reminders for the visit home

almost there... almost there... kill me, please :(

almost there… almost there… kill me, please ūüė¶

I COULDN’T believe it, but there I was. ¬†Dusk, microwave-heating sun long gone, and barely moving, waiting for our ride, and I was perspiring. ¬†Not the ga-munggo (beadlike), slow-drip way, but sweating buckets, just idling my engine and revving my pistons. ¬†I didn’t know which was more unlikely : that I was nearly suffocating without the maximum Philippine heat, or that I was no longer used to weather here.

I am literally embarrassed to tell you this, but the tropical paradise that I thought would be an unexpected treat, after leaving late-autumn Wellington, wasn’t the purely pleasant experience that I thought it would be. ¬†Not only does the climate average around 10 to 15 degrees higher, the humidity or water droplets in the air is doubly stifling, almost like the air is sweating right along with you. ¬† This partly explains why, even after sunset, and despite just staying in place, my sweat glands were working overtime, on practically every square inch of skin available.

Curiously, all around me were kabayan, fellow worker ants and others just trying to survive, and they weren’t sweating a bit. ¬†In fact, some looked quite comfortable in the last heat wave of the day. ¬†Just a bit bushed and lonesome for home.

Lesson : You live or die with the temperature-cum-humidity. ¬†You can take refuge in the air-conditioned hotel room, mall and rarefied resto function rooms, but if you want to be true to yourself and your motherland, spend a few hours each day under the Metro Mania sun, complete with muggy air, soot and carbon monoxide. ¬†It’s good for sustaining your gratitude for living in your adopted land.

What I won’t forget about this trip home was the fact that I suffered a permanent gout attack that last the duration of the two weeks plus here. ¬†I don’t know which factor was responsible for it : the airplane food I consumed, the free alcohol during the same flight, the extended period of time I spent on my fat behind, bloating the blood vessels coursing through my legs, or my recent lack of exercise. ¬†Or a combination of some or all. ¬†Whatever my legs looked like those of the Jollibee mascot or the stumps of a sumo wrestler’s, resulting in restricted mobility. ¬†My gait was labored, and every step was an ordeal, whether we were checking out the latest 1st class imitations in St Francis Square, enjoying the newest extensions to the Pasig malls, or looking for cheap DVD copies in Greenhills.

What’s worse, the inflammation wasn’t subsiding any time soon, and the usual trick of drinking water by the giant glassful wasn’t working. ¬†My brother prescribed gout medication and it eased the pain somewhat, but since I arrived and to this day, my lower leg and ankle have been numb, tender and unable to bear the usual weight of a slightly overweight, middle-aged Asian, that’s me.

Lesson : Make preparations and allowances for your ailments, conditions and particular quirks of your body. ¬†The usual medications might not be available, you might require a strict diet regimen that your hosts and the local milieu cannot provide efficiently, and the climate, drinking water and time zone are a triple whammy combining to convert pleasure into torture. ¬†NOT the sort of Facebook posts you’d want your 800 friends to see.

Lastly, Mahal had her folks, six brothers and sisters, dozen-plus nephews and nieces to visit in various parts of Luzon, there were old cronies, contemporaries and buddies to look up and pester, and an election that just happened to be taking place while we were here!  So much to do and not enough time, obviously, to do it in.

Lesson : You can’t do everything, much as you’d like to do so. ¬†Focus on what you intended to do in the first place, which is family, friends, and the agenda attached to your trip, whatever that is. ¬†So pick your spots and fight the battles that count. ¬†You can’t win them all, because winning the war is the prize that matters. ¬†You can’t please everybody, keep the big picture in mind, and begin with the end (of the trip) in mind.

Most of the above sounds easier than it actually is, and doesn’t talk about anything you don’t already know. ¬†But forewarned is forearmed, preparation is the key to victory, and all that. ¬†Don’t say I didn’t warn you, because all my travails can still serve as a bad example. ¬†And all that.

on my last day as balikbayan: tips & tricks for the next time

one of the last images home

THE PHYSICAL and cultural shock assaults you almost as soon as you disembark.  The temperature has dipped around 15 degrees.  The air is no longer dusty, humidity is alien here.  There is no longer the omnipresent wall-to-wall humanity and careless strewing about of garbage, street children and in-your-face advertising, be it on billboards, electric posts or brochures shoved in your face by anxious street hawkers.

