Journey To The Land Of Milk & Honey: Visa Journey Timeline

6 Sep

January 9, 2013                 Submitted I-129 F Petition to USCIS
January 16, 2013               Received Notice of Action (NOA1) from Vermont Service Center
May 24, 2013                      Notified of Case transfer to Texas Service Center
July 2, 2013                         Received Notice of Petition Approval (NOA2) from Texas Service Center
July 18, 2013                       Notified of Case transfer to National Visa Center
July 26, 2013                       Received Manila Case number from NVC
August 22, 2013                Passed medical examinations at St. Luke’s Extension Clinic
August 27, 2013                Visa approved after interview at the US Embassy Manila
August 28, 2013                Attended Pre-departure Orientation Seminar at the Commission on Filipinos Overseas office
August 28, 2013                Visa status changed to Ready (via visa tracker)
August 28, 2013                Visa status changed to Administrative Processing
August 29, 2013                Visa status changed to Issued
September 4, 2013          Visa packet delivered at 2Go Ayala People Support Center
September 5, 2013          Passport and Port of Entry documents picked up at 2Go Ayala
September 5, 2013          Passport stamped at CFO office
September 9, 2013          Leaving Manila for New York via Delta Airlines
September 9, 2013          Arrival at Port of Entry (JFK Airport, New York City)

IAN.Y.S.M. Entry 005 – Getting to know Bangkok, Exploring (with) Cecille: A True Love Travelogue Series – Part 3

11 Jul

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Waking up was surreal.  It was the morning after my arrival, and I’ve had far too little sleep.  Not that I’m complaining; it was a memorable night for sure, first with my arrival in Thailand, followed by the hours spent getting to know the woman I had grown so “virtually” close to in the flesh.  Not that only “the flesh” was involved in this process – sure, we had figured out pretty quickly how wonderfully natural it felt to kiss each other, but after 4 months of courtship with a whole planet between us, simply being in the same room as each other felt amazing.  After hours of cuddling and conversation, my exhaustion finally overtook my excitement, and we gave in to sleep….for a few hours, at least, until I woke up starving and in dire need of some breakfast.

And so, we headed down to eat at the breakfast buffet in the hotel restaurant.  As we ate, it became apparent to me that everything about this was surreal – the feeling I had upon waking wasn’t going away anytime soon; here I was, in the midst of what had only been a fantastical daydream just scant months prior.  I remember the mix of emotions: a sense of achievement, for turning a “what if” into reality, the pioneering excitement one feels when just discovering a new and unfamiliar land for the first time, and of course my feelings for Cecille, this larger-than-life woman who was in fact a little bit smaller than I had imagined her…but also, more beautiful than pictures or a webcam could convey.  I was excited: excited about the coming 2 weeks, the places I would discover and the sights I would see; but even more so, excited about the prospect of spending these 2 weeks with her, and what could develop as we got to know each other more.

Breakfast was quite satisfying, but I was nowhere near feeling well-rested…but this was OK, because Cecille and I had the foresight to keep our itinerary clear for this first day. We knew I’d be jetlagged, and that touring Bangkok and Thailand would be much more enjoyable if done with adequate rest to mitigate the jet-lag of my global traverse.  We headed back up to our room, only venturing out to acquire more take-out Chinese food from the restaurant around the corner when our bellies demanded the attention. Otherwise, it was a day of intimate relaxation, frequent cuddling, and simply getting used to the idea that we were actually in the same place at the same time. In short, we shut out the outside world and lived in one of our own creation as I recuperated.

We woke early the next morning, and I felt refreshed and ready for adventure. Our first stop? The quintessential tourist destination of any Bangkok tourist: The Grand Palace!  After another satisfying breakfast, we hopped into a taxi and headed to our destination.  This ride was my first opportunity to really see Bangkok, alive and in daylight.  Naturally, the first thing I noticed was the humid, sweltering heat! I was sweating instantly, but I wasn’t surprised – this was to be expected in a tropical location.  I was thankful for the A/C in the taxi, and while we rode, I held Cecille close as I gazed at the world outside of the window.  Traffic moved in some kind of barely controlled chaos, which can basically be described as everyone goes at once, with yielding done only at the last possible instant.  This approach remained consistent regardless of vehicle size or velocity – the large tour buses, motorbikes, Tuk-Tuks, Taxis, and tinted-window SUVs all vied for leverage, taking every inch of road afforded to them.

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Also, Bangkok is a colorful city, from the fabrics being sold street-side, the numerous Buddhist shrines located practically everywhere, the hot pink or green taxis, to the variety of fresh fruits displayed by cart-vendors on every street corner.   Bangkok is vibrant, bright, and alive….and it smells, too.   Admittedly, not as bad as most underground NYC subway stations…and any city with a population of several million has its own unique “parfum”, that’s for sure!

