Making travel plans that coincide with the arrival or departure of visiting foreign dignitaries is a bad idea. BAD IDEA. I know because I have once had to get a refund for airline tickets when the government declared Manila a no-fly zone because of an ASEAN summit on days when I was supposed to go on vacation to Bohol. I did make a mental note of the unfortunate incident and swore never to get caught in a trap like that again.
When my friend, Kat, and I bought tickets for a Japan trip six months earlier, little did we know that the Chinese President would arrive in Manila a day before our scheduled departure. There had been no prior announcements about the exact dates of the state visit and it surprised the entire country when news outfits were suddenly covering his two-day activities.
The departure of Chinese President Xi wreaked havoc on our plans
On the day of the arrival of the Chinese President, classes in Manila were suspended, and there were road closures and re-routing. Philippines-China relations have been steeped in controversy because of the dispute over the West Philippine Sea. There were protest actions calling for the assertion of the rights of the Philippines.
On social media, state visit-related news covered a different perspective. On the day President Xi arrived, there were videos of passengers on their way the airport who stepped out of their vehicles and walked the rest of the way. The road closures and re-routing worsened the already world infamous traffic in Metro Manila.
By the end of the first day of the state visit, we already knew that the Chinese President would leave the country a day later — the day we would fly to Osaka. Worried we’d miss our flight because of the heavy traffic, Kat and I left for the airport extra early and well ahead of the morning rush hour. We got there a full five hours before our flight. And we didn’t really mind the wait — the important thing was that we were already at the airport and, traffic or worse traffic, nothing would delay us. But we were so wrong.
When boarding time came and there were no calls for the passengers, I started to get suspicious. The plane that would fly us to Osaka was still being serviced in full view of anyone who cared to notice. I approached the lady at the boarding gate and asked what the delay was about. All flights were delayed she said, inbound and outbound, because of the departure of the Chinese President. So, has he finally left, I asked. She was not certain. She was not sure either how much longer the delay would last.
While I understand that extra security measures have to be taken when there are visiting foreign dignitaries, disrupting all other flights to clear the skies for one person was just over-the-top. Too paranoid. But it wasn’t like we had a choice so I grit my teeth and just waited for the announcement that we could board the plane.
Meanwhile, because the hotel was fully booked, Kat e-mailed the hotel people to say that we would be checking in later than we originally planned just to make sure that our room would not be given away to last-minute guests.
After an infuriating wait, we boarded the plane, settled in our seats, chose the movies we would watch during the four-hour flight and relaxed. White wine for me and beer for Kat. Between The Greatest Showman and Skyfall, I took a break from movie-watching to take photos of the beautiful colors of the sky as the sun dipped below the horizon. The rest of the flight was uneventful except for the surprise that, for once, the meal was actually good.
The uncomfortable reception at Kansai International Airport
We were both Osaka first-timers and I found it curious that we had similar impressions of the arrival area of Kansai International Airport with its massive solid gray walls — I said it felt like a prison; Kat said it was a concentration camp. Not very comforting considering the history between the Philippines and Japan. Even though all that happened long before we were born, history lessons have made sure we knew and never forgot.
The queues at Immigration were long and winding. But they were moving forward steadily so we held the hunger pangs at bay. When it was our turn, the unsmiling and stern-faced Immigration lady — for some reason — decided she had to comb through every inch of the insides of our bags. She went through our clothing, our toiletries, my photo gear… Kat and I were looking at each other, I knew I was scowling but we said nothing.
As soon as we were done with Immigration, we let it out. That was insulting. What did she think we were — aging Japayukis turned smugglers? We laughed — amused albeit in an ironic way. The good news is that we never got similar treatment from any other Japanese. Everyone we had interaction with, language barrier aside, was polite but friendly and accommodating beyond being helpful. We loved Osaka. By the end of our stay, we were already planning when to come back.