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Pinoy Kasi

The Plug

/ 05:24 AM September 14, 2018

One of the challenges about traveling these days, even for short trips, is keeping connected to people back home.

Easy enough, you’d think, in this era of cell phones and Wi-Fi. But there’s a crucial part to being connected, and that’s being power-ready, especially because the ways we stay connected—through smartphones—require much more power now.

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Don’t even think of a trip; just our modern daily routines require us to have charging cables and car chargers and powerbanks, especially if you have kids who need to check YouTube or Facebook, listen to music or watch movies.

I’m in the Netherlands right now for a series of meetings with universities, and for the more joyful occasions of attending the doctoral (PhD) dissertation defenses of three of my students, two Filipinos and an Indonesian.

That was a long detour to say that my schedule here is so packed, because the panel meets before and after the defense. And then there are the celebrations, receptions for friends and “opponents” (the professors).

I started the trip feeling quite proud of myself for being well-prepared. I had all the chargers and cables, and an extension with outlets for plugs as well as USBs. I also signed up for Skyroam, which rents you a Wi-Fi gadget that can be used in any part of the world and allows you to create a hotspot for several phones, tablets and computers. I also made sure friends, up to the family dogs, were on Viber.

I marveled at how you could charge your gadgets in airports and on planes and work on your email, articles and columns, and download the news—Inquirer, Rappler, New York Times, Guardian and assorted websites—before getting on the plane.

Once I’d settled into the bed and breakfast place in Amsterdam (reserved, of course, through the internet), I was feeling confident that I’d be connected for the rest of the trip.

And then my 12-year-old tech-savvy son, who is traveling with me, dropped the bombshell right after we unpacked: “Did you bring an adapter?”

All the outlets in the B&B used round plugs, while we, following the Americans, use square ones.

It was apocalyptic — the realization that, very soon, we’d be unable to charge the gadgets, including the powerbanks.

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I had to be calm, and assured my son our gadgets had enough “juice” to last us until we could buy the adapters. I did ask him not to do too much of the entertainment stuff and games on his (and my) phones.

We survived the night using the powerbanks, but I got up at 3 a.m (9 a.m. Manila time) to do email (lots of email with UP Diliman on Typhoon “Ompong”) and a five-hour teleconference, which drained my laptop completely halfway through. I shifted the teleconference to my phone, admittedly awed by how an app allows you to do that. And then, my phone died, too.

Powerless, I had my son’s phone to rely on to keep connected with my Dutch colleagues. We had the first doctoral defense late that morning.   Mid-afternoon, after the reception, my son and I rushed off to look for an adapter. I knew we could get them in airports and tourist areas, but we were in a residential part of the town with few shops.

My son had rented a bike and became my huffing and puffing chauffeur. We tried three supermarkets, a music store (surely, my son reasoned, if they sold electric guitars, they’d have adapters, too; but the store had none), and a mobile phone outlet that had chargers but no adapters.

Then my son’s phone expired. I felt like we were in some scene from “The Walking Dead,” now cut off from the world. My son was hungry and I needed to pee, and we didn’t know where we were without Google maps.

We walked past several stores, then stopped dead in our tracks. Was that a photo shop? Might they have an adapter?

No one seemed to be in the shop, but an elderly man finally came down from heaven (the second floor) and, as I explained what we needed, he slowly opened a drawer and pulled out, not some fancy expensive universal adapter, but a simple one with round plugs.

Half an hour later, we were plugged back into the world, and the wiser for it all—reminded that simple things can count so much in a world of complicated connections.

mtan@inquirer.com.ph

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