Time to Breathe (Confessions of an Alien) #3

Beyond Deadlines is proud to serialize Mr. Romy Morales’ first book “Time to Breathe (Confessions of an Alien).” It is a personal account of a Filipino immigrant in the United States. It is a must read for those who wish to migrate to the U.S. Come let us join Romy in his journey and see what is in store for us.

romy morales

(3rd Installment)

Many illegal immigrants who are already married in their own homeland enter into fixed marriages here in the U.S.A. with the hope of going back to their original partners later. A sham marriage costs $20,000 to $50,000, maybe more, depending on who arranges it. For those who want just a slice of the pie, a $20,000 fee is fine while a thousand buck or two, on the other hand, is paid to the fixer or intermediary.

In 1995, $5,000 was already a big amount for a fixed marriage. Now the figure has risen to at least five digits. If a syndicate handles it, the price goes up much higher. Higher still is when a U.S. citizen is flown or flew to a country, where the prospective bride or groom waits. The price skyrockets unbelievably. Most often than not though, the only reason the price is higher is greed.

In a sham marriage, the agreed amount is paid in installments—an initial amount before or after the wedding, another amount before or after the official interview and the balance once the condition on residence is removed or a permanent green card is secured.

There may be different schemes about the mode of payment, but this one is typical – During the three-year period, immigration authorities require the couple to live together as husband and wife. Inevitably, other related expenses arise — rent, utilities, food and the occasional financing of a shopping spree. The poor illegal immigrant tries to shoulder all these expenses to keep the marriage intact. It is a mind boggling arrangement, but this is how far it may go to get the green card. And sometimes, when the card is almost within reach, greed unfortunately rears its ugly head and the unscrupulous U.S. citizen would ask for more “dough.”

This reminds me of a physician who came here as a tourist. She overstayed and soon entered into a fixed marriage with a U.S. citizen. She paid the guy a hefty sum and got her green card. Soon she took the exam necessary to become a doctor. She passed and later had a stable job with a very handsome salary. The guy she is married into soon saw her as a potential gold mine. He would ask for more money, threatening to expose to immigration authorities their sham marriage. The guy is now blackmailing her into paying him at least $3,000 a month lest he report their fixed marriage to the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

If we’re arrested, I would just go home, anyway. I am old but you, you wouldn’t want to lose everything you worked for,” the victim, quoting her greedy American partner, said. Rattled and frightened, she gave in. More than 12 years had passed since then but the poor physician, very much fearful of the skeleton she had in her closet, is still reportedly sustaining that bastard. A classic case of milking the cow to death!

In rare cases, a fixed marriage could become a genuine union. When a man and a woman are left alone, anything can happen—even sex. As is well-known, the sex urge is not that easy to shrug off or cast aside when a chance to indulge in it is there. In all likelihood, a couple may not be able to thwart the call of the flesh.

I knew of one such couple. They stayed under one roof, and lived together to fulfill the immigration’s marriage requirement. They became accustomed to each other, threw out their last shred of inhibition and the next thing they knew they had made love, not once or twice but with the frequency that turned their imagined relationship into a real one.

Their relationship became so intimate that their falling in love with each other was predictable. So there are times when even if money was the initial prime consideration in a fixed relationship, if lust and love unexpectedly come to the fore, money takes a backseat and what started out as a marriage for convenience turns to something real. Or should I say genuine?

What follows is one particular case of a fixed marriage that turned legitimate—but this case is with a hitch.

Marivic had been in the U.S. for almost five years as an illegal immigrant. As a tourist, she overstayed and had worked illegally. She is pretty, beautiful and busty. A registered nurse in the Philippines, she could not pass the nursing license here. She took the exams and twice she failed. Without a social security number, she won’t get her nursing license even if she passed the exam. She also didn’t have an approved immigrant petition yet.

As expected, she turned to an arranged marriage. A gay friend of hers introduced her to Matt, a white U.S. citizen, who was willing to help her for a fee. Matt, who was gay but he would participate in the scheme all the way, that is until Marivic got the green card and as long as she pays the rent for the duration of their show marriage.

Initially, Matt asked for $3,500 an as advanced payment and the balance of $3,500 to be paid after Marivic received her green card. So, they pretended to live together as husband and wife, but once inside the house they didn’t have to pretend for long.

