Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sydney airport

These are my photos when I was departing Sydney, October 3, 2010. I did not take photos when I arrived at the airport, September 28. I arrived there around 6:30 or 7am, was still groggy and sleepy after my evening flight from Manila and a transfer at Brisbane airport.

The main information booth. Well, if you have your itinerary or plane ticket and you just check the big billboard at the background, indicating the schedule of departure flights, no need to approach this booth.

A big passenger lounge, different from the departure lounge at each boarding gate. This is in the middle of the terminal, after passing the immigration, if I remember it right. There are many shops surrounding this lounge.

Another huge billboard for departing passengers. It is difficult to lose your way as the signs are very clear, so long as you know which gate to board your flight.

And shops, shops all around. The shops are silently whispering, "Hey, before you leave Sydney airport, come on in."

One shop is selling these traditional instruments by the aborigines. Colorful and shiny.

Oh my, more shops to pass by before going to your departure gate.

On certain days of the week, there are no Sydney-Manila flights, even via Brisbane. My flight that day was Sydney - HongKong (via Qantas), then Hong Kong - Manila (via Cathay, a partner airline of Qantas). I was in a hurry to fly back home, my wife was already in the hospital, about to give birth to our second child. So even a longer flight via HK was ok with me then.

I was very happy to see Sydney. Thanks again to the sponsors of the conference that I attended there, especially the Americans for Tax Reforms.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sheraton on the Park, Sydney

It was my first time to see Australia, wow. I went there to participate in the 4th Pacific Rim Policy Exchange, September 28-30, 2010. The event was mainly sponsored by the Americans for Tax Reforms. I was one of the speakers in one of the panel discussions there.

The hotel is just across the huge Hyde Park in central Sydney. It is walking distance to many beautiful places like the Sydney Opera House, Darling Harbour, etc. The park itself is already a good tourist destination. Sydney is really beautiful.

My room, my bed, wow, really cool! But since I was a speaker in the conference and I always cram my presentation, I did not maximize sleeping in this very comfortable bed. I slept just a few hours instead.

My work area is also cool. Wide, flat tv near it, but I did not open the tv much. I did not have complimentary internet access in my room, but there are plenty of free wifi area in the hotel, at the lobby, at the 2nd floor, etc.

See the bathroom, really cool! As usual, I like the bath tub, dip there for several minutes to relax, or to ponder about some slides in my powerpoint presentation. But I did not see the hotel's swimming pool. I was busy with reading and writing, going out and see the city, etc.

I thanked Grover Norquist, President of ATR (right in this photo; between us was Peter Wong, Executive Director of the Lion Rock Institute, Hong Kong), and Kelsey Zahourek, Executive Director of the Property Rights Alliance (PRA), another sponsor of the conference, for the travel grant they gave to me to participate in the said conference.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Brisbane airport, Australia

My first time to see Australia. I was going to Sydney to attend a conference. I took Qantas Air, left Manila airport September 27 evening, around 8 or 9pm I think. Qantas has no direct Manila-Sydney flight that day, I have to change plane at Brisbane, and that's how I got into this airport.

My plane landed at Brisbane airport the next day around 4.30 or 5am. The immigration area here. The airport should be open 24 hours, but there are very few arriving passengers at such time of the day.

Hallway going to the baggage claim area. We have to get our checked in bags and move to another gate for the flight to Sydney.

Duty free shops area. Very few shops were open at such time. Nonetheless, the whole area was well-lighted.

Baggage claim area.

Going to another gate for the flight to Sydney, I passed by these artworks. Perhaps about the aborigines of Australia.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sultan Hotel, Jakarta

My first time to set foot in Jakarta, Indonesia. I went there to participate in the Economic Freedom Network (EFN) Asia Annual Conference, October 7-8, 2010, held at Sultan Hotel. The event was sponsored by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Liberty (FNF).

The hotel is a bit old but it's big. It also has a wide parking space, other outdoor facilities. This is the lobby of the hotel.

I went there to be one of the moderators of several panel discussions. The theme of the conference was "Migration and Freedom". I saw many friends there from the Asian free market network.

This is my room, nice comfortable bed. The tv was the old, thick model, not the slick and thin flat tv yet. My working area was fine, we had complimentary internet connection in the room.

One of the many hallways going to various seminar/conference rooms, or to the ballrooms. The hotel is really huge, I got lost in some of the hallways going back to my room :-)

The hotel also has several restaurants, in the basement, on the ground floor, the second floor, I don't know where else.

