Monday, July 12, 2010

From Luzviminda to Uncle Sam: Reflections on my US Trip (Part 2)

From Luzviminda to Uncle Sam: Reflections on my US Trip (Part 2)
Lj T. Salceda

My friends were right, 17 days were not enough to discover and enjoy all things bright, beautiful and stateside (as we say in Filipino) in the US. However I tried to maximize my time and made a list of some of the things I’ve realized and experienced during my first overseas trip. This is in no particular order:

1. Visited the FEBC office in La Mirada and re-acquainted with some of our foreign staff.

2. Rekindled the child in me with the rides in Disneyland and the fireworks in the evening- spectacular!

3. Took pictures of the various types of flowers and plants in SoCal. The giant roses and magnolia trees were adorable. My favorite spots are Balboa Park in San Diego, The Arboretum in Arcadia and my hosts’ neighborhood.

4. Strolled in Santa Monica park/beach and saw plenty of potential talents, cool tricks and pricey souvenirs. But what intrigued me most was the number of homeless people scattered everywhere even in the Beverly Hills area. I never expected a first-world country like the US to have so many of them.

5. SoCal is heavily influenced by Latin Americans, one proof is the name of their cities/streets, pero hindi siyempre pahuhuli ang Pinoy. Check this out!

6. Americans LOVE sports! They are festive and loud whether it’s the NBA finals or Superbowl or the World cup. Please don’t start talking about the Lakers with my man. Lol!

7. Their small bowl of teriyaki is equivalent to our big bowl. Drinks (especially sodas) are usually refillable or as we say in the Philippines bottomless. Almost everything is super-sized, from strawberries to flowers to fast food.

8. The weather there is almost perfect, not too hot and not too cold. But my skin is used to the humidity (or probably pollution) in Manila, as a result my lips were always parched and my skin was always breaking. Ouch!

9. Cost of living is high, so high you either need to have a stable job/s or a rich relative willing to support you for life! Car is a necessity and gas is expensive (triple the price in the Philippines), so are movies ($5 during the day, $7 at night), Filipino food/items are imported = meaning pricey (half of a small papaya for tinola costs $1). Thank God for Japanese restos where I satisfy my rice cravings!

10. One of the things I appreciate about the US is they allow the elderly to have jobs that in Philippines will only be given to younger people. If someone can still do a job well regardless of his age, why deny him the right to be productive?

11. America is pampered. Very pampered. They have Tivo, washing machine and dryer, dishwasher, the nicest schools and libraries, the latest gadgets, almost every type of products, services and accessibility to information. However, they pay high for these too, literally and figuratively.

12. I saw a squirrel, rabbit, hummingbird, eagle, possum, raven, horses and peacocks without going to the zoo.

13. An hour drive in the US is loooong and faaaaar. Unlike in Manila, an hour drive means spending 20 mins in traffic jam, 10 mins waiting for passengers and 30 mins traveling. I rarely doze off when I travel in the Philippines, but in the US I slept quite frequently on the road.

14. I saw Indians, Persians, Turks, Chinese, Africans, Mexicans, Europeans and other nationalities without going out of state. I’ve met some of the most generous, hospitable and godly people on this planet in the lives of my hosts, my boyfriend’s family, friends and even strangers.

15. Possessions, work, money, citizenship is not synonymous to JOY or SATISFACTION. I saw a lot of tired, disgruntled, hopeless, empty, sad Americans. They’ve got problems there too. Recession. Divorce. Homosexuality. Pornography. Addiction. Materialism. Name it, they’ve got a brand for it.

16. Good thing is, they’ve got Jesus there too! The churches are alive. Christians are on-fire. Christian bookstores are still on business. I saw a shirt that says “Let’s share the gospel while it’s not yet illegal.” Let’s pray for our brothers and sisters in the US.

17. Finally, you don’t need a fat bank account, connections or illegal activities to fulfill a dream, to reach a destination and accomplish a goal. All you need is to obey. I only had $300 in my wallet (I don’t own a credit card) when I went to the US and no, it wasn’t from my politician relative. But that’s another story that I have to write when the creative juices kicks in again.

For now, its mission accomplished. Until my next travel assignment, Lj here standing by.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

From Luzviminda to Uncle Sam: Reflections on my US Trip (Part 1)

From Luzviminda to Uncle Sam: Reflections on my US Trip (Part 1)
Lj T. Salceda

Spain is what’s on top of my travel destination list and not the USA. Just check my cork board for proof. (Please don’t hate me John. Love yah!) This doesn’t mean I don’t want to visit and explore the most powerful nation in the world. The home of Hollywood, NBA, my boyfriend and a number of my friends abroad. As a matter of fact it’s on my Top 4.

