BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Monday, April 18, 2011

Signs of a debt crisis (Letters from Portugal: Part One)

LISBON, Portugal - Fourteen hours of plane travel is no joke. You’re groggy by the time you get to the final destination, your tummy grumbles from free beer mixed with lousy food served in the economy class and your skin is as dry as the Sahara desert, no thanks to recycled air.

But as I step out of the airport, the crisp evening air greets me and jolts me out of my jetlagged state.

I take a deep breath to savor the moment. This is the part I like best – that first step you take after you get out of the airport’s exit door. It’s the rawness of being in a foreign country, something like the first sip of a single malt Scotch or the freshness of your first brew of cappuccino in the morning.

You see, no matter how much you’ve travelled, the first step is never ever the same. The air is different every time. And it reminds that you that life is always something to marvel about.

There is a pleasant chaos outside the Lisbon Portela Airport, as foreigners and locals alive wait in long queues for cabs and buses that will take them to the city or wherever home is.

It is past 11 in the evening and the sound of Portuguese music blaring from cabs reverberates in the night.

Anne of the European Journalism Center and I fall in line for a cab. We're off to the hotel, seven kilometers away. A bright round yellow moon shines above.

We drive away from the airport and I get my first glimpse of Lisbon. There is a kaleidoscope of streetlights.

I watch out for signs of the debt crisis and they are everywhere – unfinished buildings left and right and huge signs of “BIG SALE” plastered on the window displays of luxury stores and malls.

It is no surprise because in this construction-driven economy, the first to bear the brunt of a debt crisis are the construction companies who can no longer access bank financing.

I wake up and on my first day,

I see more signs.

But here in Lisbon, as it is elsewhere, life goes on.

And today, on a hot Monday afternoon, some of them are hanging around by the bay, drinking ice-cold Sagres, said to be Portugal’s best beer, waiting for the sun to set and throwing their worries away.