There was a painting exhibit during our stay. I don't know how often such exhibits are held in that hotel. But the paintings are beautiful, they must be expensive.

Notice the wide hallway, this is going to one of the side entrances of the hotel. The painting exhibits made the hallway more lighted.

Extension of the painting exhibits near the hotel lobby.

I thanked the organizers of the EFN Conference and the FNF, especially Jyoti Sachavirawong, for the travel grant to Jakarta, for the opportunity to participate in the conference, and for moderating a panel discussion with two bright minds as speakers, Aco Patunru from Indonesia and Zubair Malik from Pakistan.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Jakarta airport

My first time to visit Indonesia, really. I've been to Kuala Lumpur twice, Singapore, about 3x or 4x, but never been to Jakarta before. So I was very happy for the opportunity.

Jakarta airport is more like Manila's NAIA terminal 1, the old but main international airport terminal. Jakarta airport is a little bigger than terminal 1. Of course if we combine the international sections of terminal 2 (exclusively used by PAL) and terminal 3 (mainly used by Cebu Pacific), the combined floor space of those 3 terminals in Manila airport should be bigger.

Hallway for exiting passengers, going to the arrival area. Unlike the glass and steel structure of modern airports, here it's an enclosed wall of cement, except the departure lounge.

The duty free shops and food shops. Not too many shops because the terminal is not big, but nonetheless, one can buy a number of souvenir items there.

Baggage claim area.

Immigration area for departing passengers. Big difference with the Manila airport: in Jakarta airport, the immigration area has short lines. Well, when I was flying back to Manila, there was no line actually, I went straight to the immigration officer. I was out of his booth in about a minute or less.

Well, one advantage of having a Philippine passport and if one is traveling to any ASEAN member-country like Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, etc. No need for a visa for visits of 30 days or less. The immigration officers are more friendly to passport holders of their fellow ASEAN member countries.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sydney, Australia

Today is my first time to set foot in Australia, the country and the continent. I am here to attend the 4th Pacific Rim Policy Exchange that will start tonight and proceed for the next two days. The event is jointly sponsored by the Americans for Tax Reforms (ATR), Property Rights Alliance (PRA), Heartland Institute (these 3 are US-based) and the Institute for Public Affairs (IPA-Australia).

Travel time from Manila to Brisbane (brief stop over) is about 6:45 hours. Brisbane to Sydney is about 1:20 hour. Australia’s immigration procedure is very quick and efficient, the officers never ask what’s my purpose in going to Australia, they just looked at my passport, Australian visa, and the immigration/customns report card, and I was done in about 2 minutes starting from queuing.

It’s Australia’s customs and quarantine that is very strict. From the start of queuing until I got out, probably 25 to 30 minutes. I already indicated in the immigration/customs report card that I did not bring any cigarette, alcoholic drinks, other commercial items, but still they ask verbally if I have cigarettes in my luggage, what’s inside, I said clothes and books. Then the last part, all bags – except cameras and laptops – have to pass through an X-ray machine again to see any prohibited items. The prohibited items are long – not guns, ammo or bombs – but fresh flowers, fruits, insects, hidden pets, cigarettes, alcoholic drinks, etc. Then there are also items that you may bring in but you have to declare to the quarantine – like surf boards, scuba diving gears, etc.

The trains are efficient. I took the double deck city train, looks old but fast. From international airport to St. James station is about 18 minutes, fare is A$14. From St. James station, our hotel, Sheraton on the Park, is only about 50 meters walk. Nice location of the hotel, it’s in front of the huge Hyde Park.

I toured the park along with fellow conference participants from Lahore, Pakistan, Khalil Ahmad (Alternate Solutions Institute) and Jose Tapia from Lima, Peru (ILE, Institute for Free Enterprise). From the park, to Sydney botanical garden, to Sydney opera house, back to the CBD and back to the hotel. We passed by McDonald's for a late lunch. Sydney is indeed expensive judging from their McDo price compared to McDo in Manila and other Asian cities.

Ok, the opening cocktails should start in a few minutes, gotta go. Will meet more friends from other countries, and especially the conference organizers.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Lemons and flight cancellations

I have discussed earlier my experience in two flight cancellations with Delta. Here are my other observations.

1. In my original itinerary of 9 flights (or 9 boarding passes) from Manila to the US and back, Delta was on time in 8 out of 8 flights, up to my Atlanta to Narita flight. So Delta was doing well in serving its passengers.

