Tag Archives: Manila

Becoming a Filipino Citizen – Again!

Now, dear readers, if you’ve been following this blog you know that some months back Janet was able to become an American Citizen! That process is expensive, complex and time consuming, but we considered it to be worth it, particularly because of the value of the blue passport we Americans take for granted.

However, one of the stipulations of becoming a US citizen is that you must give up all other citizenships. Therefore Janet was now an American citizen with all the rights and privileges that I have, but she was no longer a Philippines citizen.

But here’s where it gets interesting. Unlike the US, the Philippines does not require you to give up other citizenships. Therefore you can re-acquire your Philippines citizenship, without giving up your US citizenship, thus becoming a dual-citizen. And that was our plan.

Unlike in the US, the Philippines laws, regulations and bureaucracy are a bit less transparent, so it took Janet a while to try to determine what she had to do in order to re-acquire her citizenship. We stopped in the Immigration Office here in Dumaguete, and as expected were told that they could not handle such a request; it had to be done at the main office in Manila.

Calls to the main office in Manila went unanswered but finally Janet did get a response to her emails. So the following is what we learned.

The paperwork is fairly easy and you can download it here: http://www.immigration.gov.ph

What we were interested in was the Petition for Reacquisition of Philippines Citizenship Under R.A. 9225. The form itself is fairly short and simple. However, you cannot just fill it out and send it in. You must go to the main office in Manila.

So, after Janet had put her documentation together; standard stuff including marriage license, US passport and proof of citizenship, birth certificate, etc. we booked a flight and hotel and we were on our way. The Immigration office opens at 8:00 AM and we decided to arrive around 6:00. There were only a couple of people ahead of us but by 8:00 the line was at least 100 people. I’d therefore recommend arriving early. You cannot get an appointment no matter how rich or white you are. It is strictly first come, first serve.

The two couples ahead of us were both foreigners with Filipina wives. One guy, an American and nice enough, had lived in the Philippines many years and therefore thought he ought to impart his wisdom to me, the newbie. I smiled and nodded my head a lot, though as I say, he was certainly nice enough. The 1st guy in line was German and right out of central casting; think Sergeant Schultz, only a lot less funny.

Once the doors opened (and they actually opened a few minutes early) we were hustled to a line that was essentially a triage area. Some people were there to get or renew visas and there were people there looking to do what Janet was doing. A lady, definitely the bureaucratic type (again think Sergeant Schultz, only less funny) checked Janet’s documentation, gave her a couple forms to fill out, told her to put it all in a folder and come back when she was ready.

Five minutes later we came back and waited, and waited and waited. Finally we were hustled into an office with an Immigration Officer, whose specialty was the re-acquisition of citizenship. She more thoroughly scrutinized Janet’s documents. Of particular interest is a document that Janet and I typed up. Essentially they require an affidavit stating that you have nothing bad hanging over your head under any of your past or current names. The document must be notarized, so Janet and I found a notary the day before,  a couple hours after we arrived in Manila. The notary literally had a desk situated in a restaurant and a couple hundred pesos later we were set. The Immigration Officer looked at our letter closely; later I understood why. Most applicants don’t have the letter and are sent around the corner from Immigration where a large area processes writing and notarizing documents. So, don’t worry; if you don’t have the letter, somebody will write it for you and have it notarized. We still had to go around the corner since they required the form itself to be notarized, for 100 pesos.

BTW, speaking of money, online we read that the fee for the re-acqusition was about 3100 pesos. When we arrived at Immigration it turned out that the fee was closer to 2500; I have no idea what the discrepancy was, maybe the notarization fees.

We returned back to the room to show the finalized documents to the officer. Sitting there was an elderly woman and her daughter and in typical Philippines fashion not only did Janet and the older women strike up a conversation but the Immigration Officer joined in. We found out that the lady’s husband had died, she had become an American citizen through marriage, all the husband’s money was being grabbed by his children from a previous marriage, that the woman was now broke and re-acquiring her Philippines citizenship to avail of some benefits she can get, if she’s a Philippines citizen. The woman’s daughter was stunned that Janet would re-acquire her Philippines citizenship, thus giving up the golden goose (aka the American passport). They all explained to her that Janet did not have to give up her American citizenship; that she would be a dual citizen. They all laughed and had a great time. Try doing that with an Immigration Officer in the US.