Yes, Noel, you are back in NZ where you are a guest worker, after three weeks of R&R back home in tropical Philippines.

I’ll never be an expert in travel, nor will I earn good bread as an scheduler for balikbayans, but I can tell you one universal truth in the topic: coming home is without a doubt an emotional exercise, so nine times out of ten your heart rules your mind.

You always want to spend your every waking moment meeting friends and relatives you haven’t met for years and years.¬† You want to taste every dish you missed, and you know such dish/es can’t be prepared exactly the way you want it, except in your mother’s kitchen / your hometown / your favorite restaurant, take your pick.¬† In any case, you lick the plate dry because such gastronomic treats are there only while you are home.

You want to visit every place you missed, and which brings back a flood of memories, be it the first house you stayed in, your school, your first place of work, where you lost your virginity (don’t tell me it’s not important to you), and where you met the love of your life.

You want to give your last peso to the beggar that so pricked your conscience, knowing that you will never see that beggar again, you want to give the clothes off your back to the mother and the baby sucking her breast, and you want to buy a king-size dinner for the skeletal lola selling her wares on the sunbaked sidewalk.

Deep down you know that, as you have known on the first day of your vacation back home, you will never do all the things you want to do as described on the last three paragraphs, because there simply isn’t enough time.

I can think of only a few tips that I learned the hard way, and which by the way I keep forgetting until it’s too late, that is until I’m confronted by the problem/s I could’ve avoided had I remembered such tip :

Pick the budget trip, but be ready to pay the price for such.¬† Aided by internet and esposa’s sharp eye for bargains, I was able to get probably the cheapest available pair of tickets home, how does NZ$2100 sound?¬† It comes with a steep price though.¬† We spent a total of 31 hours on the road, were intentionally starved and made thirsty by the airline so we could buy their convenience store wares at five-star prices, and boarded flights before the cock crowed and in the dead of night.¬† I think we also changed planes three times, which was in keeping with the discount nature of the trip, par for the course.

you said just put the overweight baggage in the handcarried bag right?

If you have herculean patience for this sort of thing, meaning you can wait like cops on a stakeout, carry along two tons of handcarried hollow blocks (the airline allows only feather-light luggage allowance to punish your thrifty ways) and eat like birds in transit, good for you; it is an absolute must that you bring along a good book/s with you, that you never lose your temper no matter how unreasonable the situation, and that you should be ready for delays and very short boarding times, because the airline knows you are paying next to nothing for riding with them, and they are literally making you pay for it.

If you can do that, by all means ride with Jetstar (oops, sorry to let that slip) ! ūüôā

Plan ahead, and I mean waaaay ahead.¬† That means even if it’s two month in advance, go book that lunch or dinner with the barkada you haven’t met in one group since Cory was in Malaca√Īang, or with the elementary gang that you wiped snot with before Michael Jackson bleached himself ghost-white.¬† It’s alright if things miscarry by the time you’re home, because you can always adjust later.¬† The important thing is you can mobilize the troops, organize the entire roster of people you want to meet, and the actual time and place scheduled will be secondary.¬† Remember, you are the one coming from far away, so they will understand if you demand a little more flexibility over your schedule.

next time it will be in one of these villas I will spend half my vacay in . . .

Plan around major events.¬† You come home for one reason only, and that’s to recharge and reconnect, but in truth there are quite a few sub-events to make it worth the trip home.¬† Mostly there’s the reunion or homecoming that the home crowd has been planning for ages, or maybe your clan is planning to give the patriarch and matriarch their well-deserved anniversary, after so many years of staying together.¬† You might also be itching to attend the graduation of one of your children / nephews / nieces on whom you have invested a lot of blood, sweat and tears.¬† This is a good time to witness the fruits of your labor, and to also bask in the gratitude of whoever is graduating.

So you can plan your trip home around these major events, so you can schedule side-trips like sunbathing in that tourist spot where everybody except you has gone to, or make an ocular inspection of that investment you made that you’ve never seen before.¬† The point is to visit as many places you can without forgetting the important things, because it might be quite a while before you get back home.

