|Photo by Heimo Schmidt|
I could have sworn I saw destiny staring me in the face, sitting across the aisle from me in 24G on Kuwait Airways flight 411 from Bangkok to Manila. And contrary to popular belief, destiny wasn't a woman at all. He was a man, and he looked a little bit like Hugh Grant. I first saw him taking a nap in the waiting lounge outside Gate E3 at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok. As I looked up from my laptop, I wondered how anyone could just plop down and go to sleep in the middle of a crowded terminal. Luckily for him, I saw no evidence of drool. But still.
I'd forgotten all about Hugh Grant/Sleeping Beauty when I boarded the plane and made my way to my exit-row seat until he sat down in 24G, right across the aisle from me. We pretended not to notice each other, and I focused on the puzzle page of Women's Weekly magazine. As far as I know, the only public napping during the three-hour flight to Manila was my own (oops, my apologies for drooling), but then again, I was feigning unawareness of the guy sitting across from me, so who knows what he was up to? (Well, I do, but he wasn't supposed to know that.)
After the plane landed and we disembarked, he'd completely slipped my mind once again, when boom, there he was -- in the line next to mine in customs. By the time I had made it through passport control, picked up my bag, withdrawn cash from the ATM and gotten a taxi, he was gone and more or less forgotten -- again.
The ride to my hotel was pure torture. Best Western Antel Spa Suites, which the taxi driver annoyingly kept calling "Best Eastern," wasn't very far from the airport, but the rush-hour traffic jam to the hotel in Makati City made what should have been at most a 30-minute trip at least one hour longer. I was starting to hate Manila, and by the time I arrived at my hotel, I had settled into my foulest mood of the last two months. My frown turned to a smile, accompanied by near-uncontrollable laughter, when I was greeted by the over-the-top friendliness of the staff in both the hotel and the 7-11 next door. Were these people for real? As the three 7-11 workers loudly wished me the best evening ever, I was sure they must have secretly been making fun of me.
I was pondering this as I walked into the hotel when whom should I run into in the lobby? Yes, that guy. How odd. Of all the hotels in Manila, why did he have to pick mine? Perhaps this was destiny in action. I considered the possibility. Maybe Hugh Grant and I were fated to meet and become best friends over the next four days. Why else would he keep popping up? My premonition was boosted further when I ran into him yet again on my way out later that night. He and his friend -- where'd he come from? -- got into the lift at the 12th floor or thereabouts. And wouldn't you know it? Hugh Grant wasn't British, after all -- unless he spoke flawless German.
I wondered if they were also going to the corner of Maria Orosa Street and Julio Nakpil Street, which, according to the Utopia website, is the epicenter of Manila's gay night life, Point Zero for the kings of queens. I considered not going at all when the concierge told me that it would probably be a 30-, 45-minute taxi ride from the hotel in Makati to that strip in that part of town called Malate. I was sure that with such similar names, they'd be right beside each other.
The cab driver concurred on the time frame, so I threw my hands up and decided to enjoy the ride. Fifteen minutes later, we were driving through a lively neighborhood, populated by shabbyish houses and revelers roaming from bar to bar. I told the driver to let me out there and walked to the entrance of O Bar, the place on the corner with the most cute guys milling about outside. I paid a cover charge of 250 Philippine pesos (about $6), which was good for three beers. I ordered my first one and took a seat outside to enjoy the nocturnal action.
A few sips later, a man carrying a bottle of tequila and several shot glasses asked if he could join me. I later found out that not only was I on the corner of Maria Orosa and Julio Nakpil, where I'd been intending to go all along, but my new drinking buddy was the owner of O Bar. He explained that although the area is to Manila what Silom is to Bangkok, there are actually only three gay bars there. The rest are more "gay-friendly."
The rest of the night is a bit of a blur. I went to a great club across the street from O Bar called Bed where, unlike Suvarnabhumi Airport, there weren't any comfortable napping spots, but I did meet some really cool people, including a local guy named Nelson who wanted to hang out again the next evening. I'm not really sure if I ran into Hugh Grant again between Bed and bed, but considering my state, I wouldn't have been so shocked if I'd woken up next to him.
If that's my destiny, who am I to fight fate?