Although Matt considered himself to be a woman trapped in a man’s body, he wasn’t able to resist the physical attractions of Marivic. He made sexual advances in the silence of the night and she gave in. Now the two felt something for each other. What could they do but explore the relationship to the fullest? Whether it was love or lust that brought them closer together, they didn’t care. What was important is Matt waived the balance of the agreed payment and now helps Marivic pay the rent.

As time went on, Matt’s gay side reappeared. Once in a while, he would give in to his gay tendencies. He would go out and have amorous relationships with men. Marivic was helpless. She knew that she had fallen in love with a gay. She wanted to get out of the relationship but she didn’t have the green card yet. Another gay friend of hers advised her to stay put until she gets the card. At first she was reluctant, but that is what she exactly did.

On the other hand, some U.S. citizens, who are only after the money, don’t care if they live or not with the illegal. Some illegal immigrants also take the risk of not living with the U.S. citizen for both citizen and illegal have their own separate agendas.

If a sham marriage is suspected or discovered, the petition will be surely denied. The illegal immigrant will be placed in a removal proceeding and subsequently deported, that is if the illegal does not hide to evade deportation. The citizen may be in some cases be charged with a felony, say fraud, but most could get away with it as immigration authorities’ real concern is the illegal alien. Yet despite the exorbitant price of a fixed marriage and the attendant risk, many illegals are emboldened to try it as a way to legalize their stay or status. More often than not, luck plays a part in the success or failure of these ventures.

While I didn’t exactly see the need for a partner in life or a girlfriend for that matter, my unfortunate status in this land compelled me to seek a U.S. citizen partner. I enjoyed women before, but enjoyment had never been my prime consideration anymore. Admittedly, once in a while I still crave for sex but I can sleep without it. When the urge was great, there are ways to answer the call of nature.

For me then, marriage was not entirely for sex or companionship. I was getting married for another reason — to be honest about it—to get myself out of the rut and see my family again. I missed my children and I missed my mother so much that I too have to enter into a fixed marriage.

I didn’t want to be an illegal immigrant forever. And I didn’t want to go home without the green card either. I had suffered so much pain being illegal here. I swallowed my pride to survive. I worked so hard and had surrendered to the exploitative practices of my employers, without being able to openly voice my complaints. I have to save myself from the possible arrest by immigration officers who could send me back to my country in a humiliating deportation, like the group of more than 300 Filipinos who were handcuffed and deported like criminals years ago. I couldn’t imagine that happening to me.

Friends asked me why I came to this country, the U.S.A., when I was doing well as a journalist back home in the Philippines. There was more to it than what was on the surface.

A feeling of uneasiness and disenchantment were spreading among the rank and file of the Philippines Journalists, Inc. (PJI) after Malacanang4 (the seat of the Philippine government) had appointed Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG)5 caretakers to settle, seemingly without end, the question about the ownership of the newspaper publication I was then working for. The first time PCGG caretakers took over the PJI was in 1986, when the late Corazon Aquino, through the people’s power revolution, ended the Marcos regime and banished the former president, Ferdinand Marcos, to Hawaii. With the government’s takeover, the PJI had become the mouthpiece of the first Aquino administration.

4 The official residence and principal workplace of the President of the Philippines. Malacanang Palace. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/

5 It is a quasi-judicial agency created by President Corazon Aquino to recover the ill-gotten wealth accumulated during the Marcos regime. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/

Malacanang’s appointed PCGG caretakers ostensibly also tried to recover what they perceived as ill-gotten wealth. They also went to find out if Benjamin “Kokoy” Romualdez, brother of disgraced first lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos; was the real owner of the publication.

PJI was a chain of tabloids—People’s Journal, People’s Tonight, and People’s Taliba, the underachieving broadsheet Times Journal, and Women’s Journal magazine. After 13 years and three presidents, the PCGG is still trying to find out the identity of the PJI’s real owners. More likely, I believe they had already determined who the owner was but had no interest in letting go the paper that had served their own interests so well. So when it was time to privatize the publication, the government dilly-dallied.

Rumor had it then that should the publication be privatized, buyers would come from the caretaker’s own ranks. Even if the rumor was rubbish, it still smelled. When the PCGG arrived on the doorsteps of the PJI and dug into the publication coffers, they found the potential of the company: it was the number-one circulating tabloid group in the country and it was making money. The publication was a gold mine.

