The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Trip 1

Man Sketching
Man sketching a statue in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan, New York City, New York.
Over-the-shoulder of man sketching.
An over-the-shoulder picture of a man, his sketch, and his inspiration.

Last Saturday, my wife and I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We had been putting it off because we’d been busy with going out to different places every day and we were wearing ourselves out and sleeping in.  It’s Winter holiday from school, and she’s not working yet, so we’re trying to do a lot and take it easy at the same time.  I’m not sure how well that’s going to work out for us.

Anyway, Saturday seemed like a great opportunity to both catch up on sleep and still spend a good chunk of time at the museum, since it is open until 9 PM on both Friday and Saturday.  We got there around 2 PM, after having a good brunch with my mom over at IHOP.  The place was packed, as usual, but not as busy as the last time I was there.  From what I’m seeing over the last few days of touring my wife around, the city’s tourist spots are a lot emptier during the winter.  For people who don’t like competing with crowds, that might be something to keep in mind.  It generally doesn’t snow here until after Christmas.  It’s just cold.  If I didn’t live here, I could deal with the cold to avoid the crowds that are usually packing every place of interest in the city.

Metropolitan Museum of Art Map Floor 1
The areas we were able to visit (highlighted by red boxes) in 5 hours. The Met is massive! Click here for an interactive map on the Met’s home page.

Anyhow, the Met is just as awesome as I remember it!  We didn’t get the chance to see everything in the museum, because it’s just too huge a building and their collection is just too massive.  Not that that’s a bad thing!  I’m looking forward to going back again.  Where that can become problematic, though, is with the entry fee.  The entry fee last Spring, when I went to the museum for some class projects was 20 dollars for an adult and 10 dollars for a student.  Now it’s 25 dollars for an adult.  Shocking, right?  The good thing about the pricing is that they’re “recommended,” meaning the prices can’t be enforced.  If you can swallow your pride you can give them 10 bucks per person and walk in.  You could give them a quarter per person and still get the clip-on Met pin that guarantees your safe passage past the guards.  I gave 20 for myself and my wife, total.  I think it was fair, seeing as how we got there halfway through the day and would be making repeat trips throughout the year.

I have a feeling that high pricing is targeted at tourists who usually only go to the museum once on one day and then never see it again.  I certainly don’t think it’s meant for people like the gentleman in the photos above, who come into the museum to practice sketching.  I saw a lot of people doing that, young and old, and I think it’s awesome, because they’re in there, developing their talent in a productive way, instead of running the streets getting into trouble, or causing it.

Lucius Verus
Marble portrait bust of the co-emperor Lucius Verus, Roman, Antonine Period,
A.D. 161 – 169, on loan from the Louvre.

Like I said, we didn’t get to see everything.  The Met is really a two or three day affair and even then you could go back again and notice plenty that you missed.  We saw some of the Roman stuff, the Greek gallery, Oceanic gallery, Native American (South/Central/North) gallery, African gallery, and Egyptian gallery.  I’d spent quite a bit of time in the Greek gallery already and Egyptian art is covered in so many movies, documentaries and TV specials that I just couldn’t get into it, except for the Temple of Dendur.  That was really neat.  The part I liked best about it was the 19th century graffiti on its walls though:

Temple of Dendur 1

Temple of Dendur 2

Temple of Dendur 3

Temple of Dendur 4

Temple of Dendur 5

Temple of Dendur 6

The galleries I enjoyed most were the ones that seemed to be the least populated by visitors, the African and Native American galleries. I imagine its because I’ve been exposed those types of art the least, but there’s something powerful about the imagery as well.

African Art

African Art

African Art

African Art

African Art

African Art

Native American Art

Native American Art

Native American Art

Native American Art

I’m looking forward to the opportunity to go back and see the rest of the Met, probably later this week, if we can squeeze it in.  I’m particularly interested in seeing the Medieval Art gallery and the Islamic Art gallery, which just opened recently.  Before leaving we quickly passed through the Met gift store and they’ve added Islamic art items to their selection.  It seems nice.

Click here for more photos (Google+ public photo gallery).

Arriving in the Philippines

Arriving in the Philippines was a much better experience for us this time. We flew into Clark Airbase in Pampanga province. The airport is small. There isn’t even an enclosed walkway from the plane to the terminal. You have to do it the old old fashioned way and walk down a flight of portable stairs onto the tarmac and then walk to the terminal.

Coming down those stairs reminded me of the flights I’ve taken into military bases in Kuwait and the US, like Hunter Army Airfield in Georgia, Biggs Army Air Field in Texas, Balad in Iraq, and the landing area for military flights at Kuwait International, near Camp Wolf. I don’t think that last one had any special name. It’s not really surprising that the disembarking process at Clark reminded me of those places, though, because Clark Air Base used to be a US Air Force installation. The buildings all had that cheap US military look and feel to them, but at least they were clean and in good repair, which is more than I can say for NAIA in Manila. That place is a dump. (Can you feel the love?)

It didn’t take long before I was reminded that I was in fact in the Philippines again. Before I had even made it past the exit doors I was assaulted by a barrage of “Hey, sir! Hey, sir! Taxi sir?!” Sometimes there’s so many of them, or they’re so insistent, that it’s hard to ignore them, but ignoring them is generally what I try to do. One thing I’ve discovered about the Philippines from past trips is that if you’re a foreigner, you will be ripped off if you don’t have a local to do your shopping for you. That doesn’t apply to major stores or franchise-type grocery stores, because they have set prices, but any stall or stand in the street is likely to try to stick you for extra cash. Filipinos have the mentality that if you’re from overseas you must have money to waste. One example of that I can give is a guy that tried to charge me 50 PHP for a pack of Marlboros, when the 7-11 around the corner was only charging 38. Who’s that guy trying to fool?