Our taxi dropped us off near the Palace gates, and so we headed to the closest visible entrance.  Although this particular gate was closed, there was a small crowd of people milling about the entrance.  We surely looked like tourists as we sauntered up to it, and a Thai man with a somewhat official looking outfit approached us.  He informed us in broken English that the Palace was not yet open to the public for another hour (1pm, we were told), but why don’t we just step into this waiting Tuk-Tuk for a tour of the area instead of standing around?  He must have sounded persuasive, because within seconds I was following my usually headstrong and city-smart Cecille into a small Tuk-Tuk, which wasted no time in speeding off away from the Palace.   Although I hadn’t really had time to react or question what was going on, as we were herded into the Tuk-Tuk I remembered something I had read online a few weeks before about a common scam at the Palace; men would dress in some semblance of “official looking uniform”, then lie to tourists about the Palace being closed for the sole purpose of sending them off on an overpriced half-hour “tour” in a waiting Tuk-Tuk.  As we were already approaching  the next intersection, it dawned on me that this is exactly what was happening to us. I turned to Cecille:

“Hey…why are we doing this?”

She shrugged her shoulders. “If the Palace isn’t open yet, then why not? You’ll get a chance to see some of the city while we wait.”

“I read on the internet that the Palace is open all day. I think these guys are lying to us.” The Tuk-Tuk stopped at a traffic light. “Can we just go? Let’s get out of here.”

Cecille didn’t argue or hesitate. Just like that, she just trusted me, even though this was now her city and I was the stranger; she grabbed my hand, and we jumped off from the Tuk-Tuk together, saying “No, sorry, we’re going now,” to the incredulous driver.  With this simple gesture, I immediately trusted her more, too.

Still holding hands, we walked the few blocks back to the Grand Palace.

After locating the correct entrance, we walked onto the Palace grounds. We entered through The Phimanchaisri Gate, the main entrance from the Outer to the Middle Court. The Outer Court or Khet Phra Racha Than Chan Na (เขตพระราชฐานชั้นหน้า) of the Grand Palace is situated to the northwest of the palace (the northeast being occupied by the Temple of the Emerald Buddha).   Not surprisingly, it was crowded with other tourists…just another day at one of the world’s most majestic Royal compounds.

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Also, according to the Palace’s dress code, one could not go sleeveless.  Thankfully, Palace staff operate a shirt rental for a nominal fee.  My collared shirt was deemed acceptable so we went to procure a shirt for Cecille:

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She wore it with style, of course!

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We made our way into the crowded area near the compound of giant golden temples where The Temple of the Emerald Buddha or Wat Phra Kaew (วัดพระแก้ว) is located and had a look around.  We sat for a moment to plan our next move, and I took a quick video as I glanced around.

(Isn’t she sweet? Already contemplating a gift for my mother. 🙂 )

The Royal Palace is amazing, truly opulent. Everywhere I turned, there was something else fascinating to look at.

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This one particular building was in the midst of undergoing some renovations:

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Next, we checked out the scale model of Angkor Wat, and a nice young lady took what was for us, our first photo together

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Then, Phra Thinang Boromphiman (living quarters for royalty) but the gates were being closed as we got there.

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We also took some time to sit in the Temple of the Emerald Buddha located in the compound where the giant golden temples are.  The interior of the Temple was even more ornate and glittering than what you can see in the other pics of the Palace, but unfortunately, there was no photography allowed inside.  We spent about 15 minutes in there, in silent meditative reverence, taking in all of the shiny and magnificent details of our surroundings.

Then we went to Phra Thinang Chakri Maha Prasat, which houses the throne room where the King receives ambassadors on the occasion of the presentation of their credentials.

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One of the ground floor sections housed an “Arms Room”, a gun museum which displayed many antique guns from different eras and nations.  Unfortunately, no photos were allowed inside, so I can’t show it off!

After checking out the guns for a little while, we headed over to the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles.  It’s located in the Ratsadakorn-bhibbhathana building, and is described as such:

“The museum’s mission is to collect, display, preserve, and serve as a centre for all who wish to learn about textiles, past and present, from Southeast Asia, South Asian, and East Asia, with a special emphasis on the textiles of, and related to, the royal court and Her Majesty Queen Sirikit.” – See more at: http://asemus.museum/museum/queen-sirikit-museum-of-textiles

Unlike Cecille, who basically gushed and wowed at every display of the exquisite Thai silk “haute couture”  (gowns and dresses worn by Thai royalty), the museum itself was only barely interesting to me – but the fun part came after the walkthrough: an opportunity to be dressed up in traditional Thai garb!

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I’m such a lucky guy…

Lastly , we checked out the Pavilion of Regalia, Royal Decorations and Coins which is a museum of….you guessed it: regalia, royal decorations, and coins.  Although it was interesting, by this time we were both getting hungry and I could tell that Cecille’s feet were starting to bother her again.  I told her that I would change the dressing on her wounds once we returned to the hotel, but for now, why don’t we give our feet a break and sit down for a late lunch?  We left the Palace grounds and headed across the street to eat at Au Bon Pain.  Once we stepped into the air conditioned restaurant, Cecille repeated the caring ritual that she had began earlier that day – she brought out a hand towel and mopped the sweat from my brow.  Since it’s always hot in Thailand, this is something that she would do more of numerous times, during this trip and the following ones as well.  Every time she does so, I am touched; it feels good to be doted on in this way! 🙂

It was already early evening once we finished our meal, so we decided to head to the bank of the Chao Praya River to watch the sunset while we waited for a river boat to ferry us to the other side so that we could visit the Wat Arun (Temple Of Dawn) across the way.

