Missing the Philippines

My 10,000-mile marathon trip from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Cebu, Philippines

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Journey from Chattanooga to Cebu, Philippines

Marilyn and I at her cousin's place in Zamboanguita, PhilippinesLast year I had the privilege of visiting a wonderful woman in the Philippines. This trip represented my first journey outside of the U.S., save for a week-long family vacation to Toronto back in the early 90's. Anyway, I wanted to share with you an abridged timeline of events as they occurred on my incredible journey to Cebu City, Philippines. Please note that all times indicated in bold are Eastern Time Zone. This way, it is easier to measure the actual lapsed time. On occasion I will mention the local time just so you understand the alienating time differences my mind and body had to contend with. Also, please understand that I had one 15-minute nap during this entire 10,000-mile trip.

>> April 12th, 2005

  • 3:00pm - My good friend from church arrives at my house in Chattanooga, TN to take me to the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. What a nice friend, huh? Of course, prior to this I had offered to cover the gas expense. This is at a time when gas is still somewhat cheap.
  • 6:30pm - After stopping off for McDonald's my friend and I share a time of prayer. The anxiety/excitement begin to well up as I step into the airport terminal and arrive at my gate.
  • 7:40pm - My flight departs from Atlanta en route to Los Angeles on what will be the longest flight of my life. Though fatigue begins to set in I'm only 150 miles from home now with 9,850 more to go. How will I pull this off?

>> April 13th, 2005

  • 12:40am - My flight arrives in Los Angeles and I proceed to the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) for my marathon flight to Hong Kong. Even though it is 9:40pm local time my body knows it is way past bedtime already. The TBIT feels like a busy marketplace in a distant country. I've never been this far from home: 2,400 miles down with 7,600 to go.
  • 3:00am - Before boarding the gigantic 747-400 plane we receive the announcement that our itinerary will now involve a stop in Incheon, South Korea to refuel. This unscheduled stop will effectively wipe out my 3-hour layover in Hong Kong and cause me to miss my flight into Cebu. Admittedly, I am frightened to death at this point. Missing a domestic flight is nothing, but being stranded in Hong Kong by myself is something quite different to ponder, especially for a first-tie traveler like myself. I almost turn back, thinking perhaps the Lord is trying to tell me this is not His desire after all. A text message from Marilyn renews my determination to press onward, and God surely goes with me into the darkness covering the Pacific Ocean (a literal and figurative darkness).
  • 3:15am - I will soon depart on Cathay Pacific Airways en route to Incheon on what will soon become my new longest flight ever. It has been just over twelve hours since I left my house in Tennessee and I have yet to sleep. I have just met a Filipino-American man and his son who are sitting in my row. They are also flying to Cebu. Sent by God perhaps to accompany me? A peace that passes all understanding fills me. Remember what I said not long ago about God going with me on this journey? My eyes fill with tears as I experience His grace. I'm about to leave my comfort zone behind and fly to a country on the other side of the world to meet a woman I have been communicating with for 1.5 years who could potentially become my wife. Yet, the anxiety and fear from 15 minutes ago are already long gone. My God provides more than I could ever ask...and He has done it yet again in a way that I didn't see coming. I love when He surprises me like this :)
  • 8:15am - We are flying over Anchorage, Alaska around this time. I am surprised that after 5 hours in the air we are still flying over land. Even though it is early morning rush hour back home it is still very early in Alaska and I have not seen daylight since an hour into my flight from Atlanta to LAX.
  • 12:00pm - It is lunch time back home in Tennessee and we are now in the vicinity of extreme eastern Russia (near Vladivostok), according to the flight tracker on my personal screen. It is very early in this part of the world as we continue to fly away from the sun, which has recently risen over the West Coast. I have not seen daylight in about 17 hours.
  • 4:00pm - My mind shifts to thoughts of my parents as they are preparing to return home from work within the next hour. Our plane begins its descent into Incheon and I am quite amazed at the reality of it all. I see lights below, but they appear almost alien, as if I am surprised that there is life outside of the U.S.A.
  • 4:15pm - Our plane lands in Incheon, South Korea (if you're keeping track we have just endured a 13-hour flight). It is 4:15am local time and I have not slept since the morning of the 12th, except for a 15-minute nap, which did nothing to energize me. My coach seating assignment has not been very conducive to much of anything except watching movies and episodes of Friends. As I gaze out the window at this early hour Incheon International Airport appears quite desolate. I'm now about 7,000 miles from home with 3,000 more to go. (Please note that local time in this part of the world is 12 hours ahead of Tennessee time. So, when I give you the Eastern time in bold you can simply switch the am and pm's around).
  • 5:45pm - After sitting on the plane for a re-fueling and crew change our plane departs for its original intended destination: Hong Kong! For the first time in almost 23 hours my eyes see daylight. The sun has finally caught up with us.
  • 8:45pm - My parents are likely watching their favorite Wednesday night line-up now. Our plane touches down at Hong Kong International Airport around 8:30am local time. It resembles Seattle here...kind of gray and misty. I like it! Oh, but we have missed our connecting flight to Cebu, Philippines because of our stop in South Korea. My aforementioned Filipino-American friends and I are directed to an alternative flight to Cebu that connects in Manila. Interesting...I wanted to avoid Manila at all costs. Yet, I will soon be going there and I have peace. I am actually excited. I have since met other members of this wonderful Filipino-American family from Los Angeles. One of them has an international cell phone. I need to call Marilyn so I can update her on my new arrival time in Cebu. So nice to hear her voice, knowing that I am now only a few hours from her.
  • 10:45pm - We depart from Hong Kong on Cebu Pacific Air (which has some really colorful planes) en route to Manila. My parents should be sleeping now. I should be sleeping as well, but the closer I get to my destination the more my adrenaline keeps me awake. This airline known as Cebu Pacific is quite unique. About 30 minutes into take-off the flight attendants begin to lead the passengers in a round of games. There are even prizes as well.

