Meeting the Immigration Officer for the First Time

I’m scared of planes–of flying. But it wasn’t that that scared me off my wits some weeks ago when we flew to Singapore. It was meeting the immigration officer.

We arrived at the airport extremely early, more than 2 hours our scheduled flight. That’s how I wanted things, really, since I didn’t take advantage of early check-in, it’s our first time to be in an international airport, and we didn’t have a faintest idea about the whole departure process.

Anyway, after we checked in and obtained our ticket and paid the other fees, we proceeded to the immigration area, only to find the section closed, and we had to wait for around 30 minutes. That was enough to psyche myself up. I wanted to get past this process as soon as possible, so I had to answer correctly. I rehearsed the possible questions over and over:

“Where are you going?”
“How much are you bringing?”
“What are you going to do?”
“Are you meeting up someone?”
“Where’s your invitation letter?”

The last two actually made me apprehensive. The main reason why I was flying to Singapore was to meet my brother, and yet I didn’t have any invitation letter at all. I could just say we’re taking a good weekend break (which is also true), but sometimes when I get really nervous, I tend to tell the truth. So I repeated the last question over and over and rehearsed my answers in my mind.

Close to 11. The door to the immigration area officially opened, and we’re the second in line. The first one didn’t have any problem at all, so I thought we also had this in the bag. Wrong. The moment I laid my eyes on the immigration officer, I knew things would be quite difficult. We greeted him enthusiastically, hoping it would ease the tension a bit, but he didn’t say anything. He didn’t wince, break into a wee smile–nothing.

He took all our papers, and while taking notes blurted out the first question: “Are you meeting some friends and relatives there?” The husband wanted to say something, but I cut him off and blurted yes. Face palm.

He looked at me. “So where’s your invitation letter?”

“We don’t have an invitation letter.” My knees were already shaking.

“You’re meeting someone there, and you don’t have an invitation letter?”

“Well, my brother lives in a home that doesn’t accept any visitors. Besides, he’s still in school. He can’t support us there.” Honestly, until now, I am not sure if my answer made any sense.

Silence. More writing from him. More sweat breaking out from my pores.

“OK, fill this out and come back to me.” Everything was a blur by then. All I remembered was filling out the immigration form with the reason why we’re leaving, when we are coming back, where we are staying, the address of our accommodation, how much money we have, and how much we spent (or about to spend) for the travel.

After 10 minutes, we went back to the immigration officer, who then turned us over to another immigration officer. More questions. This time, I was fairly quiet. I couldn’t describe what I was feeling at the moment. I wasn’t resolved to the idea we might never get to fly, but I wasn’t as enthusiastic as few moments ago. It didn’t help that the immigration officer we’re talking now just denied a passenger from leaving. The only consolation was that he was gracious enough to offer me a seat, so I could control my trembling and my nearly falling tears.

Ten more minutes. After writing some more and having all our documents photocopied or scanned, he shouted, “Allow!” You can just imagine how relieved I was.

Right then I felt I wore the biggest smile in my life.

Singapore in Less Than 72 Hours

A couple of weeks ago, Bernard and I stayed in Singapore for 3 days, 2 nights. Extremely short, yes, and I’m raring to go back again soon because I simply can’t get enough of it. In the meantime, let me recall the 6 lessons I learned from the experience:

1. You’ll never get lost in Singapore.

My father used to tell me that Singapore is just like Mactan Island: it’s small. I really don’t know since we spent most of our time walking. If there’s one thing I’m sure of, though, it’s the fact you’ll never get lost in the country as long as you know how to read the map. There are maps everywhere, especially in their bus stops and train stations.

If you’re trying to board the train, stay within the red line. The center (marked green) is meant for disembarking passengers. And see the closed doors? It opens only when the train has come to a full stop.

The country’s transportation is simply tops. Until now I couldn’t wrap my head over the idea behind the system. How did these guys do it? Like, seriously? Because their buses and trains are already effective, you can avoid riding their taxis, which are extremely expensive.

2. Singapore is food.

If you’ve been reading about Singapore, then you know that it has a lot of hawker centers. It’s like our malls’ food courts. The only difference is that there are hundreds of them gathered in one humungous floor. Let’s not forget too they also have food stalls in a lot of their streets. Simply put, you’ll never go hungry if you’re in SG. For a dollar or two, you can already get yourself a bowl of piping-hot noodles. Their Hainanese Chicken Rice, which Bernard can’t simply forget, is only $4. The ice cream sandwich costs $1.

Hainanese Chicken Rice: A certified must-try

The husband’s favorite: ice cream sandwich for only a dollar

French toast with kaya spread for me, kopi for him.

3. Their airport is an attraction. 

The train that takes you to any Changi Airport terminal.

The entire trip is fun, but I experienced my greatest enjoyment when I was at the airport. Being there definitely confirms what others have been telling me: it’s the best airport in the world. Heck, I could spend my entire day in there, and I’ll never run out of things to do. There are murals, exhibits, gardens, galleries, restaurants, even a hawker center, free Internet, free massage, free movie, free Xbox, a prayer room, shopping centers, a train that brings you to other terminals at zero cost, cafes, chocolates, free calls, post offices, free spa, swimming pool–the list goes on and on. We even found a couple who did their grocery there!

4. You don’t have to pay a lot to see Singapore.

My brother frowned upon my decision not to go to Sentosa, as that would mean spending a lot of money for entrance fees. But he should understand that we were traveling on a budget, meager at that.  No regrets whatsoever because I loved my experience in every free place I’ve been to.

One of the best free tours is a walk around Chinatown.

5. It’s a fine city indeed.

One of the many signs you’ll see in the city.

Singapore is a fine city, and they’re actually proud of it. It truly keeps their people on their toes at all times. But how much are they going to charge you just in case you “forget the rules”? A lot! Perhaps you would even beg to be sent to jail for a few days rather than be ordered to pay the fine. Case in point: touching their emergency button means a fine of $5,000 or more than 160,000 pesos! They’d even fine you if you eat and drink (even if it’s water) while inside the train. That basically explains why you can hardly see stores hawking food in any of their terminals.

6. Always keep left.

I am very much used to Cebu’s somewhat laid-back lifestyle that I completely forgot what a lot of my friends had told me: people in SG are always busy and on the run. So if you ever find yourself in the country and you believe you’re not pressed for time, then be gracious enough to always stay on the left.