2. Delta crew did not explain clearly to us passengers what went wrong with the plane when our Atlanta-Narita flight turned back and landed in Minneapolis. I think we were already over Canada-Alaska border when it made a U-turn. Upon landing at Minneapolis airport, I knew there was some mechanical trouble as I saw at least 2 firetrucks and 2 ambulances with sirens blaring that seemed to be waiting for us.

3. I heard from some fellow passengers that they heard from some crew, that the plane won’t fly high. I also thought that if airport controllers in Narita would know that the plane has some mechanical trouble, they may not allow the plane to land as any accident on the runway will directly affect its very busy airport, with lot of planes landing and taking off.

4. For our overnight stay in Minneapolis last May 23, Delta spent the following:
a) hotel, perhaps $150 (with breakfast)
b) dinner voucher, $12/passenger
c) overnight kit (t-shirt, toothbrush/toothpaste, hairbrush, etc.)
d) coupon discount of $100/passenger if we purchase another Delta plane ticket in the future.

For me, it was a good arrangement. Lucky that I have no important activity to do in Manila the next day after my scheduled arrival.

5. The next day on our new flight, Minneapolis to Narita, Delta did not assign enough staff at the check-in and boarding area. Our scheduled flight that day was 11 am. We arrived at the airport 9am, after some security check, we started queuing at gate G4, departure lounge. The line was long. Earlier, there were only 3 or 4 Delta staff processing the issuance of new boarding passes. About 10:20am, they added 1 or 2 more staff as the line was still long and boarding should have started already. I got my new boarding pass around 10:40am (or I queued for 1 ½ hrs), they added a 6th staff then. All in all, our plane left the gate around 1pm, 2 hours delayed.

6. Minneapolis-Atlanta flight, zero hitch. Delta crew reiterated their apologies for our delayed flight. They pampered us with lots of drinks, so long as you request from them. For instance, I got two extra cans of beer, instead of just one. One lady requested several glasses of red wine, she got drunk. She got naughty, touching other people’s hair, I saw she even touched the butt of one female crew. I saw one tall black guy watching at her. Later, the crew transferred her to another seat and another black guy, this time much bigger, occupied her seat. When she returned to her seat, the man kept watching at her. I assume that those 2 guys and perhaps more, are US marshals who guard each international flight of US airlines.

7. Horror and dismay resumed when we landed at Narita. We queued once again, to get a new boarding pass to Manila. There was already a notice that Delta flight to Manila is over-booked as the flight to Manila the previous day was cancelled. The plane that came from Atlanta was supposed to be the plane that will go to Manila. This time though, lots of confusion and discontent happened.

8. Delta prioritized those who were stranded the previous day in Narita. For us Manila-bound passengers from Minneapolis who just arrived, Delta booked us to several airlines. Some chose to get Delta flight two days later, others were accommodated in Delta flight the next day.

9. Delta at first showed some insensitivity. They wanted us to take Singapore Airlines’ 6:40pm (5:40pm Singapore time), Narita-Singapore flight, arrive Singapore 1:15am, then take Singapore Air’s 5:45am Singapore-Manila flight. They gave that boarding pass to me. Whaaatttt???? After almost 12 hours of Minneapolis-Narita flight, 2 hours queuing at Narita airport, take another 7 ½ hrs flight to Singapore, then stay for 3-4 hrs at Singapore airport, then take 4 hours flight to Manila? That’s a very tiring trip.

10. I and many other Filipino passengers protested at such plan, they gave us that itinerary and boarding pass without consulting us first if we would like that kind of plan. Later the Delta staff in Narita, about 7 of them, all Japanese, rebooked us. Some were to take JAL, Singapore air, or PAL the next day. The plan to book us at PAL seemed to be a last choice for Delta. It prioritized Singapore Air despite the lousy and long flight. From Japan, fly overhead Manila to land at Singapore, then fly again to go to Manila, really not a wise plan.

11. My (and other Filipino passengers’) total queuing time at Delta’s connecting flight station in Narita was 3 hours. Later we filled up the Japan immigration form as we will get a “shore pass” visa, get out of the airport, and go to Radisson Hotel in Chiba, not far from the airport.

One will experience fatigue in various queuing, transfer to a hotel, check out of the hotel and go back to the airport. That’s lemon. The only consolation is that I have checked-in in two hotels (Embassy Suites in Minnesota, then Radisson Hotel in Chiba) for free, got out of Minnesota and Narita airports for the first time, and I saw Japan on the ground again. That’s making lemonade out of lemons .

The fist and last time I set foot on Japan outside of its airport was in 2004, in Nagoya, when our Nagoya-Manila evening flight was cancelled as it was too late for the airport to allow our plane to take off by midnight.