>> April 14th, 2005

  • 12:30am - Our plane lands in Manila at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport and the real adventure begins. Customs is a breeze, amazingly. I show the robot-like official my passport and declarations slip, and that's the end of it. She hands them back without so much as a word. That went too smoothly. However, the heat is heavy and I realize just how far from home I am. This city is another world. My new Filipino friends from America now become my security blanket...well, and the Lord, too ;) I stick out like a very sore thumb.
  • 12:58am - I have lost sight of my entourage! Where did they go? I am a lone foreigner who is obviously lost now. This is my worst nightmare. I even shoo away a few airport workers, suspicious that these are scammers or worse. Actually, they are indeed airport personnel and they ask if I need help. They direct me to the proper shuttle bus and I spot someone from my group. Whew!
  • 1:00am - If only my parents could see me now. I board the bus that will take us to the domestic terminal, a whole 1/4-mile away. The heat is even heavier, the humidity unbearable, the exhaust fumes dizzying, and the traffic beyond even a metro New Yorker's wildest imagination. The epitome of my uneasiness has been reached.
  • 1:30am - We finally arrive at Manila's domestic terminal. We cleared the 1/4-mile jaunt in 30 minutes...not bad by Manila standards! Outside I spot more than a few military-clad guards with huge weaponry. I guess it's okay since they are there to stop the bad guys. I'm not a bad guy, right? American people aren't known to carry bombs. Yet, I don't even make it through the first security checkpoint without being taken aside for a manual bag search. Oh, my gosh...what if she sees my prescription for Zyrtec and my anti-malarial pills and has me held on suspicion of drug possession and orders an investigation? These are the types of thoughts that are going through my head. I am at the mercy of these people. Oh, good...she zips up my bag and lets me continue on my way. Further up, we each have to pay a terminal fee before we can leave the airport. What in the world is this about? Granted, it's only 100 pesos (about $1.90 or so), but in America we don't have to pay to leave the airport (they just add it to the ticket price ;)). Next stop is another security checkpoint and I proceed on pins and needles. No manual search this time. Finally, I'm in the departure area. However, the "gates" don't even resemble normal airport gates. They are just doors leading outside. I look out and see a few planes scattered over a large concrete area. I guess that is the tarmac. Our flight is being called now. I guess I just follow the line out the door onto the concrete area. There's a plane just sitting out there a bit. That is our plane. Why won't they let me take my small bag on board? They want me to check my carry-on? Are they going to rummage through my stuff?
  • 3:00am - We are now on our way to Cebu via Cebu Pacific Air. The flight will take just over an hour. My lack of sleep has little effect on me now. I have come this far to meet a woman named Marilyn. She has been a wonderful pen pal for 18 months and I will soon see her beautiful face. The butterflies in my stomach are multiplying. Oh, my goodness....I'm almost there!
  • 4:15am - Our plane lands at Mactan-Cebu International Airport and I retrieve my bag at the primitive baggage claim area. All of my stuff is still intact, despite my worries about it for the past hour. Anyway, this is it. As I look out the doors to the "welcoming area" I see a substantial crowd of people who do not look like me one bit. One of them should be Marilyn, though how in the world will I spot her? Thank the Lord for my new Filipino-American friends who have offered to help me meet up with Marilyn. They have been blessings this whole trip.
  • 4:45am - Despite having to wait on my late friend, the face-to-face meeting takes place. I hug Marilyn. It has been 1.5 days and 10,000 miles since I left my house in Chattanooga. This is the moment I have been praying about and dreaming of and it is now here. The local time is 4:45pm. The early evening air is not quite as stifling, but the air-conditioned taxi is a relief. My journey halfway around the world has ended, but my 12-day adventure in the Philippines has begun!


