USA

The Happiest Place on Earth

I must have lived here before . . .

After the thrills of Universal Studios, I was ready for “the happiest place on earth.” For a lot of Filipinos, the US = Disneyland = Mickey Mouse.  But more than Mickey Mouse, I grew up with the Disney princesses— Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella.  At last, I was going to meet them and I was going to be happy!  In the words of a Lonely Planet writer, if Disneyland fails to make you happy, you’ve got no one to blame but yourself.

In spite of the summer crowd crush, the long lines at popular rides, and the food prices, I was ready to be happy.  After all, my ticket was free courtesy of Jeff.

A Year of a Million Dreams. Sounds like the tag line of a supermarket promo back home. But for the family that won a stay at the Disney Resort and was featured at the  kick-off of the Main Street parade in the evening, it did make a lot of sense.

First stop was the  Indiana Jones show which was fun to watch together with all the kids.  The sets were cute and Indiana Jones did look like Indiana Jones.  We then went on an cruise on a river that was supposed to be a combination of all the great rivers of the worlds.  There were animals, foliage, and some monuments.  But the   fun mostly came from the  antics of the river guide, a big woman khaki-clad women with blond locks.  I am really amazed at the energy and enthusiasm of the people working who seem to really internalize what they’re doing.  You don’t actually feel they’re putting on a show for you.  It must be tiring to be doing that day in and day out.  The  more enjoyable tour was the Pirates of the Caribbean boat ride that took us on a slow river cruise on recreated sets featuring scenes from the movie.

So You Think You Can Ride

After conquering the ride at Universal, I took it that Disney’s would be peanuts.  That it would be less gravity-defying. Since the Mummy Ride, I have learned all there is about gravity, force, pressure, and the capacity for the human body to experience all these at the same time in less than 3 minutes while letting out the longest and loudest primeval scream you could every give in your entire life.Since  Disney is a place for kids, I  expected the rides to be tame. What I had forgotten is that kids nowadays have turned into mutants that could back flip as soon as they are born. In short, you could put them on a roller coaster ride from hell and they could be bored to tears.

Disneyland is not really quite as cute as it seems to be. Amidst all those smiling princesses and fairy tale castles lurk some pretty scary rides (at least for a theme park scaredy cat like me) which I found out.  The 4×4 Indiana Jones ride looked harmless.  But about 10 seconds into it, I was clutching my seat as we were shaken, rattled, and swished around on jeep that was simulating passing on an unbelievably  pot-holed and rocky terrain. What I was most  proud of was the Matterhorn Tobogan. I  even raised my arms a bit on some sharp turns too look fashionably cool. But the mother of all screams was Space Mountain.  It was ride like no other and I came off the car with my legs really shaking.  We climbed a steep ascent as the door opened and an electronic voice went on a countdown, “3 – 2 – 1” and for 3 excruciating minutes, we just zoomed among the stars.  I swear, I never screamed as loud!

Parade of My Childhood

But the most memorable Disney experience for me didn’t involve being strapped to a seat. It was sitting at the pavement late in the afternoon and saying “Hi” to the Disney characters during the Main Street Parade.  As each character passed by, I saw before me snapshots of my childhood.  I have always loved stories when I was a little boy and these were some of the characters in my stories.  Goofy, Pinocchio, Peter Pan, Tinkerbell, and of course, Mickey and Minnie brought back my childhood. By the time the Disney princesses—Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella rolled in just after Snow White, I was ready to burst into tears. I was a kid again!  At that moment, I felt I was living my dreams.

Mickey and Minnie
Alice in Wonderland
Fairy Godmothers

Jeff and I didn’t stay for the electric parade nor the fireworks. After some souvenir shopping, we were out of the park and back to reality. Disneyland is a place I would go back to. It may sound crappy. But not so many places allow you to go back to years of your childhood and reclaim it once again.

