Saturday, June 06, 2009

Four's Majeure

It was only 6 in the morning. The sun has just risen, and most of the city was still asleep. But in one corner of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, it was already noisy and bustling with activity. That's what happens when you put 50 performers together-- you get an overwhelming dose of noise and nonstop chatter, especially when they get all excited. On top of that, add the family members, lovers, and friends that each one of them brought (or each one of them was forced to bring), so as to make that sweet, cinematic goodbye scene happen.

Past Step 1, which was the Overseas Employment Certificate validation at the OWWA office, and Step 2, which was going through tight security to get into the airport lobby for check in, the crowd thinned. Well-wishers weren't allowed in that section anymore. All that was left, were the passengers bound for Hong Kong. The extra crowd was already gone, but the noise wan't. It did, however, evidently turn from excitement to panic. Most of them went over the limited baggage allowance, and very few were prepared to pay the penalty. They were going to be gone for 18 months, at least. It was just right to bring everything that could help them bear with homesickness.

Few more minutes later, the whole group was already at the sitting area by the boarding gate, which looked out to the tarmac. The chatter has died now. The ridiculously early call time must have hit most of them. Excitement, no matter how big, can only conquer body clock for so long. For those whose body clock wasn't a problem, there was a different hit.

A plane with a huge Cathay Pacific insignia emblazoned on the side, wheeled towards their designated gate. "Finally!", exclaimed Noel Rayos. All conversations stopped, napping eyes opened, and everyone's head truned to the same direction. It was CX 912, the flight that would hold what was then, the most sensational export the Philippines dealt. Tex Ordonez then said, "Ito na ba iyun? Ito na ba talaga yun? (Is this it? Is this really it?)". She shed a tear. She was going to leave her newborn baby to work, and to be part of something new.

About two hours later, they were at the HK Immigration desks. Some of them, the first ones to get their passports stamped, had to go back and redo the whole process. The immigration officials overlooked their working visas, so instead of a year-long permit, they were given just two weeks to stay as visitors. Gladly, it was HK Immigration that they were dealing with. The procedure was swift and stress-free. Imagine if it happened in Manila.

Shortly after, they were greeted by two chinese ladies, Winnie and May. One was cheerful, plump and quite talkative, while the other was skinny, coy and soft-spoken. They both had their Disney nametags on and were very welcoming. They asked the group to form two files, arranged alphabetically according to surname: one for the males, and one for the females. They were then brought to the private bus that delivered them to Gold Coast Hotel.

It was only lunchtime. Their rooms weren't ready yet, so they all left the hotel lobby to grab their first HK lunch. Some headed straight to McDonald's. It was the safest option. A few immediately went to try the restos that dotted the Gold Coast beach. Others, those who decided to play safe with their budget, opted for Circle K and had the cheapest microwaveable lunch they could find.

It was June 5, 2005. It was the first day of their 18-month gig with Disney in Hong Kong. They were batch 2 of 3 batches of Filipinos in the Opening Cast. Some were excited, some were stupefied. Some were already thinking of shopping, while some were already calculating how much money they'd be able to bring home after 18 months. Some were already homesick, some eager to start a new life. Some would, later on, discover new avenues that Hong Kong would open for them. Some would go home. Some would stay. One of them would find himself getting close to the point of no return. That is today. The major fourth anniversary. The stage at which he will decide whether he will stay until he gets permanent residence, or go back home while it's not too late.

Just last night, he called his boyfriend to say that it felt a bit weird that none of his batchmates organized a get-together to celebrate the anniversary. His boyfriend said that somewhere down the line, people will stop celebrating it anyway. It just happened earlier than he had anticipated. Today, he got a message from his friend, Jojo Mamangun. They shared the same sentiment. He then decided that he will never stop celebrating his HK anniversaries. Because more than the memories of that Sunday morning, more than the disdainly meager first lunch in HK, more than his Disney stint that had already ended to make way for more adventures, more than the financial plans that he has yet to fulfill, June 5 marks something bigger. It is the beginning of something that changed his life in more ways than most people can imagine. It wasn't just a move to Hong Kong. It was a move to a new life.

So, to everyone who was also part of the opening team--- to you who are still here in HK, and to you who are elsewhere; to you who still hold dear the experience we had together and to you who choose to forget it; to you whose opinions about HK have changed, whether for the better or for the worse; to you who have other plans; to you who are now living your other plans; to you who will continue to celebrate your HK anniversaries like me; to you who have already stopped; to everyone who holds a Opening Cast shirt or jacket or Mickey hat, allow me to say, "Happy 4th anniversary!"