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After roaming the area around the Temple for a while, we sat together close by to relax, then plan our way back to the hotel.  The nearest BTS (Skytrain) station wasn’t very near, so we decided to catch a Tuk-Tuk to get there.  A minute or two before we got to the street, it started pouring..!  Naturally, this made the Tuk-Tuk ride into a splashy wet adventure, our driver unfazed by the slippery road conditions.  But still safe and sound, we made it to the BTS station, caught a train, and then a transfer to an MRT train (Bangkok’s subway) before arriving to the vicinity of our hotel.  Tired, wet, dirty, and hungry – but nevertheless very happy about our day of exploration.  Cecille often commented how lucky we were to have visited such a special and historical place, and having the chance to be able to get to know such an amazing country’s cultural heritage, artifacts and architecture up close.  After hours of walking about, our eyes were satiated and we were done sightseeing for the day. Our stomachs however were feeling the other way around and so we stopped at our new favorite Chinese restaurant Chok Dee and grabbed some take-out for the hotel room. However, once we finally returned to our “base”, showering and eating were temporarily postponed due to other priorities… 😉

It’s A New Yorker’s State of Mind is a periodic contribution from Ian, Cecille’s devoted fiancé, about the developing story of creating a life together with his Muse – and the journeys, trials, and triumphs that come with it. Born and raised in New York, Ian enjoys travel both domestically in the US and abroad to Europe (and now Asia!). An adventurous spirit, a music enthusiast, and an avid reader, he’s up for writing about places to go, things to do, music to listen to, and books to read. Unadulterated and direct, IAN.Y.S.M. is a refreshing peek on the male perspective, a companionate “side window” into Ian’s POV from New York, and a fitting rendering alongside the lovely msglobalfilipina’s riveting entries. \m/

The museum’s mission is to collect, display, preserve, and serve as a centre for all who wish to learn about textiles, past and present, from Southeast Asia, South Asia, and East Asia, with a special emphasis on the textiles of, and related to, the royal court and Her Majesty Queen Sirikit. – See more at: http://asemus.museum/museum/queen-sirikit-museum-of-textiles/#sthash.SyHUXcjM.dpuf
The museum’s mission is to collect, display, preserve, and serve as a centre for all who wish to learn about textiles, past and present, from Southeast Asia, South Asia, and East Asia, with a special emphasis on the textiles of, and related to, the royal court and Her Majesty Queen Sirikit. – See more at: http://asemus.museum/museum/queen-sirikit-museum-of-textiles/#sthash.SyHUXcjM.dpuf
The museum’s mission is to collect, display, preserve, and serve as a centre for all who wish to learn about textiles, past and present, from Southeast Asia, South Asia, and East Asia, with a special emphasis on the textiles of, and related to, the royal court and Her Majesty Queen Sirikit. – See more at: http://asemus.museum/museum/queen-sirikit-museum-of-textiles/#sthash.SyHUXcjM.dpuf
Ratsadakorn-bhibhathana Building
Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles
Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles
Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles

The Global Filipina Thanks Her Global Readers

5 Jul

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Thank you very much dearest avid readers from all over the globe! I feel privileged to have my words read by people of many cultures and languages. Thank you for welcoming me into your homes and hearts and for letting me share my stories. I do hope you’ve come to enjoy reading about our journey.

Just like its country code, USA is # 1 in readership. My future in-laws and my fiance’s friends have been doing a great job in keeping the American flag consistently on top of my statistics chart.
Not far behind is my home country, Philippines. Maraming salamat! Daghang salamat! Madamo nga salamat! Kababayans, I am deeply touched by your continued subscription. I miss our country a lot and this is my way of keeping myself rooted to my Filipino heritage. I am a proud Pinay and I will raise our banner wherever I go.
Filipinos are a “global people” and this is also reflected in my stats; my family and friends read me from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, UK, Middle East, Japan, Hongkong, India as well as Thailand where I currently live.
I also extend my greetings to my Southeast Asian neighbors, A.P-P. from Cambodia and Tita Totie from Laos. Please let me make a special shout-out to my fiancé’s relatives in Europe, too.
Speaking of Europe, Guten tag  to my loyal mystery reader from Germany. I don’t really know anybody from there so in my mind I have named you “Hannah” from my favorite movie “The Reader” set in post-war Germany. You sure are a big boost to my viewership. Thank you and please keep it up 😉

Also, a big Thank You to my random readers across the globe who have stumbled across my blog via google, wordpress, or facebook referrals – I hope our stories have inspired, enriched, or at least amused you 🙂 We’re glad to have you all as our guests, our dear interested strangers!

Wonderful News…

3 Jul

We’re taking a quick break between posts to share some great news: Today, our Fiancee Visa petition was approved!!

So now, we enter a new phase of preparation: medical, interview, CFO seminar, etc.  Once all the loose ends are tied, and all the bureaucratic hurdles surpassed, we can finally be together in New York!