Fill out that inventory.¬† No balikbayan trip is complete without the pabili or list of things friends ask you to buy for them when you go home.¬† In truth this is quite an imposition, and many of the things that are requested can also be bought in your adopted land, but they are less expensive in the Philippines.¬† Not only that, but when it’s your friend’s turn to leave for home, you can this time ask him/her to return the favor and ask for your own goodies.

But it’s not an easy checklist to do.¬† There is only so much you can buy without overshooting your baggage allowance, and because everyone wants something, you have to be strategic in your buying.¬† Buy only the most important things they ask for, and try to get one thing each for as many friends you can.¬† That way you can say you did¬† your best, for the greatest number of people in your circle.¬† And it almost goes without saying (but I’m saying it here) that you should ask for the money to buy pabili with, otherwise you would have to spend your own money, already in limited supply right?

Give everything away.¬† This sounds like it doesn’t need to be said, but I’m saying it anyway : you should be prepared to give everything that you brought home away.¬† It is a gesture of friendship and love that you are giving away anything requested by a friend or family member; usually you can replace it when you return to your adopted homeland, and people usually covet something worn or used by a balikbayan.¬† A second reason is that you are going to buy so many things from the Philippines anyway, be it for fashion or to reinforce your Pinoy-ness.¬† You will almost surely fill your suitcase/s with new items and things picked up from your travels, so you won’t miss your old things so much.¬† Give them away, lighten your load, and make somebody feel better.

I know you have already done so, as I have, but I advise you to enjoy yourself, like you’ve never have before.¬† You certainly deserve it, mabuhay!

mga tala ng barat sa himpapawid (or notes on flying on the cheap)

AWAKE FOR 31 hours might be an equally dramatic title for this distracted blog but it wouldn’t be accurate, I caught snatches of sleep here and there throughout the maze.¬† But, just before I forget it, the biggest differences between points of origin and destination that I immediately noted: everything is back to the correct side, meaning you are always on the right side of the road, and look left before right while crossing said road; children can sell cigarettes, that’s probably the craziest thing, and you’re not asked for ID when you buy alcohol and cancer sticks.¬† Those struck me, but as usual they’re non sequitur and I’m getting ahead of myself.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and you never get something for nothing.¬† In return for a ridiculously cheap airplane ticket, you get aggravation and annoyance that ages you twice the normal rate.¬† I don’t know if that’s OK with you, you may probably be stressproof or young as a babe, and these don’t matter to you, but eventually it did to me, and I’m one of the (maybe the) cheapest persons I know.

Only a few things trump getting the juiciest bargain, and I just learned this recently : quality and uninterrupted rest, and the muck of insufferable boredom.¬† Because I’m an inconsistent traveller and haven’t adhered to any frequent flyer program, and because the budget pie often results in a sliver-thin slice for jetsetting, any chance to get flight bargains is grabbed in nanoseconds with no hesitation.¬† And the bargain I beheld online was too good to be true: for roughly the price of a business-class ticket (which I’ve never purchased), I could have two, countem two coach tickets, literally unbelievable!¬† Today however, I humbly stand before you to say it’s a price paid in both coin and aggravation.¬† Again, I get ahead of myself.

***              ***               ***                ***                ***

SuperBisor was taking us to the airport, and that definitely was one less thorn on our sides.  Checking in and waiting for the flight in Wellington was understandably the easiest and non-defining part of the trip: we were still fresh and excited to travel.

I didn’t realize that any laptops needed to be taken out of their bags and because¬†we had two (esposa hermosa was bequeathing one to a younger bro), we held up the long line behind us on the metal detector conveyor while extracting said laptops from their sheaths.¬† That was the awkward highlight of our first leg.

Auckland however was an entirely different kettle of fish as regards stress.  To begin with, the City of Sails was the gateway outside NZ, and therefore the airlines strongly encouraged  (hint words for required) its passengers to show up at least 90 minutes before the scheduled departure time (earlier than domestic boardings), which was nearly impossible since we were arriving from Wellington barely one hour and forty minutes before the next leg.