At May 31, 2006 7:25 AM, Blogger Karen Chan said...

Hi Corey! It's quite late and I should have gone to bed 30 minutes ago! I was blogging, and realised I had some comments - it does take me a while! Thanks for your comments - I was wondering if anyone had even read my blog - haha! Glad you could experience the Phillipines - I love it - I've been to Boracay (diving), Cebu one time diving, another time on mission trip) and Davao and Dumaguete both on missions. It totally rocks! I'll have to write more to you later - dreamland beckons! Take care!

At May 31, 2006 8:02 PM, Blogger Corey said...

Hi Karen! I had left comments on a few of your blogs as I was quite interested in your experiences. Thank you for your comment, by the way. I, too, wondered if anyone would see my posts (besides friends and family who I sent the link to ;)). I'm not sure if you actually made it through my entire "Missing the Philippines" post...indeed, it is quite long. I'll need to post more about my actual experiences in the Philippines, but I wanted to start with the actual trip there, since it was so incredible. I can't even begin to describe the love of God that I experienced when I met the two Filipino-Americans sitting in my row. On a plane of 400 people I think there were about 9 of us continuing on to Cebu from Hong Kong. All at once, my anxiety about traveling the great distance alone was gone...and the peace I had earnestly prayed for had arrived.

Thanks again for posting :)

At July 18, 2006 7:47 AM, Blogger Shelley McGregor said...

Hi Corey,
Just came across your post on the Shofar Center Blog of the Jesus Fellowship site.
Very interesting trip you had!!
I used to live around Anchorage, Alaska and just returned from Tennessee. I love the area along the Cumberland River!
Do you know who Rich Mullins is? He wrote the song, Awesome God. Rich used to live in Bellsburg, Tennessee so I stopped by there and went swimming at the Johnson's Creek Rec Area in Cheatham Lake where 128 people have drown I read. A tornado had gone through the area in April and leveled several homes and lots of trees. Ashland City is a really beautiful town and I liked the Land Between the Lakes area.
Hope you can make it up to Jesus Fellowship sometime!!
Peace of Christ,
Shelley McGregor

At July 18, 2006 5:43 PM, Blogger Corey said...

Hello Shelley,

Thank you for your post. I just noticed that Jesus Fellowship is a "Calvary Chapel Fellowship". I assume this is the same Calvary Chapel that has congregations all over the world. I actually attended Calvary Chapel Dumaguete twice while I was over there. I know that your group has spent some time in Dumaguete, and I just wonder if they happened to make it to a service there as well. The woman I went to see (Marilyn, who is in these blogs of mine) actually attends that church.

