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travel inspiration for small budgets and big dreams


It was 2009, only a day after Tropical Storm Ondoy (international name Ketsana) wreaked watery havoc on the Philippine capital of Manila, causing landslides and floods of up to 20 feet (20 feet!) in some rural areas, and where was I? In Manila, naturally, walking up muddy pedestrian bridges, sidestepping enormous puddles, and waiting hours (literally hours!) for a taxi, all because I was due for a US visa interview the next day.

The thing is: I didn’t even want to go to the US. Oh, I know there are tons of beautiful places in America, and I suppose I would love to visit it someday, but it’s always been the proverbial land of milk and honey for many of my countrymen, and so, of course, its appeal to my occasionallyย counter-conformist, lactose-intolerant, honey-disdainful self has always been close to zero. And I didn’t even like being in Manila under ordinary circumstances. But this,ย this — having to make my way through mud and debris clutching my precious embassy-demanded papers, having to deal with the entirely different specie that is the Manila taxi driver — was the closest oneย place had ever come to making me cry.

Why was I there? Because my boss wanted me there. So stupidly simple. We were working with an American healthcare organization, and the company that made the software we used at the office had organized a conference to be held in the US. My boss was sending 3 of us to attend it as a “reward” for our hard work — my boss having this unshakable notion that it’s every Filipino’s dream to go, work, and eventually live in the US — and who was I to say no to free travel?

And so the next day I heard myself called to a glass-enclosed counter at the embassy to present the case for Why The United States of America Should Let Good Old Me In. As I approached, I saw that the guy behind the counter, a Filipino, had gotten up, apparently to go on a break. “Just one more,” an unseen lady told him, and he unsmilingly sat back down. He wordlessly leafed through my documents, probably noted that I was single and childless and not exactly wealthy, read the letter of invitation to the conference, then asked just one question.

“You’re a medical professional…and you want to go to a software conference?”

“Well, yes,” I said. Put that way, it did sound a bit dodgy, but I had a rational explanation for that. “You see, it’s the software we use for…”

He didn’t even wait for me to finish my answer. He sighed, grabbed a sheet of blue-colored paper, checked a box, and handed it to me along with my other documents. Visa application denied for “lack of sufficient ties” to my home country — a nice way of saying they don’t think there’s anything in the Philippines that would make me want to return and therefore I’m likely to stay illegally in the US.

Up until that point, I had been ambivalent about the outcome I wanted. I had half-hoped my visa application would be denied so that I wouldn’t have to go to the US and be in close contact with my boss (he is overwhelming as it is over the internet). But I didn’t want the application denied that way — in a manner that suggested I was a liar. Without meaning to sound melodramatic, it felt like a failure, one of the very first of my life, and an undeserved one too; in school, if you don’t study, you fail an exam, you deserve it, but here, I was telling the truth, I had no evil intentions, and I still didn’t get a passing grade. It was a tough lesson about the inherent unfairness of life, and though it’s actually a very good lesson to learn, and though I’ve had much tougher ones since then, I admit I still carry a bit of a grudge. It’s why the US still isn’t on my bucket list (not that it cares) nor will be anytime soon.

Why I’ve Never Traveled To The US” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved.ย 

31 Responses

    1. Oh, gosh! The “insufficient ties” thing is an American policy, obviously, but the guy behind the counter was Filipino. So my sort-of-grudge isn’t against America or Americans but against the US embassy in Manila. ๐Ÿ˜€ And it’s a stupid grudge really. ๐Ÿ˜€ But thanks NaDean! ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. He may need a new attitude but unfortunately he was just doing his job. I know a lovely Indonesian woman who immigrated here legally but can’t yet return to Indonesia. Her mother can’t get permission to come for a visit to see her grandchild. It’s horribly sad and all too common.

        Very few of us have ancestry native to our country. It’s stupid that we have collectively forgotten we are a nation of immigrants. We should focus on keeping out criminals instead of visitors in fear that they just might possibly get a job and spend money like the rest of us.

        Sorry, personal rant.

        If it ever changes, I hope you’ll reconsider. We do have some fabulous spots you can’t help but love.

      2. I know! You guys have such a wide variety of landscapes and environments. America really is a beautiful country.

        As for the Filipino guy behind the counter, I’d like to think it’s part of his job to consider all the facts and not immediately think something’s suspicious just because he doesn’t understand it right away. I know a lot of well-meaning people who have been denied US visas — parents wanting to attend their child’s wedding in the US, for instance. These people put a lot of time, money and effort into their applications and they at least deserve a fair and thorough assessment. (–> and this is my personal rant hehe)

    1. Oh yay, I’m glad I’m not the only one! I just think the guy could (and should) have been more conscientious and more…I don’t know, more HUMAN…in doing his job. I don’t think I would have felt so bad if he had shown he had considered all the facts, asked more questions, and maybe even explained his decision a bit. I get that they see a lot of applicants per day but I don’t think that justifies the lack of empathy. To be fair, it’s not just the US embassy people — some of the French embassy people were downright nasty too, when I was there, though thankfully not to me.

  1. I have heard stories about the US embassy there, and how the consuls are quite rude. I hope that someday you will change your mind and try again. The US is really beautiful and although I have seen more beautiful places, there’s just something here that I can’t quite find anywhere else. As much as I love to travel and see other countries but when I come back to the US I have this strange feeling of loving it and appreciating it even more. Maybe it is home for me, but I always still think the Philippines is my home. Maybe I just refuse to admit it but the US is truly where I belong.