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Movies and Magic

I must admit I don’t go much for Hollywood-manufactured movies nor mainstream cinema . So Universal Studios and Disneyland were way below my list of places to see when planning my trip to LA last month. “What?!!! You’re not going to Universal and Disney? ” exclaimed my friend, Ochie. Well, if even Lonely Planet puts in a good word for Universal and Disneyland, then it must be the place to be.

First stop was Universal with my college friend, Alex. The last time I was with the guy was his despedida almost 10 years ago. Same looks, albeit a little rounder, but more importantly, the same warmth, humour, and companionship. In other words, still the same old faggot that our group of friends have always loved and accepted so much. He was the perfect Universal companion, with an unlimited yearly pass, he knew the enormous park like it was his backyard. So with a day pass and an all-you-can-eat pass, I was ready to brave the crowd and more importantly, brave the rides!

Mummified at the Mummy Ride. The one and only roller-coaster ride I’ve been in was waaay back in college at the newly-opened Zyklon loop at Star City. It was a fast ride climaxing in a 360 degree loop. Back then, it was the thrill of all thrill rides. There wasn’t much to see as I kept my eyes shut for most of the ride and screaming my head off. I’ve always been afraid of rides. But lining-up for The Mummy Ride, I was bent on conquering my fear once and for all. I figured that if I go through the following stages: (1) get used to them; (2) learn to like them and then (3) eventually truly enjoy them and finally (4) derive happiness from them, I would learn to conquer my fear of air turbulence on plane rides. Rides and air turbulence generate the same “I’m gonna faint and my-heart-is-lurching” feeling. The only difference is I can scream all I want at rides. I wish I could do the same every time the plane lurches or shakes.

There were enough distractions to keep everyone entertained as the line was terribly long, being summer. Finally we were on the ride. Forward..twist…sudden stop… backwards… twist…stop. No need to keep my eyes shut on this ride as it was in total darkness. A few seconds into it, I was ready to declare “never again!”. I was gonna spend the rest of the day passing-out on my eat-all-you-can pass. But then again, never say never. Out of the Mummy Ride and I was lining-up for the rest of the thrills.

Wet. The Jurassic ride should have been named Wild Water Ride. Because I didn’t get to see any of the series, I couldn’t quite understand some of the scenes. At least I could identify some of the dinosaurs. This is one ride that consciosly wets you. If there wasn’t a dinosaur shooting water at you, you’re getting splashed with water somehow somewhere. The final splash is courtesy of an 84-foot almost vertical pludge down a stream. Next stop was Backdraft to dry ourselves.

My favorite part of the Universal Studio tour was passing through the 747 wreckage of “War of the Worlds”, the lake at “Jaws” , the Bates Motel with a Mr. Bates coming-up to the tram and the simulated earthquake at the subway. Too bad there was a shoot going on at “Desperate Housewives'” Wisteria Lane so we just passed by its corner.

The Simpson Ride was my favorite. It’s actually a simulator with a wide screen. It was awesome and I think I screamed more than the mummy ride. The line was awfully long but it was really worth it.

Mamma Mia was on a publicity blitz as it was opening in the theaters. By the end of the day, I already had the last song syndrome. The Universal Studios experience made me think of Hollywood in a different way. For all its commercial excesses and superficiality, it was and still is a movie-making industry. It couldn’t really help itself that it had to manufacture glamour and crass commercialism, it was a business after all. But seeing

747 wreckage at "War of the Worlds"

747 wreckage at

how all those special effects were made at the Special Effects show, passing through the movie set of “War of the Worlds”, seeing a flash flood magically appearing on cue, and even posing for a pic at a Hollywood sign backdrop, it made me realize that it was actually good at what it was doing—-making movies to keep people entertained. That was made it magical.