Leaving Clark Airbase was an event in itself. My wife’s parents met us at the exit area for the airport and after the formalities we moved around to the side of the building to try to get a taxi to their house in Porac, Pampanga province. At any airport you’re likely to get ripped off on cab fare, but I was shocked at the price. We weren’t even going that far from the airport, but the driver wanted 650 PHP (only 13.36 USD but very very high for the Philippines). My wife’s mom tried to haggle with the taxi coordinator, but it wasn’t working. Even so, she kept badgering the poor guy until the cab actually arrived. Neither one of them wanted to budge and in the end we wound up paying the full 650 PHP. At least the taxi justified the price. It was the size of a Jeepney, but closed in like an FX, and the air conditioning was cold. There was plenty of room for everyone and our luggage too.

The ride fromt he airport to my in-law’s house was a lot different from riding from NAIA to their house in Antipolo. Pampanga is a provincial area, so it had more of a country feel to it. Also, it looked a lot more poor than areas closer to Manila, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. We went through part of Angeles City and it reminded me of a big Antipolo.

The apartment we stayed at is in a residential area in Porac. I think the neighborhood is called Santa Cruz. The nearest city area is Angeles City. It has a mall, a movie theater, McDonald’s, Jollibee, and the typical convenience stores, food stalls, and general goods stores. Also, there are plenty of street vendors selling everything from fruit to whole roasted chickens.

Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Manila, Philippines

NAIA has to be the worst airport I’ve ever been in and I’ll tell you why.

The physical appearance of the airport itself is a joke. From my experience, the airport is the first impression a traveler gets of the place he’s going, and if Manila wants to promote the image of a modernizing, world-class city, it’s doing a poor job of it. The paint on and in the building is faded and stained. The carpets are worn, and in some places the flooring is actually concrete slabs. My first impression was that it appeared to be a cross between a Sam’s Club and a well used, worn out car insurance office. The whole place seemed to be dirty too, to varying degrees. I was definitely not impressed.

The airport is very crowded. The airport itself is small, considering that it’s an international airport and the hub of air travel in the Philippines. This over-crowding is apparent as soon as you approach the building. The taxi drop off area is a mess of traffic and pedestrians that seems much more dangerous than it should be. The exterior standing area of the airport has a small sidewalk that is typically packed with waiting travelers. In addition there was a mob of Filipinos waiting for processing at the Overseas Foreign Worker office adjacent to the front entrance. This crowd of people seemed to spill out onto the street more often than not and consumed the majority of the waiting area. That brings me to another point. There is only ONE entrance! ONE door! All passengers are required to pass through a metal detector and have their baggage scanned at this entry point. That in itself is an admirable effort to keep the airport safe, but why is there only one? Why not two or three? Wouldn’t that make more sense, considering the amount of traffic the airport receives? Wouldn’t that improve travel time and customer satisfaction?

The employees in this airport are incompetent. Outside the airport there is an employee walking around demanding that people move closer to the entrance, even though there is nowhere to move to, since the area is packed full. It’s as if he doens’t bother to look or think about it before asking people to move. At the scanner by the door there is no form of baggage control. One of my wife’s bags was stolen from the scanner area before she was even able to make it through the metal detector. In Singapore, at Changi International, baggage is put in a numbered tray and you’re given a numbered placard to turn in for your baggage after being scanned. This ensures that the correct person gets the correct baggage. No such luck or system at NAIA. My wife’s stolen bag led us to the discovery of further incompetence on the part of airport staff. We proceeded to the information desk and asked if anyone had turned in a backpack. We didn’t expect that anyone would of course, but they made an announcement over the intercom. We didn’t have time to wait around so my wife asked if she could have the phone number for the information desk so she could call back at a later time to see if the bag had turned up. The airport personnel at the information desk DID NOT KNOW THE NUMBER FOR THEIR OWN DESK! How can someone who works at an information desk not even know their own phone number? It seems ironic, and blatantly stupid. It also displays a lack of training and customer care. I suppose the problem with that is that for most travelers there isn’t really a choice when it comes to using that airport. That shouldn’t create an atmosphere where employees don’t care about the customers though. It’s a poor reflection of the airport, the city and the country.

There is a terminal usage fee that must be paid prior to entering the departure gate areas. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t fees of that sort normally included in the price of a plane ticket? Aren’t the airlines that utilize NAIA paying fees already to do business at that terminal? Why is there an additional fee travelers are required to pay prior to being able to leave the country? I’ve never seen anything like this at another airport. I got the impression that it was just another way for NAIA to dig into people’s wallets. Also, where are these extra fees going? If it’s a terminal usage fee, shouldn’t the fees collected be used to improve the terminal? Then why does it look like crap? The terminal usage fee is 18 USD and while that may not seem like a lot to some travelers, I feel that it’s an unnecessary waste of my hard earned cash.

If I had a choice, I wouldn’t use NAIA again. Unfortunately, there aren’t multiple terminals to choose from, which is the case in most areas. My wife submitted a complaint letter to the airport but never heard back from them. I wasn’t really surprised. It would be nice if those in charge of NAIA would take an active interest in the quality of their facilities and the quality of customer service their employees are providing.

Oh, and one other thing to note… NAIA doesn’t even have its own homepage. In this day and age that’s surprising and sad. The hyperlink at the top sends you to the NAIA wiki page.