(AKA “the wedding trip,” or “the shingles trip.” This entry backdated closer to the trip for posterity.)
In September of 2010 my brother Francis married his longtime girlfriend Ayna, over in the Philippines, so we took two weeks off from work to hop over to Manila and be at the wedding, with a few days in Hong Kong en route. It was an eventful trip.
(By the way, I don’t recommend getting the Bloody Mary Mix in lieu of tomato juice on United domestic flights. One cup had the sodium content of several gallons of seawater and with additional sodium in later airline meals, I got a massive headache.)
The fun began on our layover at O’Hare: 6 hour delay on the flight to Hong Kong. Ive been to Chicago and we’re both pretty transit-savvy, so rather than wait around the airport, we hopped on the “L” to drop by the Art Institute and view some art: the Thorne Miniature Rooms, and of course drop by American Gothic and Nighthawks.
ORD to HKG
We returned to the airport with an hour of delay left, and boarded without incident. Our seats, the rearmost passenger seats on a 747-400, were grouped in two rather than three due to the narrowing fuselage, avoiding the trouble of a middle seat. That, combined with lots of Angry Birds, made the 16.5 hour flight just a bit more tolerable.
Despite the delayed late night arrival, Airport Express and MTR were running fine, and we got Octopus cards before heading into the city. As before, we stayed at Ibis North Point, hotel of tiny rooms, cheap rates, decent harbour views, and MTR-accessible location.
Hong Kong, Day 1
First day was warm and overcast. First stop: Admiralty, to FedEx some wedding documentation to my brother. Then, Victoria Peak via Central, across various elevated walkways to the requisite funicular tram ride. At the top, we skipped the tourist-trappy Peak Tower and crossed the road to the more classic Peak Lookout for an early lunch of Hainan chicken.
From there we hiked up twisty streets to see Victoria Peak Garden and all the nature around it: Plants! Ferns! Butterflies! Snails!
Afterward, a tram ride back down and a sweaty hike partway back uphill to Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens for more flora, fauna, and a historic gazebo and statue of King George VI.
With twilight falling we MTR’d to Mong Kok to stroll around the Ladies Market. Amy shopped a bit while I amused myself with reading Engrish kitsch.
We had planned to have dinner at Yung Kee, the famous roast goose restaurant in Lan Kwai Fong, but our lunch had been so filling that we opted instead for a quicker, cheaper, lighter meal of dim sum and stir fry at the Tsim Sha Tsui Sogo food court before returning to the hotel. I slept poorly, bothered by jet lag and a splitting migraine. (Sodium. Ow.)
Hong Kong, Day 2
It dawned gray and rainy but we planned to spend the day mostly under one kind of roof or another: Star Ferry from Wan Chai to Kowloon, morning in the Art Museum, lunch at the Sogo food court again (cheap and near!), afternoon in the History Museum, and for a break from Chinese food, an Italian dinner at Fat Angelo’s. It was a very big Italian dinner.
Here was the cloudy, rainy view of Hong Kong from the Art Museum (looking south across the harbour to Hong Kong Island):
Hong Kong, Day 3
Our flight to Manila was in the afternoon but we had a good bit of day before hotel checkout time to breakfast at the Causeway Bay Starbucks (behind the Hotel Excelsior). From there we rode the Hong Kong tram to Tai Koo so we could shop around the Kornhill Jusko for little moon cakes and other pasalubong-able snacks. On the MTR back to the hotel we noted charity volunteers at Tai Koo and North Point stations with sheets of stickers; when you wear the sticker after giving, other volunteers no longer approach you for donations. With another hour left before checkout time we browsed a North Point street market, finding it cheaper and less tourist-trappy than Mong Kok. (Though the hair clip Amy bought at this street market was of somewhat poorer quality than the one she had bought at the Ladies Market earlier.)
After checking out of the hotel we got on the Tung Chung MTR to Ngong Ping, left our heavy suitcases in a locker at the cable car terminal, and rode a glass-bottom cable car to Ngong Ping Village. There, up in the mountains, we lunched on kim chi and chicken noodles (studiously avoiding the Subway and Starbucks there), passed by a “wish tree” (which appeared to be made of fiberglass) had a nice view of their giant Buddha (but didn’t climb the stairs to it), and watched people give alms and pray at Po Lin Monastery amidst clouds of incense and sculpted dragon pillars.