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Where Muscle Was Born

“When I think of Los Angeles I think of movies, sex, cars” – Donald Trump, The Apprentice

With movies and sex come sexy bodies. So where do those sexy bodies come from? Working-out at Gold’s Gym Hollywood was enough to open the floodgates of all my body image problems. Sure, it was located at a drearier part of Santa Monica Blvd, but Gold’s Gym is Gold’s Gym and add Hollywood to that and you’ve got the A-list place with A-list movie stars sculpting their A-list bodies. No, I didn’t see Keannu Reeves waving like he does at the infomercial. But there were enough gorgeous faces and even more gorgeous bodies to remind me how fat I suddenly seemed to me and how ugly I suddenly seemed to look. At the gym floor, beauty couldn’t be skin deep. It had to be there–out and proud. So I stayed at the selectorized machines trying my best to look good. Sometimes I’d glance at the Free Motion circuit corner but that muscled blond was enough to drive me back to my own corner. A quick shower and I was outta there. The next day I was worked-out at the Downtown club. People seemed more normal, by Mt. Olympus standards. A couple of days later and I was comfortable enough to actually enjoy working out. Since Downtown was the financial district, it was more of an office crowd working-out there and less busy. As for the original Gold’s Gym that opened in 1969 in Venice Beach, I just took a quick look see, bought a couple of apparel and skeddadled out of there. There was just too much testosterone. Heck, even the women seemd ready to bench-press me. Stepping in though was like going into the heart of Gold’s Gym —pure muscle, serious-no-frills workout. I was in the midst of history.

Beach, Bodies, Beautiful

Bench-pressing under the glare of the sun? Power squats in trunks? Bulging biceps deflecting the sun’s rays? Is that saliva dripping down your chin? This is The Pit, part open-air, part covered pumping station of free weights and cybex in a patch of fenced-in sand at Muscle Beach in Venice Beach or is it Venice Beach in Muscle Beach or Muscle Beach by Venice Beach. Whatever. There were loads of muscle, a long strip of beach, and tons and tons of attitude.

The Pit

The Pit

I had just walked a couple of blocks from the original Gold’s Gym. After my Hollywood workout, I didn’t dare even think of stacking some weight at the first outpost of weightlifting. If Gold’s Gym Hollywood makes you feel like an ugly dork, you’re gonna feel like an ugly, undersized dork at Gold’s Gym Venice Beach. This after all, was the birthplace of Gold’s Gym. The muscles on all the guys and girls working-out was enough to provide the protein requirements of a small African nation. So I just did a quick tour and bought a couple of shirts to show-off back home. You know, “Hey I was at Gold’s Gym Venice Beach. (Grunt). Yeah! (more grunts).”

Seeing all that muscle made me spicy Louisiana Andaouille with fries as I enjoyed the Ocean Front Boardwalk sights of shirtless hunks and vavaboom blondes walking and skating. It was a Wednesday so there wasn’t much of a crowd. Venice Beach with its laid back and bohemian character seemed so far-removed from the typical glamour of LA. It was shabby but chic and totally unpretentious. It had to be. I was lugging around like a baby in my arms, an orange Marmot tent that I had bought at REI Outdoor Shop near the Third St. Promenade at Santa Monica.

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Living Asian in LA

“You’re going to Hollywood!” – Simon, American Idol

If the heat greeted me in Vegas, the Chinese welcomed me to LA.

It all started with the bus ride from Las Vegas.  I booked my ticket online  for the USAsia Bus even while still home in Manila. I stumbled on the website while surfing “bus from Las Vegas to LA.”   It seemed a better choice than Greyhound whose terminal was in the gritty part of downtown LA.  There were several arrival points but I had asked Jeff earlier which was the most convenient one.  Fortunately, one of the stops was near his place.

The cab I took from Fremont St. dropped me off at Harrah’s where the bus stop was.  The female driver was surprised when I unthinkingly  handed her a $10 bill.  I had forgotten that in the US, a $1-2 tip was enough.  No wonder, she readily carried my luggage to the curb and was all smiles.  She either thought I was a stupid bloke or a really rich guy.  Either way, I had made her really happy and made myself poorer. I dropped my luggage at the kept-luggage counter as I had enough time to go around.  The bus wasn’t due in more than an hour.  I big African-American woman tagged my bags and said, “Is there anything else I can do for you, sir?”  “No more, ” I answered.  She repeated the question.  Only then did I realize it was a signal for a tip.  Much wiser now, I took out a $1 bill and handed it to her.  She thanked me and left.