The PCGG caretakers drew unusually huge salaries. But what did more than a hundred thousand peso a month salary matters when the PJI coffers were full to the brim? Reports had it that apart from the huge salaries, they also took fat allowances. Then PJI Union President Mr. Junex Doronio, who had been one of those responsible for the booting out of a PCGG chairman, disclosed, citing a document he obtained, that the caretakers drew unusually huge amount of cash in mid-month advances. If that was true, then the impression that the PJI had indeed become a milking cow was no longer baseless.

The PJI, in its new role as trumpeter of the administration’s achievement and accomplishments, and as the public relations arm of the government, lost its competitiveness. Sales went down calamitously. In no time, the coffers were almost empty. The idealism and the freedom of expression, to which journalists were drawn to were curtailed if not suppressed outright at the PJI.

To make the already bad situation worse, there were many in the Journal who suddenly acted like gods. Those who had connections with the powers that be were all of a sudden lording over the rest who labored in the publications. Arbitrarily, beat reporters were reshuffled from one assignment to another. Those who were close to the high-and-mighty in management or the editorial board would get choice assignments but those who were not “connected” were thrown in the kangkungan.”

Literally kangkungan” is a swamp where water spinach, a popular vegetable among the poor folks, grows. Figuratively, it’s a place where the salvaged or summarily executed are dumped. So, when one is thrown into the kangkungan” he’s dead as in dead meat. Many were disillusioned and I was one of them.

Although I was earning substantially then from my job and sidelines, not to mention the goodwill or grease money coming from government officials and the unexpected dole outs from gambling lords,6 I wasn’t happy.

Most employees at PJI felt they have had enough of the PCGG’s messing. Many of my colleagues and I felt we lost the respect of our co-workers in the industry. Our morale nosed dived and some of my contemporaries left in disgust or have been axed for raising a voice. A few filed for early retirement—I was one of them.

6 Claire Delfin, Poverty and Corruption in the Philippines. The media, the supposed principal watchdogs monitoring and exposing corruption, find themselves neither denouncing it nor embracing it. Cash-filled envelopes are given to journalists by police, military, elected officials, gambling lords, and even those in the private sectors during press conferences, elections, for publication of stories or suppression of stories. Thus, the term envelopmental journalism.”

Making a painful decision to leave a job I love and enjoy made me question whether I had made the right decision. The country’s economy was not getting any better. Getting a job was getting harder and harder.

I was afraid of not being able to meet the financial responsibilities at home after my extra sources of income were discontinued. Working abroad then became an option and I have been fortunately toying that idea for a couple of years. I then guessed the time had come to give it a try.

The decision would not only affect me personally but the lives of those who depended on me for survival—my son, my daughter, and my mother, who was in her twilight years and on whose shoulders fell the responsibility of taking care of my daughter –-some of my folks and even friends, who had no visible means of financial support and thus needed help in one way or the other. There were also the mortgages of my two houses. Sooner or later, I might lose those dear to me if I remain still. It would be foolish not to do anything when I could still work. I was at a crossroad

I told then PJI publisher Raymond Burgos about my situation. His closeness with President Joseph Estrada, who reportedly stood as sponsor in his wedding, allegedly paved the way for him to be plucked out from the reporter’s beat and awarded the plum position. He was young and many thought he is not suited to be the paper’s publisher but anything is possible when government changes. Sometimes, even dreams come true. That’s how connections go and that’s the way politics in the Philippines is.

Once in a while, Raymond and I would spend the night in Pasay and Quezon City nightclubs. We would watch women dance naked on stage. I would bring a bottle of brandy and we would down it to the last drop. There would be plenty of young women around us and plenty of food, courtesy of the nightclub. We would discuss so many things, mostly nonsensical. Until the topic of my leaving the Journal came up because I got pissed with my immediate bosses who arbitrarily removed me from my beat assignment. Burgos didn’t want me to resign. He offered the foreign office assignment back.

You can get it back if you want it,” he said.

But I told him there’s no need.

He then suggested that I go on leave for a year or two, which was against the company policy. He then assured me that as soon as I got a job in the United States, he would personally attend to my retirement, if I so decided to really leave PJI. That was the nicest gesture I had from him. I told him, however, that money was my immediate problem.

With the economy not looking any better,” I said, “I have to earn more.”

By retiring, I could partly solve some pressing financial problems at home. Burgos let me go when he saw I was determined to leave.

