Tuesday, March 28, 2006

A New Honeymoon: The First Week

It has been an exciting week. Ærynn has convinced me to make regular posts on my first few days here; she notes that a lot of people eventually take everything lovely in Oz for granted and stop being thankful. She says, and I agree, that if there was some record of what, at first blush, seems real and good, it can stave off what the Commission on Filipinos Overseas told us was an epidemic amongst Pinoy migrants: clinical depression.

But first, a rundown on the past week:

24 March—Last Day in the Philippines

I did not sleep the entire night and most of that last morning. I hate cramming, but I found myself cramming to finish packing in the wee hours of the morning. The night before were the last two despidida parties thrown for me, one on top of the other, the very last one where my brother F— smuggled me to because otherwise I wouldn't even have been able to meet with my barkada from The Good Samaritan. Then, when I got back home, another of my friends was waiting for me to say some final good-byes. With all of these keeping me busy for the last week, I had done too much packing. Too much packing, that is, I was packing much more than the 40-kilo limit allowed me. I know I had to be thankful,
since typically one is only allowed 20 kilograms, even for new migrants like me. God blessed me by allowing a friend from our choir in Fairview Park UMC (http://fpumc.blogspot.com) to get me in touch with somebody who found me a travel agency that had a promo allowing me to travel with twice the baggage allowance.

Still, I was packing too much, and I had to decide which were essential and which were "merely" sentimental. The decision was so difficult.

Eventually, I did finish packing properly, with piece of luggage just lighter than 20 kilograms and the other just slightly heavier than 20 kilos. My carry-on luggage was exactly 7 kilograms. I was shell-shocked, and I badly needed sleep. I slept. . . so soundly slept for about three hours before being awakened to have my lunch and get dressed in my carefully prepared travel clothes (a collared shirt and sweater, a custom-made pair of cargo pants with ten pockets total, and the trenchcoat my mother-in-law bought for me). It was just 12:00, my flight leaves at 20:00 and I was supposed to check in, at the earliest, around 16:00. Yet I was already being hurried through lunch and the final moments of preparation by high noon and we were set to leave by 12:30. F—, who was supposed to accompany all of us, was late, giving me some time to relax.

I slept during most of the ride to NAIA terminal 2, but we arrived around 14:30. It was too early. But we were all paranoid. My Dad and I had been hearing horror stories of people barely making their flights, or being left behind altogether. In our minds it was better to be hours early to check in rather than do the stressful rushing through the check-in, immigration and boarding rituals. Just the same, we were too early and there was nothing to do in that hot, right-under-the-sun lounge area where my family was allowed to wait with me (Dad, Mom, E— and F—). We went to an air-conditioned restaurant to and made a token attempt to order some food before my poor family bid me good-bye earlier than they wanted to.

I had checked in my luggage as soon as we arrived, so I wasn't lugging it around while we were in that restaurant. The scale didn't ping or anything and I was left feeling regret that I didn't stuff in a few more of my beloved stuff; but better safe than sorry, right? Right. . . I went through immigration: simple enough. Went through the final x-ray rituals: not very inconvenient. And then, the long, long wait in a lounge area of which the air conditioning was off-line. I was sleepy and tired, but too keyed up to doze or relax. Arrgh, it is such a chore even remembering all this, but I know I can go on and on just describing everything that happened during those last four hours of waiting.

Finally, I got on the plane, met a nice Pinoy lady seating next to me (whom I realized later owned a Aussie passport), experienced the exhiliration of take-off, sampled what I thought was really tasty airplane food (at that point, I didn't even know why so many people didn't like airplane food; the braised beef that PAL served was steaming hot, very tender and tasty), tried watching the on-board entertainment (finally settling on the classical and later jazz music channels they were offering) before finally turning in to go to sleep. I do not know exactly when we passed the equator or when we made the transition into the next day but I count this day ended when I finally put on the sleep blinds and fell asleep.

25 March—Familiar yet Strange

We were gently woken up to be told that there was only about two hours left in the journey and, during that time, we will be served breakfast. I had forgotten to mention that because of the entire week I had been going through my stuff and packing, I had been suffering from a very severe bout of allergic rhinitis, and while on that very cold, inhumid plane, I still did. I controlled it with some Decolgen forte that a doctor friend of mine gave me after finding out that I had allergic rhinitis. But during the entire flight, I had been asking for more servings of juice than any of the other passengers. And they delivered it with a smile, too.