Naturally, we will keep you – our faithful readers – updated with our progress towards our dream.  We can finally see the end in sight!

Now – time to get to work!

To all that have been supporting us, and who will continue to do so – family and friends, attentive readers: THANK YOU!  We truly appreciate your warm feelings and well wishes!

’til next post!

Cecille and Ian

liberty

“Breaking Barriers”: A True Love Travelogue Series – Part 2

2 Jul

Have you ever pondered doing something so big and risky that you grit your teeth at the thought of actually doing it? Have you ever imagined yourself breaking free from convention- a total disregard for the so-called rules in the pursuit of pure bliss and happiness?

At one point, I hadn’t yet; but on that night, things were about to change. After all, they say that the ultimate pleasure is reserved for the daring and brave.

 I was about to break barriers and if I died doing so, I would have had to at least been properly groomed and dressed. Hence the time spent in the bathroom and deciding on my accessories. 

 I decided to ditch my nude platform heels and go with the gladiator sandals of the same color instead. In my condition, I knew flats would serve me best. I wasn’t able to imagine how else I could carry my luggage. I had my bags packed because we were supposed to tour Thailand together for two weeks.

I checked the time. 10:45 in the evening. His plane must be taxiing from the runway now. Please Lord, let him be in one piece – I shuddered at the thought. Or maybe it was just the cold air coming out of the taxi’s air-conditioning.

“Kob kun mak na kha”, I thanked the driver as I handed over the bills. We were parked right in front of the airport. He helped me with my luggage and again, I waied* politely. 

I had knocked back two 500mg pain killers earlier and I barely felt the wounds on my feet. “I got this”, I told myself.

How symbolic, I thought: for every struggling step I took, they somehow represented each hardship we both had to hurdle to finally get to where we are now. We had arrived at the moment we had both been dreaming of for more than 100 days. I had rehearsed this moment in my head a thousand times. I was prepared.

I checked myself just in case. That night, I had made an effort to fix my hair. I even put on a bit of cheek blush and swiped cherry balm onto my lips for good measure. I was wearing my yellow dress too, just as we had talked about. I had the knot of little pink flowers in my left hand, as promised. I told him it was my identifier. He thought it was silly, as if he wouldn’t identify me even after all those photos and video calls.

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 I  studied the flight board for a good 15 minutes. Air China Flight CA979 had landed. I knew I would soon be seeing him in the very Arrivals section I was standing in. “Any moment”, I thought.

 “God, just stop fussing with your hair! It’s fine!” rebuking myself. I couldn’t have helped it even if I tried.

“Okay, okay, calm down…It will be okay. You’ve talked to him every day for four months. It’s just like seeing an old friend”, my head was spinning and it almost felt like….

Jesus Christ is that him??!!!?? NEW PALTZ NEW YORK shirt, black cap, big dark blue luggage like he told me,  shoulder-length hair, awkward and looking like he’s lost or something…That was definitely him!

I took a deep breath, summoned my courage and walked to his direction.  A meter or two away, he saw me from the corner of his eye and in them, I noticed an immediate flicker of recognition.

“Hi”, I gave him my sweetest, albeit, nervous smile.

“You’re very beautiful…”, his first three words. I could have died right there and then!

I may have blushed, I don’t exactly remember. It was all a flurry of activity around us and a million thoughts were racing in my mind. One moment I was trying to give him a polite handshake and at the same time he was about to reach for a hug. We ended in the most awkward one-arm squeeze.  Whew!

The sparks weren’t exactly flying for the first ten minutes. I thought he was too dorky, for chrissakes!!! But I was intent on being a good host, however things would turn out.

“You must be hungry”, I observed.

“Yeah”, he said. Hearing the sound of exhaustion in his voice, my nursing instincts immediately kicked in and I felt like, at least for that moment, it was my life’s mission to attend to this man who had risked it all to see me, traveling all the way from Hudson Valley, New York.

“Okay, let’s go get you something.  What would you like for now? Water?” I didn’t even really wait for him to respond. I took him by the hand and guided him away from the crowd.

He walked with me without objection. I was gauging him. He was just following me as if he would indeed be lost without me. Aside from obvious unfamiliarity with the place he was in, I wasn’t picking up any more signs from him. He was smiling but he was also quiet.

“What’s going on in his head?”, I wondered repeatedly. Over Skype, we were very sure we had a good connection. Walking side by side in Suvarnabhumi airport, our signal was as weak as the Wifi on the island of Koh Samed. I was scared for a second that we didn’t have the kind of chemistry we’d hoped for.

That’s it! I have got to do something, I decided.

“Hold on”, I led him to a halt right before the walkalator. “Come here”, and with that I gave him a big, tight hug. I melted in his arms as he readily reciprocated. Hmmmm…That’s better.

I smiled at him and told him we should keep walking. He looked at me in wonder. I was pretty sure he asked what the hug was for, but I didn’t respond. I just knew in my heart that I needed to do it. I had to assure him that I was there for him and that he was safe, even thousands of miles away from home. I owed it to him. Whatever the outcome of this two-week visit from a “stranger”, I decided to be good to him, as he had been a good “buddy” to me for the past four months.

