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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Hong Kong Walks of Life: The Arrival

My first solo trip outside the Philippines went almost without a hiccup, almost because an hour and a half hanging out inside the HK immigration office was not part of my plan. However, as I analysed the varying reasons why these things happens to a Philippine passport holder - I was surprised at what it represent as a whole, in the end I have come into a conclusion that our Government will never solve this problem by issuing diplomatic protests left and right but a call for them and for us to look in the mirror and stare what was wrong with our system and political and economic structure as well.

I alighted from the Cebu Pacific plane at around 8:00 PM - a few minutes after it touched down the tarmac of the Hong Kong International Airport. We made the descent at around 7:45 and at that time the sky over Hong Kong was still bright and I saw the airport from above, gigantic with the runway spreading just beside the bay and the rolling hills in the background. Beaming lights of a seemingly very busy airport blinks from all over, other planes rolls by at the other runway and as the plane made its final halt my mind was suddenly filled with images of dimsum as I was already starving by that time.

It would take another 5 minutes of walking with a short train ride in between to transfer from our gate of arrival towards the terminal with the immigration rows. I never sensed any problems by arriving by myself however, thoughts of the incarcerated Ronald Singson crossed my mind and I wonder whether some Triad member planted a sachet of cocaine on my backpack while inside the plane. Paranoid, I double check my backpack and came up clean. 

I ended up in the line manned by an immigration officer whom I thought to be a shoo-in in a Jet Li movie as a villain. Seriousness covers his face as if he's motto of the day (and probably for his career) is "No TNT will pass under my watch". He was questioning everyone's purpose on their trip to Hong Kong, but surprisingly he let two separate solo Caucasian travelers without further ado.

I was like, what can he suspect me of. I would just say the same thing as those two have told him which is to "travel for a few days around Hong Kong". I was expecting a walk in the ballpark. 

It was already my turn and as I handed my passport to him, he keeps checking every page of it as if looking for something. I have made two previous out of the country trips in Singapore and Malaysia back in 2007 and I thought that would be enough to show that I will depart a few days after arrival. Then he started questioning me about how much money I have, to the point of asking me where my money is. I showed him my pocket money of 100 US dollars and HK dollars in 10's and 20's.

Immigration Officer: "That's not enough"
Me: "I'm just here until Monday"
Immigration Officer: "Not enough"
Me: "Well I'm not going to Disneyland"

That probably appeased him so he came up with another line of questioning.

Immigration Officer: "Where is your hotel booking"
Me: "I don't have any, I'll stay at a friend's place"
Immigration Officer: "Where"
Me: "at Tsuen Wan"
Immigration Officer: "No hotel hmmm"

I explained to him that it was a lodging house, then after a few minutes and I started to feel the stares of those lined up behind me, as clearly I had spent more time than the normal. I was dumbfounded when I saw him picked up a form with the word "Restricted" written over it. I said.

Me: "What seems to be the problem?, I'll be leaving Monday here's my return ticket"

He won't have any of it and a moment later someone who looks like an airport police came up and asked me to come with him. It was a bit embarrassing being led that way at the plain sight of other passengers. I was then taken inside the immigration office where I saw two other passengers waiting for their passports.

Someone who looked like a Filipino was sitting nearby and I asked him "Anong problema ng sa iyo" he never answered, turns out he is Thai and he has no pocket money to show and the female immigration officer kept asking him "You don't have pocket money how can you stay in Hong Kong" the Thai just stared at her blankly with the look of not knowing what else to do.

It was my turn to be interviewed by two female immigration officers, both young looking and fairly attractive with another female officer butting once in a while during my interview telling one of the two about something. They asked where I will stay in Hong Kong so I told them about my friend's recommendation bout staying in a lodging house owned by a Filipina.

They kind of asked whether if its a legitimate 'guest house' or if it was owned by a 'human smuggler' I said "No, no, no it's a backpacker's guest house, very cheap for $50 HK a night" and they were like "Wow only $50?" I said yes and I smiled (my version of a 'smile')

They smiled - they were really nice something totally opposite of what I expected when I was being led into the office. I expect a room with white walls and a Yuen Biao type of officer questioning me and If I didn't reply right away I'll get a kung fu chop in the throat. 

I told them I was a travel blogger, which took an additional 3 minutes of explaining what it was to them until they understand what I meant and asked for my travel blog URL. So I proudly told them about this travel blog and I was asked to wait in the waiting area which was just a few steps from the cubicle where they questioned me.

