Thursday, March 23, 2017

From Longaniza to Hot Dog. Part I. Brooklyn and Sao Paolo

A movie can evoke memories and warm feelings related to them.  That was what happened last year when I watched the exquisitely directed film, Brooklyn, one of the movies nominated for best picture during the 2016 Oscar award ceremony.  It was based on a book by the same title about a young girl from Ireland who came to the United States to work.  It brought back memories of my own journey from the Philippines to this land of opportunities where I fulfilled several of my dreams.  While viewing the movie, the same feelings of excitement, fear and joy that the young girl in the film experienced came back. I particularly felt these emotions when she entered the US for the first time. The actress' face at that scene made me recall how it was for me.

I felt young again and experienced this nostalgic warmth in my heart that lasted for many weeks after viewing this movie. As I now recall the events leading to my immigration here in the United States for my memoir writing group assignment, I am amazed about how much I could recall of the details of the events leading to my coming here.

I was born in the Philippines where in my twenties I found a job in a research center analyzing the pesticide, DDT, in human fat. I was lucky after working for two years in this place, a course in pesticide residue analysis using radioisotope techniques was offered which would be held in Sao Paolo, Brazil.  My boss thought it would be a wonderful opportunity for me to know more about this topic related to my work through this six week training course and before I knew it I was preparing for my trip half way around the world.

I remember a wonderful girl who was living together with my best friend and other housemates at an apartment a few minutes away from the research center I worked at. I hanged out there after work and even would stay overnight. This girl became my unofficial trip adivser. She thought it would be good to utilize the opportunity to travel after the course was done. She included a visit to her family in Venezuela where her father was working for Proctor and Gamble. Since the fare back amounted to the distance of half way around the world, we planned trips to the United States before Sao Paolo and the US again and Europe after. Being a seasoned traveler, my tour guide also suggested what to wear and my budget for my European tour.

As the norm in the Philippines, I was given a despedida or farewell party by my parents which was attended by my office mates, friends and family.  Before I left, I asked friends if they wanted me to bring gifts to their loved ones in the United States. This is a gesture customarily done by Filipinos.

Since I was going to stop first in San Francisco en route to Sao Paolo, I asked the family I was staying with for the few days I would be there, what they wanted as pasalubong or gift.  They requested a mortar and pestle made of stone. They could not find something of the same material in the United States. They were heavy but I gladly brought them.

I also brought an engagement ring for my friend who was studying in Tallahassee, Florida for her graduate degree in nuclear chemistry. Her fiance requested me to give it to her. It turned out they were secretly married in the Philippines before she left and this ring was the belated engagement ring.

The other item that I had in my luggage was a gift from another office mate to give to her then boyfriend who was also attending a course in the United States.  I was not sure whether I actually saw it before I brought it. I think I did but did not think too much about it.

I do not remember much about the goodbyes at the airport when I left probably because I was excited and frightened at the same time. It was my first trip abroad after all and by myself. It was not my first plane ride though but this was a marathon flight lasting more than twenty hours.  What I remember was how we ate several meals on the plane every time we passed a certain time zone. Though my tummy was still in another time zone, we ate breakfast including eggs and longaniza, a Filipino sausage. Since I flew PAL, the Filipino flag carrier, mostly Filipino food was served during the flight.

My port of entry to the US was Hawaii and I unluckily got a strict custom inspector who gave me a hard time about the ring which was in a box.  I said it was a gift to a friend from her fiance but he still charged me a sixty dollar custom fee for it anyway. As for the other gift, this custom inspector had a sarcastic chuckle when he opened the box. It had a wooden carving of a guy wearing a barrel which when lifted showed his precious elongated possession. He said to another inspector, "Look at the idea of Filipino humor". All along I was terrorized by this custom inspector and still could picture his chubby features and pot belly stomach and I could still hear his grating laugh and the sarcasm in his voice.

I had a stopover at  San Francisco before Brazil where I stayed with our family friend from our hometown for a couple of days. My host picked me up from the airport and I had dinner with his family who was staying with him including his daughter, my classmate from high school and his son who was my late brother's best friend. I then presented the mortar and pestle they requested. We went sight seeing the next day including Ghirardelli square and had our picture taken on a famous photo spot on top of a hill. I was drowsy the whole time during the tour because of the twelve hour time difference but I was grateful for their generous hospitality.

I also visited a relative of theirs, another high school classmate, in Los Angeles. She had married a Chinese guy and they just had a baby.  The husband helped me buy my Canon camera and taught me how to use it. They gave me a tour of Los Angeles including the Graumans Chinese Theatre. After two days of the wonderful visit, I bid good bye to this wonderful hospitable couple at the airport on my way to Sao Paolo where a new chapter in my life was going to start.

I would say this trip to memory land is turning to be as good as watching the movie, Brooklyn,  for me. It is also turning to be a catalyst for me to recall this particular time in my life when the world so to speak was my oyster. I am actually enjoying the ride and hope to share more stories about it.

Note: This is Part I of a series of blogs of my immigration to the US. The title reflects my foodie obsession. Longaniza is a Filipino version of the iconic American food, hot dog. It is sweet and a tad spicy. It is eaten usually at breakfast with rice and not so much on a bun. The title reflects the fact that just like in most things in life there are similarities and within them differences just like the culture I was born with and the one I embraced when I came here.

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