That means between claiming our luggage, checking it and ourselves in,¬†finding the boarding gate in the cavernous mall-cum-airport (seems that all airports look like malls nowadays), clearing immigration (as a guest worker like me, you want to look financially¬†capable enough to leave and sane enough to be welcomed back, both excruciatingly difficult for me) and avoiding at boarding¬†the¬†aura of¬†a drug mule, terrorist or conscript for white slavery, we had an eternity of 10 minutes.¬† How’s that for an instant prescription to prematurely gray your hair?

The Auckland connecting flight experience was like an unedited 30 minutes of The Amazing Race, and despite a fortuitous delay that stymied airline staff and frustrated passengers, we were still one of the last passengers to board.¬† Bags to chuck, boarding passes to read, jam into pockets, fish out again and jam into pockets again, corridors to lose ourselves in, horizontal escalators to hesitate using, and eventually overtaking, and finally repeating the cumbersome voiding-and-swallowing of laptops from and into bags, and we hadn’t even left Enzed yet.

Following was the exact opposite.¬† Eleven hours and change of doing nothing, and if you’ve ever come across Teddy Boy Locsin saying in a long flight, you eventually breathe in everyone else’s farts and exhalations, you knew it was olfactorily not a pleasant experience.¬† The Asian / Pinoy in me could not fathom the pay-as-you-use nature of everything : earphones (Aus$3) to understand the mindless movies airing; bottled water (A$4)¬†just to avoid parched throat and chapped lips; muffins more precious than gold (A$10) just to stanch the flow of hunger juices; and instant noodles (A$5) worth probably 50 times their sari-sari (corner store) levels, just to persuade guts from persisting with their peristaltic movement, these little comforts that we took for granted the shifty-eyed stewardesses sold for a king’s ransom.¬† And did we have any choice?¬† Yes, if we could suspend our physical needs for half a day like yogis, monks and pilgrims do.¬† No, if we were like the rest of the world.

I was glad I insisted on bringing along not just one but two thick volumes to while away the endless hours waiting to land.¬† I finished a 400-page political satire entitled Running Mate by Anonymous (Joe Klein) just as our incomprehensible-sounding pilot¬†(I think they do that on purpose, they don’t really want us to know what’s happening) was preparing our descent, and at least I could start Under The Dome by Stephen King at Changi International, where we would spend the next 8 hours sitting on our fat behinds.

To be fair, as airport malls go, Singapore’s was among the world’s best, not that I’d seen many (only HK and Sydney and oh, Melbourne), but it was literally a mall, as in there were stores and stores that stretched forever, a level above for conferences and meetings, esoteric (to me) store names like Longchamp, Dunhill and Longines, and endless corner monitors that extolled hermetically-sealed Singapore tourist spots.¬† It was a self-contained traveler’s idyll that you didn’t even need to venture out of.

But even the most interesting mallworld had its limits, and by the end of the first hour, esposa and I were all walked out, jetlagged and staggering around like zombies.¬† There was no choice but to improvise, and the nearest bench served as our temporary domiciles, bed, side table, reading lamp and all.¬† It didn’t matter that scores and scores of fellow wayfarers (with earlier flights) passed us by and sniffed at our temporary vagrancy.¬† We had made our (makeshift) bed, we had eight hours to lie in it, too.

So compared to both the previous leg and interminable wait, the last phase of our travel saga was a breeze : three hours between the Lion City and Manila, city of our birth.¬† It didn’t matter so much anymore that everything we asked for (food and small comforts) was for sale, it likewise didn’t matter it was a smaller plane (an Airbus I think) more sensitive to turbulence and changes in the weather.¬† Nearly everyone on board was a brown brother or sister and I counted myself lucky that seatmates in front of, behind me and at my sides were nearly catatonic with fatigue, hunger or boredom.¬† I had already started on Stephen King.

After all the brainfreeze inducing trips and waits, the best surprise of the journey was at NAIA.¬† If you can believe it, it took us all of five minutes to wait for and sort our generic luggage from the carousel, a hearbeat in time; immigration practically waved us through ( I felt like a VIP, rather than the anonymous OFW proletariat that was ready to be bullied by apparatchiks), customs didn’t even look at our baggage declaration, and the airport taxi driver didn’t even ask for a TIP!¬† It sounds naive, but the feel-good, no-drama treatment we received from border patrol made up for everything else.

