitantly.

…She's nearly four months pregnant, from my visit in the first week of April—her tummy now certainly showing it now. She had her second ultrasound from a doctor on her pass through Cairo, who says the kid is more than healthy, and thinks it's a boy (but it was in an obstructive pose to be certain). She hasn't told her family yet; she wanted me to know first.

Needless to say, with the travel week I've had, lack of sleep, plus seeing Tatiana again (on our third continental plate now)—then getting this little surprise—I'm in a bit of shock.

I'm just kinda on autopilot at the moment—we're talking some about her experiences so far, and how she went to the drugstore and took the "morning after" cocktail, but no joy.

I told her there are a lot of question marks that I don't have the periods for a the moment, but we'd figure them out.

Wow.

Comments:

DivaD

August 24th, 2007

Craig, my man! Congrats!

Same thing happened to me, now nearly 4 years ago. Morning after pill, condoms, or de not… And also with a friend.

Anyway - this time must be tumultuous for you now, with everything seemingly in a different light, suddenly. Without trying to sound asinine or wise-ass, your parents is probably the only people who can support you in the way you need right now.

All of the best, and hope this will become a celebrated part of your journey on Travelvice.

Kind regards,
David
Stellenbosch
South Africa

Dianne

August 27th, 2007

Wow, Craig! Congrats, of course!

Maya

August 30th, 2007

xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxxoxxooxoxx
for both….
hope everything is fine…
kisses!

Anon

September 1st, 2007

Hi you… ;) You know we support you! I told you that on e-mail. Everyone thinks about how your days are filled and hope you are well. The adventure will be great and will fly. Love it that you share with us on your lovely web site.

Girth

September 4th, 2007

Craig, I hope you're ok with this development. Thoughts? Feelings? Is it going to hold you back?

T

September 4th, 2007

So, the real question now is…What do you want to hear from me/us? The stock answer? Or the question that asks what's really going through your head? Or..should I just yell at you for being careless and stupid? Not that you really need that right now, and I imagine you've already been there, done that.

Hmm…Honestly, I'm not going to give you advice here. Why? Because I know you're going to do your own thing, and that's pretty much it. You're a smart kid Craig. Whatever you end up doing, I have faith that you are making the right decision because it will be what's best for you…and Tatiana I suppose. This is obviously a situation that none of us want to be in, so we're all secretly going to feel a sigh of relief and say, "glad it's not me." If you need anything from any of us, I'm almost positive you're going to get a reaction/response. Whatever your thoughts are, your problems, issues etc. with this situation, all of us will tell you what we think if asked. Just FYI.

You've always been on a different path from many of us, just as your current nomadic lifestyle indicates. You will find some sort of interesting way to get through this, and you will be just fine. I'm sure of it.

I don't feel like I need to say anymore.

B

September 4th, 2007

Damn. That's a bad story.

I don't understand why she has taken so long to tell you though. Assuming she has known for about 2 months, why the hell didn't she call you or write you to let you know. By taking it to 4 months, it is getting late to get an abortion. I guess this implies that she is intending to go full-term with it? She has essentially taken you out of the decision making loop by refusing to tell you earlier. She has had a number of months now to get used to the idea and think about it. You have had no time at all. That's just BS.

Assuming that it is yours (paternity test is necessary if she intends to keep it), then I guess you have a lot of talking and soul-searching to do mate. I know that it was a major shock for me when I thought that an ex was pregnant.

Good luck,

John

September 4th, 2007

We have much to discuss. On one hand, congratulations; on the other, best of luck through what will surely be an interesting, potentially life altering time.

You've already discovered a lot about yourself and a whole lot more is sure to come. Is she going to have the baby? If so, are you willing to significantly alter your life to be an active father? All things considered concerning this situation, what do you want to do? What do you think you should do? What do you think is in your best interest? What do you think is in everyone's best interest?

Since I don't see how you can realistically, simultaneously do both, there appear to be two probable scenarios: be an stable, active, present father or continue traveling the world.

All things considered, what opportunities and experiences will be forever lost and are you willing to sacrifice them? What short- and long-term worst case scenario(s) do you most want to avoid and how best to do so?

Ultimately, despite life's challenges and untimely realities, this forces you to really examine what it means to be true to yourself and what you value. Fast forward to when you are 37, 42 or 47 years old. Given what you currently know about yourself, which decision would you most regret: not traveling the world as you had intended or not being a present father?

If Tatiana is or becomes a U.S. citizen, some decisions might be made for you by the courts.

Hang in there son.

Shoel (Money) - Delta Force

September 4th, 2007

Delta's with you on this one man. Strange to say, but at least I can whisper… you'd make an amazing father.

Take care my friend….

