Saturday, November 09, 2013

Through the Expatriate’s Eyes

The cue is longer than usual. But you can always expect that when there are at least five Filipino families in the beginning of the line who are trying to check-in their gargantuan balikbayan boxes and crammed luggage filled with pasalubongs and gifts that will be distributed to the whole clan, to the patriarch’s cousin’s clan, and for the neighbourhood of the whole baranggay. And the hand-held luggage is not yet counted there. If we had it our way, we would bring the very soil of our foreign host and share its bounty with friends and family, but we simply have to be satisfied with the 40 kg and the extra fines we would pay for reaching another 10 kg.

It is my first time to travel back to the Philippines after 13 years. Things have changed since I came to Italy. The 9/11 tragedy has changed the rules on boarding a plane. It’s tricky to stuff gifts in our hand-held bags. Security is tighter. We are ever more exposed to physical searches- to the annoyance of the religious chaste, and to the joy of the oversexed and the closeted insatiable masochists. And the worst of all, the ban on liquids, perfumes, and toothpastes. That means when I arrived at the Abu Dhabi airport I was all stuffy and smelled of yesterday’s atrocious scent. And by the time I was in NAIA, I was already like the walking dead- haggard and stinky. Thank you kleptomaniac passenger for stealing the cologne in the lavatory and thank you so much Etihad Airlines for denying us the privilege of cleaning our mouths with toothpaste!

At the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, I walked passed security and metal detectors. And to make things more stressful, one has to go through booths that represented a government that wants to convey the message- “Welcome back kabayan, bureaucracy is more fun in the Philippines.”

“No, I’m not an OFW. It’s in the form I filled up earlier.”
“Yes, I’m a permanent resident in Italy.”
“Yes, this is a valid document. I wouldn’t be standing here sir if they were all fake.”
“Yes, I’m here for vacation and I want to relax. I already wrote that in the form. This is really relaxing.”

I survived that. Thank God, medyo tanga pa man din ako minsan.

I intensely anticipated my return by reading Miguel Syjuco’s “Ilustrado”, and tried pathetically to indentify myself with the character in the book who’s also a returning expatriate. I was returning to memories and a past life I lingered to live again.

I imagined my arrival to be very emotional. But instead of tears, I was sweating all over. The tropical heat welcomed me with open ardent arms. Basag trip much. I waited for almost an hour at the arrival area because the people who were supposed to pick me up didn’t recognize me. I couldn’t see them and they were just standing in front of me.

While waiting, I was surrounded by people who were unbelievably accommodating and eager to get me a cab. Before coming to the Philippines, I was thoroughly briefed by my father, my aunt, our pastor, a friend of mine, a colleague, my sister, and another balikbayan about certain scenarios that usually happen at NAIA. And this is exactly one of them- I’m swimming in a pool of tips-grabbing sharks. Security guards who sell mobile credits and SIM cards, airport employees ushering you to NAIA-credited taxi companies and to cheaper unofficial transportation services. And they wouldn’t be asking for Philippine peso. They prefer foreign currency. And perhaps among them, some hypnotists who will encourage you to give away goods and money.

I was warned about these things. For a moment, I thought I was going to Afghanistan or to some war-torn country’s airport infested by usurpers and criminals. But I was going to the Philippines. I didn’t remember it to be that risky. Have things worsened? Or did they remain the way they used to be? Is this the Philippines I read in the paper?

Before those tips-grabbing sharks feasted on me, my uncle appeared and took me away from that place. On our way to Laguna, my questions were almost answered, and more questions came along the way.

What happened to this country?


And I see it all through the eyes of one who feels like an alien in his own country. You may say that I’m being such a prick who feels that I’m entitled to everything; that I behave like a hubristic elitist. Love me or hate me, I will be the same old average Tripster who is fascinated and nostalgic of this country. I will criticize, I will praise, I will berate, I will glorify. And after more than a decade of being away, here I am, home to the land that gave me life. Heaven or hell, beautiful or ugly, it doesn’t really matter. I am here. I am home.  

17 comments:

  1. Naimagine ko sa iyo yung magiging itsura ng pag.uwi ko rin dyan. lol exciting!

    pero ano yan? anong raket na naman ba yan at may form pa talaga silang nalalaman? Pero buti na lang at narecognize ka ng iyong mahal sa buhay at hindi naging "The Terminal" ang iyong pag-uwi sa atin. lol!

    Tungkol sa NAIA, kailangan na kailangan talaga masolusyonan dahil nakakahiya lang sa ating bansa. Yan pa naman ang "first impression".

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    1. Awa ng Diyos eh hindi ako na stranded sa airport due to human stupidity. hahaha! Pero tama ka talaga diyan sa airport na yan. Yan pa man din ang international airport natin. Tapos ang laking sign nakalagay More Fun in the Philippines.

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  2. Welcome back sa Pilipinas. Welcome back sa Laguna. :)

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    1. Thanks. This is actually an entry sa journal ko (nag diary talaga eh no? hahaha!). Nandito nako sa Italy.

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  3. I totally agree with the tip shark infested NAIA airport.. Every single time I get back to the Philippines from a vacation so many of them offer help and yet expect to get tipped. Its really embarrassing for us Filipinos to be where the World's Worst Airport is found.. The government has got to do something about this talaga.. Over all great read ;) I hope to read more from you and welcome back to Pinas ;)

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    1. Ganid would be the appropriate term. I can't blame them lalu na kung hindi tinataasan ang sweldo nila. Pero hindi talaga magandang tingnan. Anyway, salamat sa pagtambay dito!

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  4. Welcome back Mr.T ehehehe.. Good thing you'll be staying here during holidays at least you will be with your lola :D

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    1. Nakakalungkot nga at hindi ako makakastay sa pinas this Christmas. nandito nako sa Italy.

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  5. yes, welcome back Mr. T, enjoy your vacation! :-D

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    1. Nakabalik nako dito sa Italy. But thanks anyway...

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  6. I wonder how old you are. 13 years in Italy. hmmmm, Parang sobrang nakakabanibago naman sa feeling na after 13 long years you're home. Definitely, lots of thing has changed. Nakaka nostalgic talaga yan. But anyways, welcome back.

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    1. 18 years old na ako. WEH! hahaha! Maraming nagbago, marami pa din ang nanatili na ganun. Hintayin mo na lang ang mga susunod kong entries.

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  7. wow.... tagal mo na pala sa Italy.... nakaka miss na din ang PInas....

    enjoy lang diyan....

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  9. sarap siguro tumungtong sa pinas let nu!
    the best ang pasko dito diba! di man maganda ang mga
    balita naun

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  10. Aba! At Abu Dhabi ka pala nag stop over di mo sinabi, sana pinuntahan kita hahaha.

    Ganyan talaga sa airport natin... kailan kaya magbabago? Who knows, baka sa susunod na pag-uwi mo... sana...

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  11. I am home. -- nice... may hugot...hihihihi

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Sige, sakayan niyo ang trip ko....