Baggy and I looked in disbelief at our newly-arrived passports, delivered early by the Takkyubin man today. Has it really been just three days ago when we went to the Italian Embassy to apply for our visas? And here they are, the familiar Schengen visas already tucked into our passports. I had to slap my face to wake me up in case I was just dreaming. 😛
Year in, year out, it’s the same story. You want to go places, you apply for a visa. Exceptions to the rule are given to nationalities whose countries have entered into agreements with other countries, like between Japan and the USA, for example. Citizens of Japan and the States do not need visas as long as their stay in the other country does not exceed 30 days. Philippine-passport holders like us are at least spared from this repetitive scrutiny if our destinations are within Southeast Asia. But that’s just about it. In most countries that we visit, we don’t even bother anymore to check if Filipinos are exempted from visas or not; in most if not all cases, a visa is generally required. This is the rule.
So it’s the same cycle. Napupuno na ang passport namin kakadikit ng mga visas. Bakit ba nila tayo pinapahirapan? Kasalanan to ng mga nauna nating kababayan. Kasalanan to ng gobyerno natin. Kasalanan to ng ekonomiya natin. Tingin nila sa mga Pinoy na bumibisita ng ibang bansa, balak mag-TNT siguro.
Back to the recently-approved Schengen visa. Nasubukan na kasi naming mag-apply sa Italian Embassy three years ago. Hindi kasing-bilis ang nangyari, at sobrang stressful. I may be a little hazy on the details, but let me recall what happened then:
June 2003. Baggy and I went to the embassy early in the morning, because the visa/consular section only opens from 9:30-11:30. Still, we had to wait for a long time because there were a lot of people who arrived there ahead of us. Our turn came, eventually. The guy at the window perused through our documents, one person at a time. Since I was the one attending the conference, he looked over my documents first. No problems. I heaved a sigh of relief while he turned his attention to Baggy’s documents. He looked at the copy of Baggy’s passbook, then frowned. Uh-oh. It didn’t look good, and he sadly broke the news to us – but it wasn’t even about the sad state of affairs conveyed by Baggy’s passbook. Instead, Baggy had to submit a Certificate of Leave. Nowhere was this document mentioned in the list of requirements posted at their website; otherwise we would have brought it with us already. And since they would rather process our application as a family, they’d keep my application on file in the meantime. How about our daughter’s application? Well, he said that they have a law that the child must be accompanied by both parents, so if both parents have not yet obtained their visas, the child’s visa application cannot be processed. Uhm. Okay, fine. Whatever.
Ok, that time Baggy was still residing in Osaka. So we had to wait for another week for him to obtain the said document and return to Tsukuba. Balik embassy na naman kami.
This time around, a different guy looked at our papers (there were only two windows, by the way, and whichever becomes available serves the next applicant). So kasama na nga yung Certificate of Leave sa papers ni Baggy, as they requested. We explained that he was only accompanying me, and that I was the one with the official business there. He squinted at us (yes, I remember this specifically. What’s the squinting all about? I do know that you squint when you look at small bugs.). And then he broke the news to us – hey look, your husband’s residence is in Osaka. Why is he applying in Tokyo? Turning to Baggy – you should apply in Osaka Consulate, because your address is in Osaka. Why the heck did they not tell us that in the first place? And by the way, he added, if you want to have your child’s application processed, she must be here in person. We tried to argue – but she’s only 1 year old! No exceptions, we were told. Everyone must apply “in person.” Even if that person happens to be a babbling, drooling one year-old baby.
Tumaas ang buhok namin. Nahighblood si Baggy. We wanted to squint back at him, but we were too shocked to react that way. Squinty Guy kept right on squinting at us. We had no choice but to go home defeated, again, that day. Anyway, I demanded that my application be processed. I was then given a stub number, to be used when I finally pick up my passport.
Baggy went back to Osaka. Wonder of wonders, he got his visa, no further documents needed. Sobrang dali nga raw roon. Nauna pa siyang makakuha ng visa kesa sa akin.
We went back to the Embassy – for the third time, and hopefully for the last time. We brought Aya along. Guy #1 was available at that time, and he gleefully gave me back my passport with the approved visa. I then brought out Baggy’s passport, showed him that Baggy already had his visa approved too, and promptly submitted Aya’s documents. For some reason he didn’t expect me to apply for the baby’s visa. He probably forgot that we had intended to apply as a family from the start.
We were made to wait for about 30 minutes while he chatted with other guys, talked on the phone, and shuffled papers on his desk. It must have been Aya bawling in the room, or the time to close must be nearing, when he finally perused through her documents and said OK. I requested that the passport be mailed back – I swore to high heavens that I will not go back there anymore just to pick up the passport. Fortunately, the request was granted and we left rejoicing but anxious about Aya’s application. Her visa came, a few weeks later, with ample time to spare before departure.
April 2006. After days of preparing our documents, we finally decided that it was time to make that inevitable visit to the embassy. We prepared our hearts for the worst; but can it really get any worse than our experience before? We checked and rechecked our documents.
The worst didn’t happen. We were wrong. This time, there was only one kind-looking lady at the window. As before, we had to wait for several minutes before our turn.
The lady inspected Baggy’s papers first, because he was the one with the official business. However, she pointed out that because Baggy’s invitation letter came from the organizer based in the States, it was insufficient. Apparently, the invitation letter must come from Italy. But, she added, the letter can be sent directly to them by FAX. We heaved a sigh of relief. We almost thought that we would be turned away again, because our documents were incomplete.
She perused through our documents one by one, and when she was finally satisfied, she asked us to pay for the processing fee. With a smile, she told us that they will try to process our applications within this week. She said that they will send the passports by Takkyubin (chakubarai = COD).
You think that went well? Nah, it was excellent! Now that’s efficiency for you! We got our visas three days after applying. In fact right now we are still sort of dazed, wondering why it was so easy this time. Maybe because it’s our second time, so they probably have records of our previous application. At any rate, we are happy because we didn’t have to deal with crap this time around. See, things could change for the better!
Oh, by the way, I saw Squinty Guy passing by the window during the time we were there. He squinted briefly and passed from view. Some people never change, do they? 😛