There were of course more lines, more approvals and finally Janet was in the payment line. After that she was directed to an office where another 5 women where waiting for exactly what Janet was awaiting; their dual citizenship. All were women and all much older.

Finally all 6 together were in front of an Immigration Officer (a 30ish man). I was looking on – the only husband – I suspect the only husband still alive. It’s not the 1st world so the officer one by one confirmed each person’s name and age. A couple were in their 80s (including the woman whose story we heard). One woman said she was 62. “You look at lot younger,” the Officer said. Janet confirmed her name and age of 29; she was half the age or less of any other woman there. It was obvious that the other women had deceased husbands and were looking to re-acquire their citizenship for whatever benefits Philippines citizenship gives.

They all raised their right hands and took an oath and were told that in 2-3 months (it is the Philippines, after all) they would receive confirmation that their petition was approved and we’d have to come back to Manila to get it.

But for all intents and purposes, our plan, which started five years ago with a K-1 Visa, went through two separate green card applications, an application to become an American citizen and now the application to re-acquire Philippines citizenship, was done. Don’t ask me what the total expense was, since I don’t want to think about it, but really in the end it’s all been worth it. Janet is a citizen of the world and has all the options possible. I’m very proud of her!

Dodging Bullets at Manila Airport

The entire expat community, Fil-Am community, hell the entire Philippines is up in arms over the recent scandal at Manila’s NAIA Airport. If you’ve been living under a rock the last couple of weeks let me summarize.

The scam, which currently involves the investigation of 40 NAIA employees, works like this. You’re trying to get out of Manila; and if you’ve ever been in Manila you certainly know why you want to get out. You run your carry-on items through the x-ray machine, as is done at virtually every airport in the world. A bullet is mysteriously found in your carry on. You are in trouble; arrest is imminent. But of course the issue will go away and you can get on your plane and out of Dodge – for the appropriate number of pesos. The scheme is so sophisticated that apparently spotters were employed to pick the best targets. I’m not sure what constitutes an appropriate target; someone who really, really wants to get out of Manila, I suppose.

The scam works because you are rushing. You want to make your plane and get the hell out of NAIA (the reasons for that will soon become apparent); so a few (often more than a few) pesos is easier than the alternative, which usually involves having to stay in Manila.

I suppose one could also makes the case that the scam works because of the culture. I can’t imagine it would work well in the U.S. where the victim would scream bloody murder, police brutality, racial profiling (even if he was white). TSA would likely throw a few bucks in his pocket just to get him to shut up.

But in the Philippines, a country filled with respectful, quiet people, who only shout while singing karaoke, it works.

In addition, and this adds a tricky element to the proceedings, many Filipinos use a bullet as a good luck charm. In fact 4 people were arrested just yesterday at NAIA for bullets in their carry ons and 3 of the 4 readily admitted they were theirs. One of those arrested said, “It is just stupid to put people in jail for having one or two bullets.” No harm, no foul 🙂


Now, NAIA has consistently been ranked as the worst airport in the world. Poll after poll over the years have deemed it a complete pit. If you have every been in Terminal 1 or 2 you know why. Collapsing floors, leaking ceilings, long lines, limited seating areas, lousy food, overpriced taxis, and for us foreigners the final shocking indignity – lousy wifi service.

But a strange thing happened recently. The airport improved (well a little) and this year dropped our of the top 10 (bottom 10, really). Terminal 3 is a big part of the improvement. You can actually sit, there’s a passenger lounge, there is edible food, and you can buy high end perfumes there. They’re even trying to improve seating in Terminal 1.

So here’s my theory. Some higher up type was upset by dropping out of the number 1 spot; they were proud at being number 1 at something, even being number 1 worst. Heads were going to roll. Surely, the world had to once again recognize NAIA for the shithole it really is.

It’s amazing what a few planted bullets can do. Is there any doubt which airport will head the worst list in 2016?

But this blog isn’t about airports or surveys or travel conditions. It’s about being married to a Filipina. So, let’s get to the important stuff.

Janet has been infuriated about this scandal, which in her view is a black stain on all Filipinos. Janet is a simple Pinay and believes in a simple solution for the perpetrators of this dastardly scheme – death.

“They should be shot!” she’s yelled often.

“Well, arrested but not…”

“Shot. That’s the only solution.” Apparently Presidential Candidate Duterte has found his running mate in Janet.