I’m not going to double back and sugar coat / edit¬†all the silliness we endured, all in the name of pinching pennies and scrimping on comfort.¬† We got what we asked for, and we have learned from or experience.¬† Between waking up in Wellington and hitting the mattress back home, more or less 36 hours had passed.¬† For good or ill, this was what we bargained for, literally.¬† Would you do it?¬† Would we do it again?

Yes we are, honestly.  Deduct a few hours waiting time, and we are going through the exact same itinerary returning to the salt mines in Windy Welly.

Thanks for reading !

the last few hours before the rest of your life

hope it doesn't get to this point, but you may have to wait a while during connecting flights ūüôā thanks and acknowledgment to

[ Note : As they’re on their way here, Ganda and Bunso asked for whatever I could offer by way of tips, on how to make the departure from NAIA as pain-free as possible.¬† It’s been some time since I left from the Phils, so some insight may be a bit dated.¬† Thanks for reading ! ]

Dear Ganda :

I know it’s a bit daunting, but traveling on your own with just Bunso to accompany with you is just the same as travelling with an adult, only this time you are in charge of yourself, and of course your brother.¬† You asked for some tips, and although I’m a bit out-of-circulation, here’s what I remember.

1. Since there are just the 2 of you it might be better to just bring suitcases with built-in¬†trolleys, the type you can pull, not the old kind. But I guess that’s not practical since you’ve a lot to bring. Sigh.

2. you might want to ask Nana to help bring you and Bunso to the airport, since it will be a chance to say goodbye and someone can help you unload and load the luggage

3. at the entrance they will already ask you to show your passport and ticket, because unlike airports in other countries, NAIA doesn’t allow non-travellers to enter the airport proper.

¬†4. so you won’t be inconvenienced, ask Bunso and yourself as well to avoid any metals in your possession unless you can put it in your bag. always have your travel documents ready so u can easily present it. and don’t forget to bring cash for the airport tax. last I remember, it was P750…

5. I think the last counters either left or right are the airport tax counters.

6. depending on the airline and how full the plane is going to be, boarding time will be 30 minutes to 1 hour from actual take off time. so you have to be nearby the boarding gate, because esp if there are lots of OFWs, it will be an early queue to the gate

7. There, you will be asked to present your passport, because they will examine your visa. they will probably ask you what your purpose is , even though it’s plain to see on the visa. They are watching out for white slavery and illegal recruitment schemes

8. All you need to do is tell the immigration officer that you are visiting your mother in NZ, and if they ask for how long, state the period of your visa. It’s a formality, and sometimes, sometimes they are asking for something else. But doing that to you is unlikely because you’re very young, almost a minor. But remember, you’re accompanying Bunso who’s really¬†a minor.

9. As long as you’re direct in your answers, they’ll finish with you straightaway and you can proceed to the waiting area.

10. Because you arrived at the airport early, you will probably anticipate at least an hour’s wait, or more. But it’s a small sacrifice, I guess.

11. you can still say your last goodbyes at the waiting lounge / area with your cellphone, but that’s the last place where you can do that. i think there’s an area you can go use the computer and there’s wi-fi. you can check your emails and change your profile pic one last time. ūüôā

12. going back to your luggage, most airlines allow 20 kilos luggage but if it’s PAL and you request nicely, they allow up to 25 kg. Handcarried is up to 10kg but the size of the bag allowed¬†is not large, maybe the size of a briefcase maximum.

13.¬† Try to eat a lot before going to the airport, and eat as little as possible in airports because (1) you never know what’s in the food, and it wouldn’t be a pretty sight to try to spend some time in the toilet, wherever airport you are; and (2) airport cafes and food outlets tend to be expensive.

14.¬† If you’re in for a long wait, either in NAIA or during a stopover, I would recommend that you bring along a nice thick volume, like a novel you’ve been wanting to read but never had the time for.¬† You will breeze through it in no time.¬† Otherwise, the shops in NAIA are not the best, sorry to say, and their counterparts in Sydney or Melbourne are much better.

15.¬†¬† I almost forgot, and I should be doing a facepalm for this, please don’t forget to keep with you the document showing parental consent and allowing Bunso to travel, and that you are his guardian / escort for at least the duration of the trip.¬† They will ask for details and documents at least once during your check-in processes, and don’t be flustered if they ask to call either your mother or me, for that reason it may be prudent to have lots of credit / load on your phone.¬† Just to be sure.