Then they came out of the cubicle went to the man with the computer and entered my URL - then they saw it read a few parts and asked if I had a picture on the blog. I wanted the thing to be over with so I just clicked an entry of my blog about Coron, Palawan and they saw my picture with four beautiful women in swim suits.

Immigration Girl: "Are they your girlfriends?"
Me: "Hmmm friends who were girls yes"
Immigration Girl: "I mean girlfriends"
Me: "I wish, I had that many girlfriends"

She laughed and then asked me to wait again. During that time an Indian guy was led to the immigration office for some issues, after a few minutes he was given the go signal then a French guy in a business attire came in and I was like "Wow they finally brought in a Caucasian guy to question" turns out his only issue was he lost his passport in the plane en route to Hong Kong.

So I was left inside together with the Thai guy who still looks perplexed and not knowing what to do after one of the Immigration officer had already stored his passport inside a ziplock bag. I was anticipating whether my passport would end the same fate.

It was already 9:30 and I'm still supposed to meet Eileen for dinner in Hong Kong since she came with her family a few days earlier. A quarter to 10 PM and they finally gave me back my passport and I even motioned "bye-bye" to the two ladies and I was again led back to the immigration line. I saw the Jet Li movie villain still manning the next booth and as the officer on my booth stamped my passport I looked back at him and I wanted to say "I'm here for the holiday man, I ain't gonna work in a shipyard".

At the airport I called Eileen's hotel and she told me she's tired from the day's trip to Macau so I then called Ate Violy the owner of the place where I will be staying and told him bout my immigration holed-up. We met at the bus stop near Tsuen Wan MTR station and she led me to her place at the 23rd floor of one of the apartment buildings there. 

Ate Violy has been staying in Hong Kong for 15 years now and is now working part time and keeps her house open for transient visitors from the Philippines for only $50 HK / a night for an air-conditioned room with a good view of the city.

Thinking about my immigration holed-up I cannot be pissed at what transpired. The Hong Kong immigration officers were just doing their job with a sense of seriousness and no nonsense approach in dealing with probable overstaying and illegal immigrants. They have managed to become the Hong Kong as we know today because of these traits. Dead-on, no-nonsense, all-business, strict and disciplined in all aspects.

Our Government can file all the diplomatic protests it can, left and right like map handouts to a college frat house-party. But our Government and us as a whole completely misses the point. While it saddens me that holding a Philippine passport can be quite a stigma already.

Filipinos are desperate for opportunities in other countries for a reason and that reason has remained unsolved  for many years. My mom has to overstay in the United States just to send me to college. Almost all of us knows someone staying illegally in other countries. Why are we perceived as such wont take a rocket scientist to figure it out.

Why in the first place does the so called 'drug mules' get caught up trying to smuggle drugs in other countries? It is because the bribery and corruption here in the Philippines have allowed them to step inside that plane out of this country. Our flawed system allows this to happen and in the end innocent Filipinos suffers the embarrassment of going through such a harrowing ordeal of being mistaken for a drug mule.

I admire all our OFW's with papers or not, the struggle to continue to provide a better life to their families is never-ending, I also salute fellow Filipino travelers whose zest for seeing the greater part of the world and trying to become a citizen of the world is a source of a never ending inspiration. In the end I just hope our political leaders pick up the slack on their end. We cannot be embarrassed anymore just because we hold a Philippine passport.



Cedric said...

I was quite an experience. Good thing it wasn't traumatic compared to what our friends experienced recently. And yes, there are lots of issues underneath that need to be fixed as well.

Ed said...

great storytelling experience, marky! the great thing about the scenario is that they seemed professional in handling the situation.

of course, we should be proud of our travel blogs! lemme share this. hehe.

and I'll ask for Ate Violy's contact info once I go back to HK as a solo traveler. 50 HKD is really a great deal already!

lastly, lol with your tag 'cute asian girls'. it's always a treat to read your posts!

budget travel with Bugoy! said...

we were almost there, in the league of Malaysia during the asian boom! but snap! parang isang bulang nawala.

anyway, looks like happy ending pa din ang HK trip mo tsong! :)

i hope you could feature that transient house of one ate violy. might try to stay there next time i visit HK. is there an email or a contact number i can call?

Catherine said...

when i went back to HK last year, they asked me why I was there. For a holiday, I said. They have to add, why are you traveling on your own? Is it really unbelievable when a Filipina is traveling solo? Just to stop this questioning, I told them that I went ahead of my mom and she'll follow in a few days which is true. :)

Markyramone said...