Things improved after we picked up water and yogurt from 7-11. I was still thinking he was dorky but at least we were becoming chatty. I would tell him about my first impression of him a week later and he would react incredulously- both aghast and (playfully) annoyed at, to use his words, my “unfair and cruel” judgment.

The water break gave me a renewed vigor and adrenaline rushed through me for quite a few minutes. I almost forgot about my hurting feet until we started walking through the concourse to get a cab outside of the airport. We decided to take the public transport since the chauffeur service didn’t work out.  While falling in line beside the taxi stop, I inquired about how his flight went, what he thought about embarking on this adventure, etc. Our conversation was interrupted when the valet lady inquired about our destination. It was our turn. I felt a twinge of embarrassment when I saw that somehow, we managed to get what was possibly the ugliest-looking cab in the whole of Bangkok (hehe).It was a pink Mitsubishi sedan that was also driven by a loud-mouth driver who kept asking for our personal information and our travel itinerary.

 I normally chat with cab drivers, but at that moment, it was the last thing we both needed; there were enough things boggling my mind. I was anxious to finally break the ice between me and the man beside me. The distance that separated us for months was enough of a barrier to our affairs. I thought then: now that he was beside me, I wouldn’t let anything get in the way.

 If there’s anything Mr. Cab Driver did, it was to at least loosen up the tension inside the cramped space of the car. We shared some small laughs and chuckles here and there as he entertained us with his chauffeuring adventures.

 In the backseat, I slowly started feeling the exhaustion of the day. The cabbie’s sonorous voice and the fading whirring sounds of the city almost lulled me to sleep. It was past midnight.  All I really wanted to do was to lay down somewhere and resign the stresses of the previous adventurous 12 hours. To follow-up on the contact I established through our earlier hug, I asked Ian to sit closer to me. Hmmm… his name rolled cozily off of my tongue, as if calling his name was the most normal thing in the world. I leaned in and laid my head on his shoulder. I felt the warmth of his chest against my back, caught a whiff of his mild manly musk in my nose, and listened to his intermittent calm and ragged breathing as the skin of his right arm very lightly rubbed against mine. He hesitated before tightening the embrace until I showed encouragement.  He was responding to what was for us then a new means of communication. I realized this had been the only thing missing¬-the 4D reality experience.

I thought to myself that I may have felt awkward during the first few minutes with him but that this was probably just part of the adjustment phase. He was no stranger to me – I already knew his mind and his heart. Through the advances of technology, from thousands of miles away, I had the privilege to know his thoughts on life, love, social concerns, politics, etc. I knew the matters that he cared about and why he did. It may sound naïve to others who haven’t had this seemingly strange encounter but I knew in my own heart that I knew his heart even before he took that flight to see me.

And just like that, all thoughts of “dorky foreigner” went away. He was just himself again, only that now he was beside me and not projecting through a screen.

I allowed myself to relax in his arms. My phone wasn’t ringing crazily so my family probably hadn’t reported me missing yet.  😉

I remember how worried about me my mother was before I left for the airport that night. She was anxious about me meeting someone for the first time all by myself.  Weeks before the meeting, she had repeatedly given me an unsolicited lecture on propriety as if I was a teenager; to which I always responded “Gosh, Mother, I am a 25-year old adult!” I guess mothers will always be mothers no matter how young or old their children are.  I appreciated her advice but since I was already enveloped in this man’s embrace, it was quite clear to me that all resolve would fly out the window. Well, especially since my brain was a cocktail of dopamine, serotonin and quite possibly oxytocin.  My resolve was weak to begin with, anyway. Needless to say, I was helpless against the cuddle chemical.  Besides, snuggling in the cab is quite conservative if you’ve practically been “dating” for four months already 😉 Ha!

My mother’s greatest consolation was that he was actually a decent man and not a serial killer like her friends had warned her about. We did go to a hotel and not a mad house. But I guess to my traditional Filipina mom, both spelled trouble. 

We arrived at the hotel, which was to be our home for the next three days. It’s a cozy little boutique hotel that was very accessible to transportation and was located right in the heart of the city. We were greeted by very gracious staff who attended to our needs right away.  After registering at the reception desk, we were told we could go ahead and see our room. A member of the staff would follow suit with our luggage.

I was glad to be relieved of my baggage and was excited to retire for the night. I had a hunch though that we still had a long night ahead of us, no matter how tired we both were. Just like old friends who haven’t seen each other for a long time, there was an extreme need to catch up.

Ever the gentleman, he swung the door open for me. A spacious room with two single beds beckoned us. My instinct was to sit on the bed…My feet were killing me.

Ian just stood there, a few meters opposite me. There was deafening silence for I don’t remember how long.

“Pinch me”, I finally found my voice.

“What?”

“You’re here! You really came here!” from me, a mixture of awe and disbelief.

“Yes, I did. I’m here”, he calmly said. It was almost annoying how he could stand so serenely a few feet in front of me while there was literally a circus inside of me. What he was thinking, I had no idea at all.