So, now that we have solved what should be done to the perpetrators, Janet brainstormed about what was best the next time we travel to the Philippines.

“We will put locks on all our carry ons,” she stated.

“Kinda hard with my camera bag.” I always travel with a nondescript camera bag for camera, accessories plus anything else I want to bring on board the plane.

I did actually make the mistake of packing a camera in my luggage one time, when I was younger and dumber, worrying that it was too easy to steal out of a standard carry on. The luggage lock was broken and the camera stolen. Fortunately this was not a trip to the Philippines otherwise you’d all be up in arms over the baggage scandal. So now I have a camera bag that doesn’t look like a camera bag and there are flaps and pouches – not good for padlocks.

Janet was not to be deterred. “We can wrap our carryons in plastic. Tight so they cannot be opened.”

“Well for me the purpose of a carry on is to be able to get into it. So wrapped in plastic wouldn’t work for me.” The kano was clearly being difficult.

I tried to reason with my lovely wife. I explained that travel, especially international travel does have some risk, but that overall we are careful, work hard to minimize risk, and have so much fun traveling that it’s worth the risk. And then I added, “There is one major item that you are not considering in this discussion, darling. We don’t fly out of Manila. We never fly out of Manila.”

She had an answer. “They could start doing it in Cebu.” Apparently the bullet scam is franchising.

Addendum: The current rumor (maybe more than a rumor) is that the 3 arrested Filipinos who admitted to having a bullet or two on them were a set up designed to show that most of those detained were legitimate. All I know is this is much more fun than American scammers who generally wear suits and whose henchmen are the ones carrying the bullets.




Manila is a S*ithole and Other Words of Wisdom


I just got a great email from a reader preparing for his first trip to the Philippines to meet his girlfriend, who he hopes to someday marry. I realized in answering his questions how much basic information people struggle with about visiting the Philippines (or any international travel for that matter) and marrying a Filipina.

At the same time, I am on a variety of Philippines-related forums and sometimes  roll my eyes at the debates and misinformation spewed out there. It suddenly occurred to me that visitors to these sites, seeking information are making a fundamental mistake in their approach – they aren’t simply skipping the middle man and contacting me first 🙂

Therefore I thought I would write the 1st in a potential series of what in my industry would be called “core dumps” about traveling to the Philippines, meeting your girl and her family, and surviving to tell the tale. I’ll end with a mini traveling tip.

1. Manila is a Shithole: Yes, you’ve heard it here first. Manila is all the stereotypes it is famous for. It’s dirty, polluted, the traffic is insane, it’s expensive by Philippines standards, taxis are nuts, beggars are everywhere, and the people are…well you get the idea; I don’t much care for the place. Now I know a few guys who like the city, and no doubt there are Filipina readers who were raised in Manila – and to those I apologize – but I won’t amend my statement.

Yes, Manila has an international airport (one of the worst rated in the world) and some high end malls, there are some neighborhoods that are better than others, and there are plenty of clubs for those of you into “clubbing” (wink-wink). Nonetheless, if you are a Westerner and visiting the Philippines for the 1st time (or the 10th time), unless your fiancé lives in Manila, avoid it like the plague. I see constant postings by guys who went to the Philippines, hung out in Manila and Angeles, hated the place, and complained at the fools who had advised them that the Philippines was a glorious, tropical country filled with wonderful Pinays. It is glorious – except for Manila – you have been warned.

2. You’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto: Americans (and that’s what I am, so I’m gonna hit it from that POV) do very little International traveling (Canada and Mexico don’t count, so don’t make me come over there and smack you) and we know nothing (and care even less) about the differences in various cultures. Don’t let the Philippines fool you. Yes, most Filipinos speak some English, know something about and love American culture, and the women will claim they love you the first time they see your pasty white guapo visage. But the Philippines ain’t America. Nothing they do will be done in the way you do it or Americans do it. I mean nothing! BTW, in my opinion this is often a good thing. But most guys can’t handle it. Adapt or die, cause it starts the moment you get off the plane. Want to have a happy vacation or a successful start with your new love? Assume nothing will be as you know it. You have landed on Mars. If you can make this leap, you have a chance to be successful; and a chance to fall in love with the Philippines. If not, you’re toast.

