Thursday, July 29, 2010

Travelogue (from the City of Golden Friendship to the City of Lakes and Sinkholes)

Beep! Beep! Beep! The L300 van stopped in front of our house as Nong Joey, the driver, called us out. Dex was frantically tying his shoes while Aaron was hugged and teased by Uncle Junjun and ate Yang2. I was still putting the locks to our luggage, mentally checking if I placed everything we need for our journey to a whole new life. My heartbeat went a notch higher than normal as reality set in. This is it! We’re finally leaving the house which in all its simplicity, we dearly love; Yang2, Aaron’s nanny whose diligence we’ll never forget; the casual afternoon chit chat with the neighbors and their children’s noise in the street calling out Aaron’s name as they pass by; our friends who call or drop by every now and then; and most specially our family whose physical presence we will absolutely sorely miss.

We finally loaded the van and said our goodbyes to everyone who stayed behind. As I glanced at the quiet street and our house my heartbeat doubled. We rode the van in silence with only Nong Joey trying to make a sensible conversation and talking to Aaron as if my little boy has any idea where he was going.

Mommy Liz and Lolo Sonnie greeted us at the airport. They hugged Aaron from time to time while we were waiting for our plane to arrive. I busied myself taking pictures of them to keep myself from crying. Then Aaron yelled “Wow, airplane!” That’s it. That’s our plane. Time to hug each other tight and Aaron got the tightest hug from them as he naively waived his hand and with a huge smile said to his grandparents, “Bye, see you later.” Yeah later...very very much later. As we entered the gate to the boarding area holding Aaron with my right hand, the other hand tugging the luggage I couldn’t help my tears falling. I stopped to dry my eyes with my jacket sleeve and looked back to where my parents stood, seeing them wave at us didn’t dry my eyes at all. I know my tears were a mixture of joy that we’re finally moving forward towards the fulfillment of a better life and of sadness because we’re leaving our family behind. I wanted to hold Dex’ hand to ease my chest pain but when I looked at him and saw his red teary eyes I felt more pangs of pain. We simply grinned at each other and understood each others emotions and hastened to the counter to give our tickets. Our emotions were cut off by the details we had to do to before finally entering the boarding area.

To Aaron, the huge room filled with strangers sitting on the rows of seats was simply a new play area with lots of goodies to one. For a brief moment, I forgot my chest pains as I run after Aaron who enjoyed the playroom and confidently says Hi to everyone. (Wonder where he got his confidence? ^_^) Dex was occupied by a friend he met.

I was still busy keeping Aaron at a halt when boarding time was announced. We moved along the line. Dex was two persons in front of me carrying Aaron who was gleefully yelling and pointing out, “Airplane o! Nana, come on, look, big airplane.” I was busy preparing my boarding pass and holding on to the hand-carry bags while making sure my camera is on. Despite the hot weather, the walk towards the plane was a joy to Aaron whose amazement to the huge plane ahead never ceased. He felt more jubilant when he sat down and got curious with the seatbelt which he was fervently trying to unclasp.

Dex and I finished texting our families and friends just in time when the pilot delivered his usual pre-flight speech and the gorgeous stewardesses went to their places in the aisle to demonstrate safety procedures. Amazingly Aaron listened as if he understood what they were saying. The engines roared as the plane soared. I took a deep breath, silently prayed, and concealed a tear that fell remembering my mom’s sms (we’re still here waiting to see the plane take off) when I peaked at Dex who was wiping a tear away too. It was the first time I saw him shed a tear. We cuddled Aaron (who was still savoring the moment with his eyes twinkling and constantly saying “ride the plane no”) intertwined our hands and together uttered, “This is it!” Dex continued, “Hah! Mingaw no?” I simply nodded my head, peeped down the window and saw hundreds of red spots in the middle of a vast green land – the distinct feature of the subdivision we lived. I was pretty sure I spotted our tiny house below. We sat in silence as Aaron dozed. I closed my eyes and tried to sleep. Dex pretended to sleep as well.

A buzz woke me up. I looked down and saw heaps of what seemed like tins which were actually roofs of houses and tiny Lego blocks stacked up to form tall buildings. It means, we’re in Manila and we’ll be landing shortly as the pilot spoke. As we got off from the plane, Aaron’s excitement was boosted at the sight of dozens of airplanes around him as he relentlessly yelled “Yehey! Airplane.” and “Hello/bye airplane.”