“Come here”, I said, gesturing for him to sit on the bed beside me. He was just a finger-breadth away from me now.

“Pinch me, so I’ll know I’m not dreaming”, I almost begged through a whisper. He refused. He said he didn’t want to hurt me. I insisted and finally I felt the skin on my arm in a gentle taut.

“Harder”, I challenged. Before he could protest, we both heard three consecutive knocks on the door. We both jumped up from being startled.

He opened the door. It was our luggage. I waited as he ushered the man to place the luggage in one corner. I thanked and tipped the bellhop before he left. Behind him, the door closed. As the bellhop walked away, he probably heard the door lock clicking. He was probably thinking about what lay ahead of the remaining 5 hours of his shift or other mundane details of his daily life. Perhaps he was even imagining breaking personal barriers in his own life.

We will never know. Because behind our locked door, Ian and I were lost in our own little world and bathing in- what would be-the beginning of the realization of our dreams.

 

*The Thai Wai: is a Thai gesture to greet or pay respect with palms pressed together in a prayer-like fashion accompanied by a slight bow.

“Decisions, Decisions”: A True Love Travelogue Series – Part 1

29 Jun

24 November 2012

I woke up a few minutes after 5 o’clock in the morning, as usual; save that there was nothing usual at all about that day. It was the day that would change my life forever.

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I felt really tired, and my back muscles ached from staying up late the previous night. I got up from my bed feeling dreamy, as if what transpired the night before was indeed just a dream.

It was his call over Skype that had awoken me, and while I knew he was telling me something important, I found it difficult to shake my sleepiness off. Less than five minutes into the video-call, my eyes had begun to droop again and his words were only a mumble-jumble to me.

“So I cut my hair”, I very faintly heard him say.

“You what??” I jolted.

“I asked my mom to cut my hair, see?”

“Why?!”, I exclaimed in panic.

“Because you wanted me to.”

“No!!!!”

“Cecille”, I could hear desperation in his voice. “I thought you said I will attract unwanted attention over there and you don’t want that”.

Now I do remember telling him that. “I don’t know…I don’t know…I liked your long hair. I’m not used to seeing you like that!”…I seemed almost a child, unreasonable. I honestly didn’t know what I wanted anymore. Confused, tears started rolling down my cheeks.

“Oh, Cecille, please don’t cry.” He was almost pleading. “I have to go now, okay? My parents are taking me to the airport. It will grow back soon, anyway”.

It felt really weird for him to be consoling me then. He was the one who had one foot of his hair cut off and yet he was the one who was trying to make me feel better. I know he was kind of “attached” to his hair. He’s had it long since he was 11 years old. Looking back to it now, I thought it was frivolous for me to even mention the haircut. Of course, I tell him I never forced him, I was  just…sayin’.

When we first started talking online, I didn’t really care about his hair. I thought it was hot and I was attracted to that mysterious side of him. As the day to our meeting drew closer, I became concerned. I think it must have been my conservative influence. Men with long hair are sometimes stereotyped as bad boys: wild and probably addicted to dangerous drugs! How ignorant does that sound?

Not all long-haired men are like that of course, but it was all about the image of it. I knew my family was going to meet him and I just wanted him to make a good first impression. I was like, “Who knows? We could end up getting married!” 😉 Little did I know, he was going to impress them anyway with his charms, his very polite demeanor and, as my father said, his outstanding table manners. But more on that later.

After sleeping a while longer, I got up to check my messages. I wondered if he’d left me anything before he boarded the plane. Boy, did he!

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“Great! That’s all we need”, I muttered.  A glitch right in the beginning of the two-week itinerary that we’ve been planning for months is a downer, I thought. My nerves were already wracked at the thought of seeing him, finally in the flesh, after four months of relentless correspondence. I was on the cusp of being stressed.

I waited until 8am for business hours to begin so I that I could speak with the hotel personnel regarding his reservation. He was supposed to arrive at 11 o’clock that night so I called the hotel to let them know that he would be arriving the next day instead. The unexpected detour in Alaska was going to delay his flight for 3 hours. This also meant that he was going to miss his Beijing to Bangkok flight, the last flight for the day. He was going to sleep in a hotel in China, alone, and catch another flight to Thailand on the following day. I could imagine how anxious he must be, travelling halfway across the globe for the first time, to places where he doesn’t speak the language, while encountering these mishaps at the same time. The horror!

I smile at the thought of him making that gesture to see me. I’ve got to admire him for being so determined. I was actually sad that I had to cancel the chauffeur service I had previously booked  to pick him up. I wanted him to at least be comfortable when he arrived, after all the stress of intercontinental flight. I asked the lady if they could move the booking for the following day but she said they were fully-booked. Oh well! I tried.

I decided to let the stress of the rescheduled arrival go. There was really nothing we could have done about it. I thought: it’s only one night. I was going to see him tomorrow. At 1pm, I went about with my other scheduled appointments: Last minute girly preps that, without getting into much detail, included a nail spa. I would later reap the fruits of my tortured labor when he says the very first words that came out of his mouth upon seeing me. 😉

It took me several hours to finish and when I was finally settled in the couch, checked my messages again. Lo and behold! He was online and was typing to me, possibly as fast as he could!