Overall, you’re in for a marvelous adventure, and that’s just getting here !¬† Just stay alert, don’t be too friendly with strangers, no matter how handsome or cute they are, and you’ll be here in no time.¬† I love you always, kaawan kayo lagi ng Diyos !


Why Airports Are Not Your Happy Place If You’re Asian : TVOne’s Border Security

Border control in the United States (U.S. Cust...

Image via Wikipedia

[ NOte from NOel : Apologies, the subject matter this time refers to Aus/NZ TV content only. Maraming salamat po Kuya Pat, Ate Belen and all the other members of Barangay Northern Hutt Yahoo!group for accepting us , happy birthday to kabatch Wilson Lu; kudos to Doc Gerry So and Olive Montenegro Ferrer for hosting SB XLV, and to the good people of Egypt, may the Force & the spirit of the First Quarter Storm and EDSA 1/2 be with you!]

Dear kabatch, schoolmates, brods, kabayan, officemates, Huttmates & friends :

BECAUSE so many people do them both as pasttime and professionally, I don’t generally succumb to the temptation of writing TV and film reviews, although as they say, everyone’s a critic. It’s always fun to pan this or that production, especially those splashed in hypermedia (the double episodes, the supersequels and sequels of sequels), even the reviews themselves are reviewed.

So if I’m not a paying customer, and unless there’s so much media buzz I see it coming out of my own ears, the consumer is king, and caveat emptor, or let the buyer (or viewer) beware.

I can’t avoid donating my unsolicited 60 centavos though ( two NZ cents times 30 ) on a particular TV show I watch Monday nights, whenever I’m not on early evening or late night shift, because it provokes so many reactions from me (emotional and otherwise) on different levels. The show is innocuously entitled Border Security and is popular on both sides of the Tasman Strait ( Aus and NZ ), and unconsciously I manage to prioritize it over almost everything else except ESPN SportsCenter, CNN breaking news, an ultra-wacky Man vs Wild episode ( carried by at least three channels; particularly when the preview shows the host chomping on fresh meat just to survive ) or, when I can catch it, a Justice League or Dark Knight back-to-back on Cartoon Network ūüôā

And I’ll tell you why. The show is touted as a straightforward day-to-day docu-cum-reality combo on how Australian Immigration and Customs screen the sea of human and cargo traffic, in the thousands of units daily, and the drama and unexpected situations that ensue.

I admire without qualification the composure, politically correct and dispassionate way with which the Aussies handle the situations. Given the hundreds of judgment calls that come their way, whackos and the criminally inclined that can potentially wreak havoc on health and safety in their jurisdictions, the authorities shown in Border Security deserve a medal each time they pull their punches, corner the guilty or go easy on a naive, poorly prepared or ill-informed first-time traveler.

But there are memorable exceptions. I need to make mention before I forget that between half and three-quarters of the “suspects” they interview, potential drug mules, smugglers of prohibited items ( biosecurity hazards, products processed from endangered species, or undeclared food items ) are of Asian or Eurasian ethnicity.

I’m not being touchy, racially sensitive or anything like that. It’s just a fact of life I have learned, not only from watching the show but from personal experience (more on that later). If you so much as stare at any lawman, show a bead of sweat on your forehead, appear a tad too worried and/or waiting for someone else, and are tan, yellow, brown or anything else other than Caucasian, consider yourself fresh meat for a second scan ( margin for error is granted for things missed by human eyes, but not on take 2 ), short-listed for a full baggage search and longer-than-usual interview.

Again, I don’t want to raise your hackles or elicit indignant self-righteousness among the Lahing Kayumanggi. Good for you if you think there’s something fishy going on, but on each episode of Border Security, it’s an unfortunate part of policy to stereotype the potential source of problems. I won’t go so far as to use the term racial profiling, but history and experience require them to go with the odds, and the odds are that if there’s a problem, the source will be an Asian.

Believe you me, everytime I’ve gone home or back to work, whether I pass through Sydney or Melbourne, when my stopover is more than an hour and to loiter on the airport is a necessary evil, I am subjected to a random body search, no matter how I look or how seasoned a traveler I pretend to be.