Ate Violy ito mobile # nya 67146099 - she told me they will transfer to a new apartment on July 15 but will still accept guests. Right now their place is beside Tsuen Wan MTR station.

ayan said...

tama. we cant blame them(this sucks bigtime).

fetus said...

great insight you have here marky, you've managed to be objective despite being pinned down.

Anonymous said...

glad u're safe =)

Aleah said...

All's well that ends well, Marky. I'm glad the HK immigration are professional, unlike the ones in Bali. I'm sure, too, that you've learned a lesson here somewhere :)

kara santos said...

great post! this is really interesting marky. being asked how much pocket money happened to me during one trip to singapore when i was traveling solo. (i'm never asked when i'm traveling with someone else) the immigration officer also said that i didn't have enough money because singapore is very expensive. i said i was staying with my sister (who was studying in NUS) but i guess that sounded suspicious to them. glad to hear how your blog saved you! (you could bring a copy of 7107 na may byline mo next time you travel para sure) :) and very interesting insights on why Filipino travelers are perceived this way.

RON said...


quote kita ha... "i said yes. and i SMILED"

nampota marky, kodak moment! hahahaha

Markyramone said...

@Ced - onga eh it was the funny version of what happened to Chyng, that one was traumatic.

@Ed - posted the number at the comments ^^ - haha napansin mo ren ung tag ah

@RV = we wasted a golden opportunity there, no thanks to the breed of leaders we had at that time - present

@Catherine - should have also told the immigration that, that i'm traveling with a group.

@fetus - at first I was pissed then i happened to saw the varying reasons are rooted deeper.

Thanks Anonymous

Claire Ponsaran said...

I think I like your experience better than the one by Filipinas who visited Indonesia. The HK officers were very professional and polite. Plus points yun talaga!

Markyramone said...

@Aleah - yeah learned something, it was a good practice 'solo' travel in prep for future ones.

@Kara - I might just do that haha, though hope I could also write for an airline's inflight magazine like "Smile" same way as you do - so i could shove it in their faces. haha

@Ron - edited it, it was my version of a smile...which is sort of a wide grin haha

Markyramone said...

@Claire Ponsaran - yeah it was miles better, I know one of those Pinays held in Indonesia, Chyng who owns that travel blog. Guess one will need supporting documents like employment when traveling to Indonesia soon.

Chyng said...

as long as it doesn't have anything to do with DRUGS + the agents are doing their jobs professionally, then it's all fine.

the 1st time I was questioned was last year - in LCCT. flight from KUL-SGN. I was solo then. the agents never caused my heart to skip a beat except for I might be late for the flight. walang trauma. they handled it good.

Markyramone said...

@Chyng - yes and its good that they never suspected me of something worst than just overstaying there. It was SO different from what you experience in Bali, that one crosses the line. But, its a bit sad that Pinoy travelers will always experience hassles like this one while other nationalities can travel freely with nary of a delay. :(

tina said...

Oh my, I wouldn't know what to do in case id be questioned too, but well done Marky :)

Kulet nung sa mga girlfriends :D

Bonzenti [Con Tour] said...

I am just comparing your experience how the government deals on the issue of smoking ban, where the one who occupied the highest post could hardly invoke to himself the smoking ban. If this is the system that true political leaders (head of the office)are doing right now, imposition of the law, the leader of the land should respect what his subordinates has been doing by following it. Just simple as that. Look at our laws of the land? Napaka dami, pero hindi lahat na impose. Tsk Tsk. It bounced back to us what had been done by the few. We are just affected by some unscrupulous individuals. Hopefully, we gearing towards what the government had promised, towards "righteous road" or "Sa daang matuwid". Sana lang.

sometimes kim & sometimes mj said...

Maybe you can show us your own version of a smile someday Marky, we're really interested, LOL. Glad the mishap was nothing serious to greatly affect your vacation. Onga pa share naman nong HK accommodation details na yan.

Looking forward to your next posts as they will be useful for our future trip there:-D

darwin said...

A well-written post. Im glad you managed to stay calm during that moment.

Naks! killer smile ka, nadaan mo sa smile at nahuli mo kiliti ng mga girls na officer.ok pala minsan yung mga shots mo with girls, napapagaan mo mood ng ibang tao, hehe! Idol talaga kita Markyboy!

adventurousfeet said...

