the October 1 incident

Seven years after… these fridge magnets are finally home with me.

When I left Manila in 2004, I had a boxful of my precious fridge magnets collection. I could not leave without taking them along because they are souvenirs from my travels while some were gifts from friends.

TS, one of my closest friends, and I left together in what would be different chapters of our lives in Bangkok. And she too had her fridge magnet collection with her.

This was three years after 9/11 and the inspection process at airports has changed drastically. Of course they probably found something suspicious blinking in the scan when our luggage went through X-ray so they asked us to open our bags and voila, the fridge magnets revealed themselves.

“What’s this?” I still remember the security officer asking, looking perplexed at the heavy bag of fridge magnets. He laid out all of them on the counter in amazement as we explained what they were.

“You can’t take these,” he told us. By then, his other colleagues have joined the fray and were inspecting the magnets as if they were bombs or something. “They are just too many and will interfere with the signal of the aircraft.”

I don’t know if that is true for sure and TS and I were too stressed at the thought that we couldn’t take our fridge magnets along to notice if the security guys were trying to con us into turning the magnets over to them.

Those magnets were not just magnets. Those in the photo represent one of the best years of my life. I couldn’t let them go just like that.

It was the same with TS so she called her brother and asked him to drive back to the airport and get them. Another friend then took the box from him and for seven years, the memories and moments that those magnets represented were in her care.

I reunited with them during my unexpected homecoming to Manila, which I shall call the “October 1 Incident” (just like how the Chinese would refer to ugly episodes in their history).

I can finally write about it now because I have survived the “ordeal”.

It started on the evening of September 30 just when I was about to go to bed. I was thinking, tomorrow, I’ll be seven years in this country. And then to my horror, I realised I haven’t renewed my visa. I couldn’t sleep that night feeling scared thinking my visa expires the following day. It was a Saturday, the immigration office was closed. It was then I realised how it feels to be an illegal alien. I went to sleep in tears and paranoia, scared the police would come knocking on my door on Sunday to deport me.

The first thing I did when I woke up was send a message to my HR officer and the office manager regarding my case. Office manager calls me and says HR feels sorry for having forgotten too reasoning that I had held on to my passport and work permit the entire year because I had a lot of travels. But not to worry because HR will request for a 30-day visa extension and when I go to Hong Kong for a business trip at the end of the month, I can re-apply.

Thai immigration law indicates that if and when you miss the annual renewal, you need to leave the country and re-apply for a non-immigrant visa in another country. I need not have gone out if I didn’t miss the annual renewal. It sounds strange, but it’s their law.

But when we got to immigration that Monday, there was bad news. They have changed the law (which is no surprise really, in this country) and can only give me a one-week extension, after which I have to leave the country to re-apply for a non-immigrant M (media) visa. I wanted to appeal, argue, anything to explain the absurdity of the situation. It’s not as if I deliberately forgot the visa renewal. There are a lot of illegal immigrants in this country but they get away with it; I have followed the law for the last six years and this was the only time I forgot. But I couldn’t–the language barrier is really a problem and I had to depend on the HR officer who goes by the book and the only help she could offer me was to ask for a one-week extension. She did not even bother to explore other options as if she was going to pay for my trip back to Manila. Thankyouverymuch.

My fund for the New Delhi trip with my college best friends went down the drain just like that because I had to spend it for the Manila trip instead so I could apply for my visa. I tried to look at the positive side of it–an unexpected vacation and time to catch up with my family and friends. Yet, I could not forgive myself–and HR for being negligent in its duty too. How could I have forgotten such a very important matter? It’s my legal status in this country I have adopted as my own the last seven years for chrissakes.

And so it was a painful and expensive lesson for me.

What’s even more absurd is, the day before I was leaving for Manila, the media division of the foreign affairs ministry told me that my visa was ready for pick-up at the Thai embassy in Manila. For practical purposes, can’t they just grant it to me in Bangkok? I was ready to pay the fine so couldn’t they consider the seven years I have spent here?

Seven years… it feels like a lifetime already. But the moment the plane hovered above Bangkok and I saw the blinking lights of the metropolis, I felt a warm, comforting feeling take over me and sweeping away all the stress that I have been through the last two weeks.

When the plane touched down, I told myself: I’m home. And so are half of my old fridge magnets collection.

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