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Visa And Passport Violation

What I used to do when on a tight budget and had a lot more time than money was something someone very creative and thrifty a "cheap Charlie, foreigner taught me, perfectly legal it seemed and may be.

If I did not want to go back the next day or two or maybe four in those days, nor did I want to pay the express lane fee, I would just leave my passport and all papers with Immigration and come back in two months and pick it up. Of course it was ready by then. After I picked it up, I went through the renewal process again. Then I left it with them again for two more months.

There is one problem with this. According to Philippine Law, a foreigner must carry their passport on their person at all times. A receipt from the Bureau of Immigration is not enough to satisfy that requirement. But no one I know carries their passport with them all the time. I carry a *copy* of my passport, the first two pages, laminated and in my wallet. But even that does not meet the requirement of that law, as I read it, a law rarely enforced as far as I know. I know this was the law at that time. I was shown the Law.

Why? Because I was involved in a mass sweep in Manila when all foreigners in Ermita on the streets and in the bars in the area of P. Del Pilar, one night during Mayor Lim's "clean up of the city campaign." And many Filipinos too, were picked up and detained, suspected prostitutes their "managers," and even children, gay men, pregnant women, business men on their way home from what ever.

I had violated no law except not having the passport on my person. But I was taken with the rest of the foreigners and Filipinos who were picked up in that area to the NBI's gym and held overnight. We were taken in large busses with NBI personnel aboard, handguns drawn as though they were ready to shoot to kill if one of us jumped out the window, all broken and jammed, impossible to open so not even an option. They did not look like a friendly bunch, no "Filipino smile."

All foreigners with passports on their person were let go immediately after their arrival at the gym when they were asked to produce them. Others who did not and I were detained overnight. Some of them and I had put my passport in Immigration for renewal that day and had the receipt for it. I showed the receipt to them. They showed me the Law. After we were in custody they started smiling again, became regular Filipinos, proud of the job they had done. They did do a good job, hurt no one.

The next morning, after a reasonably nice breakfast provided by the NBI, The others and I were taken to Immigration, picked up our passports with the visa stamp already in them, and released. None of us were booked or charged of anything, as far as I know. I know I was not.

Like the fool I was, I went back directly back to Ermita to Raymond's Fast Foods where they got me. And had a beer or four with the others picked up from there and discussed the exciting night. We knew this was all for show but a serious warning, probably not to be repeated.

Of course, Raymond's and all the bars, including the girly bars, bikini bars, were still open at 9am. The NBI didn't close the bars, just pick up customers in them and in the area on the streets. In those days, bars in Ermita were open 24 hours a day. They called them "day and night clubs." All but Raymond's had doors, usually closed with hawker outside.

Raymond's Fast Foods, was wide open front not even a wall: No front a 12 foot entrance way to the thin unpainted plywood unpadded unstable round board mounted on two inch pipes, around the bar. Why have fronts if you never close? My favorite stool was on the sidewalk not exactly inside the bar but I guess more in and out. But from where I sat I could reach out and touch the Jeepneys as they went by and smell the smoke especially when there was too much traffic to move, most of the time. There were no dancers or GRO's in Raymond's. It was just a joint where a lot of foreigners gathered to drink, eat and complain about what a terrible country this is, how horrible the people are and how much better is was in their country. They even complained about the high prices in Raymond's. But they never mention why they wanted to stay here the rest of their lives. There were some strange ducks in that place and I guess I was one of them. But I loved the Country. I just kept my mouth shut. And I kept trying to figure out what their problem was. I never did.

If you are a "cheap Charlie," like I felt I had to be in those days, you went to Raymond's, beer 6 pesos, a half liter bottle of Rhum P12 Cokes for P5. Something that resembled a hamburger was P8 or so. There was other Filipino food even cheaper, fried lumpia, and other delights. Cheap Charlie's got their visa once every two months and went to Raymond's for refreshment, entertainment and conversation, such as it was. There were no drugs at Raymond's as far as I know. There was not a shabu/speed problem here at that time. It existed, I know, but was not common like today. Today I am sure Raymond's would be a shabu haven. But about Raymond's you could never be sure about anything except you better keep you wallet in your front pocket and not leave any change on the bar.

Today I understand "cheap Charlies" go to sari sari stores, some open all night. I have been known to do that too. You can meet some nice people there and some not as nice, just as at Raymond's. You can find similar comfortable seating. But unlike Raymond's I have never seen a sari sari store or any bar with a one juke box on one side of it and one on the other side, facing one another, only 12 feet apart playing different songs at the same time like some surreal competition for no prize. The disco "music," was a real experience, a strange kind of stereo, incomprehensible sounds pounding your ears. They were both turned to the most popular volume level here, the maximum. At the time we all said, "If this place goes, there will never be another Raymond's." I think we were right.

At the time I thought it was a great life, or at least a very different one from any I have ever known. And I have few regrets. I did some things I would not do today and some I am ashamed of. But I had too much Rhum to be sure I did them. But I had to learn the hard way, like a lot of confused newcomers. But my liver is still intact and my life is moderated to a much more mature level. And I see the world through different eyes, older and I hope maybe just little bitwiser. If so maybe I owe some of it to Raymond's and learning about how some foreigners live and love it here in the Philippines, while they hate it. I decided not to follow that path to destruction. There are many better ways to live and be much happier.

There are a million or more stories to tell about Raymond's Fast Foods. If you are lucky I will not bother with you again under the guise of giving you visa information. But I do love to write about, Raymond's an aberration, as unlike to appear again as the Tyrannosaurus rex.

Don Herrington, 02-01-05

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