We took turns in taking pictures to entertain ourselves while waiting for our ride. When it finally came, Ms. Swelyn eagerly greeted us and filled us in with funny and nice experiences of those who went ahead of us. To Aaron’s great delight, steamy pansit, was served for lunch along with paksiw and cold Coke. I silently asked myself if I would still be able to eat these foods in Australia.

Our flight to Thailand was still 8 hours away. Dex looked after Aaron whose curiosity nerves beavered away as he poked at holes, went up and down the stairs, examined the staplers, paper clips, fasteners and lots of stuff on Ms. Mariam’s table, toyed with the telephone, and pretended to read the call cards on one of the staff’s table. All this happened while I was away with Ms. Swelyn buying pizza for late snacks/early dinner and making our way to the super busy streets of Manila to have our peso exchanged with an Aussie dollar. I was pleased to see what Aussie dollar bills look like for the first time.

6PM came so we were off to NAIA. Bid farewell to Ms. Swelyn and the driver then joined the long queue to enter the boarding area. As I was concentrating on filling out forms, Dex was kept busy by Aaron (the only toddler in queue) who found the trolleys fascinating thus pushing and pulling them around. I looked around hoping to see friendly Filipinos travelling with us and I was glad to see one.Jet - she was on her way to Melbourne too to watch the Tennis tournament.

We finally boarded Thai Airways at 8PM. Elegant stewards and beautiful stewardesses in their purple, lilac, and pink uniforms with an orchid as hair accessory cheerfully ushered us. We were keenly looking for our seats while Aaron was jovially saying “Hi” to everyone. The Chinese guy only smiled at him.

Pre-flight preliminaries were done and we’re off to more than a couple of hours air travel to Thailand. Sumptuous dinner was served but we couldn’t eat everything due to butterflies in our stomach. Not because it’s our first time to ride the plane but mainly due to the fact that we’re now really, literally leaving our homeland for the first time. Thoughts of the new place, environment, and people occupied my mind. Dex was also staring into nothing, thoughts lost in space. I figured he was as thrilled and at the same time apprehensive as I was. Aaron hugged his all-time favorite pillow and in no time fell in deep slumber. A movie and occasional chat with Jet, the Filipina we met, kept me awake while glancing at my two boys snooze into dreamland.

Streaks of light were visible below. Thailand is not far away. Aaron hesitantly and sleepily said “bye airplane” as we got off, waving at the stewardess who stood by the door handing out fresh sweet-smelling orchid to every passenger. A neat, long, and extensive walkway welcomed us. You wouldn’t think it was almost midnight as people with all sorts of luggage were hustling around.

Aaron recharged himself with a bottle of milk while we waited for our connecting flight to Melbourne. He also managed to entertain a baby girl crawling and practising to walk in barefoot. Tennis players from around the world were among those who waited for boarding time. You could just tell by their jackets and racquets.

The advantage of having a two-year-old around when travelling is you get to be called first in line and boy we were happy! Stunning stewardesses ushered us in and assisted us to our seats. In no time the plane took off as we made ourselves ready and comfy for the eight-hour trip ahead. It reminded me of Margie’s fear of riding the plane. I consoled myself with God’s promise that wherever He leads, He provides. Aaron’s scampering around the whole day paid off as he easily fell asleep. Dex and I snoozed off as well after taking a few bites from the mouth-watering dinner that was served. The occasional jolts of the plane often woke me up as it sent shivers to my spine.

Sunrise glimmered through the thick clouds as luscious breakfast was served. Pretty soon exhilaration befell upon me as I gazed down and saw acres and acres of rich green land. This is Australia and very soon we’ll stand on it! Moments later, we huddled to the aisle as we prepared to depart the plane. A stewardess gave Aaron a book and reciprocated her with a shy “Thank you, see you later.” Afterwards he said “Bye Kuya” to the Chinese guy behind us who later asked what Aaron said, and “Bye Uncle” to the old American man who was still busy stooping down looking for his missing shoe.