12. Delta put us in business class in PAL for our Narita-Manila flight, wow! I enjoyed the wide space, lots of food, drink and music.

13. When we arrived yesterday in Manila via PAL (terminal 2), the first thing we looked for was our bag/s that we checked-in at Atlanta airport. PAL airport staff said we should go to terminal 1 where Delta lands. At terminal 1 baggage release section, we could not find our bags! We went to Delta office at the 4th floor. The staff there were friendly and helpful, but they are helpless in locating our bags either. I was told that they traced my bag and it’s still in Singapore airport. They gave us their office number and told us to call the next day, hoping that 2 Delta flights from Narita would bring our bags.

14. Today, I called up Delta operations office at terminal 1. Hard to make a call as the numbers were always busy. They should be swamped by various callers from previously stranded flights. When the phone was later picked up, I was told by a young helpful lady staff that my bag is still in Singapore. Now I figure it out: when Delta staff in Narita gave me my boarding pass of that lousy itinerary with Singapore Air which I rejected, the ground crew may have already loaded my bag to that Singapore Air plane.

So I will call again tomorrow and hope that I will finally get my bag.

Many people think that being a “jet-setter” is a wonderful experience. Yes sir, it is. But when you encounter flight delays, if not flight cancellations, you become helpless, you get tired, you become desperate to get the next closest flight that can bring you to your final destination.

In my case, I could make a lemonade out of lemons that came my way. For other passengers though, like the Filipina-American guy couple who only had 7 days stay in Manila then fly back to the US, a delayed arrival of almost 3 days + further delay in getting their check-in bags, it’s a big loss.

Embassy Suites at Bloomington, Minneapolis

With the cancellation of our Atlanta-Narita flight and our plane landed in Minneapolis/St. Paul airport last May 23, Delta booked us (about 400 stranded passengers) in different hotels. I was among those who went to Embassy Suites at Bloomington. We arrived there late, around 9:30pm.

The hotel looks like a medium-rise cube from the outside but inside, it’s a beautiful structure with an 8-storey-high roof with a fountain at the base.

And this the view from the top (8th) floor. In front of the fountain is the lobby and check-in area. The fountain is bordered by coffee tables around it and flowers. Nice view.

Not far from the fountain is the bar, where we took our late night dinner. Delta gave us $12 dinner voucher. The cheapest food is a sandwich for $11 but it’s big enough for 2 people perhaps. Beer is at $4.50.

Now to my bed… homey 2 beds with 2 large mirrors on the side and a wide flat tv in front. Very comforting and inviting to relax or sleep. Internet connection in the room though is not free, $10.50++ for 24 hours. No need to pay for that service as I only need an hour or less and there is also a free internet at the business center beside the check-in area.

What I like further in my room is that there is a sala, with another flat tv. There is a dinner table and mini-kitchen in the sala. This is the view upon entry at the door.

There is also a pool and sauna at the ground floor. I do not know how much is the room rate per night (with free breakfast) in this hotel, maybe $150 as it is not in a downtown area and there are no commercial establishments beside it. But it sure is a good and spacious place to stay.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Radisson hotel, Narita

This hotel is about 20 minutes from Narita-Tokyo international airport by car or hotel bus. Situated in a non-crowded area, so it has a wide space. The entrance is perhaps 50 meters away from the main road. I checked in here last night, along with other stranded Manila-bound passengers from Delta Air.

The lobby is wide, spacious, high ceiling, and not crowded. The hotel staff are very efficient and very fast in processing incoming guests. Upon presenting my passport, boarding pass for tomorrow and the hotel guest form, I was out of the check in area in less than 2 minutes, the staff gave me my room card and 2 meal vouchers for buffet dinner and buffet breakfast.

There is a flowery lounge next to the lobby. The flowers are colorful and growing robustly.

The elevator is very quiet, and has a nice glass design ceiling, like this.

My room, ahhh, another big and comfortable bed! If my family were with me, I’m sure my daughter will like this bed, for her to jump-jump-jump like a trampoline. A flat tv beside it, Toshiba – at least not Korean tv, as in the case of most hotels in the US.

My working table. With free internet, wow! On this table, there’s a sign, “Our goal at Radisson is 100% Guest Satisfaction…” For me, I am 101 percent satisfied!

Japan and Korea, being technology-advanced countries, are known for their hi-tech toilet bowl. I remember when I went to Seoul in 2006, the toilet bowl has several buttons – to clean our behind. One can choose to use cold or warm water, one- or multi-direction water cleaner of our behind, a warmer bowl seal or not, all through buttons. That was very impressive for me.