Stephanie was asleep when I left for the airport. I was with a heavy heart, not knowing when I would see her again. She is my daughter from a relationship after my wife. Her mother was also a journalist and a public relations practitioner. Stephanie had just turned six, about the same age my son had been when I left him with my in- laws to live on my own.

On the other hand, my marriage with John’s mother didn’t work. She is a Chinese mestiza, her father a full-blooded Chinese from Taiwan. One of the problems we constantly faced was lack of money. I was not earning enough yet I was spending so much time with friends and that caused friction between us. My wife got angrier when she found out that I had also been frequenting beer joints, which made her distrust me more. She later made her move. Were she to get even with me or through a woman’s weakness, I don’t know but she left me for another man.

The crack in our marriage actually started when I made photography a hobby and joined a camera club. I would travel to faraway places, many times on weekends. I had no time for my family. The situation was further compounded when I started working on two jobs. I would work days in a hospital and in the evenings as a graveyard shift reporter for the People’s Tonight. I would see my wife only in the morningwhen she was home asleep after her night shift in a semi-conductor factory – while I was about to leave for my hospital job. As I spend the night at the PJI’s office, my only real time to interact with my wife was on Saturdays, as Sundays would is a workday for me too.

As this went on, I was seeing her and our son less frequently. When my wife left for Australia, I only learned of it after she had been gone away for several days. I found myself alone with my son. I felt uncomfortable with my in-laws without my wife. I thought it was time to leave, having lived with them since I married their daughter. I didn’t dare take my son with me. I knew if I did, I would incur the ire of my mother-in-law—who had been so good to me—since that would mean that with my departure, I had taken both her daughter and her grandson from her. Even when I left, I never failed to get in touch with y son.

Leaving Stephanie at her tender age somehow perpetuated the unfortunate cycle of leaving someone dear to me. It broke my heart. I felt so much pain inside, the silent anguish of leaving her, the same anguish I felt when I left my son. But this time, I left both of them for abroad with no idea when I would see them again.

Since I’ve been traveling abroad, my son John was with me for the first time at the airport and I felt so sorry for him. I had not been with him during the crucial times of his growing up. There was no one guiding him or helping him in his studies. I saw him only whenever I brought him money or when there was a suitable occasion at my in-laws’ house. Except for the financial support I gave, I failed miserably as a father to him. In short, John grew up alone, without any of us by his side. I could only blame myself.

My immediate goal abroad was to earn enough so I could go back to them soon. Or at least to have a job that would enable me to support them financially for as long as I could work.

I was going to Canada, my original destination but had to pass through the United States. All Northwest Airlines flights took the US-Canada route via Minneapolis as an entry point to North America.

At the Port of Entry, I faced the friendliest immigration officer I’ve ever met. I didn’t have problems with him. He was nice when I presented my passport and plane tickets. In Tagalog, he asked me “Kamusta ka?” He was a white American. He had been assigned in the Navy, he said. Amazingly, he continued to speak in Tagalog until finally he remarked walang problema.”I went past him and recovered my baggage on the conveyor.

As I headed towards the exit door, an airport policewoman stopped me. She asked several questions: Where I bought my ticket? How much I paid for it? Where I was going? Despite having answered her queries, she asked me to follow her while two of her colleagues searched my baggage, laptop and camera bag. They groped me and searched my bag thoroughly, as if looking for a contraband or a bomb or maybe anchovies, or perhaps dried fish that Filipinos are known to be fond of bringing into the country. In silence and because of my helplessness, I was fuming mad as I was at their mercy.

I’ve heard later that there were occasions when they even asked travelers to undress to see if they were carrying illegal drugs. Sometimes they would fish for documents to prove that the traveler was a job hunter. If they confirmed their suspicion, they would refuse entry to that traveler, telling that traveler to take the next available flight back home. They did those humiliating searches to any person they picked at random or on tips.

Finding nothing, they thanked me for my cooperation— the most they could do for the trouble they had subjected me to. And yet with all the hassles I went through, I was going to Toronto not to Minneapolis.

More than an hour after my arrival in Canada, Rolly Canonigo, one of my former students at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines where I had a short stint teaching until martial law was declared, fetched me at the airport. He drove straight to John Silverio’s condominium.