I wanted to "use" the facilities on-board, truth to tell, but I didn't feel the "urge." Too bad; some other time then. I was nervous about the touch down. When I first flew, I thought that I remembered that plane landings were worse than plane take-offs. Somehow, this plane landing was uneventful: I didn't feel like falling down or anything. The landing angle was probably so gradual that I didn't notice anything extra-ordinary. I just saw the ground meet us, a little bump, and then we were already slowing down. I was on Australian soil, and I arrived much earlier than expected.

I was supposed to have arrived after 07:00 +11GMT, but instead we had touched down around 06:35. There had been a strong tail wind. So far, so good. However Ærynn wouldn't around for another 2o minutes. So what? Gives me an excuse to take things easy. I was, after all, already in Australia. I probably would spend lots of time going through immigration and customs anyway.

Which I didn't. Immigration took less than a minute. Waiting for my checked-in luggage a mere ten minutes, and going through Customs didn't even reach a minute either. I spent more time queing up than actually being serviced. I am not complaining, of course. The service was great and they were all very, very polite. And around 07:00, I was done and cooling my heels in a lounge area that actually had more than enough seats for even someone like me.

Still, I was excited and keyed up, in new, very foreign yet very pleasant surroundings with the air filled with voices in very fetching accents. I had a few Aussie dollars courtesy of my mother-in-law. I had about fifty US dollars courtesy of my folks and a few thoughtful ladies from church. And I had a VISA Electron debit card that can be used anywhere in the world. I was very confident, and so decided to make a phone-call to Ærynn and surprise her.

There's just one problem. I had her phone number, alright. But I didn't know how to dial it. I sounds so simple, right? But I had her number in international format. I know the country code was 61, but how do I dial the other numbers. I knew some of them was the area code, but how do I know which ones they were? Were there any number prefixes I don't know about?

Ah, of course! The helpful Information Desk! So I wheeled my 47 kilos of stuff to the Information Desk to ask how to dial the numbers and received even more welcome news. I had forgotten to mention that before I left the Philippines, I set my mobile phone to roam, but SMART's roaming feature only allows SMS roaming, meaning I can't call. But I arrived on the second to the last day of the Commonwealth Games, and Vodafone had this wonderful promo: they are giving free 3-minute calls for people who had just arrived from an internation flight. So what's a guy to do when one is feeling confident and a man-of-the-world? Walk confidently up to the red-clad Vodafone girl and ask for my 3 minutes.

The Vodafone girl dialed the number for me then handed her phone to me. But Ærynn was not answering her mobile. The Vodafone girl gave me another chance, and we called up the apartment phone. I got the answering machine. I was getting embarrassed. The nice Vodafone girl let me call one more time, and I tried the mobile again. Oh, joy! Ærynn answers the phone! They were just looking for some parking space. They had thought that they were going to wait for me and told me to go through Customs in the meantime. I told them that I had gone through Customs and was all done, just waiting for them. Pleasantly surprised, they went to where I was.

My wife came bringing a bouquet of flowers. What? For me? You shouldn't have. I mean, really. . . you shouldn't have. After some small talk, I finally convinced her to carry the flowers for me. She looked better with it than I would anyway. But I appreciate the gesture (it came from Ærynn's friends at work). It was so very sweet.

My wife arrived with her aunt, N2, who drover our car because she had more experience driving on freeways and Ærynn was too excited and keyed up to drive. We were supposed to have gone straight our flat, but we decided to visit her aunt's place first. There, I was treated to a traditional Pinoy breakfast. It was the first bit of food I had on Aussie soil.

After that, Ærynn took the wheel and drove us, well, not home yet, but to a "small" grocery store to purchase some needed stuff. Leo's, the "small" grocery store, makes a lot of grocery stores in the Philippines look like convenience stores. (I can just see the Pinoys in my mind's eye reading this getting steamed up over my "putting down" our country further; but my wife is right. One doesn't realize that the Philippines is a third-world country until you live in a first-world country. There should be no shame in admitting it, as admission is, I believe, the first step in curing the country's ills. But that is a discussion for another day.)