After all the necessary checks done by the immigration staff (we got first in line again, thanks to Aaron being a two-year-old ^_^) we finally got to wait for our luggage. Dex was busy waiting for our stuff to turn up while I looked after Aaron who found the wheelchairs amusing. Suddenly a border security dog kept nudging at my hand-carry bag. I was a bit scared but then I realized it must have smelled the orchid that the Thai Airways stewardess handed to us. The dog’s handler then asked me what I had in my bag and I told her about the orchid. Good thing I threw it away, she said. They are definitely strict in here when it comes to goods coming in. After scribbling “cleared” in my boarding pass, they left and I was relieved!
Both Dex and I still couldn’t believe that we’re already standing on an entirely different continent. Ms. Vera’s familiar pssssst (reminds you that a Filipino is calling) broke our very short chat. We were then ushered out and as we crossed the street, chilling fresh air sent the hair of my skin standing as I gripped Aaron tightly. I simply looked up the clear blue sky, around the area, and stared at the new environment we’re in. I was a probinsyana who first set foot on a big city. So what? I savored the moment.

The ride to Ms. Vera’s place was exciting. Seeing the wonderful scenery (which we only saw in movies) along the way made me thank God silently for the safe trip and for allowing us to be here. This is it! We’re really here!
Her townhouse was fabulous! At 4PM, after we settled our things, I helped her prepare our late lunch - chicken soup with zucchini (a vegetable that looks like an opo which actually belongs to pumpkin family she explained), rice, and sweet oranges. She briefed us on our trip the next day, shared more stories about the Filipinos who would be Dex’ co-workers, and then encouraged us to have a nap. A nap that turned out to be very long coz we woke up the next day. If Ms. Vera didn’t tap our door, we could have missed the train!

We hurriedly munched on the toasted bread, oranges, and coffee she prepared for us, gathered our things and hopped into her car. As we headed to the train station, I was just too amazed of the fact that we’re in Melbourne that I didn’t stop taking pictures until we reached the station.

I bought some chips and water from the vending machine, mentally converting dollars to pesos and telling myself how expensive ($2.60) their 250ml bottle of water is! Then again, I realized that if I constantly convert, I won’t buy anything so I bought a couple more chips and a piece of that inviting Cadbury chocolate. I was sure we’ll get hungry on the train.

The four-hour train ride didn’t bore either Dex or me. The scenery just awed us and we just kept smiling at each other, taking turns in holding Aaron who made the train seat a small bed. Vast green pastures with hundreds of brown, black, and spotted cows and hundreds of gigantic balls of hay scattered everywhere. There were numerous sheep too.

Warrnambool, the last stop of the train is where we boarded the coach (bus) that carried us to our final destination. The two hours and a half ride culminated at the Lady Nelson Information Centre, Mount Gambier! It wasn’t a bus terminal like where we normally get off in the Philippines. In fact, it wasn’t a terminal at all. It was a visitor information centre and the bus we rode in was the only bus there. No one else was around so we just settled ourselves in the bench beside the road as we patiently and excitedly yet anxiously waited for someone to pick us up. THIS IS IT, Dex and I exclaimed! This is really it! The beginning of our whole new adventure!

Thirty minutes later, the familiar face of Sir Jeff got off from his white right hand drive car (the first adjustment we had to make) and warmly greeted us. He cheerfully oriented us of the major streets and took us to the astounding Blue Lake. To actually see the deep turquoise blue lake was marvelous. We’ve been reading about it in the internet. We even promised ourselves to make time to see it and there we were, marveling at its beauty on our first hour to this new city which will be our home for the next couple of years or so. Coles, a grocery store, was the next stop which was followed by the She’s Apples, a shop with a variety of fruits and vegetables. We then headed to our new dwelling place. Dex on the front passenger seat was busy answering Sir Jeff’s questions about our trip and listening to the initial orientation for his job. I, on the other hand, was gawking at the countless rows of pine trees on both sides of the street while Aaron was happily sitting on his car seat busy gobbling the bunch of grapes Sir Jeff bought for him.

The sight of a simple house with neatly mowed lawn situated in front of a cornfield, a huge piggery farm behind, and acres of pine trees to its right told me that we have reached our final destination after almost two days of taxing but definitely exciting journey. Nonetheless, I told myself our real journey begins here and now. Here in this strange new land, with strangers as housemates, with nothing but our luggage and ourselves yet I was assured of God’s love and grace as I was reminded of His word “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” This was the future we prayed for, now that the future is here, we simply place the rest of our future in this new land in His faithful and loving hands.