“Welcome,Sir”. “Good evening,Sir”. I take a deep breath. End of today’s trip. I am home. But is it home? No, but these greetings are reassuring and familiar by now. They remind me of the country where I live now when I enter the lobby of the Marriot airport hotel in Manila. I recognise some of the staff as I have been here a few times now. Always arriving in the evening and leaving very early in the morning to catch the flight to Dumaguete. Yes, maybe this is a kind of home with its a/c controlled temperature, background music, people sitting at the bar sipping a beer, the studied politeness results of trainings of the staff of these high end hotels. Yet, there is something typical Filipino in the way the staff seem to take their job. Artificial or not, who cares, it is just good to be here and on the way home. Still, a faint inner voice voice tells me that I am just fooling myself. I do not belong to places like this. I am not the one for marble floors hotel’ lobby and lounge bars. A quick check and I cannot decide whether that voice is from the old me who once was backpacking and sleeping in hostels and who is trying to tell me that too much time has passed since the last REAL trip. Or the other hand it may be a much deeper voice, a me which has been shaped by events, words, character traits that along generations have reached me through genes and various types of influence. A deep rooted imprint of feeling less than others. I ask myself if the lady queuing at the reception desk next to me and who seems completely at easy with the atmosphere of this lobby has these thoughts as well. Her name maybe Mari An, born in Puerto Princesa, got good grades in school while her parents wanted her to start working in the family tailor shop. One brother and an older sister had done so. But she did not give up, git a scholarship, went to collage, had some boy friends but did not make herself distract by a love story. Finished among the top 5 of her management course and is now working and travelling for Unilever. I guess she feels she deserves this hotel and her status in society. “Checking in, Sir?”, the voice of the pretty young lady at the reception counter brings me back to the business: passport, credit card, signature, wi-fi code, key cards, thank you smiles.
I climb up to the fourth floor with the large elevator. A bellboy of the hotel is with me. In his twenties, pushing the cart with my two pieces of luggage. “From where did you come today, Sir?” “Saigon, from Saigon” “That is in Vietnam, isn’t it?” “Yes, it is.” We exit the elevator and walk long corridors, dim lights, soft carpet that absorbs the footsteps, an endless number of wooden doors. Some have the ‘Do not disturb’ sign hanging from the knob. As it is still quite early I imagine adventures and passion erupting behind those doors. “How is Saigon?” As I hear his question, my mind goes to the perpendicular streets junctions nearby the hotel where I stayed, the incessant flow of motorbikes, the gate of the Reunification palace, the catholic cathedral, the opera house, the Japanese K Cafe where I ate dinner. “Saigon is busy”, I say, aware that my answer is a poor translation of the images that are in my mind. So I try in another way. “How many people live in Manila?”, I ask. “Maybe 10 million”, he answers. “Saigon has 7 million and probably 5 million motorbikes. Try to imagine Manila full of motorbikes instead of cars. That is how Saigon is.” He pause as if would be imagining a different Manila, maybe seeing himself riding a motorbike instead of jumping on a Jeepney on the way to his small flat in Quezon City. We reach the room. He opens the door and takes the bags inside. I walk in, see the bed with its pillows and the Asian silk fabric with its soft colour rest on the white bed sheets. The room looks exactly like the book I am reading, Alain de Botton’s A Week at the Airport. A Heathrow Diary. The same bed. The Same glass desk. The same halogen lamps. The same contemporary modern design. Alain de Botton (whom, I admit, has inspired the style lf this blog) stayed in his week as resident writer at Heathrow stayed the Sofitel next to T5. Similar hotel, similar airport atmosphere. For a moment my mind travel to London where I will be next week. Do not know the name of the bellboy, but I wonder whether his mind is in the street to of Saigon, trying to imagine how they are.