Rolly’s wife Ningning was with us. John was the guy whom Dick, my drinking buddy in the Philippines asked me to contact once I get to Canada. Dick was a salesman of hospital imaging machines and godfather to my daughter. He and John were friends.

John was staying at The Green at Tam ‘O Shanter condominium in Scarborough, a residential place for moneyed people. He’s a cousin of car racer Dante Silverio and a close friend of the late Sen. Robert Barbers. His wife Linda Uy was a niece of Manuel Uy, the Filipino-Chinese who made fortunes selling sweepstakes.

John and Linda were new in Toronto, having arrived from the Philippines only a month before. They had relocated in Toronto after experiencing their worst nightmares in the Philippines. John’s only daughter was kidnapped, released only after they coughed up P11 million (Philippine peso). At that time, kidnapping was rampant and had become a profitable “business,” reportedly with the connivance of some rogue police officers and military men.

Also staying with the Silverio’s was Vivian, a niece of Lebertito Pelayo, who is a journalist based in New York. I met Tito at the Empire State building in New York when I visited him once in 1998. He was occupying a unit on the sixth floor of the building. Vivian’s husband is a nephew of the late Sen. Robert Barbers. It appeared that everybody was somehow connected to everyone else.

Barbers became a friend after the late veteran police reporter and onetime PJI publisher, Max Buan, introduced me to him. Since then, whenever I saw him at the police station when he was still a police officer, he would always give me a bottle of whiskey, brandy or something similarly intoxicating. His men would even fill up the company’s vehicle with vegetables and fruits coming from the market he had jurisdiction with every time I visited him. I would always share the “goodies” with my neighbors because that would be too much for me alone.

John encouraged me to try my luck in Toronto for a while. He promised to get me a job or give one himself since he was thinking of putting up a camera shop and photography studio. When I arrived, Dick, who had visited John, had left a day earlier for the Philippines.

I stayed with my former student at Etobicoke, a two- story apartment that he and Ningning had acquired through hard work and determination. The couple came to Canada as landed immigrants. About buying the house, Ningning had been the more determined of the two, insistently prodding Rolly to go along with her. She went on to have two jobs—one at Costco, and another in an insurance firm—so they could afford the mortgage while Rolly work as a certified nursing attendant taking care of elderly patients. To augment their income, they leased the basement and the first floor of the apartment to their relatives while they occupied the upper floor.

Rolly provided a folding mattress for a bed that I placed between the center table and the sofa in the living room, the only space available. There were two rooms on the upper floor, both occupied by the couple and their three boys. The following day, Rolly and I went downtown Toronto. We bought bus tickets, got the Route 76 bus, and went straight to the subway station. We got off the train at Yongé Station and boarded a southbound train to Dundas. We strolled through Eaton Place, a big mall in Toronto, which Rolly said Sears-Canada bought for $50 million after the Eatons had filed for bankruptcy. At Timothy, we enjoyed the freshly brewed coffee.

Back in the house, while watching TV, I was amused by the news: Two Canadians C-130’s had difficulty taking off from the airport. They were bound for East Timor as part of the United Nations peacekeeping mission. News reports said the problem could be due to the age of the planes, which reminded me of our aging defense arsenals in the Philippines. I was amazed to see a country like Canada still using antiquated planes.

CHAPTER 2

It’s warm, the last day of summer. Ningning accompanied me to the Toronto Star at Queens Quay. The Toronto Star was reportedly the most widely read newspapers in Canada, if not the biggest circulating newspaper in Toronto then. My appointment with Andrew Go, the vice president for business ventures was at 11 in the morning. There was only the secretary in his office on the seventh floor when I came in. I easily felt at ease with almost no one in the room.

As soon as Mr. Go arrived, I handed him Antonio Mortel’s introduction letter. Mortel was his close friend in Manila, who was also my editor at People’s Journal. There was also a note of endorsement from his cousin Leoncio Go, editor of the United Daily News, a leading Chinese community newspaper in the Manila Chinatown.

With those letters I had hope I can get a job. Unfortunately, the back-up notes from Mortel and Go meant nothing. Andrew Go bluntly told me there was a problem with my immigration visa.

You are not a landed immigrant. It would be difficult to accommodate you. Besides, you don’t have any local experience,” he said in a tone of finality with no compassion in his voice.

To this newcomer in Canada, he gave no encouragement whatsoever. It didn’t surprise me though. I knew even before I met him my chances were slim. He didn’t know me.