Very well said. I kinda imagine your 'smile' out there. haha. Seriously this is worth sharing, you handled it very well. Hope next time the immigration officers will see a 'true' girlfriend in your blog. hehe.

Ivah said...

Wow, I have never experienced being asked how much pocket money I have traveling. I was just in HK last March and thankfully, I didn't have any issues. I've been traveling the first part of the year and so far, none of these. It's just sad that these things do happen. There must be something done asap!

Berniemack Arellano said...

I love your parting words for this. Being a Filipino traveler is indeed a challenge. A lot of visa restrictions in different places. If only our government would start to look not into human resource exports, but exporting our goods to earn more and probably more stable jobs here.

Di ko rin talaga sila masisisi.

Berniemack Arellano said...

But this caught me:
"Are they your girlfriends?" Wow! Hehe!

lakwatsera de primera said...

This is one of the sad realities we have to deal with when traveling or living overseas.

Markyramone said...

@Tina - about the girlfriend part dun ko naramdaman na medyo light cool sila coz they find time to tease me so medyo nawala na kaba ko nun

@Bonzenti - Walking around HK I always see signs na "No Smoking Maximum Penalty 5000 HK$" and it was really effective that you wont see people smoking in public places. Here, there are ordinances and laws but lacking in implementation :(

@Kim & MJ - I posted Ate Violy's number on the previous comment. Pero here it is again :) Ate Violy - 67146099

Markyramone said...

@Darwin - ngiting aso haha

@CA - Hope so too very soon :)

@Ivah - lucky you, or u just look like a rich traveller kaya no questions ask na

@Bernie - tama, should serve as a challenge to the Government to uplift the quality of life here and limit the number of people wanting to try their luck abroad.

@Claire - agree its a reality that also experienced by some poorer nations in Africa and Asia.

Greg V. said...

Yes, I have heard numerous and similar stories from other Kabayans who have traveled to other Asian countries and the Middle East.

I am wondering if how many of our Kabayans who flew with you experienced similar acts of harassment. You could be a victim of racial profiling.

SunnyToast said...

Kalurkey yon ha....are they your girlfriends?..hahaha

but your experience is much better than the two bloggers. pero hearing this stories kakatakot parin..kaya sira ang pangarap ko maging citizen of the world...hahaha

ihcahieh said...

Nakakalungkot naman ang mga ganitong pangyayari. While we can always say na kasalanan din naman ng mga gago nating kababayan na sumisira sa reputasyon natin as a whole nation, nakakainis pa rin kapag ikaw ang natiyempuhan. Hongkong pa naman ang next out of the country ko. Magbabaon na lang ako ng malulutong na dollars para maisampal ko sa pagmumukha ng immigration officer. Ma A to A man ako, nasampal ko naman siya. HAHAHA. Glad this didn't destroy your HK trip. =)

Dre said...

That was quite an experience. At least, it didn't end up badly. Funny thing that happened to me was I was held in OUR immigration before boarding the plane to HK. Maybe they thought I was there to find work. But I only sat there for like a minute. It's nothing compared to what you, Chyng and Gael experienced.

pusang kalye said...

oh ayan.nagbasa nako.hahaha.comedy nga.kasi naman ang mga gurlfriendsssss.saviour. makalagay na nga ng mga sexy pics sa blog ko just in case.hahaha.nakatulobng si Blog in this case at ako naman talaga wlang probl;ema sa SOP na checks na yan. basta walang na extras or ad ons baga.tas iinsultuhin kapa.ibang uisapan na yun. yun lang naman ang samin. at any rate. maswerte ka. try mo kaya sa Bali?hehehe.joke.

virgo itinerary said...

OMG ! why are these things happening to filipino travelers and filipino travel bloggers at that.nakakatakot tuloy.I feel sorry for what you had to go through.luckily , i did'nt experience anything like it.i just went to beijing a week after the filipino ofw's were sentenced to death but nothing like that happened to us,thank God.By the way we also stayed with pinay ofws who were renting out their place for filipino tourists,and i'm surprised that the rate is still the same.i hope all these will stop and most of all will not deter us from traveling.sana wala ng iba pang "nene" na mabiktima.hahaha ingat!

Pinay Travel Junkie said...

Great write up, Marky! I'm glad tinuring ka ng maayos ng officers. Sabi ko na nga ba nakita nila photos ng gurls sa blog mo eh! Hahaha!

Belle said...