I was tired and very eager to catch up on some sleep. But everything was so exciting and everything was so beautiful, all combining two of the most beloved places in the Philippines that I loved and miss: Baguio City (where I was born) and Cavite (where I grew up). It was like Baguio because of the climate when I arrived. It was cold and windy, and the sky looked very much like that. My wife and her aunt thought that the morning was rather hot, but I was feeling cold. It was only later as more of the sun came up that I realized the truth that my wife would keep writing to me about: it can be hotter in Oz than in the Philippines.

It was also like Cavite. Going through the freeway seemed so familiar. It looked like the North and South Diversion roads. It was also lined with trees and there was a fresh, probinsya smell in the air. When we entered the suburbs, I fell in love with it. After being so used to roads that have been arbitrarily built and placed, it was a pleasant surprise to see every road, every intersection and every house looking like I was inside an exclusive "village" like the Corinthian Gardens or even Filinvest. Except that it was the entire town that looked like it. I daresay that in some parts of Australia there will be roads that are not as well kept or houses so picturesque, but in the suburbs of Melbourne, it all seemed like something out of a dream at the time.

Near our flat were wooded walks and lovely well-trimmed lawns (some of them for lawn bowling, which was free-of-charge to join). We were situated on the 2nd floor, and we have a lovely balcony that faces a little west and shows a lovely view and a large portion of the sky. The bedroom was large with built-in wardrobes; the bed was softer than the one we had in the hotel during our honeymoon. It wasn't perfect, but as close to perfect as I could want (I knew, of course, that my wife had to work hard and would have paid through the nose if we didn't have a nurse friend sub-let the other bedroom).

At this point, I haven't met the nurse friend yet. I didn't mind so much, though, since my wife was keeping me busy with some champagne and chocolate truffles that some officemates of my wife's gave us. We had bought strawberries and there already were some grapes in the fridge. So, as soon as we got home and settled down, my wife brought all these out and we had a "picnic" on the carpet. It was the first time alone with my wife since the morning. I don't usually drink alcohol, but we imbibed a lot of champagne (by our standards) because it went well with the chocolates and the strawberries.

At this point, I didn't know if I wanted to go out or not. Everything was so exciting, and I hadn't had any time to really rest. But Ærynn and her nurse friend (our housemate) usually attended a Bible Study every fortnight (that means every two weeks) and it so happened that it fell on this particular night. Would I want to go? Well, why not? We left after 19:00, and it was very difficult to drive because the sun was setting and it was getting into our eyes, and it was difficult to see the road and the incoming cars. I hadn't yet gotten used to the fact that the cars were not driving on the right side of the road but instead on the "wrong" side, that is, the left side. Despite all expectations to the contrary, my wife was a particularly bold driver after all.

Ærynn was a cunning one. She had planned so very carefully and kept mum for the last three weeks about my getting the long-awaited visa and that I was arriving that day. She wanted to surprise her friends who had, for months and months, been praying with her that I can join her soon. One can imagine the pleasant surprise that everyone got, a surprise they did not begrudge Ærynn her little trick.

Our Bible study that night was on the 2nd chapter of Ruth, and we discussed it thoughtfully and vigorously, with plenty of reasonable digressions, tasty home-made food and such. It was wonderful.

As we all trooped out of the house with the final goodbyes and all, I casually looked up at the clear night sky and was flabbergasted by what I saw. Or, rather, what I didn't see. I didn't know this sky at all. I had subconsciously expected to see the same sky that I always see back in the Philippines in the Northern hemisphere. These skies were strange skies with unfamiliar constellations except one, which was, of course, the Southern Cross. The enormity of it really hit me. I was not in the Philippines anymore, even if it felt familiar. But, strange as it was, it was home. My home. I am home. I know I will feel homesick for the Philippines soon, but that night, the feeling of homecoming was palpable. My lovely wife was beside me in the cool night air, with the Southern Cross shining brightly above us there outside Airship's home and later, out there on our very own balcony. Home. I am finally home.

We ended the day watching a little bit of the Commonwealth Games (very much like the Olympic Games, except the only ones allowed to join are those former British colonies that did not revolt) before finally turning in and indulging in the incomparable sensations of falling asleep beside the wife one loves.