Everytime I’m in a queue, I’m separated from the rest, inspected ocularly from head to toe while given the patronizing probing questions. Each time they find nothing wrong with me, just your generic garden variety Asian OFW itching to get to work / get home, spend the holidays or get back to the grind. Despite my famous glib tongue ( loose lips sink ships ūüėČ ), I know better than to make careless comments or terrorist jokes, and within 10 minutes they send me on my way.

That’s not always the case. In Border Security, a constant theme ( in fairness to the producers, they’re just as enthusiastic to show boners on the side of authority ) is the unintended comedy of airport or customs authorities struggling to justify making life difficult for the casual traveler.

In one episode, two red flags stood out for a bearded, long-maned, tattooed Brit. He declared he had a criminal conviction ( probably smoking one too many funny cigarets ) and secondly, traces (but nothing tangible) of cocaine were detected on the soles of his shoes. Immediately he was asked, and agreed to an extensive body search, and later the customs officer agreed that in all probability the controlled substance could have come from anywhere, and in summary there was no legal ground to bar his entry to Australia

No legal ground, of course, except the fact that everyone would lose face by allowing him into the country after subjecting him to all sorts of difficulty. In the end and to their credit, the airport heavies allowed him in, apologized for the inconvenience and wished him well.

[ Two thoughts on that : there was the slight chance that their sense of decency was swayed in the right direction by all the cameras around, and second, can you imagine that happening back home, where you can earn a night in the stockade for sticking your tongue out at Manila’s Finest ? ]

Even more memorable to me was another episode where a Filipino was again, singled out of the queue and his passport scrutinized. Part of the dialog went like this :

Interviewer : What is your occupation sir and how much do you earn ?

Pinoy : I am a businessman and I earn roughly P50,000 a month. ( asks politely ) May I ask why you are asking ?

Interviewer : I ask because I find it hard to believe that you would spend one month’s earnings just to visit this country, which I assume is to see the sights. Which reminds me, can you name any of the sights you plan to see in Sydney?

Pinoy : (visibly surprised at the question) I’m sorry but I can’t. I was hoping my girlfriend would show me around.

Interviewer : Oh, yes. She must also be part of the reason you are here. Would you mind if we called her ?

I’m cutting it short, my recollection of the interview, but you probably get my drift. Sadly for our countryman, after they failed to reach the girlfriend by home, the officer decided not to allow him entry, and sent him home on the next flight back to Manila.

My singular line of questioning here is : Can you imagine the officer asking questions like that if the guy was not a member of the non-white races, and would the officer be asking any questions like those ( bordering on the offensive ) if the interviewee were white?

** ** ** ** **

[ Note that I don’t even touch on whether or not the officer was correct in her decision, discussing that issue is probably moot as it is entirely within their authority to grant or deny entry to visitors. It would maybe just bother you a bit to wonder, as it did me, if the same decision would follow had the visitor come from the UK, Canada or Europe. ]

If you will forgive our attempts at reverse racism, the exchange above was one of the notable exceptions, and it stood out only because the traveler was a kabayan. But this is why I enjoy watching Border Security and similar shows. I am well aware, and appreciate the noblesse oblige of the First World, the post 9/11 culture of paranoia, and the need to keep borders safe.

But the frailties of human error, prejudice and prejudgments will always be there to cloud the reliability of reasoned thinking. And as the program manifests, the true-to-life situations therein bring out both the best and the worst in us.

Thanks for reading !


Alone in A Sea of Humanity

( originally written 26th December 2009 ) 

IT’S PROBABLY, on the broad spectrum of human experience and situations, one of the loneliest, and quite ironic that it is spent among hundreds, probably even among thousands of people in the busiest of locations.

We refer to spending alone as near a date to Christmas as possible in transit, traveling major hours or distances from one corner of the world to the other, and getting caught on the coziest day of the season without anyone near you that you know, hate or love. Quite sobering, and a bit depressing.

Interestingly enough, a lot of travelers were stranded during extreme weather conditions both in North America and Europe, and quite a lot of commuters were rendered helpless when trains traversing the English Channel between UK and continental Europe were stalled.

