Saturday, May 26, 2007


From time to time, ode2old will feature nostalgia stories of Pinoys and Pinoy families living abroad -- how they made it there, the struggles they went through to get settled, how they've kept their "pinoyness" while trying to assimilate a borrowed culture, what they miss most about the ole country, and generally their remembrances of home and their dreams of coming back.

Here's the first such story by my ole friend and high school classmate -- the former child prodigy I blogged about months ago -- ta-daah! -- Rolando Lampa.

My sisters left in ‘74: one in August heading for Australia, the other, barely two months later, bound for Canada. They would not see each other for almost 20 years; that was not the way they planned it, but that was how things panned out.

Sisters led the way

My soon-to-be Australian sister left with her husband, their 2-1/2 year old son and their baby daughter who was only four months old when they boarded the plane. They would have gone away, sooner or later, anyway. My sis and her hubby met at the U.S. Embassy on Roxas Blvd where they both worked and in 20 years or so (not sure now about American federal worker retirement policy; its probably changed now) they would have been given their green cards anyway. But they couldn’t wait; all around us in the early seventies, the baby boomers were departing in great numbers for anywhere that paid wages in dollar currency.

My sister’s husband was an electrical engineer and worked in maintenance at the U.S. Embassy. He got a tip that Australia had just formulated a very generous migrant-assisted program for “technos” and tradesmen. You applied, got interviewed, got approved – the Aussies would fly you and your family to a capital city of your choice, house you, feed you, put you in touch with local industry, and if you couldn’t land a suitable job within a year, or if you just felt it wasn’t the country for you, why, the Aussies would fly you back to Manila at their expense. Good deal, wasn’t it ?

So they applied with the Australian Embassy before Christmas ’73, were interviewed in the New Year, and were approved shortly after my sister gave birth to her baby girl in April. They were given six months to front up to Aussieland. Late August, they were living in government housing in Melbourne and by Christmas they both had jobs and had moved to their own flat.

Next sister was dalaga, no boy friend, and five years away from getting married and settling down. She was doing well working in admin in a garment firm in Pasig; but all her barkada, one after another, were drifting away to the West. Within a two-year period in ’73-’74, around six of them, singles and newly-weds, all migrated to the U.S./Canada. So my sis filled up applications with both embassies and swore privately to ruck up to whichever country responded first. Seems so unheard of nowadays, but in the late sixties and early seventies, you could really just front up to those embassies and fill up migrant visa applications. Quotas were not overflowing then; it was a more innocent time.

The Canadian approval came in early ’74; a year later, with my sister Baby well settled in her high rise apartment in Toronto, the Americans sent their own approval. My sister thought about it but her close friends were nearby and she had a good job, so she said – Not. Besides, she could freely move across the U.S. border and did so regularly to visit other friends from the old firm who had set up in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan, just four hours away from Toronto on the road to Niagara Falls. She stayed put.

Migrant waves in 'innocent' times

My sisters were lucky. They were in the first big wave of non-medical migrants. From the mid-60’s onwards, Pinoy doctors and nurses were already entering the States via the Exchange Visitor Program. In the early 70’s and especially after martial law, the migrant mix changed – in came the white-collar professionals, the engineers, accountants, teachers, marketing guys, etc. Much different then, when it was easier to apply for migrant visas. By ’79 when Marcos had lifted the travel ban and it was OK to go and visit the U.S./Canada on tourist visas, times had changed. There were long lines at the embassies. On Roxas Blvd., outside the embassy, you had to have an alalay to stand in line for you or hold your spot in the queue while you went off to buy a sandwich and a drink. There would be the odd cowboy who made it a business to stand in line and offer his place in the queue to latecomers – for a suitable fee, of course.

Those were the early days. There were no airport tubes yet – you went out on the tarmac and boarded the stairs, turned around at the top of the stairs to wave to family and friends, indistinguishable in the crowd at that distance, and then you were swallowed up by the plane and suddenly you were gone from their lives and you were stepping into another planet. That was at the old MIA on Airport Road in Paranaque.

Leavetaking at the airport, Pinoy Style

Departures were a new thing then. Whole families would rent jeeps and mini-buses from the province to give their son or daughter the proper send-off. They brought their own baon: pancit and adobo and rice in kalderos and Tupperware, and also plates and crockery, and they shared lunch in the car park outside MIA. Departure day was like All Saints Day at the cemetery. The children bawled and squabbled and played with the automatic doors and spilt coca cola on the marble floors inside the airport reception area. Outside there was an army of vendors and on-lookers and loiterers. Everywhere there was picture taking. Souvenir shots with Uncle This and Auntie That and cousins and barkada. Pinoy culture. You would think they had said their goodbyes at home before setting off for the airport but they could never have enough goodbyes. Last minute reminders to call up Tio This and Kumadre That when you get to San Francisco. Pinoy courtesies. Makulit – also Pinoy habit.

