So, my ticket said February 23, 2007. Departure for San Francisco set at 10:30 PM, since it was the PAL direct flight. Picked up the ticket a day before from my travel agent. I was almost set to go. Just had to finalize 2 last boxes and seal them up. I wasn’t going to be taking any real luggage per se but rather, two large 20×20 balikbayan boxes, my steel-stringed guitar in its hard case, and a hand-carried bag with wheels, plus a “purse”. Yeah, I know. A LOT.
LAST MINUTE SEMINAR
So, on the night of Feb 22, I figured I could take my time in sorting what to finally put in and take out of the boxes. And I realized there was still space on my Wolverine media player. Around 32 GB of space. I decided to transfer a whole bunch of files (installers, mp3s, data, backups) and movie VCDs to the Wolverine so I wouldn’t have to pack the boxes with more silicon discs. Which took up most of the night. I was through with the last minute data dump by about 6AM on the 23rd.
At which point I decided to double check the contents of the passport/visa packet that was sent to my house via courier. There it was in the SECOND instruction sheet, colored yellow, almost hidden from plain view by the front sheet which warned NOT to open the packet at all, or risk a delay in entering the USA.
The sheet said that, as an immigrant to a foreign country, I was required by Philippine law to attend a Pre-Departure Orientation Seminar.
I slapped my head in disbelief. I had received the packet on February 16, a day after Agnes returned to the States, and the morning after overnight duty in the ICU with my dad. So I was tired, and figured at the time that I’d read through the packet at some later date… which never came. And here I was on the day of my departure, sweating bullets.
Checked the website at once. Turned out they had daily seminars from 10:30 AM till about 12:30 noon. Called the number and asked about the details and directions to get to the venue, which was all the way in Manila. Argh. What utter utter stupidity.
No choice. At 7:30 AM, having had no sleep at all, and having no time to bathe properly, I commuted via MRT/LRT (the quickest way) and got myself to the Commission on Filipinos Overseas, a non-government org that gives these seminars and counseling sessions to future immigrants in order to inform them about their rights in these countries and that if they are ever victims of any form of abuse, that they should know where to run to. A formality, to be sure, but if it helps protect people from abuse, then good. They did touch on a few helpful details especially useful for first-time travelers: what to do at immigration, what to have with you, what you can and can’t bring in your luggage…
So there I was, rushing from building to building, sitting down, lining up, and filling up forms, all the while thinking: I haven’t finished PACKING YET. Silly silly boy.
LAST MINUTE GOODBYES
By 3 o’clock or so, I was home, and finally closing up the boxes, and weighing them before heading to the airport. Yikes. One box weighed 90 pounds. Only 70 are allowed. Massive re-organization took place there. I ended up leaving more stuff than I’d intended. But anyway. They’re all in a suitcase, ready for transport. The next time anyone from our family or friends, is taking a U.S. flight, that suitcase goes with them!
Had barely enough time to bathe before saying awkward goodbyes to my parents, who were sad to see me go, but knew that I had to. And we shed a few tears surreptitiously. Told my dad to behave himself so he doesn’t get another stroke. Told my mom to take care of herself. They both stayed behind at home instead of doing the traditional pinoy “Hatid sa Airport” ritual.
On the trip to the airport, I admitted to our driver Jojo that it was indeed scary to be starting anew. Even if I knew who was waiting on the other side of the ocean for me, even if I knew I would be in good hands, even if I knew this was all part of the plan that God has. A little fear was still in there. And well, Jojo had the good sense to realize I was just unburdening myself.
By the time I was at the airport, things went smoothly. I was expecting to have to pay extra fees for my guitar, but didn’t have to. Was expecting some sort of delay in the flight sked, but was surprised by the punctuality of my flight. Was expecting to have a tiring ride, but ended up sleeping for 8 hours straight, and awoke refreshed.
THE NEW CHAPTER STARTS WITH ANOTHER LINE
At the end of the road and at the start of a new chapter in life, what dramatic thing do I find? A loooong line for First-Time Immigrants at the immigration section of the San Francisco International Airport. So long in fact that we were nearly out the door. By the time I got to an immigration officer, the only question s she had for me were: “What is the name of your wife?” and “Do you have any food in your luggage?”
And just like that, I was out the door, collecting my boxes, and waiting for Agnes to pick me up at the curb outside the airport in her cute Honda Element.
And just like that, I came home.