But we refer to something a little less exciting, a little more mundane. We couldn’t help but plan a visit back to Islas de los Pintados just a few sleeps before the 25th, when we finally convinced the boss we deserved the remainder of our annual leave and were good for it ( meaning our promise to return on schedule was good as gold ), got a last-minute ticket just a day before Christmas Eve, and confirmed it just a few hours before we actually packed our meager change-of-clothing and thick-thick paperback into a grimy backpack.

Anything for the chance to rebond with any and all loved ones back home, revisit well-loved sites, roam familiar haunts and break bread with buddy-buddy bros (& sisses) esp during the holidays. Sounds baduy, tacky and cheesy, but we would spend our bottom dollar (and humble peso) just to get back to where we once belonged. ( thanks for that, Fab 4 ! )

Balik sa topic : you probably know where we’re going with this. We got home just in the nick of time a few hours before Christmas Eve, and looking at various waystations in the interim, wondered how lonely it must be for traveling salesmen, professionals on-the-road, and world-weary wayfarers to be in the middle of Heilongjiang, Alma Ata, or some other lonely outpost on this sometimes Lonely Planet, waiting for yet another ride to Nowhere, sa ilalim ng Bundok ng TraLaLa.

We were in no such place, in fact we were just a few hours away from home, but in return for a spontaneously instant itinerary we had to spend halfway between Kilometer Zero and Ultimate Destination ( Cainta, Rizal ) in Sydney Aus. Nothing bad about it, since, as efficient, sleek and squeaky clean airports go, this was near the top, in our humble estimation.

[ Nobody spill the beans, but in between zzzzz’s and ngorkkks, did we imagine a “hidden” stopover around the corner, Brisbane we think (?), which coincidentally is home to one of the larger Pinoy communities in Aus. Well, as long as we’re homebound, might as well pick up as many kabayans as possible, just don’t take too long Kapitan Kulas. ]

** ** ** ** ** ** ** **

Unfortunately, spending more than the essential waiting time (4 hours) in this place was not in our immediate interests, even for the sake of argument overlooking the fact that we were not issued a transit visa; not that we deserved one since the document was granted only for stopovers beyond 8 hours ( a notoriously popular mode of migration being getting-lost-while-seeing-Sydney for a day and inadvertently-staying-lost-for-a-year ), no sneak-ins for you Mr Opportunistic Oriental Overstayer.

Hmm, we never thought of such, but we can sympathize with your self-righteous paranoia, Aussie Immigration Officer. Don’t worry, we’ll be gone after our 4 hours, thank you very much for the kick in our brown behind.

Frankly, we were hearing more than a few growls from Mr Tumtums, but the Aussie dollar is worth a bit more than NZ’s, and since there was a meal waiting for us on the plane, we decided to just wait it out, let the digestive juices stew a bit, and walk around SYD International; it would be quite a while before we returned to this neck of the woods.

It shouldn’t have been a wonder, but there were more Pinoys, Chinese, South Asians, than any other place we had been to recently. Maybe it was also a coincidence that we were in a PAL flight, but then again KAL, SAL, JAL and Cathay Pacific flights were on the roster of arrivals and departures every hour that we waited for our plane.

Might have been our imagination, but the way our eyes traveled across the rows and rows of seats in waiting lounges and departure areas, one could have sworn that we were anywhere else except Australia. The distribution, no exaggeration, was less than 2 white faces in 10 that we encountered.

And it seemed like the airport management had adjusted to this reality. Everywhere we went there were Asian sales staff, ready to assist your purchasing queries in whatever language / dialect you were accustomed to. Likewise, signs explaining sales and specs for both consumables and electronics were in a babel of languages and script, no possibility of anything getting lost in translation.

Ang kulang na lang talaga, Ate and Koya, ang ginto at pilak na panggastos para sa mga pasalubong for the loved ones back home. I wish !

** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** **

By the time the wheels touched down and every passenger nimbly made his/her way out of the plane, the oddly familiar smell of burnt air greeted us on EDSA. Had we not been light-headed / adrenalin filled from 24 hours of travel, we would have recognized it as the carbon monoxide / diesel / lead / tire rubber cocktail of scents that most Metro Manilans are used to.

But for the moment, we just perceived it for what it was : the familiar smell of home.

Happy holidays everyone ! YLB NOel