3. Not every Filipino is out to take advantage of you: OK, let me amend this; some Filipinos are out to take advantage of you. By comparison to the average Filipino you are Donald Freaking Trump, a billionaire with unlimited amounts of money – money that they hope to get a tiny taste of. Is this really so unusual? I owned a service business for many years and when a guy walked into my office wearing a $1k suit I knew it was gonna be a good day. I quickly pulled out my top of the line stuff and added a few bucks to the standard price, just because…well just because he could pay it and I was a poor working stiff.

Last year Janet and I were in Dumaguete. We ended up in a terrible argument about an overpriced trike ride, each assigning blame to the other for the fact that we had obviously been overcharged. Finally I calmed down and said to her, “Do you realize we are arguing about a ride that cost us $6?”

We went downstairs and asked the front desk clerk how much trike rides cost in Duma and from then on only paid the standard rate. Knowledge is power and it’s your responsibility to know how things work. So don’t be a dumbass, and if you get beat out of a few pesos, grin and bare it – and learn.

But I guess the real take away should be that if you assume everyone exists in the Philippines to take advantage of you – you’re gonna have a lousy time. Enjoy yourself. Any way you look at it your vacation’s gonna be a lot cheaper than almost anywhere you could go in the 1st world; and the view (both tropical and female) is gonna be a hell of a lot better.

4. There’s No Political Correctness in the Philippines: It’s surprising, sometimes off putting and often refreshing, but expect Filipinos to tell you directly what they think when it comes to other people and cultures. Your gf/wife will tell you she loves white skin, doesn’t like people with darker skin (including her own). You will hear references to person X, followed by “he’s a gay.” It’s not meant as an insult; just a point of information.

If someone is a bit overweight, you won’t hear references to glandular or hormonal issues; they’ll be called fat. Last night, as Oscar winner, Patricia Arquette, made her impassioned speech, Janet said what millions of others thought but wouldn’t dare say – “she’s getting fat.”

Filipinas are unlikely to understand you when you refer to African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Native Americans, etc. They will just say “he’s black.” Or more likely they will say, “I’m black,” or “I’m too black,” and look very sad in saying so. Respond by saying you like black – black is good, devils food cake tastes yummier than angel food cake, and you will have a very good time.

5. Family is everything: Now, many expats in the Philippines and men married to Filipinas say this in a negative way, but that’s not how I mean it. You probably wanted a woman with traditional values, didn’t you? That means family is central; they’re Leave it to Beaver with a Filipino accent, and Lumpy Rutherford is a little less well-nourished.

When you meet your gf/wife’s family you ought to check out how she treats her parents. That’s how she’s gonna treat you someday. Or, if you’re like me, and are older than her parents – that’s how she’s gonna treat you right away!

Now compare your relationship with your family at home – and enjoy the difference.

Remember, if you do the right thing, very soon you will be part of the family as well, and will be treated accordingly. And no, I am not just referring to being asked to kick in money, although that’s a sometime part of family life.

The first time I visited Janet’s family in Alcoy her younger brother attempted to take my bag and carry it for me. Since in the US we are independent and an older guy like me might consider it an insult, assuming I could not schlep my own bag – I politely refused, telling him that I was fine. He was confused, later asking Janet why I refused his help. I was looking at the whole thing though my American eyes; I sure as hell don’t expect my teens to help with a bag – and they don’t.

Janet waited a month or two before mentioning that her brother was surprised at my refusal. I realized it was a point of respect he was showing me, so from that point on I decided for subsequent trips to act feeble and let him help. Frankly, the whole family treats me wonderfully and it makes me wish for more of the same in my home country.

6. Today’s mini traveling tip: Carry lots of small bills or coins. I know, I know – you’re a rich kano who doesn’t want to be bothered carrying anything less than a 1000 peso note. Be bothered. The little store you want to buy a coke in, or the taxi driver you want to give a 20P tip to will not have change and then you will have to scurry around to find some change or get frustrated and overpay, thus being pissed off at getting cheated again. And if you are in Manila or Cebu and encounter a child looking for a coin – give one to him. It won’t kill you; you might even feel good about yourself. So carry lots of small stuff and leave most of the big bills at the hotel.

P.S. If you were offended by the title of this piece, I again apologize. You ought to realize by now that this is how I try to suck you in, right 🙂

An Update: It’s official! Manila is not a complete shithole. In-n-Out Burger comes to Manila.