There was even a kind of dress code, back in the early seventies. Departing women wore pant suits and some even that most inconvenient of all attire for going to the toilet, the one-piece jumpsuit. The men wore coats or bush jackets. They would be stuck in cattle class for 15 to 18 hours, but what the heck, you had to look good for the photos. Nowadays, we all tend to get on the plane wearing the daggiest of T-shirts, loose track pants and a weather-beaten jacket with pockets for passport, eyeglasses and cell phone. That was a long way away then.

The migrant would check in, clinging to that ubiquitous documentation envelop with X-ray test result as tightly as if it were his beating heart. He would shake loose from family and barkada, retaining the vision of a teary-eyed nanay blowing a last air kiss, and go out the doors, onto the tarmac and the stairs that Ninoy Aquino would make famous much later.

There was one last crazy goodbye rite to be done. When the plane doors closed and the engines sprang to life, the crowd would move on up the stairs and on to the airport roof. Their eyes would follow the plane as it taxied up the runway. The crowd would move to one side of the roof and as the plane moved in the other direction, the crowd would follow on to the other side of the roof, all the while waving and trying to catch a glimpse of their son or daughter in the airplane windows. Unbelievable now but that’s how it was done. Then the plane would take off and the crowd would yell and maintain eye contact until the plane was a speck on the horizon, until it was gone from sight. Then they would disperse.

Today we chortle at the memory at the way we said goodbye to family members back then (still done today but there’s less drama) but there is a sweetness in the memory. Sometimes, we relate these things to our new non-Pinoy friends and they are amazed. Our way, we say, of bidding goodbye and wishing well. And that’s the way (aha, aha) I liked it.

So my sisters left for the great unknown and I said goodbye (as above) In good time, I also left for good. But that’s another story.

Rolando Agaton Lampa
Melbourne, Australia
Guest Blogger

Note: Are you a Pinoy living abroad? How is it like? What are its upside and downside? Would you like to write about it? Send your pinoy diaspora pieces for posting on by emailing annamanila at


Gina said...

Wow, may guest blogger na si Anna! Finally, we "meet" Mr. Rolly Lampa!
Enjoy naman ako sa trip down memory lane mo. I was smiling when I read about the Pinoy way of sending off a loved one at the airport. Di ba ang sweet natin? Hanggang ngayon, ganyan pa rin naman most people eh. Nakakatuwa nga. Although ngayon seguro, wala nang magdadala ng baon in a Tupperware or kaldero sa airport :)
Enjoyed this blog!

Annamanila said...

Thank you Gina! Maybe you can guest blog too. Am also asking Leah and other foreign-based blog buddies. :)

I hope to convince Rolly to reply to the comments to his post!

jerry said...

This is great! Delightful to read of the good old days from the baby boomers themselves. You're right, your friend writes a storm.

We look forward to the sequel, Mr. Rolly!

Leah said...

Hi Anna, what a great idea!
And Mr Lampa as the first guest...galing....

like Gina, I enjoyed reading this. Brings back memories. looking forward to more.

snglguy said...

Oh yes, I still remember the old MIA. Anyone can go in and out as they wish then, and there was even a viewing balcony where you could watch the planes take off and land. It beside the departure area if I recall.

myepinoy said...

Ha ha ha. Those were the days.

It is as if you are going to a battlefield; no idea whether you are coming back alive or dead.

And the photographers, i remember, had a great business then along with the fixers.

Nowadays, except for few, a kiss or two or a hug will do and off you go. there are still long good byes, take care and last minute reminders but those are between the fingers and the cell phone.

Toe said...

They still do that here in Cambodia... waving goodbye to the airplane and busloads of family with baon bidding farewell to their loved ones, even if it's only a short trip abroad. :)

On the dress code, I still dress up whenever I travel. Immigration authorities abroad treat people who are dressed up better and with more respect. I think Filipinos should learn to do this again. It would avoid the little hassles in the airports.

diogenes said...

Great idea at many accounts. Please keep it up.

Mylene said...

Tito Rolly!

Mylene here, annamanila's daughter. I am glad you finally wrote here. My mom is so proud of you and her other magagaling na classmates from THS. I can see that she has cause to be proud. Enjoyed your post -- especially the hatiran sa airport rituals. More more!

gibbs cadiz said...

wow! nothing less than a piece of cultural history! this is wonderful, anna. mr. lampa is indeed a swell writer. no wonder you're good friends. :)

Belle TH said...

those were the days, my friend. i enjoyed reading your post. i remember when people took me to the airport, i saved some money for last merienda get-together in the airport restaurant as they expected it.

regarding the dress code, i still maintain the same one: denims, comfortable t-shirts, jacket, and comfortable shoes. I don't want to get overheated when i get out of the Manila airport so wearing t-shirt or simple blouse suits me well.

SexyMom said...

first, about the Lampas--how easy it was at that time for individuals and families to migrate. filipinos were well-respected, there were no illegal recruiters, as most were direct hirees.

if one were to write of the present day filipino migrants--we will see a remarkable difference. we will see the complexities. how difficult and long it is not to get immigrant status in the US, how expensive it is now to apply for a visa in australia, canada, and new zealand. how cheap the salaries are now for the mundane workers in the middle east, the domestic helpers in sinapore and hongkong.

i hope a guest writer will write about this.

but then, it took years before the early migrants to come home for a visit because airfares were so expensive. nowadays, cheap tickets are in abundance.

