Tokyo and I didn’t hit it off right away.
Before I was 24 hours in the city, I had managed to get lost three times. And I wasn’t even mildly lost — I was tired-and-hungry, all-alone, dragging-baggage-in-the-rain, going-back-and-forth-a-dozen-times lost. Thrice.
The bad luck actually started even before I left Cebu. Over the past few months, changes both structural and procedural had been gradually implemented in the Mactan Cebu International Airport, and one change I’d noticed on my last arrival was that Filipinos no longer had to fill up Arrival Cards.
On the day I was to depart for Tokyo, after final luggage check, I looked around and found myself in an unfamiliar “Passport Control” section with several booths manned by Immigration officers. For some reason, I didn’t see anybody filling up or even holding a Departure Card, which you would normally accomplish before going through Immigration. And so — blame it on the fact that I’d had no breakfast, or the paltry two hours of sleep I’d had the night before, or the new airport layout, or maybe I was just being stupid — I thought, hmmmm, maybe we no longer have to fill up Departure Cards too. Nice!
I quickly joined the short queue and soon enough found myself face to face with an Immigration officer. She flipped through my passport and airline itinerary, looked up at me…and then said the seven most horrifying words in the history of seven horrifying words: “Did you fill up a Departure Card?”
(For context, I have to explain that getting through Immigration can already be an ordeal in itself in the Philippines, especially if you are a female traveling alone to a country where females traveling alone can end up in a bad way. Having to go through Immigration twice is no fun. Also, this was the time when random bullets were being found in travelers’ bags by
corrupt airport police — it mostly happened in Manila, but tensions were still high in airports around the country. And did I mention I’d had no breakfast? When you’re hangry, every obstacle on your way to food seems major.)
I had to go back…
…to a table at the start of Passport Control to fill up the stupid Departure Card. (*This is what is known as projection.) And I couldn’t just go directly back to the IO after filling up the Card — I had to rejoin the now kilometer-long queue. I suppose I could have tried and seen if the IO would entertain me right away, but I didn’t have the guts to risk seeming like I was cutting into the line, which I sort of was and wasn’t, depending on how heavily you think silliness should be penalized.
Long story short, I got to the departure gate just in time to board my plane.
Back in the queue — on my second go — I just wanted to kick myself for being so imprudent. Why didn’t I double-check about the Departure Cards before getting into the line the first time? Why didn’t I look more closely to see if the others in the line were bringing Cards? I slightly cheered up when I noticed a few other passengers making the same mistake, but then they went directly back to the IO, so then I started berating myself for being so timid. Maybe I shouldn’t care what people think. Maybe…maybe… On top of all that, I really was hungry, and I’d had so little sleep, I could almost literally feel the weight of my eye bags.
Finally, after gritting my teeth for a good part of an hour, I realized — I forced myself to acknowledge — that there was nothing more I could do. The mistake was done. Additional mistake or not, I’d voluntarily rejoined the queue. I had to live with my decisions. And also…sigh…
I had to be kind to myself. People make mistakes all the time. I had to give myself permission to do the same, to own it and live with it and not allow it to tear me apart.
And so gradually, grudgingly, I found my peace.
Which was a good thing because then I got to Tokyo and got lost three times in less than 24 hours. But I’ll save that story for next time.
What bloopers have you made during travel? Was there something you found hard to let go?
Inauspicious beginnings and the importance of being kind
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