    I hope to read your blog one day…visiting the USA ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. It’s where your heart is! ๐Ÿ™‚ How you described the US just now is exactly how I feel about the Philippines, so it really is your home. And a person can have more than one home anyway. ๐Ÿ™‚ I probably will get to the US someday and I’m sure I will love it.

  2. Oh, this sounds so familiar to my Indian ears!
    I haven’t yet been denied a US visa myself but I’ve conveniently avoided any US travel plans after hearing of so many horror visa interviews and seeing the always long queues outside the US Consulate here. The US isn’t alone in being paranoid of us, from the developing world. The UK has a particularly lengthy application process too (where in the form they’ll even ask you where your mother was born) but anyhow, let me not rant endlessly here, they probably have enough reasons to keep the processes how they are.

    1. Oh gosh, I’ve seen the UK form — it even asks if your spouse is living with you, how much money you spend every month, what percentage of your income you give to your family. ๐Ÿ˜€ But now that I think about it, I would rather be asked a lot of questions, than be asked just one question and not even have my answer seriously considered. I agree with you — the processes are there for a reason, and it’s obviously every country’s right to decide who they want to let in. I just wish the people carrying out those processes would remember that they don’t know everything and that every application deserves a good look.

  3. First let me say that I hope someday you make it to the USA. It’s an amazingly beautiful place and the people aren’t as bad as rumor has it. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Second, every time I see your blog in my reader, I have that song stuck in my head, so well done you on picking an amazingly fitting and memorable name!

  4. Sorry to hear about that. But it’s really nice reading your story. You articulate well the frustrations of having a visa application denied. I think I’d feel the same way if I was in your place, especially since I dread rejections and this is one form of it.

  5. I’m surprised why you got denied when this was for a work visa, correct? You have your company sponsoring you for a conference, they usually grant you such number of days that you are needed to be present to attend. But then again, maybe a lot of Filipinos went TNT that way so maybe that’s why they are stricter. However, on another note, that is no reason for this particular consul to be acting all high and mighty on you. You can always try again. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. I actually had an interview on that very same day too.. It had been 5 years since then.. Life in the US Is not a bed of roses.. People here live to work and pay bills! Your not missing anything at all.. Visit other countries..

  7. What a shame, but that would leave a sour taste in my mouth too. I hate that that happened to you but if you don’t feel at a loss then I truly think you’re not missing out ( even though I love my country=))

    1. When I say I’m not missing out, there’s probably a big element of bitterness and sour-graping there haha! Nah, I really do think America is a beautiful country — even just your part of it is amazing, from what I’ve seen in your pictures. There are train journeys there that I’d love to take. But I think I’ll just wait until I’ve been to so many countries that the embassy guys would have to be incredibly stupid to deny my visa application again, because I really hate being disbelieved.

      1. Maybe this is different but there are places that I’m somewhat “meh!” about traveling too for various reasons or reasons I can’t even pinpoint and someone will say “you don’t know though you’re missing out!” but I just can’t force myself into being interested. I’ve always been drawn to Europe vs South American and though the US borders Canada & Mexico I’m only interested in Canada. I say I want to go as many places as possible but when I think about it there’s a handful I’m really okay with never visiting, I’m not even sure why. Do you know what I mean? Your country isn’t on my not-to-do list though, it’s definitely worthy a trip=)

      2. I do know what you mean. There are places that you really HAVE to see before you die, and others that are…optional…like you wouldn’t say no to a free trip there, but it isn’t exactly something you would save and save and save for. Yay, please do come to the Philippines! Let me know when you’ve booked a trip so I can bore you with advice. ๐Ÿ˜€

      3. Yeah I just don’t feel the URGE to go some places but I’d consider a free trip unless it’s someplace a bit dangerous.
        I wonder what it is that shapes our travel destination preferences. Obviously there are aspects that attract us that we can name but I would think some of it has to do with our upbringing and cultures, media coverage, all sorts of stuff. Interesting to think on! I’ll have to put more thought into why I want to go where and why other countries don’t feel urgent to me.

        As my future Philippines travel agent you’re hired!

      4. I will do my best for you ma’am. ๐Ÿ˜€

        That IS an interesting topic. Hmmm. I think I like to see places that are different from the Philippines. Like I’m not really interested in “tropical paradise”-type destinations, but stuff like the English moors and downs and dales immediately grab my attention even though I’m not even sure what they are exactly. And connections to stuff we love, like I love Lewis and Tolkien, so I want to go to Oxford and see the pub they used to hang out in, even though they say Cambridge is a prettier town.

      5. That is true, books influence travel and I’ve even done some traveling around movies a little bit. I was thinking about this as I was falling asleep last night & I don’t want to admit this but I think I, unaware at the time, have sought out places overall that are different from the US but in some ways look & feel similarly and are English speaking which makes me think I’m a baby who wants comfort. I dunno, but that isn’t true I hope something about that seems pretty lame or even offensive.

      6. I don’t think I’d be able to go to a place where the locals don’t speak at least a little English either! Well, I suppose I could, if the place was really beautiful, but I’d be all anxious about having to communicate in signs. Though maybe it’ll be good for us if we go somewhere that’s totally out of our comfort zone but…maybe later. ๐Ÿ˜€

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