A week after the catastrophic earthquake I received a letter from Melinda telling me how the 12 story apartment building she lived in rocked and swayed but suffered no major damage and was still habitable. Extremely relieved, I sent her a letter in which I proposed to her. I was completely sure she was the one I wanted to spend my life with. She responded with a letter accepting my proposal. I was overjoyed!
Late one cold October evening in 1999, just a week or so after Melinda had agreed to marry me, my phone rang. I answered and there was a small voice on the other end as loud announcements from a P.A. system continuously blared in the background mingled with much commotion and voices in a language I did not understand. It was Melinda! It was the first time I got to hear her voice! Her employer had finally let her go shopping by herself as Melinda informed her boss that she would be leaving at the end of her two year contract at the end of December 1999 to get married. Her employer was resigned to the fact that Melinda would be leaving so allowed her to go shopping by herself. We talked for about 20 minutes as Melinda was using an expensive phone card from a pay phone to call, and she promised to call me again on her next shopping trip.
Melinda and I continued to correspond. I got my passport and scheduled two weeks of vacation time for the last two weeks of January 2000. Future Sainted Patient Wife completed her two year term of employment at the end of December 1999 and went back to the Philippines. My vacation came around, and after a long 22 hour Northwest Airlines flight which started Friday evening from Chicago, and then to Detroit, Japan, and finally the Philippines. A hour before our flight's arrival in Manila late Sunday evening, all passengers were given a form to fill out to list and declare any items of value that one might have. Printed on the form in capitalized red letters was the following warning: DEATH TO DRUG TRAFFICKERS IN THE PHILIPPINES! I had no occasion to worry, and did not see anyone else go to their carry on luggage and scamper to the restroom, but I am thinking that they mean business here.
No one is allowed inside the Ninoy Aquino International Airport without a valid airline ticket dated for that day. A multitude of guards armed with pistols and high-powered assault rifles are at all the entrances and patrolling the grounds. All passengers were thoroughly patted down by male guards for the men, and female guards for the females. To try to get past these guys would be like committing suicide. I played close attention to what they said. I stand in the Immigration line and speak to a trio of Immigration Officers who scrutinize my passport, ask me some questions, stamp my passport and let me through. A 21 day visa is allowed when you visit the Philippines. You have to jump through some hoops to get your visa extended; since my vacation was only for two weeks, I would not overstay my allotted time.
(I now have what is called a Balikbayan visa, privilege, good for a year, and there is no charge for that. As long as you enter the Philippines with your Filipina wife, whether she is a U.S. Citizen or “green card” permanent resident of the U.S. as my wife is, the government will grant that visa to you per your request as you enter the airport and present your passport. Make sure you carry your marriage certificate with you, as that is supposed to be required. When Sainted Patient Wife and I entered the Philippines this past July, the immigration lady granted our Balikbayan Visa with no questions. I took out my marriage certificate to show her, she said no, that is OK, she did not need to see it.)
As I departed the airport, I was instantly slammed with oppressive humidity, and looked across to see throngs of people in the waiting area across from the airport. Thousands of people mingled around, and this was midnight, local time, with taxi cabs and other vehicles streaming past us like it was rush hour traffic in Chicago. I stood dazed for a moment, trying to find Melinda in the massive crowds of people in the waiting area. A nearby armed guard asked me if I needed help, and at that moment I heard someone cry out my name. Yes, it was the future Sainted Patient Wife, Melinda! Finally we meet! Her brother-in-law Joe stood by as he had given her a ride to the airport. I give Melinda a big hug and we exchange our first kiss (even though Melinda says she is very shy.) And yes, we kiss in public, unlike most other Asian cultures, the Filipino has no reservations about public displays of affection; they are a very warm and loving people. I don't kiss Joe, just shake his hand. He doesn't seem particularly offended that I did not kiss him.
The next morning we went to the U.S. embassy and found it closed due to it being Martin Luther King Day in America. Never occurred to me that the Embassy here would be closed, but as you might understand, I was preoccupied with other matters at the time. We had to get permission to get married from our government, and Melinda had already made arrangements with a Justice of the Peace in nearby Caloocan City where her eldest sister lived to get married this coming Thursday. So we went back to the U.S. Embassy the next day, got sworn in with about another 100 Americans to receive our permission to marry, and waited for the big day.
Not much for me to do do the next two days until that big day except just sit around like a Bonehead (no problem with that), watch television in a language I did not understand, and do a "meet and greet" with all the relatives who treated me like I was some kind of celebrity. We stayed at her oldest sister’s house, and before I knew it Thursday came and we took a jeepney to the City Hall in Caloocan City. We were a half hour late for our appointment with the Justice of the Peace, because Melinda’s oldest sister did not start getting dressed until a half hour before our appointment. Do not worry, Melinda said, trying to calm me down. We were on Filipino time, and anybody reading this married to a Filipina knows EXACTLY what I am talking about. No one is in a rush here. Things are very laid back.
As soon as the City Hall clerk spies me she tells Melinda in her native Tagalog that the fee just went up another $50 U.S. to $75 instead of the usual $25. Not being happy about being cheated (its called the Skin Tax here, if you are Caucasion, you sometimes run into people that charge you more. I have only encountered it twice in the three months I have been here, from a pedicycle driver in Iloilo City who overcharged us 40 cents, and a multicab driver here in Guimaras that overcharged us a dollar.) But I was not arguing at this point, this was my big day. A Catholic priest at the City Hall conducted the ceremony along with the local Justice of the Peace; we signed our Marriage Certificate, and we were officially husband and wife.
Had a great reception at a local restaurant with all of our witnesses. That was the happiest day of my life! Second happiest day of my life was when Melinda finally got to join me in the United States 9 ½ months after many hours of filling out her Visa application paperwork and finally getting permission from our Immigration Department. Just because you are married in the Philippines does not grant your foreign spouse automatic entry to America. This process also involved obtaining and submitting official security clearances from each country she worked in: Singapore, Taiwan, and a National Bureau of Investigation security check from the Philippines. Some people get an Immigration lawyer to do this. Save your money. I did it by diligent research on the Internet, networking with other Americans here that had already gone through the process, and just some plain hard work. I am truly a blessed man to have such a wonderful, beautiful, and kindhearted wife as my Sainted Patient Wife, Melinda, and it was worth every single second of time it took to get her here.
If you’ve stuck with me throughout these three blogs, I really appreciate it. Next will be the true account of how Melinda’s sister younger sister Emily at the age of one was a target of a local witch here, and the witch’s evil pursuit to devour baby Emily’s liver! I am not making this up. I will relate this story as told to me by the Sainted Patient Wife. As always, thanks for checking out The Rooster Crows at 4am!
GO HERE FOR PART ONE
GO HERE FOR PART TWO