Humor will always lift your spirits! This was quite an inspirational read, Marky. You are still grinning despite the bias flung against our Philippine passports. Cheers and stay awesome!

karl kaufman said...

It's a bummer getting in trouble in HK especially if you don't have a Lovi Poe to give you support during trial...

Grace said...

I'm glad you took this gracefully. I agree they are just doing their jobs and I think that citizens living in Asia in general have an easier time "sneaking in" to any Asian country. I believe this is because we have different foreign/immigration/visa entry policies. I believe this was pretty much the same case in Europe before they established the European Union. I know it's pretty annoying and inconvenient that we get stereotyped but you know what it is because they base it from past experience. It is true a lot of Filipinos risk becoming a TNT. Is it wrong? I don't know but what I know is that the Philippine Government does not make much of a case for our impoverished citizen not to leave the country.

But yes good job on keeping your cool. You don't want to mess with the local authorities.

Markyramone said...

@Greg V - probably many already, recently a friend was also held up in Bali and worse they were accused of being drug mules and another in Singapore.

@sunny - dont be afraid as long as your intention to travel is pure.

@ihcahieh - dont slap them with your passport haha just go out there prove your intention is just to travel then give them a dagger look after.

@Dre - sometimes local immigration here does that, it happened to a friend of mine who's already booked for Singapore she wasnt able to step inside the plan. SHe's going to SG only to travel.

@Anton - i wanna go to Bali too soon, but its not high on my list hehe

@Virgo - I'd like to have the contact number of the Filipino you stayed at in Beijing, I'll keep in touch when I finalized my Beijing trip next year.

@Gay - thanks Gay, would be better if it shows your photo - the PInay Travel Junky. Baka fan na sila ng blog mo

@Belle - humor does help and lessens getting pissed

@Karl - exactly or an Andi Eigenmann or Maricar Reyes or Christine Reyes

Markyramone said...

@Grace - yeah hope our own Government also sees the underlying reasons why Filipinos continue to TNT at a high and alarming rate, there are the illegal recruiters who are able to send many abroad without papers - and we cant blame those who ended up working there w/o papers coz they have no choice but stay there even illegally. And other reasons such as lack of opportunities and so on...

Then next is to strengthen diplomatic ties, let our ASEAN neighbors that we wont tolerate getting bullied by their racial profiling on fellow Filipinos...

virgo itinerary said...

I was referring to filipinos we stayed with in hongkong not in beijing.

Bunnz Victoria said...

wow it was nice catching your blog, I am really looking for HK blogs to give me free TIPS as I travel on September but this one is great since the immigration holed-up also happened to me in Malaysia. It was quite an experience for a first timer-lonely traveler like me that time. I almost ready my self to see me behind bars, and 'was thinking who can be the first person to call here in the philippines. The lady police is not answering my question why they are leading me to their office and all the why's in my head but she didn't gave any word which I think is not right - I wasn't asked how much is my pocket money like yours or my hotel but the worst thing is that she scanned my thumb mark in their machine. I thought that time that if they are not answering me for clarifications I need to let them know I'm not an idiot they can play around. Really my schedule was ruined but that's not just it I know something's going so I let them know that I know about foreign service protocol and intl politics since it's my field of expertise but still they keep me clueless in the bench. It took them 20 minute of just browsing my passport and their computer, and me continuously asking my-"why's" until they gave back my passport again. I put my issues with them in the closet (although in my mind I had a lot to clarify regarding their security SOP) after all I had a great time in their country.

Markyramone said...

Hi Bunz - yeah sad to say we're being racially profiled as TNT's and it affects even those innocent travelers who've worked hard to save up for that trip. Good thing you were never deterred by that experience and you still would love to travel and hopefully ur upcoming HK trip will be hassle-free at the immigration.

lenujan said...

Hi there,

Thanks for your post...it was informative. I'm travelling alone to HK next week, and I hope the immigration won't hold me up for traveling alone. >_<

Anonymous said...

hello, pwedeng malaman kung anong name ng guesthouse ni ate violy? at anong email address nya? thanks in advance =)

Brian Madrid said...

Sad and Happy Experience for you my fellow traveler. Things happened unexpectedly if you travel alone I guess than traveling with friends.
This post helps me be careful and aware my future travels abroad. For me my only experience abroad was the dollar scam in Putrajaya in Malaysia but from that day onwards i became more aware of my surroundings and whom I talk to and deal with. If you can post Violy's email too that would be great. Thanks for sharing and more travels for you abroad!

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