The glass-bottom cable car ride back turned out even more scenic as we passed directly over hikers, boaters, fishermen and kayaks. Back at the terminal we grabbed our bags from the locker and got a taxi to take us to the airport, which was right nearby, for our Cebu Pacific flight to Manila. By evening we were waiting for Mom to pick us up at NAIA Terminal 3. My head wasn’t feeling so great.
As before, we stayed in Elan Hotel, close to my family, close to food and shopping, with a nice view, decent accommodation and a giant (and wonderfully greasy) breakfast buffet all for cheap. In fact, aside from the wedding, we spent most of our time in Manila cooped up in the hotel watching TV (or rather, Deep Space Nine episodes on the iPad hooked up to the TV with a cable) while eating food from nearby restaurants, because I got…
(Skip over this section if you don’t like gross stuff. I will spare you the photos of my lesions in this entry but here are the closeup shingles photos if you really want to see them.)
The second night of our visit to Manila, the left side of my head was feeling rather sore and sensitive, and at dinner time spots began to appear on my lip and chin. This was definitely Not a Good Sign. I was pretty sure the one-sided head pain indicated trigeminal nerve inflammation, and the sores appearing on my skin traced a branch of that nerve down from ear to chin.
Fortunately my brother’s wedding was the very next day and at least two of my cousins in attendance were doctors, one of whom had just finished a paper on the Varicella zoster virus, or herpes zoster, AKA The Shingles — which was what I had. Manifesting earlier in life as chicken pox (which I had suffered at 13), the zoster virus can later resurge during times of stress or immunocompromisation. In this case, the 16 hour flight, sleepless Hong Kong nights, and general travel stress had revived the zoster virus along the mandbular (V3) branch of my trigeminal nerve, causing sores and severe nerve pain, made worse by the fact that this was happening on my face. Eating and sleeping were difficult and mostly the rest of this trip I had to take it easy, stay indoors, and sleep a lot — which was actually kind of nice, if not for the excruciating bursts of left-side facial pain.
Still, well before this, my cousin Ted (MD) diagnosed me, and my cousin Lia (MD) prescribed me some Aciclovir (an awesome antiviral drug of recent development) and I was on that for the rest of the trip, which made the course of the disease much shorter and less painful than it could have been left untreated. I made it a point to avoid children and pregnant women for the next couple of weeks, but anyone who had already had chicken pox was safe (until they get shingles from stress too! Mwahaha).
The wedding itself went well, considering how much fell together at the very last minute — especially with regard to some very strict documentation requirements the parish had levied on my brother (some of which I had collected from a church in New Jersey and sent from Hong Kong, hence the earlier FedEx stop). For the mass itself, at Della Strada in Loyola Heights, I was lector (the priest not particularly minding that I am Baptist), dictating sits and stands from a hastily printed missalette whose order was not exactly right in places (they wanted a homily before their vows, oops), but all went swimmingly otherwise.
A reception followed at The Glass Garden, in which, I, as Best Man, delivered a rambling toast drawing upon the happy couple’s long history of competitive network Starcraft:
As they sometimes say, if the two of you can make it through the wedding preparations, you can make it together through anything, and here you are, husband and wife, Mr and Mrs X Jhocson Ordoprime Esq. I remember the days that these two were very, very long distance. How did they keep the flame alive through those long days that were nights and nights that were days? The secret is two words: Star Craft.
Pasyensya po to the non-gamers in the crowd, some of this might sound unintelligible. If you have any questions itanong mo kay Francis.
Really, marriage is not that much different from the realm of real-time science fiction strategy gaming. There’s the gradual gathering of precious resources, to build a strong and impregnable home base, in which the noble players can plot out their missions, and also lay thousands of larval egg pods from which will spawn swarms of offspring. Not to mention the adventure to discover heretofore unknown emission sources of noxious gas.
It’s been a long road getting from there to here, and I raise a glass to you in congratulations and joy. May your base always have power, may your geysers always be full of vespene gas, and may you spawn exactly as many children as you desire. To love, life, and joy. Mabuhay ang mga bagong kasal.
