Sunday, October 16, 2011

Excitement and Anxiety on the First Day on the Road

It has finally happened. I have left my home, Manila, and landed in mainland Asia, in Singapore. I am officially on the road. I cannot say that I am completely filled with the excitement of finally having started this six-month adventure. Not that I am not excited. I am. I guess, I just don’t allow myself to feel it for fear of bursting out giggling like a teenage girl in a Justin Bieber concert. Besides, the day of my departure was pretty uneventful by most standards, which is not to say not at all that exciting.

I have been warned by several people about how strict Philippine immigration has become these days. Filipino citizens are no longer allowed to leave the country without a return ticket. Even if you tell them that you are a foreign resident of the country you're going to, even if you tell that you are employed full-time by a company in the country you’re going to, they will not let you pass without a confirmed return ticket. Not an onward ticket, a return ticket. Aren't Filipinos allowed to keep their travel plans open and flexible nowadays?

Anyway, it was a different story altogether when I got to the airport on the day of my departure. I passed through Philippine immigration as smooth as smooth can be. I didn't even need to present all my confirmed tickets and explain where I'm going in the next few months. I gave my passport and my boarding pass. The officer stamped them and away I go. The airline's desk was basically more curious anal about my itinerary than the immigration officers, which was weird.

Passport & Boarding Pass

There was one more hurdle, however, and that is Singapore immigration. It's one thing to be questioned about my backpacking itinerary back home, it's quite another when you're already in a foreign country. You are not that familiar with their rules and at any time, they can detain you. It's their country, so it's their rules. So pushing my anxiety deep, deep inside, I walk up to the officer, an elderly Singaporean lady, gave a smile and a "good evening" and presented her with my passport and immigration card.

There was a problem though. The address of my host in Singapore was incomplete. It was missing a block. I am not that familiar with Singapore addresses, so when I first wrote it down on the immigration card, I didn't know that it was missing a few details. The officer would not let me pass without an address. Suffice it to say, I was pretty nervous at this point. That was when I remembered that I had two hosts, and wrote the address of the other one in my phone. I presented it to her, again smiled, chuckled to hide that tension all built up inside, and finally, she smiled back. She got the address and gave me a piece of candy before I left. I think I had my share of excitement at that point.

Then I remembered that I'm supposed to get out of this airport by myself via the Singapore Metro. No taxis for this poor backpacker. So armed with the hand-me-down metro card from a friend back home, I followed the signs, got to the platform, topped up the card and rode the metro. That was easy enough, I told myself. Then I realized, I was in a foreign country. I just navigated my way around a foreign city by myself for the first time. That's when the true excitement of the big trip hit me.

And for the most part, the excitement comes from the realization that f*ck yeah, this is possible. I can do this. I don't need to have lots of money. I don't need to have knowledge of everything there is to know about the place I'll be visiting. What I need to have is attitude. And the trust that a smile and a polite greeting go a long a way wherever I am in this world.

What was your first day on the road like? Smooth as silk or rocky as, well, rock?

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