Went inside Harrah’s to take a look.  The lobbies of Vegas hotels are a tourist destination in themselves with their grandiose interiors.  Harrah’s was funky and colorful.  About 45 minutes before the bus was due to arrive, I was back at the pick-up point which consisted nothing more than a couple of wooden benches.

The  doorman at Harrah’s referred to the bus as the “Chinese bus.”   It soon became evident how it got its monicker.  Waiting at the bench,  I was soon surrounded by elderly Chinese.  The bus arrived and it was totally  Chinese from the driver to the lady conductor to the passengers!  It did give me a sense of security to be with people of my own region.

We made a chow stop at Barstow where there was a food stall selling Filipino rice meals manned by of course, a Filipino, who recognized me as one of his racial brethren.  There was adobo and lechon kawali. I just had an ice-cream stick as I wasn’t really hungry.

It was traffic in the Mojave Desert and we made quite a few stops to drop-off people. It was close to dusk when we finally pulled into Monterey Park where Jeff would pick me up.  “Welcome to Chinatown!” Jeff greeted me as I got in his car.

According to  Lonely Planet, LA ispopulated by  50% Latino, 30% Asian, and 10% white. With billions and billions born, it would be no surprise if that 30% piece of the pie was dominated by the chinky-eyed. My first-time in LA, and I was in Chinatown with its  Chinese shops, restaurants, and groceries. Hollywood seemed so far away.

The Ms Universe Barbecue

It was a short drive to Jeff and David’s  comfy Pasadena house.  They were hosting a barbecue dinner with a few friends while watching the Ms. Universe finals night.   We arrived in the middle of the semi-finals round where  Ms Philippines was expectantly bumped-off.  . Everyone was  glued to the flat screen while I munched on vegetarian burgers and chips in the patio with the city lights blinking below me.

Thai in Hollywood, Chinese in Downtown, Filipino in Eagle Rock

I can survive on  burgers, hotdogs, and fries especially if they’re from  Scooby’s and In n’ Out but I gotta have my  rice fixins at one point.  Fortunately, with so many Asians in L.A. , finding rice is as easy as finding fries.

 Sanamluang is a small Thai place at Hollywood Blvd in the area known as Thai Town where you guessed it, a lot of Thai’s live! The well-lit  place with industrial tables and chairs typical of an Asian eatery was welcoming and manned by, what else, Thai people!   It seemed to be enjoying good patronage even from the whites.  I had a Pad Thai while Alex had a satay. Food was really good though a little short on the Thai-ness maybe to tone it down for the Western palate.

One late night, Alex, Manolet, and me  headed downtown to Mayfair located in a darkened street.  It was a typical Chinese resto with big round tables, staff that could hardly speak English, and the general Chinese feel that reminds you you’re there for the food and nothing else. There was hardly anyone there as it seemed to be nearly closing time.  The staff were accommodating and we had very very good and tasty  whole fried fish sliced very very thinly. It was unlike anything I’ve tried before.

Ang taba mo!” greeted the server who had not seen Jeff for about a year. Welcome to Aling Gloria’s fastfood!  What could be more Pinoy than being greeted with either “Ang taba mo!” or “Ang payat mo!”.   After dropping-off my balikbayan box at LBC , Jeff was going to get some breakfast to go.  That the strip of shops where Aling Gloria’s and LBC are located includes a Filipino grocery where Alex and I bought the balikbayan box earlier is proof that Eagle Rock is one place  where  Filipinos have not only landed but seemed to have splattered itself all over the place.

