Sunday, May 7, 2017

[AUCKLAND] The Interrogation

There are no direct flights to New Zealand if you are coming from Manila. PAL flies to Auckland, but they have a technical stop in Cairns and the fare is expensive AF. The cheapest way from Southeast Asia is via Kuala Lumpur with Air Asia X, with an hour and fifteen minutes of transit in Gold Coast. A New Zealand visa is free for Philippine passport holders and you can apply, submit your documents, and receive the visa copy online. But you still have to go to the embassy to show your passport, which kinda sucks.

It’s just that getting an Aussie visa is easier because everything is totally online, which is good news for people who are always on the go. Maybe one day, New Zealand will follow suit. I applied for mine back in January and it was easy. After informing the visa officer via email that I had a trip to Singapore and would need my passport back ASAP, she just told me to drop by one morning at the NZ Embassy along Makati Avenue. After half an hour or so, I got my passport back along with a hard copy of the visa letter.

I was supposed to spend around three weeks in New Zealand, combined with a tour of Queensland and Canberra. But Germany happened. My intention of going to New Zealand suddenly changed. I just wanted to be here so I can use the visa before it expires in July. After confirming all my plans for May and June, I finally decided to squeeze this trip in, a short four-day excursion that will exclude the South Island and focus more on Auckland and Hobbiton in Waikato down south. Of course, everyone’s a bit surprised.

New Zealand has REALLY strict laws when it comes to Customs and Quarantine. You might want to think twice before smuggling that piece of banana or your half-eaten sandwich in. They WILL fine you for that. I had no food in my luggage, but that’s the least of my problems. After that strange look the Customs officer gave me, I knew something was off. I guess for some Kiwis, staying less than a week in their country and bringing no more than a backpack and a laptop bag is enough to raise a red flag. But of course.

There you are across the table with your blonde hair in a ponytail and your tough girl act that is obviously just put-on. Here I am with my uniform poker face and stern self-assurance, wanting to be half-bemused but frankly a little bit more annoyed. To be totally honest, this isn’t what I expected to be the icing on top of the cake that was the cumulative 13-hour flight I had to endure to get here. But you’re not the first one to try, and you won’t be the last. You’re not going to break me, my dear. Not here. Not tonight.

It wasn’t a harrowing experience. I sat on a chair in front of a long table, one of many lined up in rows resembling an examination room, except that this one had a police desk in front. Both of my bags were emptied, everything scrutinized down to the last paperclip. The questions are always the same. How do you fund your travels? Why are you staying for such a short time? Why do you have just a backpack with you? Do you know anyone here? How much cash do you have? Yadda. Yadda. Yadda.

I guess the remark I wasn’t ready for was, “You seem so calm.” In fact, I was. I totally was. I also find it quite puzzling. I always pull out the racist card facing such scenarios. I told her I'm used to such treatment, and that I didn’t even want to bring up the racism issue. She said it was fine, and so I told her that if I were white and had an OECD passport I’d never have to figure in such a scene. She reassured me that it wasn’t the case, mentioning something about Australians and westerners overstaying or something.

I believe you. I can see sincerity in your eyes. But I guess you also have to cut me some slack for falling back on the issue of racial profiling. White privilege is real. Between me and a white begpacker eager to join the ranks of hobos lounging along Hobson Street as if it was their living room, I’d bet it’s still going to be me who will get stopped if we both sashayed down that Customs lane at the same time. No matter how I train my brain to believe otherwise, for me, at least subconsciously, it will ALWAYS be the case.

She asked me if I wanted to come back to New Zealand. I knew she would, and the auto-generated response in my head was, “After this hassle? NO THANKS.” To my surprise, I told her that I’d love to come back, and we both agreed that the South Island is worth the long journey. All in all, I spent around an hour on that interrogation desk. It did leave a bitter taste in the mouth, but again, quite surprisingly, I found myself moving on after ten minutes or so. Maybe I’ve just learned to be numb about it by now?

The Skybus takes you all the way to the CBD in around 55 minutes. It costs NZD18 (~PHP630) for a one-way ticket. I haven’t withdrawn cash yet since I arrived here. Auckland is credit card friendly. You can just swipe away all you want without having to visit an ATM machine, which gives the city a lot of bonus points in my book. The city's “zhongshanlv” appears to be Queen Street, where all tourists, locals, and hobos mingle in one plane of existence. You can get a good Airbnb room for around NZD50 (~PHP1,750) a night here.

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