Maya (and i have balls to put my full name)

September 4th, 2007

Gosh.. what a lot of crap…. parternity test, "decisiones made in courts", opertunnities that are gong to be lost and sacrified??? Why dont you tell him to shoot himself already… become a dad uuuuhhh how spoooky… what a terrible curse….."are you willing to significantly alter your life to be an active father?".. makes me sick to realize how most of guys feel about having a baby… It´s the girl that its going to have it!!!
I know her better than probably even Craig so let me tell you something about this woman: She´s not only drop dead georgeous, but also with a brain that matches the breasts, speaks 3 languages, college degree, a family that adores her, girls wanna be like her, guys wanna be with her, economically independant, so if she decided to tell when she was 4 month, SO WHAT!!!
Instead of being total loosers what about some real positive thinking in here???
Craig, I know that this probably was a shock and i totally understand… I´ve been updated with the history and i know the kind of man you are… i trust her heart as i trust mine, it´s ok to be scared and… it´s ok that you think that this is a life changing moment because it is, but never for a second think that is for the worst… If you decide to be there, you´ll have a fellow companion in all your new adventures, you´ll have someone that will want to hear once and again and a again how you did "duneboarding" in Bolivia and beg you to take him with you next time… You´ll have a woman than can understand your burning desire of being nomad, because her wings are as big a yours, you´ll have someone to live and die for, and no matter the kind of father you´ll end up being, because the best you can do would do.. at the end is what all can hope for, to be the best we can, and if thats not good enough.. well… thats life…
And if you decide not to be there… you know what, is also your desicion so no one can tell you if that´s right or wrong…
Hope (and i will) to see you soon…..

Lisa

September 6th, 2007

WOW! Not sure what else to say. I haven't check your travels in a while and this is the first posting I have read. Not sure what to say. Keep us posted. I have two sons and they are my life. You will make an awesome father.

Anonymous

September 13th, 2007

Oh man wow!
Congrats!!!
That would have come as a shock and a half. I reckon you would be an awesome dad by the way. Thats incredible news my friend!!!

Aussie Dan

Tatiana

September 13th, 2007

To "B":

I don't need to explain myself. The only reason why I'm writing this is to show you the extent of your poor thinking. Unless you are some kind of extremely gifted psychic, do not presume to know what my reasons were or could have been to not tell Craig as soon as I learned I was pregnant with his child. HE knows why, and that's between the two of us (in other words: none of YOUR business).

So if it happened to you a paternity test would be necessary? Well, in case you haven't noticed, that tells A LOT about the sort of women that would be interested in hanging out with you. Craig does not have that problem. To be quite honest, I haven't actually met any girl he's dated, but based on what he tells me I have no doubt they are all great. See? That's what a man who respects himself does.

I read your comment and it makes me conclude that the girls you see have the need for other men to be satisfied, so you'd need proof of paternity. FYI: Craig does not have that problem either! He does not need back-up so he knows the baby is his. Yes, "B", he CAN handle a half-black latina very well, or is it that you haven't seen the smile on my face in the photos? Maybe I shouldn't expect you to recognize something you've never seen before: the look of a satisfied woman. Sorry, "B". My bad.

I was five weeks pregnant when I had my first ultrasound and I could hear my baby's heart beating. What kind of person would I be if I had asked the doctor to stop that heartbeat? We're talking about killing here. Interrupting somebody's life is killing, did you know?

Even though your thinking does not show it, I assume you're a grown-up so you could defend yourself. My baby can't. His life depends 100% on me and whatever I do affects him directly, DON'T YOU GET IT? It was unplanned, yes, and totally unexpected but that doesn't mean the baby is not welcome. This child has been loved from the very first moment. Exactly who do you think you are to talk about it as if it were some horrible mistake that needs to be corrected by getting rid of it? It's MY SON you're talking about so have some more respect, WILL YOU?

Tatiana, the happy and proud (yes, I am proud of it, OK?) mom of Craig's son

Anonymous

September 28th, 2007

Well Craig (and Tatiana!), it's been a while since I read your blog (ummm…I think the last time I was on was when you met up with Shoel), so when I popped back on and read your update on the crappy food in the Phillipines, I caught the comment about Tatiana and her need for some real food. I did a bit of a double take and started backtracking to see what the hell had happened in the few months I had missed!
Now that I have caught up with the very major happenings in your travels, me being the person that I am, feel that I have to comment.
First off - I wish both of you all the best in the next few months. It will be an amazing time - hard, both emotionally and physically, - but it will have such a hand in forming both the person that your son will become and the people you and Tatiana will be - as parents and otherwise.
As I was reading the comments posted, my jaw dropped in disbelief at 'B's posting, and found myself getting angrier the more I read. Apparently there are still guys like that in this world. It's too bad. I can't imagine going through life with the kind of suspicion and pessimism this guy must carry around with him - and into relationships!
And then I read the darling Tatiana's rebuttal. Brava! I have never met you (not like I've ever met Craig!) but with your response, you have become near and dear to my heart! You took the words straight from my fingertips. I have confidence that if you can reply to such an assinine posting about such a sensitive topic with such intelligence, grace, strength and ferosity, that this will be one lucky child. The respect you give to your unborn child is to commended - and respected. His mother seems to be one great woman.
Take care of yourselves, guys. All the best.

Jen

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