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Viva Vegas

Arriving in Vegas on the 8th of July, the first thing that hit me was the intense heat. After 12 hours on a plane from Manila to Vancouver then another 2 hours from Vancouver to Vegas, my feet were eager to do some walking. So there I was, excitedly setting foot for the first-time in the US of A, and what greeted me was the desert heat. Imagine living inside an oven or a sauna. Intense dry dry dry heat that dries-up your eyes, cracks your lips, and suffocates you. No kidding. And I thought I knew heat from my mountain-climbing. “You’ll know why I wouldn’t go to Vegas on summer when you get there,” my friend Jeff said. I totally understood what he and all the others I’ve asked to come with me and attend the IDEA Convention meant.

“How much change you want?” Asked the chinese driver of the cab I had taken from McCarran. I had given him a 50 for a 42-dollar ride to my Downtown hotel. “Give me 5 bucks,” I answered. He was nice anyway and made for good conversation; plus he helped me with my luggage and pointed out to me where the bus stop to the Strip was. Looking like a saloon from the bygone days, the El Cortez seemed to magnify the intense heat. It stood out against the blue sky and the street fronting it was quite understandably deserted. “Everyone stays indoors becuase of the heat,” my friend Ochie had explained to me before I left Manila. It was already a little past 8 but the sun was still out still very very hot. A block across the hotel was the so-called Fremont Street Experience–four blocks covered with a canopy of lights that ran a “show” of images with a blaring soundtrack. It was like watching a huge tv screen. A few seconds of stiff neck later, I moved on. Late late dinner was at a small shop that served Middle Eastern food. I had a huge beef gyros with potato wedges and a drink for $12. My friend Ochie advised me, “if you’re gonna keep converting to pesos, you’re never gonna be able to eat or buy anything.” $12 was supposed to be cheap. I had already made-up my mind to just leave for LA on Sunday and stay an extra night so I wouldn’t have to rush-off right after the convention which ended on Saturday morning. The deuce bus stop was just at the next corner and the $5 all-day pass which included the other RTC routes was a bargain. 2 days later, I could navigate Vegas like I was born there–well, at least the main roads like the Strip, Tropicana, Sahara, and Paradise. After walking the Strip countless of times, walking to the convention center, even walking along Sahara in the wee hours of the morning coming from Commercial Center, I was, as my boss remarked, “look liked a Vegas native.” I was proud of that 🙂

City of Lights

Eiffel Tower in Vegas?

People say the best time to arrive in Vegas is in the evening when all the lights are on creating a luminous mirage in the middle of the Mojave desert. Walking along the Strip, it’s as if the world’s lights were all lit there. Astronauts say that they can see the Great Wall from the moon. I bet, they saw that during daytime when Vegas was asleep and half of the lights weren’t lit. Otherwise, the Apollo 13 could orbit back to Earth with the Flamingo sign as its beacon.

Not just the lights, but the hotels create a magical place. Amidst the hugeness of surroundings and the ebb and flow of pedestrian traffic, it is easy to see and feel why Vegas can be the stuff of dreams. Can’t travel the world? Then troop to Paris, Las Vegas hotel for a photo-op at the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. New York is just a few meters away and just across the pyramid and pharaos of Egypt courtesy of Luxor. Nearby, Sir Arthur awaits at his medieval castle of Excalibur. Caged lions, pink flamingoes, talking statues, venetian canals, dancing fountains, daredevil rides, treasure ships, name it, Vegas has it. My favorite? The dancing fountains of Bellagio. They’re not really extra-ordinary but at least they’re not as tacky as the pirates and ship show at Treasure Island or the talking statues at Ceasar’s Palace. Besides, dancing fountains that shoot up water always look, well . . . sensual and sexy.