Don’t Mess With the Janet

In my last mini-blog posting I asked whether anyone was interested in being a guest blogger here at Married A Filipina. Janet had encouraged me to look for alternate views to my own, though she wasn’t quite willing to write anything herself. There was a rousing response to my request. Actually I am being sarcastic – there was no response.

But a couple days later I got pinged on Facebook by a Filipina who said she might be interested. Our first conversation was brief, chopped off by my having to run to work. She asked if she was qualified and I asked if she was in a relationship with a foreigner. I explained what I was trying to do with my blog; document in humorous fashion a relatively new Fil-Am marriage, but that I thought alternative viewpoints, especially a Filipina’s would add spice to the gumbo.

There was a bit of confusion about how she would “profit” from being a guest blogger and I told her she probably wouldn’t profit at all. She encouraged me to join a FB group she was part of which might give me an idea of her point of view. I did and promptly forgot all about it until the next day when she contacted me again.

Somehow we got on the subject of places to retire in the Philippines. She lived outside Metro Manila and believed that area was the best. Cebu she didn’t like, Mindanao was dangerous. “Read the crime statistics” I was told. My life is boring enough without having to read crime stats. “Cebu is not good,” was her conclusion. ”Lots of hookers.” Typhoons also. And too damn hot.

“I have no interest in hookers,” I replied. I thought that living through a typhoon in my post-retirement dotage might be fun. Hot I figured came with the territory throughout the Philippines. I mentioned that I had been to Valencia outside Dumaguete and that was a bit cooler and very nice.

“It’s too damn hot there also,” I was told.

In short the conversation was negative and boring but I did learn that where she lived there were no bars with hookers. I mentioned once again I had no interest or need in hookers, as I had a sexy wife to go home to. That was where I made my big mistake.

“Picture?” I was asked. “Let me see if she is really sexy.”

By now I was annoyed. “You can see her on my blog – there are some pics there. But of course she is sexy to me.”

“Hope you’re not like many expats calling their ugly wife a beautiful wife lol,” she replied.

“Well, if an expat thinks his wife, ugly or not, is beautiful – I think that’s great.”

“You can use the word great but not beautiful,” I was told.

Now I was in the middle of a classic Filipino argument, one that I have had with several Filipinos, as well as several kanos, namely that some foreigners choose unattractive Filipinas for girlfriends and wives. I have touched on this subject before and it is ultimately in my view a silly debate. Tastes are, after all, different. The sort of foreigner who may view the dark skinned, exotic Filipina beauty as his ideal has a different taste than many Filipinos, who value light skin, long noses, a bit of height; in short who value a different set of beauty standards, possibly a whiter set of standards. It’s debatable whether this is a racial issue, a class issue, or just the old fashion “opposites attract.” Bottom line is that I am perfectly happy with Janet’s color and shorter nose, and you can keep all those Caucasian looking Filipina actresses and models they go gaga over in Metro Manila.

But that explanation was not enough for my new found chatmate who insisted that there was an objective notion of beauty and the foreigners didn’t know what it was and that at least instead of declaring his wife beautiful, the foreigner married to the ugly, horse- faced Pinay should merely say “in my eyes she is beautiful.”

Sexy, it was explained was the same. It required a perfect body size. I tried to claim that “Sexy is also an attitude,” but was clearly wrong.

Eventually, I ended the conversation by falsely claiming I had to go back to work. I thought that was the end of that, but boy was I wrong.

That night, over dinner, I told Janet about my weird conversation with the woman from Metro Manila. I was a bit disappointed that she was the only person who expressed any blogging interest.

The next morning I was at work when Janet messaged me on Facebook. She had read the conversation between us and went ballistic. She messaged the woman with an f-bomb laced tirade using adjectives I didn’t even know she knew how to use. Janet is normally such a sweet person, but get her mad and she can go off. Thank goodness I was on the other side of town.

“You’re mad at me too,” I said. “Why?”

“You should have defended me. She was attacking me and you tried to be nice to her.”

“She really wasn’t directly attacking you.” But I understood what Janet meant. In her view the subtle remarks about expats claiming their wives to be beautiful and sexy were, at least to a certain degree, about Janet.

“I don’t yell and curse at women,” I replied. And I realized that there is a vast difference between how I would react to a man and woman. I suspect that if a man insulted Janet I would be pissed and at least unleash my very skilled tongue at him. I might do more, but at my age and with the shape I am in – it’s probably a bad idea. But with a woman – we’re trained to be polite and respectful, so the most I could say to her was “if the man thinks his wife is beautiful, who am I to say she is not.”