Anyway, I had some blessed experiences there. Admittedly, I didn't go to the Philippines on a mission trip, but God was able to really open my eyes and broaden my horizons...and give me a testimony of His amazing grace.

At July 28, 2006 4:30 AM, Blogger Ed Abbey said...

Ah yes, the first time leaving the country to another totally different country. Brought back a lot of good memories. I'm now an old hat at flying to the Philippines and have learned quite a few tricks to make the trip easier as I'm sure you will. I haven't yet read the other blog but I hope it gives a little bit on your story about where you are now and if Marilyn is still in your life. Wish you the best my friend.


At August 22, 2006 7:25 PM, Blogger [og]gle said...

hi corey! it' a nice gesture leaving a comment on my photoblog (i don't think i have a visitor in a million years, hahaha). anyway, glad to know you enjoyed the trip to our little corner of the planet. no doubt, a divine hand led you here. inspite of all the bad press our country is getting, i believe we have so much blessings to offer our visitor-friends. glad you stumbled upon my blog. this and my other blog (www.oggieblog.blogspot.com) are dedicated to acquainting people from all over the world with the philippines. while it does not overtly convey my faith, it shows glimmers of it in every post (i hope). keep the faith! - lagal[og]

p.s. yep, one of these days, i'll be in a black and white mood.
p.s. 2 - just a guess, the dumaguete picture may have led you to my site, right? anyway, thanks again :-D God bless!

At August 24, 2006 6:09 PM, Blogger [og]gle said...

hi corey! thanks for the compliments. hope the pictures sort of transported you back to places here you have visited (and will visit in the future). will try capture more images of dumaguete when i pass by the place enroute to cagayan de oro, hopefully this november. keep the faith!

At October 16, 2006 7:34 AM, Blogger RTS said...

Hi Corey.I miss Philippines too but I'm glad my wife is here with me.I have read all the posts here so I'm not sure why you started in Chattanooga. I'm not too far from Chattanooga.....been there a gazillon times myself.

At October 16, 2006 4:53 PM, Blogger Corey said...

Hello Bob...I lived in Chattanooga for four years before moving up to Ohio. So, my journey began from what was then my home. You know, I can still remember with incredible detail the moment my friend came to pick me up at the house. He had suggested I buy a money belt to safely stash away cash and passport, so our first stop was a Target. I remember walking through the store...the enormity of my journey had not yet sunk in. Within a few hours I would be at the airport in Atlanta, followed by a 4.5-hour flight to L.A., followed by another 16 or so hours of flying over the Pacific in total darkness, and then culminating with the first face-to-face meeting with Marilyn at the Mactan-Cebu International Airport. Yet, here I was innocently walking the aisles of a Target store in Chattanooga looking for a $5 money belt, completely oblivious to what I was setting out to do :)

At June 02, 2007 10:48 PM, Blogger Florissa said...

I was just surfing on sites that talked about dumaguete and i happened to come across yours. anyway, just wanna drop in and say thanks... thanks for appreciating the beauty of my country and my people. :) i wish u and marilyn all the best. Peace and may GOD continuously bless the both of you in all your journeys. :)

At June 06, 2007 8:17 PM, Blogger Corey said...

Thank you for stopping by, Florissa. Even though it has been over 2 years since my visit, I still feel as if it happened recently. My memories are quite vivid even to this day.

I know God will bless us, no matter where His plan takes us :)

At May 04, 2008 6:05 AM, Blogger Scott.Aj.Williams said...

Hi Corey, My fiance and I just read your blog, we laughed so hard because i know exactley what your talking about. The first time i went to the Philippines to see my fiance i felt the same way. Anxious to get there but at the same time scared out of my whits. I remember walking around the airport in taiwan like a lost sheep. Now after three trips there i feel like an old pro and i often stop and help the new lambs with that puzzled look on there face..haha. anyway, we enjoyed your blog... thanks scott...http://scottjakewilliams.blogspot.com

At July 04, 2008 8:24 AM, Blogger Corey said...

Thanks for the response, Scott. Even though it's been a few years since my trip so many details are still quite vivid. Glad you enjoyed the blog :)


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