I was lucky to have been able to try staying at Fremont and at the Strip giving me a sense of both the old and the new Vegas. Thanks to the Gold’s Gym Convention, I got to stay at the Excalibur and thanks to PAL’s cancellation of my trip back home, I got an extra night but this time at the Riviera. The El Cortez at Fremont is far from glamorous but I like its quietness. The room size was comparable to the Exaclibur’s and the Riviera’s, bigger even. I actually liked my El Cortez room which was roomy and clean with 2 big beds. I think I’ll stay there again. Mandalay Bay where my bosses stayed and where the Gold’s Gym convention was, really is tops. Nice room, a pool that simulated a beach, and a really really really big hotel that actually smelled nice and not smokey. For almost $200 a night, it had to be.

4 Queens

All You Can Puke Buffet There are buffets and then there are the Vegas buffets. In the land of excesses, why stop at building grand and ginormous hotels. Bring the food in. The buffets are absolutely mind-boggling. You actually get option paralysis. I thought the Spiral buffet at the Manila Sofitel was the ultimate food orgy. But no. And I’m just talking about breakfast. I never got to try lunch nor dinner. But the breakfasts at the Mandalay, Fremont Hotel, and Fremont Station were enough already. Forget about simply bacon, corned beef and hash. The buffet breakfast had steak, fried chicken, enchiladas and so much more. Why stop at pancakes and waffles when you can have cheesecakes, carrot cakes, cookies, and a whole lot more that white flour, butter, and sugar can come-up with.

Charmingly Tacky Being the backpacker that I am, I never imagined that I would really enjoy all that commerical excess surrounding me. I even caught Elvis rocking and rolling 🙂 But like a persistent acquaintance that you never really like but always hangs-out with you, Vegas slowly grows on you. Walking along the Strip in the dead of night, waiting for the deuce at 3 in the morning, getting a quick bite to eat Walgreens and even walking along the empty Freemont Experience at daybreak is always magical. Admittedly, some of the attractions are downright tacky but again, one’s man’s tacky is another man’s novelty.

Vegas truly has a character of its own. The only other US city I’ve been to is LA so I couldn’t say how it measures up to the rest. LA is so sporty, fit, and chic while Vegas is oh so quaint, charming, and even pretty.

My Top Hotel Picks (because they look nice)

1. Wynn – gorgeous and stylish lobby that actually looks classy not tacky

2. Mandalay Bay – a swimming pool that looks like a beach and a shark’s reef aquarium

3. Venezia – faux Italian but nice

My Top Food Eats

Fat Burger

1. Fat Burger – the counter guy making the burgers actually remembered me on my second outing; thick thick milkshakes and juicy burgers

2. Nestle Toll House – if all cookies were made just like these; it makes going to Miracle Mile at Planet Hollywood totally worth it.. heck, i’d wade through the Rio Grande just for this

Peanut Butter Sundae

3. Ghirardelli – To-die-for peanut butter sundae

4. Nathan’s – great hotdogs; Nathan’s at the Mermaid in Downtown has fried Twinkies and fried Oreo’s

5. Denny’s – your friendly neighborhood diner where the waitress actually serves you and seems to actually enjoy it

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La Visa Loca

I finally got my US Visa yesterday—multiple-entry pass for 10 years.

The unexpected turn of events the past few weeks since my boss came back from the US has totally turned my life upside-down. It wasn’t just too long ago (about a month, I think) when my LA-based dear dear friend Jeff has just come home after almost 10 years abroad when he reiterated his invite to come visit and stay with him for some R&R. A couple of weeks later, I was online making an appointment to see Uncle Sam himself.

It was fairly easy to apply for that elusive appointment from online booking, to paying the fees at BPI, to filling-out the form, processing papers at the embassy and all the way to waiting for your interview. I was originally set for a June 23 appointment but I needed an earlier one as my expected flight was July 6. Plus the deadline for the IDEA Convention refund was June 10. I managed to secure a May 23 appointment—enough lead time to refund my $ 489 convention fee and plan my life, my post-Visa life.