None of this satisfied Janet. She had been disrespected and “wanted war.” I think she was ready to hop on the next flight to Manila and meet this woman head on. I was appalled and reminded myself that when we are in the Philippines not to ever allow Janet to get a bolo. That could prove costly to me.

BTW, I couldn’t find any pictures of Janet looking mean or tough, so I had to fall back on Janet’s standard look – cute! And yes, yes, I know that’s my opinion and not based on objective reality. But it’s true and anyone who says otherwise is gonna hear about it – from Janet 🙂

How to Give Your Filipina Wife a Great Christmas?

Anyone who has ever been to the Philippines, dated or married a Filipina, or ever entered a karaoke bar knows that Christmas in the Philippines is a big, big deal. Fortunately, for those of us who do not live in, but only visit the Philippines, you don’t have to be around on December 25th to get the full flavor of the holiday season. It starts in September (August really) and goes full throttle for four months, plowing right through the 25th and heading for New Year’s Day.

I have only been in the Philippines for the actual holiday season once, leaving for home early on the morning of January 1st, after an all-night Manila fireworks display, with more guns shot off than fireworks. When I got up that morning to get to my flight out of Manila, gunsmoke still filled the air, about what it must have been like the day after Gettysburg.

BTW, as an irrelevant aside, since my flight was so early, I decided to stay at a hotel close to NAIA Airport and since it was New Year’s Eve and my last night in the Philippines, I decided not to be my normally cheap self and to treat myself to a night at a 5-star hotel, the Manila Marriott.

I ate dinner alone at the hotel restaurant, where the holiday buffet was about $50/head. Poor Filipinos my ass! The place was filled, not with rich kanos, but with rich Filipinos. As most of my friends know, I am a bit of a watch nut, but the timepieces that were dripping off most of the men’s wrists in that restaurant would have been totally out of the question for me. The day before, I hit Mall of Asia and visited a watch store filled with $10k+ watches, and foolishly wondered, “who the hell can afford these in a 3rd world country?” Apparently all their customers congregated that night at the Marriott.

But this isn’t the point about this blog piece; it’s about Christmas in the Philippines – and my wife, Janet. The other day she seemed sad and when I asked why she told me she missed Christmas in the Philippines. “We have Christmas here,” I assured her. “And trees and presents too! Hell, we even have a chance at a white Christmas.”

“It’s not the same,” she assured me. I tried to reason with her; not the best thing to do with a sad Pinay. “It’s not long enough,” she said and I thought ‘thank goodness!’

I finally replied, “It’s just that we have Halloween first and then Thanksgiving. Once Thanksgiving is over, Christmas becomes big time here.” Of course, Janet already knew this; this will be her second Christmas in the U.S. But the day after Thanksgiving when Christmas season officially begins in the US, means only one month of Christmas, which honestly makes most Pinays feel very short changed.

Then there’s the fact that I was not raised Christian (let alone Catholic) and therefore my notion of a great Christmas comes, not from family experience, but from watching It’s a Wonderful Life and How the Grinch Stole Christmas annually.

Of course once I had kids, Christmas became a must. Ex Number Two had boxes of ornaments she’d collected dating back I think to the Spanish Inquisition. Our first year together we had a large old house with high ceilings. She wanted the biggest tree in town and we got one that measured 14 feet. Cutting it was like a scene out of Christmas Vacation, with me playing the role of Clark Griswold trying to drag a 7” thick tree home, then cut it to fit. Of course the first time I got it wrong, since I’d failed to take the star on top into account. I complained, “I’m a Jew. What do I know about stars on top of Christmas trees?”

Anyway the point is that I did have many Christmases with kids, which mostly involved figuring out which bill could go unpaid so I could shell out the ungodly amounts of money for Christmas gifts, family dinners and the like. For me the best part of the season was the Christmas Eve dinner Ex Number Two liked to prepare. Not because of the dinner itself, which was perfectly nice, but because of the rum I was allowed to drink. No – I’m not a drunk. My Exes grandfather was from Barbados and when he would go back home he would come back with genuine, no shit Barbados rum. Not the swill they export to Americans; the real, full meal yummy deal. He gifted bottles to relatives but mostly spent the year bartering with his stash. The man never paid a doctor or dentist his entire adult life!