NOW, to the airport, that drama we all knew as the departure. Rolly Polly brought me to memory lane. i remember how as a child, we would come from the province to send off a relative to go to Guam, or Viet Nam or US or Australia. how amazed was I of the escalator in the old MIA, of the soft twirled ice cream in a cone, of Max Restaurant (for the newly arrived), and so many many more.

now, departing and arriving family members seem to be an ordinary occurrence. could it be because families are now connected through the net, the mobile phones? i wonder, it's like filipinos are so used to members of their families working abroad, such that leaving and going is like regular fare.

again, i wonder how it will be a few years from now.

cheers to Rolly Polly for writing a very good and entertaining piece. it should even land in the papers--for posterity sake!

and Rolly--hope to see more of your master pieces in Anna's site. You are so much welcome to guest write in mine--The D Spot, maybe on parenting?

kate said...

hurray for guest bloggers! :) it was hilarious hehe :) esp yung part re: sendoffs na parang nov1 heheh :) hanggang ngayon ba ganun pa rin? di na ata masyado, though i still see the occasional jeeps full of kamaganaks. :) this reminds me of our Global Pinoy section, astig :) mr lampa, write more! :) splendid idea tita! :)

Heart of Rachel said...

Hi Anna. What a nice idea to welcome guest bloggers in your site. I really enjoyed reading this entry. I read about your earlier post about your friend, Rolando Lampa and it's nice that he has the privelege of being the 1st guest blogger.

I have fond memories of the old MIA. I remember when our whole family, uncles, aunts and cousins went on board a borrowed coaster to send off three of my uncles going to the States. We had a going away party for them but it wasn't enough. Everyone just had to tag along at the airport to wave them goodbye. Magulo na masaya.

BTW, thanks for leaving a comment on my chatbox. I had a terrific time at the mommy lunch meetup. Hope you can join us next time. Take care!

julie said...

Annamanila, yes, goodbyes are different now. Maybe because of the onset on technology, we can't really miss loved ones overseas since we can see them through the webcam, call or send sms to them, chat with them online. I wonder if I choose to work overseas, what kind of goodbye will I get from my family and friends. Hmmm...

Abaniko said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Abaniko said...

Pinoys are family-oriented people. Until now, the entire family would still go to the airport to send a family member off. Even if they have to rent two jeepneys to accommodate everyone, they won't mind.

I just feel sad because if you ask Pinoys what their dreams are, most of them would say, "to be able to live/work abroad" among other things. I was once guilty of this. Hehe. But I'm happy because many Pinoy expats make it good abroad and they're able to help their families and relatives back home.

chateau said...

I enjoyed this post by your high school friend, annamanila.
I especially like the vivid recollection on airport scenes! And double esp the goodbye scene, sniff sniff. There is a photo of my aunt wearing, oh yes, the groovy 70s pantsuit LOL, when she left for the US in '76. I imagine it must have been droves of relatives that sent her off.
Is there a part two, Rolly? Will look forward to it and other expats' stories. :)

sheilamarie said...

hi anna, i had a nice time reading your friend's story. so the whole family is outside the country now?

it's true that we filipinos have a great way of sending off loved ones, don't we? one van full of relatives sometimes accompanying the traveller to the airport =) at least it's a nice memory to keep when you know that it might be a long time before you see your country again.

Annamanila said...

To all those who read and/or posted comments on this Pinoy diaspora story no. 1, thank you, on behalf of my friend, Rolly Lampa.

I can see many were fascinated with how Pinoys said goodbye at the old MIA during those more "innocent times." I can tell you that Rolly described it very well and very accurately though some of you may find it incredible and even funny. He failed to mention the ubiquitous corsage (or sampaguita garland in case of men) that Pinay travellers used to wear. Very useful for immediately spotting which one departed sa group pictures, di ba?

I guess we would have continued much of this Pinoy tradition if airport security hadn't tightened over the years. But as some of you say, there are still vanfuls or jeeploads of friends and relatives trouping to the airport to see someone off. Meron pa nga ba?

Rolly mentioned how relatively easy it was during those days to go abroad and migrate. I'd reckon easily a third of my classmates are expats. Obviously, I am one of those who stayed. And that is another story.

Rolly's story seems open ended -- he hasn't told the tale of his own migration. So, happily, there should be a sequel. :)

Annamanila said...


Maraming salamat, thank you thank you, for writing this splendid story, with all its delicious sidelights of airport scenes and departure rituals.

You might wish to respond directly to your admirers -- haha. I told you, blogging is so absorbing and psychically rewarding, di ba? Sige, blog ka na.

houseband00 said...

It's great to read about what goes on in a person's mind as he or she prepares to face unfamiliar settings. It takes a lot of courage and sacrifice to be able to transplant one's family to new settings.

Thanks for sharing your story, Mr. Lampa. I hope to read more of them.

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