Disappointed over my first job-hunting attempt in Canada, I decided not to waste time and asked Ningning to make a call to Consul General Susan Castrence at the consulate. Ms. Castrence, a favorite of the media, was one of the spokespersons I had covered at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila. She had been later posted in Tokyo but when Joseph Estrada became president she was transferred to Toronto.

Over the phone, Ms. Castrence said she was just over a month in Canada and had not yet settled in completely. She had yet to even get her property from the customs that had been shipped from the Philippines. As a practice, newly posted diplomat had to make a courtesy call with the ambassador of their assignment and she told me she was preparing herself for that meeting.

Get your bearings in the country for a while, while I do the same. We will have lunch together as soon as I get settled down,” Ms. Castrence said.

Exactly 15 days later, we had lunch of seafood and noodles at the Dynasty next to the Philippine consulate on West of Bloor Street. Her labor attaché, Romeo Young, joined us, as did my host Ningning. We didn’t talk much or stayed any longer in the restaurant after we had our meals as she had another appointment waiting.

While Ningning and I were leisurely strolling along Bloor Street right after having lunch with Ms. Castrence, a cold burst of wind sent us quivering. I had only a polo shirt. The chill easily penetrated my skin and “I was cold to the bone.” The subway was only two blocks away from the Philippine Consulate but we ran as fast as we could and found relief in the heated subway.

In the evening, Rolly and I went to the wake of Antonio Nadurata at Turner and Porter Funeral Parlor. It was my first time to attend a wake in a foreign country. People came in properly dressed. Antonio or Tony as his circle of friends called him was called “mayor” because of his close resemblance to the late Mayor Antonio J. Villegas of Manila. Except for the facial mole, which Tony didn’t have, he was almost a copy.

Outside, the temperature had dropped to -2 degrees Fahrenheit.

On Sunday, I tugged along with the Canonigo’s to Queensway Cathedral, a Pentecostal church. As we went inside, the worshipers were all smiles as they sang. I was so touched seeing everyone sang and prayed from their heart. Tears rolled down my face. I wept. I couldn’t understand why. It was my first Pentecostal religious service.

Rolly had contacted the Kabayan for me, a Filipino association in Toronto assisting Filipinos with jobs, trainings, and educations regardless of whether they were legal or not. Freddie Cusipag of PinoyBlues news magazine was looking for an assistant. It was a job I needed.

To meet Freddie, two of Rolly’s children accompanied me to Jameson Avenue. It was raining hard but we braved the rain so I could make the appointment on time. Freddie had just started running the news magazine. His brother, a publisher of a community newspaper in Toronto, had been paralyzed from a recent car accident. Nobody in the family wanted to continue his brother’s newspaper business. Yet his brother’s family didn’t want him to take over.

Freddie had been a salesperson in Manila and had no experience putting out a newspaper. But he was undaunted. He wanted not only to pick up where his brother left, he wanted to come out with a much-improved community newspaper.

Freddie could only afford allowances. He assured though he would get me a second job and help legalize my stay. The offer was not ideal but I needed a job, remembering what John Silverio said on my first day—give Canada a shot. With two more staff working with him—a copy editor and a graphic layout artist—we labored on the first issue of PinoyBlues news magazine in his house, finishing at one in the morning. I was so dead-tired I easily fell asleep on the couch.

When I woke up, Freddie surprised me with a winter jacket, a T-shirt and briefs in clear appreciation of the knowledge I injected into his news magazine. A week after, we delivered the news magazines in bundles to the pop and mom stores, especially the establishments that advertised with us, using the copy editor’s 1989 Chrysler.

The experience was far different from what I had at PJI, where I gathered information and wrote them as news items. Here it was more like being involved in a high school newspaper as a paying job. I enjoyed it though. I felt at home with my job.

Later in the evening, we went bar-hopping at Mt. Pinatubo, Ihaw-ihaw, Mabuhay and Aristokrat to unwind. I noticed some Filipino entrepreneurs were fond of using existing business names in the Philippines, even famous ones, without apparent regard to whether they were infringing on any legal rights. A letter or two would be changed but would keep the sound of the name—Aristocrat became Aristokrat.

Filipinos trooped to those places, especially on Fridays, drinking and singing Karaoke-style.