It was also at the wedding reception that I managed to speak to my two doctor-cousins and get a prescription for shingles medication. At this point the pain wasn’t so bad yet and I was able to eat and even participate in a parlor game — badly. I also asked the wedding photogapher (an old colleague from my Ateneo days) to only get the right side of my face when doing group shots.
A couple of days after the wedding we got on a Cebu Pacific ATR 72-500 to Caticlan, to transfer to a bus, and then to a boat, to arrive at Boracay. Mom had 3 nights of unused hotel credit with a resort there, and generously let us use it for some island fun. I don’t even remember the name of the resort anymore, but they had a nice, quiet location fronting the far end of White Beach, a decent complimentary breakfast, and lots and lots of ants.
Since the shingles infection had me mostly incapacitated from pain and fatigue, we spent the entire trip either soaking in the seawater in front of the resort, or getting takeout from various eateries at “D’Mall” to bring back to our hotel room, where we watched Star Trek DS9 reruns. It was just the restful idleness I needed. The saltwater was especially soothing for my zoster lesions, so I had no qualms about “making babad” (as they say in Taglish) till dusk. At some point we even spotted this crab out for a sunset walk in the shallows:
The beaches in Boracay are lovely, with miles of smooth white sand — though too featureless to make for any exciting snorkeling. We tried wading over to “Willy’s Rock,” a formation with a Marian grotto just off the beach, but beyond a few small fish there was little else to see. The beach itself, while relatively clean and unspoiled for such a heavily developed resort town, was thick with pushy vendors and panhandling children — par for the course anywhere in the touristy parts of the Philippines, but especially pronounced on this beach in particular. Still, the vendors sold Amy an okay hat, and we enjoyed the beach outside of the standard hitches of third world poverty.
On the return to Manila, Amy got her first ride on a Filipino tricycle (motorcycle with a large covered sidecar, often crowded to capacity and driven recklessly). She found it an alarming experience.
My younger brother Javier is going through a culinary arts program at Enderun for his postgraduate studies, so after Boracay, we dropped by the school’s restaurant — manned, of course, by hospitality and culinary students — and enjoyed some very delicious grilled barramundi, served at a discount for family of students.
In the throes of my shingles pain I was thoroughly convinced I was in no condition to fly home and would probably be quarantined on the HKG layover, so I cancelled part of my plane ticket, telling Amy she should go home on her own while I recuperated for another week back in the Philippines.
At a final appointment, however, the doctor (another one apart from my cousins) said I was fine to travel as long as I avoided stress — and stayed away from the immunocompromised. Wanting to get back home on time, I called the airlines and was able to un-cancel the United HKG-DCA leg — but my seat for the Cebu Pacific MNL-HKG leg had already gone to another waitlisted passenger. The Cathay Pacific flight was sold out too, but Philippine Airlines still had seats — I just had to show up in person to get the ticket.
So the morning of our return trip was a bit dicey as we dropped off Amy at one MNL terminal for her Cebu Pacific flight, and I got off at another terminal to buy a PAL ticket (and undergo some security scrutiny for getting a one-way ticket, but I had my transfer tickets too). My flight left about fifteen minutes after Amy’s, and on landing at Hong Kong I even saw her Cebu Pacific plane on the tarmac ahead of mine, which was pretty awesome. We met up in the HKG concourse with plenty of time to shop for some dried huamei treats at the Wing Wah before getting on our United flight back to the US.
We got a couple of cool views on the final leg of our flight home from ORD to DCA. First, around the start of descent, we flew right over Dulles (IAD):
Shortly after, we were treated to the famous river approach to DC National (DCA) Runway 19, which affords a lovely view of Washington, DC from Beltway to National Mall — for those sitting on the left side of the aircraft.
The plane landed at DCA just as the sun was setting, and we took a taxi home to avoid rush hour on Metro.
It took me about another four days to recover from the shingles and get back to work. Light scars and blemishes remain on the left side of my face and chin to this day. Still, pain and disease notwithstanding, we got to do a lot of stuff in Hong Kong, see my brother get married, and relax for a few days in Boracay, so it was a pretty great trip.