“I’m in China. We did not stop in Anchorage”

“What?!?”

“Will you be able to pick me up?”

“Uhhh…I changed my plans for the day. I’m here at my mother’s place”. Yeah, I forgot to mention that!

“……….” Nothing from him. It said he was typing.

“Oh!” He finally replied. Goodness! What was I doing?!? I must be freaking him out!

“Of course, I’ll pick you up!” I typed in haste. I honestly didn’t know how I was going to do it in my condition.

“Okay. Boarding now. I’ll turn this off”, he said.

I sent a quick goodbye then his little green circle was gone. I exhaled in desperation.

Now what? Decisions, decisions.

I jumped up from the couch, picked up my backpack from the floor, and began packing haphazardly.

“Where are you going?”, my mom wondered.

Silence. You can almost hear the wheels turning.

“I have to go, Mom”, almost a whisper.

“Go where?”

“Back to my place”,

“But your foot!” Right! I forgot to mention that too. I had stepped on something earlier. I needed minor surgical intervention and my two feet were bandaged. Did I mention it was painful?  I’d been downing pain killers the whole day.

“I’m okay Mom, I’ll be fine”. She was observing me as I was cross-checking my stuff with my list in  hand.

“I thought you’re staying here tonight.” I didn’t respond.

“Just tell me what is it, okay? So I’d know.”, she prodded…I was worrying her.

“It’s Ian.  He’s arriving tonight.”

What ensued was an exchange between a worried mother and a stubborn daughter who will do what she wants, even against advice.

“Will you at least let your brother take you to the airport?”

……

……

……

For all of my life, my family and friends were always there to support me. I’ve always had people to consult with for all of the major decisions I’ve made. But as I said, it was not an ordinary day.

“No. I’m doing this on my own”.

I’d made up my mind.

TO BE CONCLUDED

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CURB or CURVE: That is the Question

24 Jun

So today at lunch a co-worker from the table across asked me if I’m pregnant. “Cos you know, you gained weight”, she said.

“No they didn’t!” was my fiancé Ian’s reply when I called him later (I skipped the courtesies and immediately launched into “They asked me if I’m pregnant” in my best Oppressed Cecille voice).

“Baby, are you crying?”, he asked when I didn’t answer.

“No” is what I should have said…Instead, I said “Yes”, lobbying for sympathy. (Well, I was feeling bad, okay?)

“Don’t mind them, Baby. They’re just jealous of you because you’re beautiful and sexy”. (Oh yeah, my fiancé is awesome, isn’t he?)

See, when you have somebody telling you that, you don’t really care if you gain a few pounds. This isn’t the first time the girls at work have said something about my weight, but I never really minded them. I know that I’m healthy and I’m secure about my future husband’s attraction to me no matter what.

Today, I’ve decided that I’m sick of co-workers picking on my weight every chance they get when I don’t even give a damn. Jesus Christ, I’m 49.5 kg at 5 feet 3 inches. Is that so bad?

To be honest, it’s indeed a jump from the 45.5 kg I weighed at the same time last year. But it doesn’t really bother me much. Well, until last month when I couldn’t stop saying: “I’m fat”. I seriously thought that I was beginning to have body-image issues. I took a beating when my co-workers’, with their prying eyes, started to notice my weight gain. And boy, did they remind me every day!

I once took the lift carrying take-out dinner. This girl I ride the shuttle with every day came in and commented that it’s already 7pm and that I should have eaten dinner before 6pm! It doesn’t end there: I have girls knocking on my door asking me if I want to go to the gym. When I’ve wanted to buy a chocolate croissant for dessert, I’ve had to sneak out to the bakeshop, making sure my colleagues didn’t see me, or risk being told “Ceciw, you eating again?!? Khun Ian see you, he say: What happened to you? Now you are uaan (Thai: fat)!” 

 Sigh! It’s exactly these kinds of “criticisms” that have been souring my mood. I’ve always been happy and confident with my body.  Like I said, I don’t give a damn. But I guess that’s why: They want me to give a damn!  Like really, telling me I should stop eating rice every day or else my fiancé would leave me for a skinnier woman?!?

As annoyed as I am, I really don’t blame them for the kind of mentality they have. It’s all the media bullshit they see in TV commercials, bus and train ads, posters, etc.

Have you seen Beyonce’s Cavalli  ad?

In the poster, we see an extremely stylized image of the songstress to the point that her famous curves completely disappeared! Instead, we see  B’s head on top of an exaggeratedly skinny CGI body with spider-like extremities that makes her look more abnormal than a Barbie doll.

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Here’s the Skinny: Roberto Cavalli is the official designer for Beyonce’s Mrs. Carter Show. The poster is supposedly for the tour’s campaign.

Famous fashion designer Roberto Cavalli was, of course, widely criticized for the release. The photo was immediately removed from circulation after the slamming from fans, nutritionists, health advocates, feminists, etcetera.  Cavalli’s camp had explained – and I quote: “the image of the gown (sic.) is a sketch and not a photo, and therefore it is only meant to be a stylized and artistic vision”.