While Freddie and I, and the copy editor celebrated the first issue of PinoyBlues with round after round of beers, we still had a sensible discussion of the next issue. The wheelchair-bound graphic layout artist didn’t join us bar- hopping. Freddie promised to get an office space that would serve as my home as soon as his finances improved.

I met a Filipino businessman at the Aristokrat, who was into antiques and collectible furniture. He had two shops in Toronto and was putting up another one in California. He boasted that he had penetrated the movie industry in Canada and in the United States and that his antique furniture were rented as movie props. Two of his antique pieces had reportedly been used in the Titanic movie.

The following day, Freddie brought me to Obrien, a former immigration officer now into private law practice. Obrien explained that my stay could be legalized only if a company sponsored and hired me. Freddie thought his news magazine could do it. Explaining the process, Obrien said the position had to be advertised and applicants interviewed. Freddie would tailor-made the requirements to me. So far, so good!

One problem though—the sponsoring company had to be in operation for at least a year. Freddie’s PinoyBlues was only on its first month. We temporarily set aside the idea of sponsorship. That night, the temperature dropped to 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

Rolly’s friends invited me to join them on a trip to the Niagara Falls. I didn’t think twice about the invitation as I love traveling to places. It took us two hours to negotiate the 120 kilometers distance from Etobicoke to the Niagara Falls. The weather was fine; there was no wind chill. There were just enough tourists—not too many or too few. The view was breathtaking—much better than from the U.S. side, I was told.

I interviewed the furniture entrepreneur for the next issue of the news magazine. He gave me fifty Canadian dollars saying it was a gift and not a payment. He even offered a job in the shop and wanted me to start as soon as he came back from a trip in the Philippines. He was to leave October 25. I also received my allowance from Freddie, half the amount he promised. I thought it was better than nothing. We walked along Lake shore Drive in the afternoon. I took a some photographs of the rows of trees with their umbrella-like leaves, whose green, yellow, gold, and brown colors mixed in harmony. that provided shades on the walkway. It was a picture- perfect nature’s offering.

One evening, Rolly’s friend asked if I wanted night action. Bored from doing nothing, I immediately sprang to my feet and I hurriedly put on a jacket, knowing it would be cold out there. We passed through the back door of the House of Lancaster. The entrance fee was $2 each. We settled down in the front left side of the stage, ordered two beers. It was pay-as-you-order. We added a little tip but the server pushed back the tip to us. We didn’t understand what was wrong not until a customer whispered the tip hadn’t been enough.

The first woman that emerged from the dressing room was a Filipina. She sat down beside two white customers. Either she didn’t notice us or she wasn’t looking in our direction because she was apparently used to seeing Filipino customers. On stage, a white woman—a Canadian I supposed—was doing an acrobatic dance routine. She spread her legs, exposing what the customers came to see. The dancers that followed were either Africans or Latinos. One had a bling in her tongue; another had one on her…, ah, never mind. This generation had gone crazy.

I saw customers went up the second floor with dancers in tow. They paid the man by the door that I assumed was a bar fine for taking a woman upstairs. In the two hours we were in the House of Lancaster, I saw about six couples went up the stairs for “more action.” There is a saying that if one has been to the Niagara Falls, the CN Tower and the House of Lancaster, then one has seen all of Canada. So I thought that’s all about it.

John was not coming home in November, but would stay in the Philippine still until March to see how things will be after the millennium. It meant the photo studio he promised would have to wait. Freddie was having difficulty collecting payments from advertisers and was on the verge of breaking down. He thought of folding up. I felt bad.

My Canadian opportunities weren’t looking up. I also felt the hospitality of the Canonigo’s was waning. I got the impression that I was becoming an extra load since I am not sharing in the expenses.

Ningning was afraid I might find myself in trouble with the immigration authorities for working without the necessary papers. And she also was afraid it might involve them. I understood. It was time to go. At that moment, I felt unwanted.

Ningning helped me book the earliest possible flight after I said I would just leave for the United States. I was to go to Portland, Oregon Saturday morning, two days after I talked about leaving.

That night, I couldn’t sleep. I tried to drown myself with beers but I couldn’t get myself drunk. I was awake the whole night. I was upset. I stayed glued on the television as the Mets allowed the Braves filled up the bases,hoping a weak hitter would bungle the 12th innings. But the unexpected happened— Andrew John walked in a run. It would now be the Braves and the Yankees in the World Series.

 

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