I am not much of a drinker but that rum was from heaven. Of course for 364 days a year Ex Number Two did not allow its consumption, hiding her stash. But on Christmas Eve out it came like Santa’s little gift just to me. So that’s why I love Christmas.

But back to the present. Last year I did my best. We went out and bought a tree, a few boxes of ornaments, general decorations, and threw a bunch of presents under said tree, even though half of them were for Hannukah. My kids, now teens – teens with attitudes, came over in the afternoon to collect the goods. Janet and I watched Christmas Vacation. She was a great sport about it all but in the end it wasn’t the same as I imagine Christmas must be for her in the Philippines, what with parents, and lolos and 9 brothers and sisters, cousins, ates, and a niece or two.

I have no grand conclusion here – just a question. How would you all suggest Christmas could be made better for your Filipina wife? By all means post your suggestions. After all, mine makes the other 364 days better for me.


The K-1 Visa & the 90-Day No Fault Marriage

I get asked by my friends, relatives and perfect strangers about the process of a foreigner coming to America (what – didn’t they see the Eddie Murphy movie) and getting married. I can’t tell you how many people asked the following: “Why don’t you just fly Janet over here for a month or two so you can get to know each other better?” Shit, why didn’t I think of that!

There’s tons of information available on obtaining Visas and getting married in the land of milk and honey (OK, that’s Israel, but you get the idea) but none of that information will give you the real scoop on what happens, the hows, and the pain, joy and hysteria involved. So, I will!

As Americans we forget that one of our greatest freedoms is that little blue thing we’re issued (not Viagra – get your head out of the gutter – I mean a U.S. passport). You can go everywhere with it, other than Cuba. It’s essentially a “Get Out of Jail Free Card” (for some people literally). But most countries don’t have that sort of freedom and if you are from most of the countries on the planet, the United States is not thrilled to have you arrive here.

So, if you’re a Philippines citizen what do you do? Yes, there are educational visas and work visas but the process is lengthy, expensive and in the end rarely do you get permission. Or you can be a sibling of a naturalized American citizen, which means we’ll see you here somewhere around 2050, give or take a decade. Or say you are one of those middle class Filipinos I’ve previously discussed. Why not get a tourist visa; Americans can get one to almost any country in the world. Well, you’re not an American. In order to get a tourist Visa you have to prove beyond any doubt that you will visit the US – and leave. By the time you might get that tourist visa they’ll be filling in the Grand Canyon. In short, unless you are the rare Filipino politician or fat cat, there is no way for the average Filipino(a) citizen to get here.

But there is the fiancé or spousal visa process. No problem; fill out some paperwork, send in some money, and bang, boom in six months or so you’re here. Easy, right? Um, not exactly.

But there is the fiancé or spousal visa process. No problem; fill out some paperwork, send in some money, and bang, boom in six months or so you’re here. Easy, right? Um, not exactly.

First, there’s the paperwork process which is Draconian. Any mistake, even of the most minor nature, and the paperwork will get kicked back. Janet and I spent hours and days online scouring every line of the paperwork for any mistake. Now, I was a technical writer at the time, pretty damn good at preparing accurate documentation, but the stress of trying to get everything perfect got to me. And even if it’s perfect, the USCIS has the occasional habit of simply losing one of the dozens of documents you submitted – and then blaming you.

How about money? I’m a software engineer with a good income (far more than I’m worth); so I figured, no problem. Wrong. By the time you’re all done, it will put a serious strain on most budgets. Speaking of money, you have to prove to the USCIS that you, the petitioner, make 125% of the current U.S. poverty line. So make sure you don’t lose your job during the process or it might be a do-over. For that matter, many self-employed men who make very good money, don’t qualify because, how should I put this, their true income is not reflected on their tax returns. Their sweet, naïve fiancé, travels to Manila for the grueling embassy interview and finds out her fiancé does not make enough to qualify for the Visa. It happens every day.