V-Week. May 23 was a Friday and the run-up to it was almost crazy. Everyone was saying I was sure to get one, after all I was going to the US for the Gold’s Gym International Convention courtesy of the company and I had the papers to back me. Sure I did. I prepared a binder with all my ACE certifications, the convention registration, company certification, and even some media articles on me. Heck, I even printed the home page of my website.

V-Day. I was at the embassy by 11.30 am. There wasn’t any line at all and there wasn’t much of a crowd at the pavilion where you submit all your papers. I had 2 sandwiches and some chips at the office as I was prepared to sweat-out an enormous crowd. It was smooth sailing except for the stupid girl who was so much in a hurry she mistakenly put the wrong barcoded sticker on my form. Apparently, there was a Reynaldo Jimenez and she probably looked at the list down-up. I had to line-up all over again to have it changed.

The man with no fingerprints. Someone called our numbers and we were made to line-up like school children out on a field-trip. We were escorted to a waiting room with a counter for finger-printing. A cranky old lady was manning it, you know the kind of wrinkly old ladies who usually spend their golden years as mall guards. I started to get scared as she was barking order on how to put your hands on the finger scanner. “Itaas mo pa! Idiin mo! Bakit ba naka-angat ang mga daliri mo?” She told a little old lady, not much older than her. A good 10 minutes was spent on a middle-aged man who apparently the machine was unable to scan. He and cranky old lady did everything. He placed his fingers where they should be. She gave him some tissue to wipe the scanner. Wifey behind him gave him moral support. I was craning to see how the scanner looks. The last time I practiced placing my hands on my lap and setting my fingers to position was for a piano exam in the conservatory. Finally, the machine read the man with no fingerprints. He was now in the official database of the embassy’s probable list of unwanteds. I came off without a hitch.

The wait. An hour to go before my 1 pm appointment and the waiting room was being filled already. The counters were mute and dark and their shades drawn. There was an unusually large number of elderly people, some families, and a few professionals. I was sleepy and was slumped on the wall. A large family with a cute dad (who looked like he was gay) and a pretty mom with nice-looking kids sat behind me while the son sat beside me. Quietly, the mom told her teen-age F4-looking son to take off his earring. “Just put it back on in the car.” He obliged. But it wasn’t over yet. After the fashion tip, it was time for some coaching. ” Tell the consul your going to visit your cousins. Memorize their address.” I started getting scared for the second time.  I detached my certifications, the convention invitation and registration for easy presentation should it be asked.  To confound my scaredness, I looked at my passport (the documents were returned after finger-scanning) and saw that the barcode on my passport hadn’t been changed—it was still Reynaldo Jimenez.  I swear, I almost turned terrorist.  I wanted to strangle that stupid counter girl with the wrong barcodes.  Like a mantra, I started practicing my answers.  All around me, people were either praying or practicing. That explains the miracle. Here was a room-full of Pinoys and it was unbelievably QUIET!

Then the counters lit-up and the shades drawn up.  The electronic board started flashing numbers.  In one wave-like movement, everyone craned their bodies to the counters listening-in on the interviews.  The first set were sent away with blue sheets of paper, a sign of being rejected.  We were briefed earlier that success means having your passport withheld and you going back to the pavilion to pay the courier.  A blue slip means you’re staying home.

So why do you want to go the US? “To attend the Gold’s Gym Convention in Vegas.”  Why do you need to attend that?  What\s you position?  How much is your salary?   How long have you been working for Gold’s?  Why are they sending you only now?  You’ve never been to the US?  Who is Arthur Jimenez? It was one question to another.  At one point, I really thought I was going to be denied.  “Sorry, but I don’t believe you. You’re probably never going to come back.”  The consul kept typing on his keyboard.  I had worn a brand-new Gold’s Gym uniform with the logo clearly embroidered on the left chest for maximum I’m-a-Gold’s-Gym-employee look.  He turned to me and said “Your visa has been approved.”  The sun broke-out on my face. “Tell the girl at the counter about your passport and make sure they look for it.”  I couldn’t help but be wide-smiled all over.  I passed!

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