Carolina: Cruising Past 70: 6 Cities in 7 Weeks, on the Way Home from Melbourne to Phoenix

Thursday, December 14, 2017

6 Cities in 7 Weeks, on the Way Home from Melbourne to Phoenix

rainbow trees in the Ayala Triangle
My three months in Melbourne have been covered in about ten posts, my few days in New Zealand in two, and my five-day tour of KL, Vientiane, Bangkok, and Brunei in another two. In this article, let me take you on a sweep of six cities that I visited over the seven weeks between leaving Melbourne and Auckland and finally being home in Phoenix, USA.                                                                                                                                   
Manila, Philippines

The thing that drew me to Manila, other than to visit my BFF Jingjing, was to sell my Makati condo. My daughter April had migrated to Australia so I no longer have a daughter who can take care of my properties there. I accomplished that mission the day I left for Guangzhou. Before I left, I still got to enjoy the condo’s “comforts”, especially since my BFF Ann brought me pillows, linens, and towels for me to use. It is sad that I didn't get to visit many places.

Sonya's Garden in Tagaytay, Philippines

Except for these four. Ayala Triangle. I had looked for rainbow trees all over the world after I saw a picture in a glossy mag and I was pleasantly surprised to find them right at the heart of Makati, the financial district where I used to work! Sonya's Garden in cool Tagaytay, the city on the ridge of a volcano crater in the middle of whose lake sits the world's smallest.volcano. It was just under an hour from Metro Manila. Enderun Colleges, the upscale culinary and hotel management school in the newest urban center, Bonifacio Global City where Lydia, another BFF, is Chairman of its Technology Management Department. International School Manila where I was given a tour before I gave an informal talk to the current Filipino scholars there (I was part of the very first batch, 50 years ago.

Enderun Colleges in Metro Manila, Philippines

Which brings me to the real reason “it’s more fun in the Philippines!”  Metro Manila is the world’s most densely populated city with about 12 M people. If we include surrounding towns, the number swells to 21 M. I had a total of 35 meet-ups while I was there, an average of one a day! You see the Filipino, like his half ancestor Spaniard, is a warm, clannish, and social animal. People just think of all reasons to meet, have coffee, discover a new restaurant, check out a new shop, watch the latest movie, or go out of town. I miss all the people and all the fun!!

International School of Manila in the Philippines

Guangzhou, China

The cheapest flight I found for the Phoenix-Melbourne-Manila-Phoenix trip featured long layovers, including in Guangzhou, population 15 M, a Chinese city I had not seen. The layover on the way home was long, made longer by the fact that there is no Facebook in China! I had already booked the flight when I found out that the city proper is two hours from the airport. I dropped the idea of touring the city and suffered silently on the way to Melbourne.

Guangzhou, China

But, on the way back, when I was going through the transit officer, she asked if I wanted to see Guangzhou. Of course, I said, in utmost joy! She said if I can find the specific immigration section, I will be able to get a free 23-hour visa. Of course, I did! There they directed me to another place, where, if I could find it, I could get free transportation and free lodging. Of course, I found both and off I went to the Oubon International Hotel on a free shuttle van ride!

It was a frustrating side trip. Nobody spoke English, except for the Hotel Manager who finally had to be called. As a result, I frittered my hours away. Afraid I would only get lost and not make my flight, I gave up the notion of going to the heart of Guangzhou. I settled on just walking around the stores of the small mall around the hotel and inspecting the hotel’s unusual amenities like the Mahjong room. Then it was time for the free authentic Chinese dinner. It was good and it was free! 

 Santa Monica, California

LA/Santa Monica, California

I used the long layover in Los Angeles, a large spread-out city of about 19 million, to visit my First Apo (first grandkid), Krishna. She had just transferred to a new flat in Santa Monica, just 20minutes from the airport. It was in a neat 1920s landmark building just two blocks from the Bombshell Salon where she works as a hairstylist. The next day, walking to her Salon, I got fascinated with the trees that lined Main Street. Krishna treated me to a haircut so I treated her to Jinya Ramen across the street. Then I took an Uber to the airport.

Albuquerque, New Mexico and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Two days after I landed in Phoenix but it didn't feel like going home. Bill and I put our brand new Hyundai Elantra to good use. We embarked on a road trip to go to his 55th HS Reunion in Pittsburg, Kansas. On the way there and back, our two stops were Albuquerque, New Mexico and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. While Phoenix has a population of 6 M, Albuquerque and Oklahoma City are both just over 600,000. It was quite a shift from the three chaotic megacities I had just been through.

Musical Road, Sky City, and Enchanted Mesa, Albuquerque, New Mexico

We stayed longer in Albuquerque to do a bit of sightseeing. On the way to Kansas, we visited the Sky City in Acoma, standing atop a 350-foot-high sandstone mesa which had been inhabited since AD 1150. The views out across the plains are unforgettable, especially toward Enchanted Mesa which is just under half the size of Uluru in Australia's Outback. On the way back, we drove on the Musical Road, on Old Historic Route 66. One of five musical roads in the world. This one plays America the Beautiful if you drive at 45mph! Two years ago, we had visited the one in Lancaster, California which plays the William Tell Overture. 

the Will Rogers statue that is inside the travel center built over the Will Rogers Turnpike
We didn't have much time in Oklahoma City. From Phoenix, we were hurrying to get to Pittsburg. On the way back to Phoenix, we even took the Oklahoma turnpike which reduces the time by an hour. This brought us back to the travel mega plaza built over and across the Will Rogers Turnpike which we visited six years ago. A statue of Will Rogers, the famous Oklahoma son who was a stage and motion picture actor, vaudeville performer, American cowboy, humorist, newspaper columnist, and social commentator.  

Pittsburg, Kansas

From megacities of 21, 15, and 19 M to those that don’t even reach 1 M, we finally found ourselves in Pittsburg, Kansas whose population is just over 20,000. This is the town where Bill was born and grew up. You can visit the whole town in a day and you will surely bump into someone you know while going around. And we felt right at home at his sister Rosemary and brother-in-law Jack’s home.

Via Christi Hospital in Pittsburg, Kansas

Sadly, Bill was not able to attend most of his Reunion. The day after the Welcome Dinner at Jim’s Steak House for early arrivals, Bill played golf with some of the men. That was when his Phoenix cardiologist called me and said: “Check him into a hospital right away!” The online heart monitor he had to wear after he reported passing out in Auckland, had been recording stoppages and irregularities in his heartbeat. At first, Bill was hesitant to have this procedure done in such a small town. But he had no choice. As it turned out, Pittsburg’s Via Christi Hospital did the job well.

These five cities in a span of 7 weeks were very disparate destinations, not just in terms of population, layout, and facilities. If I had stayed in each of them as much as I stayed in Manila, I would have also found the disparity in culture and the way people lived. Undoubtedly, I would also have discovered the unique beauty of each one. But now we need some rest from traveling!.

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