Oh and speaking of Manila, once your initial paperwork is approved, you are able to schedule your embassy interview in Manila. And prior to that you must take a medical exam. Now that doesn’t mean you go to your local doctor and have him listen to your heart or cough a couple times. It means you go to St. Lukes Hospital in Manila (the only accepted facility in the entire country) for a two day (yes, you heard that right) two day exam. And if they find anything wrong with your young fiancé, let’s say a shadow on the lung, she gets to spend another glorious six months in beautiful downtown Manila for TB treatment and a re-testing. Janet had never had any serious or even semi-serious illness in her life, but was terrified by the medical exam, as well as the half dozen shots she needed. And let’s not forget that to even get said examination, you must arrive early at St. Lukes and take a number; Janet arrived at 2:30 AM. Is this all still sounding easy?

But wait there’s more: the Philippines requires the prospective émigré to take a class and get interviewed by the CFO. This interview is often tougher than the embassy interview. After all, the U.S. embassy mostly wants to ensure that everything is legal and on the up and up. The CFO tells the girls about all the terrible things that can happen abroad and the interviewer questions why the girl wants to go. In our case, after the CFO interview, Janet contacted me panicked because she hadn’t yet been approved. The CFO Officer had doubts and wanted to see Janet again. Why? Because Janet was young and pretty and marrying old codger, Dave. How to prove to the officer that our relationship was legitimate? Janet left her tons of photos of the two of us together, email and text correspondence and was simply told to come back and the officer would decide.

Still sound easy? Janet and I practiced her potential answers to whatever questions she might be asked. She was scared and when Janet gets scared she stops speaking or speaks in mono-syllables. There were a lot of “I don’t knows” and “you knows” in her practice answers. I tried to calmly explain that when the officer asked her why she wanted to marry Dave, answering “You know,” or “I don’t know,” might not be the best response.

In the end Janet got through the Visa process! I promised I would fly in and take her home with me. What I hadn’t considered was, would the actual physical Visa be ready by the time we were ready to fly out. Janet arranged for the Visa to be shipped to a To Go location, sort of like Fed-Ex in the Philippines. Unfortunately, they failed to contact her when the visa arrived and it sat for days. Finally they contacted her and told her that if she didn’t pick it up by the next day it would be sent back to Manila. So Janet and her sister hopped on a bus for the leisurely, fun-filled 3 hour bus ride from Alcoy to Cebu, got the Visa and returned by bus to Alcoy. Easy and stress free – right?

But now comes the truly easy part – we’ve finally arrived in the U.S. for 90 days of fun and sun. There’s even a reality show currently running, “90 Day Visa,” all about the thrilling escapades of these wacky couples. The show, like most reality TV, is entertaining bullshit.

Now I tend to be a planner; I’m older and allegedly mature. Before Janet arrived, I tried to project a budget for everything I could think of; the wedding; clothes she would need (no fleece jackets are needed in the Philippines); and just daily life changes.

Here’s what Janet (with my assistance) had to do in those 90 days: get used to a brand new city; check out the malls, public transportation (yes, of course, all Filipinos know how to use light rail); grocery shopping; finding the best local Asian stores; finding lechon; finding a Filipino restaurant; getting used to a new, and badly organized house; getting used to an old, and badly aging husband to be. Also, those 90 days gave me the opportunity to leisurely explain to Janet how everything works in the United States. And let’s not forget language. Despite the fact that Janet’s English is very good, speaking American English 24-hours a day is exhausting and her nose was bleeding constantly.

Which reminds me – I wanted to find her friends. So, before she arrived I hooked up with a Fil-Am group whose events we began to attend, which not only helped her make friends, it gave us a support system for the wedding.

Oh, that’s right – the wedding. That has to happen in those 90 days too. I had planned to have it in our backyard, which is a good sized space. Before Janet arrived I spent weeks cleaning out the yard and trying to get things semi-ready. It was a losing proposition. Finally, one day my neighbor (who has the showplace yard of the neighborhood) leaned over our fence and asked me how the wedding preparations were going – and most importantly, “Hey, would you like to use our yard for the wedding?” I couldn’t say yes fast enough.

Also, understand that women are women all over the world, which meant that when Janet arrived she needed to choose rings, flowers, food, a cake, decorate the house, etc. The day of our outdoor wedding, September 22nd, it rained. Hell, it’s Oregon; of course it rained. But Janet was determined. We got a ten minute break in the weather and did the wedding then. Afterwards, the reception, which was also supposed to be outdoors, was crammed into our home.

In the end it all happened, it all worked, and Janet and I survived it. It’s a story to tell – well maybe not to the grandkids – but to all of you. I’d do it again in a heartbeat – with Janet that is.

Easy peasy, right?