How Brunei happened

One day on July 2013, I went home from work (or training? can’t really remember) feeling sad and blue which wasn’t unusual. I was feeling a little under the weather during those months because I wasn’t happy with what I was doing and all those shit. To lighten up my mood, I had the grand idea of purchasing a plane ticket and discovering another country alone if only to get away from this life for a couple of days. Sounds crappy but it’s true. The Universe was on my side because Cebu Pacific at that moment has one of their seasonal seat sales and I booked the cheapest two-way ticket I could find out of the country without even thinking if I was available on the dates stated, let alone if I had enough money because I just spent my last dime on airfare. The country, it turned out, was Brunei (I was rooting for Thailand but tickets costed 2,500 pesos and up). Heck, I didn’t know what I’ll do in Brunei or where in South East Asia the country is situated.

As seat sales go, the cheaper the fare, the farther the actual date of the trip. I bought my ticket in July and I’m not leaving till March of 2014. 8 months! You’d think that with the ridiculous amount of time, I could have saved money or planned everything up to the tiniest detail to make my first overseas trip alone as smooth as possible. But life happened and major changes occurred (I never would have thought that I’d be going back to school) so I wasn’t able to prepare for it.

brunei (7)A week or so before my scheduled flight, I was jolted awake. Either I pray for a miracle and push through with the trip or let my 1,700 pesos go to waste. The latter seemed like the worse scenario for me so I hoped for a miracle. There are four major hindrances but upon reconsideration, I removed the “my parents won’t let me go” because I’m a hard-headed person and my parents wouldn’t be able to do anything about it since I’m already of legal age. So we’re down to three.

First is the schedule. I would have to be absent for two whole days and it was the week before finals. It’s not that I will fail if I incur any more absences but I have a grade to meet and it’s just my personality to hate being absent. Yes, I am almost always late but I am never absent. For this, I needed to pull consecutive “all-nighters” to finish all requirements ahead of time and then approach my professors one by one and tell them the reason why I’d be absent (I could have just made something up, thought of symptoms and go through lengths to orchestrate the perfect lie just like what I usually do in the past but I didn’t want to do that anymore. Naks!) and they all approved!

Second is the biggest problem so far: Money. I have a confession. I don’t know how to save. Just like what I wrote in the past, I tend to spend on experiences I want to have which leaves me just barely enough to go through life while waiting for my next allowance. I have maybe 3 thousand pesos with me but that wouldn’t even get me past the airport (who hates the 1,600 Philippine Travel Tax raise your fists!). I was to leave on Saturday night. On Tuesday, I called my parents to inform them of my trip (because I kept it a secret from everyone). My mother even thought I was joking until I sent her my ticket. Then she discouraged me from going but I told her I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if I let 1,700 pesos go to waste. That shut her up. hehe. I swear I didn’t call them to ask for money but a mother’s instinct prompted her to ask the question. Do you have money? Nope. What will you do? I’ll come up with something.

You know how this part ends right? My parents, out of pity and unconditional love, gave me money. Not a huge amount but enough for me to survive in another country whose one dollar is equal to 36 pesos! In addition, my mother shared the story to Tita Maro and my courage amazed her she also gave me moolah, in USD.

But the blessings ain’t over yet. As the date of my trip came nearer, my fears grew bigger (It’s fine when you’re with a travel agency who arranged everything for you. It’s a different story when you’re actually on your own, in a country where you don’t know anyone) “What if I am kidnapped and sold as a slave” occupying a large potion of my fears. So I sent a message to my Victory Group leader, Ate Meg, asking her to pray for me. Not 5 minutes have passed when she called me. I could feel the worry in her voice which made me afraid even more. She said she’ll meet me at the airport for a send-off. Before we parted ways, she gave me 5 thousand pesos saying it would ease her mind if she knows I have a little extra and I wouldn’t starve to death in a foreign country. God, that touched me so much I got teary-eyed. Yes, there are still people out there who wouldn’t mind going the extra-mile to help someone they’ve known only for a couple of months, not to mention seen less than 10 times. Thank you Ate Meg and Ate Abby! Thank you for your prayers.

1

Last problem for me was the scariest and the shallowest: Place to stay. Shallow because I could’ve just booked a hostel online but I didn’t because I found the prices too steep (such a cheapskate) and the ones within my budget only accept walk-ins. Scary because I am to arrive in Brunei at 2 in the morning and I just realized that it’s a Muslim country. Not that I’m judging Muslim countries. It’s just that they’re stricter and less tourist-friendly especially to females travelling alone.

This is where being Filipino comes in. I mustered all my courage and kapal ng mukha and approached a Pinoy in immigration. Her name is Ate Elma and she is an OFW. I asked her outright if I could stay with her for a couple of days and she said no because she lives with her amo. I asked if she knows anyone who can rent me a room or a bed or a couch for a fee but she said all her friends who have their own places have families of their own and there’s no space for me. At this, my world fell apart. Even though I was already past immigration, I still thought of going home, sleeping in the comforts of my bed and dismissing everything as a bad decision. But I thought of all the people who have helped me and it felt like I will be doing them a disservice if I quit so I took deep breaths and prayed.

On our way to the boarding gate, we passed by a brown-haired lady and Ate Elma suddenly leaped in joy. At that time, I didn’t know that this girl would save me. Her name is Tin. The two knew each other only from being seatmates on their flight to Manila. When their greetings were done, Ate Elma looked at me and remembered I was homeless so she turned to Tin and asked if she knows a place where I can crash for a couple of days. Without hesitation, without second thought, she offered her Aunt’s house to me, literally a stranger. I know we’re both Pinoy and all but still, she amazed me.

20140315_232411On our flight to Brunei we weren’t seatmates so I wasn’t able to confirm if I heard her right. Maybe she’s just joking. She was on the second row and I, somewhere in the middle. She’ll leave the plane first and maybe I wouldn’t see her again. But when we arrived at Bandar Seri Begawan, she was there, waiting for me with a smile on her face.

She spotted her aunt and motioned me to follow her. Tita, this is Rani. We’ve been friends for a long time in Manila and she’s here for vacation, she’s staying with us. She gave me a don’t-screw-up look and I played along. Her aunt wasn’t pleased at first but by the second day, I was calling her Tita.

20140317_164556Grabe Lord, thank God for bringing these people in my life.

pageUp to now I still can’t imagine how my trip pushed through. Some people might look at it as a stroke of luck but I can only think of it as God’s will. One incident affecting the outcome of another. If my parents didn’t give me money, I wouldn’t be at the airport. If Ate Meg hadn’t come to pray for me, I wouldn’t be behind Ate Elma in the line for immigration. I wouldn’t have met Tin and Tita Lou. And the list goes on.

This will always be one of the stories I’ll never get tired of telling. :]

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