Here, the buttons are on one side, not on the seat bowl. Pretty neat! One can choose the strength of the water spout from his/her behind – weak, strong, stronger… Really cool!

Our buffet dinner last night was impressive. I assume the buffet breakfast later this morning will be equally impressive. Really a wonderful way to start the day, and perhaps start another round of queuing again in the airport?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

10 boarding passes in 12 days...

The past few days were possibly my busiest and craziest foreign travel experience. I took Delta Airlines. To accumulate more mileage. The sponsor of my conference in Chicago, Heartland Institute, paid for my plane fare and hotel there.

May 15, 2010:
1) Manila – Narita/Tokyo; change plane
2) Narita – Minneapolis, Minnesota; US immigration, re-check baggage
3) Minneapolis – Chicago, Illinois; attend a conference May 16-18

May 18:
4) Chicago – Detroit, Michigan; visited a Filipino friend in Monroe, he toured me around Detroit city

May 20:
5) Detroit – Atlanta, Georgia; change plane
6) Atlanta – Houston, Texas; visit another Filipino friend

May 23:
7) Houston – Atlanta; change plane,
8) Atlanta – Narita; on the way back to Manila

Plane encountered some mechanical troubles, made a U-turn when it was probably above the Canada-Alaska border, went back to Minneapolis. So the flight became Atlanta – Minneapolis.

Delta brought us in some hotels in the city. I went to Embassy Suites in Bloomington, Minn. Nice hotel. We arrived there around 9:30pm, had dinner and rested. Checked out 8:30am after breakfast the next day.

May 24:
9) Minneapolis – Narita; arrived Narita 3pm of May 25, 400+ passengers on a B747.
Narita – Manila was over-booked as the flight yesterday was cancelled, our plane that came from Atlanta was supposed to be the plane that will go to Manila.

May 25: we were stranded again in Tokyo. Delta brought us to Radisson hotel, not far from the airport.

May 26:
10) Narita – Manila; via Philippine Airlines (PAL).

My consolations in those 2 days of aborted flights were the following.

a) I was able to get out of the Minneapolis airport (yesterday was my 3rd landing/arrival in that airport), stayed in a nice hotel.

b) I was able to get out of Narita airport today for the first time (landed and departed from this airport several times, at least 8x), had a “shore pass” Japan immigration in my passport, and stayed at an even nicer hotel, Radisson.

There’s a saying, “When life gives you lemon, make a lemonade”.
The past 2 days, I just did that 

The various queuing though, were very tiring:

i) Get a hotel and dinner voucher in Minneapolis airport, May 23 (about 1 ½ hours).
ii) Get a new boarding pass at Minneapolis airport to go to Narita, May 24 (almost 2 hours).
iii) Get a new plane booking and boarding pass for flight the next day + hotel booking, Narita airport, May 25 (about 3 hours).

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Johnson space center, Houston

Yesterday, my hosts in this city, Ronald and Glo, brought me to the Johnson space center in Houston, Texas. This facility maintains the control system for NASA, as well as training ground for astronauts. I was very curious to see the rockets used by NASA in the past, especially the Apollo where 3 American astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Collins were the first humans to set foot on the moon, sometime in July  1969.

This is the entrance to the facility, replica of two small airplanes.

There was an audio tour of the control panel during Apollo trips to the moon, but it did not interest me much. Then the tour continued.

This time, to the real rockets. Here’s the smaller rocket

And the bigger one.

But the “main event” is the visit to Saturn V, a huge multi-stage liquid-fuel expendable rocket used by NASA’s Apollo and Skylab programs in the late 60s to mid-70s. Here’s the view from the outside.

And inside, a giant reclining space vehicle is displayed. View from the rear.

And view from the front.

A visitor from Manila posing at Saturn V’s rear rockets :-)

Beside the giant rocket are pictures and brief chronology of NASA’s space programs during that time.

I like these 3 guys – Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins. Hoopss, there’s a 4th man, a non-astronaut :-)

Btway, another "moon walker" who arrived at the moon via Apollo 17 was Harrison "Jack" Schmitt. I have met him twice, in NYC last March 2009 and last week in Chicago, both during the Heartland Institute's 2nd and 4th International Conference on Climate Change, respectively. He's a big and tall man, very friendly and most importantly, does not believe in the man-made warming scam.

At the main entrance after getting the ticket (about $20 perhead), there are play areas for children, like this one.

Or a huge game, “clone wars”.

Thank you Glo, Ronald, for that wonderful tour.