Friday, May 17, 2013

Bleak mirror

It isn't easy travelling as a Filipino, when the whole world presumes you're a criminal and/or prostitute until proven innocent by a long and expensive paper trail, after which they may decide on a whim not to let you into their country anyway without being obliged to give you a reason why.

We expected to face obstacles when applying for Jackie's tourist visas to the notoriously xenophobic Japan and South Korea a few months down the line, but spending a few months travelling around friendly neighbourhood countries first, like Malaysia, Thailand and wherever else took our fancy, was supposed to be the easy part, dipping Jackie's feet in international waters and collecting some useful passport stamps to help her chances of being approved for more difficult countries in the future.

We only learned there's no such thing as a stress-free holiday for Filipinos after we'd already cleared immigration at Manila and were stopped just before boarding the plane. At least the Philippines is consistent, going to great efforts to give me the worst possible impression right to the very end.

In a glass dingily

Our trip to Malaysia in April 2013 unintentionally mirrored my first solo trip to that country almost exactly two years earlier in April 2011. Thinking about it, Jackie's almost exactly the same age I was at the time too (25 years and 8 months compared to my 25 years and 7 months - I didn't realise foreigners are supposed to be at least 30 years older than their Filipino girlfriends, sorry about that).

The difference with our situations is, I didn't need to be interviewed before leaving my home country, prove to suspicious border guards that I was in a relationship by showing them photos from my phone, get my partner to sign documents saying they would be officially responsible for me abroad - despite me being an adult - or be forced into imposing a deadline on my freedom by booking a return ticket. Two years on, I still haven't got round to going back 'home' and no one seems to mind that.

Experiencing these obstacles through a first-time Filipino traveller can make you realise how privileged you are, or maybe just how messed up the other side is. If that sounds supremacist, it's just another one of those situations where my need for universal fairness overrides my duty to respect more intolerant and damaging aspects of another culture. I can't respect a system that doesn't respect its own people and treats them more like prisoners.

We gradually learned that Jackie's scared of boats, buses and even walking in certain circumstances. Keep trying, universe, I still won't give up!

We faced these ordeals after I'd already been unpleasantly surprised by the revelation that Filipinos need to pay an expensive 'travel tax' before leaving this dystopian country as punishment for having the audacity to take a holiday overseas (on top of the sneaky terminal fees, of course). After paying this fictional tax, being held for interrogation and contract signing and being told we couldn't board the plane without a return ticket we dashed back through immigration the wrong way and waited impatiently in line at the Cebu Pacific Air booking office. Only slightly distracted by trying to work out whether or not I was actually in the country at the time, we bought return flights for a random date a couple of months down the line, ran back through immigration and made it to our gate in the nick of time, only to find out the flight was delayed anyway. OF COURSE IT WAS, THIS IS THE PHUCKING PHILIPPINES!

Still, we had a really nice time in Malaysia after that, retracing some of my favourite places two years on and skipping out the pointless ones, and we didn't even get any immigration hassle. That's one down, I wonder how many countries we can fit in before we reach our arbitrarily selected return date and whether any of them will treat Jackie as badly as her own country gets off on doing. I hope this isn't going to be horrible.

We made it through a game of Malaysian Monopoly without either of us once commenting that it would be brilliant if all the ringgets were real. I was too busy trying to keep the exchange rates I'd cobbled together clear in my mind, so that's the only reason she achieved a devastating victory. Who knew I have poor financial sense when girls are involved?

Don't be fooled into thinking I'm a considerate boyfriend for supporting Jackie through this immigration and NBI hassle - it's in my best interests to get her out of the Philippines so I don't have to spend so much time there. Maybe if I slag off the Philippines government enough on this blog I won't be allowed back in and I'll have an excuse to emigrate her and whatever family members want to tag along. We'll be back in a couple of months, I'm confident the government will provide more fodder for me then. Can't wait.

We sampled the breadth of Malaysia's multicultural cuisine, so it amused me when Jackie was most impressed by bland British fish and chips that I mostly bought as a joke.

It bodes well for our future trip to that country, at least. We have so much more intimidating immigration fun to look forward to throughout our lives. Bloody hell.


  1. are people you do not know welcome to comment?

    I've been following your travels off and on for a while, I live in Central Canada, no idea how I stumbled onto your blog, but it is very well done.

    I am very surprised to learn of the racism described here.

    Mark, wpg Canada.

    1. Oh, thanks! Of course, it's great when people come across this and get something out of it, even if I do nothing to attract hits. I mainly write it for myself and for future nostalgia / blackmail fodder.

      Canada's definitely on the to-do list, as soon as I stop being lazy and kick myself out of Asia.

  2. It's the annoying fact. Our immigration said its protecting us from white slavery, drug and human trafficking, simply because there are a lot of underprivileged people dragged or tricked to it. Promised a good job abroad but then agencies will leave them on their own at a foreign land without anything after they have hoarded the families' fortune thinking their child will get them out of the poverty. Think of it how if people gets in trouble somewhere abroad, our consulate tries its best to help who needs one that it gets to its attention, imagine the money to be used for that if we can avoid it.

    Then again for independent and educated people who would like to travel around would find this very annoying and will of course, just like your Jackie, for first timers will be a pain in the rear. Yet, if your really want to get out of the country, have all the means, and you know you are not and will not do anything malicious abroad then I guess you're smart enough to answer the immigration questions smart. You will just tell them truth, and that's it. Also, one more thing about Filipinos is that they believe everything they hear and so they think everyone's fate will be theirs too, making them nervous and unconfident about who they really are and what are their real intentions. Sorry, I'm rambling...but yeah, this is a common thing at the Philippine immigration.

    1. I was really getting everything off my chest, I felt a little better after writing it down. We arrive back in Manila in a couple of weeks to arrange her Korean visa (she already has NBI clearance and proof of funds in her bank account) and then back to Davao to arrange a Japan visa with an agency there.

      Hopefully if we do everything to the letter they'll grant approval, but she's at least willing to accept if they don't. More than I am!