I get you, Roberto, but you know that the damage is done.

Beyonce, of course, was reportedly upset about the whole fiasco just as she was when H & M airbrushed her swim-suit photos (to make her look thinner) and insisted the original/unedited versions be used for the official summer campaign. She is currently suing them for millions of dollars.

Speaking of H & M, this was a really ironic move considering that their April 2013 campaign featuring Size 14 Jennie Runk earned them positive raves and accolades.

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24-year old Ms. Runk here is billed as the heroine of self-loathing women, especially teenage girls who suffer starvation, amongst other scary means of losing weight. She is said to be helping women feel better about themselves because she heralds real beauty and that she has “the body of a normal woman”. Ha!

While I admire Ms. Runk’s beauty and support her message, I couldn’t help but see this as a dubious stunt—big corporations preying on vulnerable women’s craving for approval from the mass media. Even Ms. Runk can be just a pawn in this giant scheme. I hope not.

But whatever, if it works for the deflation of the over-all insecurity of the female population and teen suicide rates, then it’s fine with me. Besides, whatever the billboard ads say is “trendy”, then that’s what is “trendy”.  Ugh!

Obviously, trend varies depending on the market these companies cater to. The disparity between the message of Jennie and Beyonce’s H & M ads says it clearly: There’s the normal market and the other markets. Jennie Runk isn’t’ exactly labeled as just a “model” but a “plus size model”. Ask any beauty or fashion magazine and they will tell you that the normal sized- women are supposed to look like this:

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Scary!

As an advocate for women and a healthy lifestyle enthusiast, this issue has always been close to my heart. I have always found the popular standards of beauty to be ridiculous and unrealistic for most people.  To condone this is outrageous and it sickens me to think how many women have suffered (and are suffering still) both emotionally and physically just to fit into the accepted “beautiful” and/or “sexy” category mostly perpetuated by selfish companies with vested financial interests.

 But, why this sudden lashing? Well, because, I too have become a victim of this vulgar commercialism and I can’t just stand there and take it.

I live in Thailand- where girls eat garden salad for breakfast and have dinner before 6 o’clock in the evening, where women go out of their houses as if they forgot to put their pants on, flaunting their chicken-skinny legs! Here in Bangkok, a popular cosmetic hotspot, co-workers eye you with disdain every time you put food into your mouth.

I am not arguing that women should just eat with abandon and not care about their bodies at all. I say we should all take measures to ensure our bodies are healthy and that includes eating in moderation and proper exercise. Certainly not by skipping meals, or even worse, fad dieting.  More importantly, on a bigger scale, the bashing has got to stop!

It’s not as if this is a life and death situation where one has to curb her diet or run the risk of gaining, whoa! unwanted curves! Yeah, because that’s really the worst thing a woman could have!

This obsession with these (and I say this with a bitter taste in my mouth) “standards of beauty”, of an ideal sexiness is pushing women to go to absurd lengths- pressuring them to achieve a figure that may not be healthy for them. By the way, these ideals are not only promoting malnutrition, they are also cultivating a culture of mean-spiritedness and superiority complexes in those who fit the criteria, and low self-esteem in those who aren’t welcome into the category.

I do know that some women are just naturally skinny and they don’t gain weight no matter how much they eat. I don’t have anything against them. I do think they can be indeed sexy too, but not just because of their vital statistics. There are a million things that can make a woman sexy: wit, wisdom, kindness, sense of humor, skill, perhaps? If I were a man, these would certainly attract me.

It’s very sad that nowadays, the art of husband-hunting has almost regressed to merely an aesthetic tourney.  They used to laugh about women in the time of Jane Austen or the 1950s that had to be educated in art, literature, music, geography, science, language, home economics and the like to make a good match, when eventually they will be consigned to the home to attend to their men’s needs and look after the children. Well, at least they had to use their brains; these days, women only have to look good, wear a perfect smile, be a size 0-2 and they can land senators, business tycoons, heirs to fortunes, etc.

Lastly, these days women don’t really seem to try to look good just for the hell of it. When you hear people say “Oh you should do this and that so you can get a boyfriend” or “Oh you should be like this or else your husband will look somewhere else”, it makes you think, is it really all about attracting men?

I love it when my fiancé compliments me and this encourages me to try to look good. But also, I just want to look good for myself…just because it makes me feel good. Do you know what I’m talking about? I mean, these decisions about our bodies are ours to make and should not be influenced by peer or social pressure.  It should also be about us!

Sweating it out, running around the park, and working my butt off in the fitness center? Yes, I do it because I want to. I know I have a responsibility to take care of my body. I do it and I will keep doing it – not because some damn commercial is telling me too or that I am afraid of Ian Weinstein abandoning me if I bloat.

CURB or CURVE? No! I am not letting anyone or anything decide for me whether I am “sexy” or not.

I believe that in every woman is an innate seductress, a charming maiden, an irresistible nymph, a goddess… no matter what her shape and size. We only have to claim that inner vixen…and tell her she shouldn’t be intimidated by whatever people around her say. Let her out, because she should be freakin’ running the world. Size 2 or not.