26 March—Feeling Out-of-place

It was Sunday morning and, of course, we had to go to church. In the Philippines, my wife and I were United Methodists, but we were going to a sort of "Pentecostal" church instead (long story; some other time). It's name is Northside Christian Church (www.northsidecc.org.au) and we were late for the second service (which starts at 10:55). We made it just in time to see some people get baptized, to sing a few songs of preparation as led by the "choir" before the sermon was finally delivered. It was about Christians having a bad day, that Christians were not immune to having a bad day, that having a bad day didn't necessarily mean that you did something wrong, but that having a bad day can, if one is not careful, lead to doing something not only wrong but terrible. It was basically the lesson in the book study of Job that I was conducting back in the Phlippines (another discussion worthy of a post for another time).

All throughout, I experienced being around friendly people of diverse cultural backgrounds. There were Anglo-saxons, Indians, Chinese and plenty of Pinoys. I felt at ease at once.

That Sunday was also A—'s birthday (A— being the nurse friend who lives with us) and so after church we headed over to a place called Rivers Garden & Home, & Rivers Café to celebrate. It was long, hot road, but it was eye-candy when we got there. There were home and gardening supplies everywhere. There was even a Duck Feeding Platform (which, as I pointed out to some of our compatriots, sounded funny if it was read as a sentence). But the café was marvelous. Yummy was the word.

Now, up until this time I had been very well at ease. Then, something suddenly reared up and bit me and made me feel suddenly self-conscious and out-of-place. It wasn't the nice and polite waittresses that served us and didn't lose tempers when some of us wanted to change our orders. It wasn't A— and Ærynn's circle of friends, who derived from different cultures but were so nice and warm, or rather, not exactly.

It was the fact that all that time I was the only male in what was essentially a singles club of girls. Yikes. I tried to be as debonaire as I could, but I was too conscious of the fact that I was so obviously overweight and obviously married. It was amusing to see the numerous little faux pas going around due to the cultural misunderstandings, which did not make anyone feel uncomfortable anyway since all were friends; it was not amusing to know that one cannot giggle and 'gossip' around with them. Dang. I was having too much fun that time, but at lunch I became so self-conscious that I committed what was, to Ærynn, the unpardonable sin: I became so corny. I don't know how much I embarrassed my wife at that first presentation of her husband, and maybe I don't want to know.

My wife and I had planned to go to the city to watch the fireworks of the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games. We cannot attend the closing ceremony itself, since a ticket comes at $200; no way we can afford that. What we had planned was to just watch the fireworks along the Yarra River. But those plans went up in smoke when we arrived at our flat, lay down on our beds, and started mutually snoring away our exhaustion.

We only woke up to eat dinner and watch the closing ceremony on TV instead, definitely much more entertaining than just seeing the fireworks go off and not knowing the context of why they went off. I think I cooked dinner that night. After that, it was back to bed.

27 March—The Map, The Library and A Mall

My wife took the day off today so that certain needful things that needed to be done can be done. The very first of which was an appointment with an old lady about the library.

My wife had volunteered for the library to take books, CDs and videos up to people who are not mobile enough to go the library to borrow the stuff themselves. Ærynn had volunteered to bring libary materials to one particular lady, who turned out to be an interesting, spirited character who had plenty of stories to tell.

Next stop was the libary, so that we can return a book and borrow a few of our own. The nice thing about the libraries here in Melbourne is that it is free to join and free to borrow not just books but, as I said earlier, audio and video discs and/or tapes. Who needs a video rental store when you can borrow one for free from the library if it's available? Of course, the catalogue isn't comprehensive, but one is sure of getting only the worthy ones here. I borrowed a few books on World War II for me to read.

Then we went to a shopping mall and department store to some more shopping that we didn't do last Saturday. We first had some lunch at a place called Nandos, were they served really spicy chicken that even I, in that cold weather, couldn't stand. We also went and bought me a new SIM for my phone from Optus (all this time I had the roaming feature of SMART on, but it was too expensive and inconvenient to maintain). We had a lot of fun just shopping: it was a husband and wife sort of thing to do and it was probably the first time we are doing it together as husband and wife.