So when God opened the door, I reluctantly applied for the visa. Got approved. Found a budget-friendly ticket. Recorded my shows. And prepared for the journey.

When the day of my trip came I knew God was behind everything. He provided a vehicle so I wouldn’t have to pay for taxi going to the airport. (Thanks Doc Mavic and Kuya Vergel!) He made the night clear enough for us to have a safe flight. No cancellations or delays or re-directing of planes or excess baggage.

Once I was done with the pre-departure hoopla, I went straight to the holding area took some pics, used the free inter-net service and tried to concentrate (but I can't, it's way more fun to people watch) on the book I brought while I waited for our boarding time. “This is VACATION, not WORK,” I reminded myself time and time again. My friends’ voices still resonate in my head, “Enjoy every minute of it because time runs fast.”

Everything seemed so surreal. Just a few weeks ago I couldn’t calm my nerves at the US embassy for my visa interview and now I’m a few hours away from my destination- my boyfriend’s arms. (Cheesy!!!)

Btw, I have nothing but praise for the Philippine Airline Line crew of both planes I boarded. The service, the food, the movies and the whole 13 hour trip was as comfortable as it could get at the economy section and even if I was sleepless the entire flight. Oh and their hand soap smells divine too! :)

If only to see the sky at night and daybreak I would definitely fly everyday! The hues of colors, the different cloud formations and the emotions- it’s like a different world up there. How great is our Creator indeed! I am so blessed to have the window seat from departure and back.

Since this is my first overseas trip I didn’t really know much about international flight procedures. My seatmate, a lady in her late 50’s from Bohol was heaven-sent! She patiently taught me where to go, what to do and what to write on the form that they hand on the plane for the Immigration and Customs. Through her I learned that you can't bring fresh fruits (or any fresh food/plants/seeds/animals) in US territory unless you have the necessary documents. So I had to leave my baon of unpeeled orange at the plane. She also gave me half of her meal. She must have sensed I was starving since I couldn’t eat the past few days out of excitement and busyness. Unfortunately since she is a green-card holder we had to line-up in two different booths at the immigration area and go our separate ways. (Bless her Lord.)

To my delight I was called in to a booth with a very amiable Filipino immigration officer. After greeting him and handing him my documents, he instructed me to look at the camera for the photo verification and directed me with the finger-scanning machine. “You have a beautiful name,” he said while checking my passport/visa and gave me 6 months to stay in the US if I choose to. We were able to talk a few more minutes before he pointed me to the baggage claim area and wished me well in my stay. I thanked him and proceeded to the next section.

The baggage claiming area was confusing and chaotic, by this time other passengers from other planes have arrived and the lines went unexpectedly long. Once I got my two checked-in bags, I again lined-up for the final inspection. An airport staff checked my form and told me to proceed to letter A which I did and after going through another machine I was cleared to go out. On the way to the foyer, two more Filipino airport staff jokingly shouted at me in their heavily-accented Tagalog, “Hoy, anoh phasalubhong moh? Bheelis. Bheelis lakad mo.” (Hey, what did you bring from the Philippines? Hurry! Walk faster!) That made me smile while I dragged my borrowed luggage to the lounge.

The minute I stepped out, I searched the crowd for my boyfriend’s face. “Hmmm… Did he lose weight? Did he grow his hair? Did he change since we last saw each other?” I quietly pondered. I couldn’t find him. Just when I was contemplating on calling his phone, I saw a familiar head! I sneaked at his back and said, “Looking for your date?” He gave me a huge hug and a quick kiss. My muscleman hasn’t changed, still as handsome and as loving as I remembered him to be. We walked to the parking lot and gave each other another tight hug before driving out of the airport.

My first reaction when I saw the state of California from a distance was, “Are we really in the US or Mars?” Lol! Once we crossed the dateline, the scene shifted from clouds to rocky mountain highs. Yes, just like that John Denver song. Southern California's topography is mountainous, desert-like and big rocks are everywhere. Don’t let first impressions fool you though. America has its own beauty just like any other country. Once you get out of the airport the scene becomes more and more like Manila, only better. It is populated (not as crowded as Manila though). They also have traffic jams (but not as bad as Manila). They too have smog (not as fatal as Manila). It was almost summer time in California when I arrived but the wind was still chilly, 18 degrees Celcius announced the pilot earlier.

While driving through downtown LA my boyfriend, turned tour guide showed me some of the famous buildings in the area like the Nokia Theater (where they hold American Idol finals), Staples Center (basketball games) and other landmarks. When he asked where I wanted to eat, I have a ready answer- IN and OUT BURGER! So we headed to our first official date in the USA.