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
after 13 years.
Things have changed since I came to Philippines . 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 Italy 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! Abu Dhabi
, 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 Ninoy Aquino International Airport .” Philippines
“No, I’m not an OFW. It’s in the form I filled up earlier.”
“Yes, I’m a permanent resident in
“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
, 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 Philippines 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
or to some
war-torn country’s airport infested by usurpers and criminals. But I was going
to the Afghanistan . 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
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.