We had planned to go the laundromat later, but we were too tired and there was too much to do. I bought some stuff to wash the car with, but that didn't happen either. There was some bad news at the start of the week. Not really bad news. Ærynn and A— had just moved in from their previous flat and had to re-apply for a phone and internet access (as described here). Well, the modem should have been delivered to her at the office, but they didn't. However, we still had their original modem, so I set that up instead. We turned in rather early to have the pleasure of reading our borrowed books by the light of the bedside lamp, before finally going to sleep in each other's arms once again.

28 March—A day without Ærynn

Of course she had to go back to work sooner or later. Life isn't a vacation, and even though we are virtually celebrating our honeymoon again, jobs, like life, must and should go on. I was under no delusions: I knew that as soon as she was away I would be stuck at home, unwilling to explore and leave the flat. I also knew that this was going to be a temporary feeling, and so I offered to make Ærynn some breakfast and accompany her to the train station. She works in 'the city' and we live in the 'suburbs'. Instead of driving all the way to work, it was cheaper to just take the train.

Trains in Oz are driven by schedules as exact as the schedules of plane trips. They can even print out train schedules and people can rely on it leaving on time and arriving on time. Just the way a train should be after all.

Now things get a little fuzzy. I knew I did some chores, like clean around the house and stuff. I knew I read the books I had. Australian day TV is boring. But I was home and I didn't feel like doing anything else but wait for the time to fetch my wife from the train station.

Later than night, Ærynn tried to get some of her homework for school done but wasn't able to do much before turning in.

29 March—Really beginning to feel like home

Well, same old same old so quickly now—a sure sign of things finally settling down. I would dearly love to go around and explore, but I don't want to rush things. Instead I did a few more chores, that included vacuum cleaning the carpet and all that. Stuff that seemed momentous and 'this-is-my-house' type of jobs are so boring to relate. It was great knowing that this beautiful flat is my home, and my wife is here.

I learned that Aussie bathrooms have only two drains: in the shower and in the tub. If, for some reason, the floor gets wet (as it did when, as I tried out the tub, some water splashed on the floor), the only way to get rid of the water is to have a mop handy to absorb the water and pour them elsewhere. Only one problem: we don't have a mop. Bother.

There are also numerous logistical kinks that have to be straightened out. Our toilet, for instance, has to be repaired and is being held together with packing tape. It is a good toilet. Definitely more 'hi-tech' and ergonomic (for men, at least) than the ones I knew in the Philippines. But ours was damaged, and no matter how good it is, if it is damaged, it is only little good. Don't get me wrong. This flat is still better than any I've lived in back in the Pinas.

My wife tried to pull an all-nighter this particular night. She had lots to do but it was onerous and not very interesting. I stayed up with her while reading Band of Brothers, keeping her company before finally turning in at 02:00 the next day. I am really enjoying the companionship I am experiencing with my wife, but I feel that sometimes I become to corny even for her.

30 March—Ah, blogging at last

Thursday. Just one more day and I would be here a full week. Over the last few days I have cooked some food and realized that the two ladies I live with have a severe left-over problem. Food can just collect inside our refrigerator and I found that I can 'recycle' some of them to create other dishes. Most of the time I spend alone so nobody really minds. Things are different here, not better different, not worse different. Just different. Another paradigm. I find that I can mix well with Americans because I spoke like them, but feel self-conscious amongst Aussies because of the same accent (discussion for another time).

Anyway, I didn't do any chores today, but finally started blogging since I had arrived. I look back so far and see that, even though this post is already unbearably long, it only records a thought in a hundred, and the numerous little events that will doubtless later be important in retrospect are not even recorded. Oh, well. . . it wasn't originally my intention to be comprehensive anyway. At the beginning, I said 'only a rundown'. . . not a very brief rundown at all. Oh well. There are other days to discuss other stuff, like Yakult and lamb meat and all.

I hadn't blogged or done anything with computers since this became available. For one thing, what I'm using is not our computer. It is borrowed. It's A—'s laptop. Ærynn and I trying to work for our own PC, but we are all starting from scratch and it is difficult.

I stop in the meantime, at 19:12. The sun is setting. I haven't prepared dinner. A— will be out tonight, Ærynn is in school tonight after work, and back in the Philippines my folks will be attending the Thursday Group Bible Study.

More later.