The Visa Collector

A blog about travelling with a Filipino passport, and life overseas

Archives for Canada

Light, shade, and temperature


In February of last year, a good friend stayed at our apartment for a long weekend. On his second day, I took him to a Filipino restaurant in San Mateo for brunch. We arrived early, so the place, called Kuya’s, hadn’t opened yet.

As we waited outside the establishment, I noticed how my guest started to shiver from the late-morning cold. So I found a patch of sunlight, stood there, and asked him to join me. When he stepped into the light, relief from the cold was almost immediate. It was as much a surprise to him, as it was to me the first time I noticed the temperature differences between light and shade in my first winter in Taiwan. I snapped the following photo to commemorate the “aha” moment.

Under the blazing tropical sun, shade is associated with relief. Leaving the shade for relief was a foreign concept. It’s a lesson that you learn quickly, however, even in sub-tropical countries that don’t really have snow — like Taiwan.

I experienced an even sharper contrast between light and shade when I went to Kanata, Canada (a suburb of Ottawa) on a business trip a couple weeks short of Christmas. This is what greeted me on my first morning.

Overnight, a layer of frost had formed on the cars in the hotel parking lot. This wasn’t California-style, turn-on-the-wiper-and-you’re-done frost. You actually had to scrape this stuff off. Surprising as that phenomenon was (it was the first time I’d ever had to drive in that kind of weather), what even more surprising was how the curvature of the windshield was enough to keep the morning sun from melting all of the frost. Hence the powder-white patch on the right side of the car.

For most of my stay at the hotel, I parked where the photo above was taken. However on Thursday night, there was a hockey game at a nearby stadium and game parking spilled over to the hotel parking lot. So I ceded my usual spot and parked behind the hotel building. It seemed like a good idea at the time since there was virtually no competition on that side of the building.  I found out why the following morning.

The parking slots there were completely shielded from the sun. So I had a whole lot of scraping to do. I know my east coast and European friends who are more accustomed to full-blown winters will look at that picture and laugh. But hey . . . we don’t have that issue in the tropics . . . or California for that matter. It was as new to me, as the light-and-shade revelation my friend experienced in February.

The things I enjoy most about travelling are the little discoveries that tell you “you’re no longer at home”. A close second is taking visitors, who are new to my part of world, around to experience the sights, sounds, and tastes of my living space. Through their comments and questions, things that had become routine and mundane become fresh all over again.

Thank you for that visit my friend, and for that re-discovery of the non-tropical relationship between light, shade, and temperature.

Jun 17, 2012

US green card holders and Canadian visas


While processing my visa for a business trip to our Canadian office, I was directed to the following interesting factoid:

Visas and Immigration

Q. I am a US permanent resident and I hold another country’s valid passport. Do I need a visa to go to Canada?

A. As a US permanent resident (green card holder) you will not need a visa to go to Canada as a tourist. Your green card acts in lieu of a visa but only in conjunction with a valid passport from your country of citizenship.

Looks like that trip to Niagara Falls that we were planning next year won’t be as complicated as I originally thought.

It also means that’s one less visa for me to collect (I’m almost tempted to say bummer).

Filed under Canada, US, Visa collection
Oct 19, 2011

Power @ airport


When traveling, I lug around two laptops, a digital camera, and an iPhone. This stuff isn’t checked-in with the rest of my luggage. These are on my person as I wander around airports looking for a seat . . . and a power outlet. As an Economy class traveler, one that still hasn’t earned enough miles in his travels, the lounges are not an option . . . yet.

At most airports, there is a silent race for the sweet spot: the chair-next-to-the-outlet. These are few and far in between. If someone beats you to it . . . happily most airports I’ve been too have had clean floors. Here’s a sampling of both from the Dallas-Fort Worth airport

Some airports like San Francisco Int’l Airport (SFO) offer special booths or kiosks specifically for “wired” patrons.

Terminal 2 (Centennial) at the international airport in Manila (MNL) has powered high-top tables at the pre-departure area.

These facilities, however, are often away from the gates. So if your not careful, you’ll be at a disadvantage when the embarkation lines form, and consequently behind in the race for overhead space on the plane.

“The dream” would be to have power outlets where the seats are. Happily, airports are responding to that need.

The Ottawa airport (YOW) offers a few seats with outlets for both regular power sockets, as well as devices that draw power from USB ports.

At the moment, my favorite seats are in the San Jose airport (SJC). They’re a nice blend of style and function, just what you’d expect from a Bay Area/Silicon Valley airport.

Just a word of caution with these outlets though. Make sure that your actually getting juice out of them by pressing the red button, between the outlets, to reset the circuit breaker. Found that tid bit out the hard way.

Nov 13, 2010

Visas for cruises: Not just for the intended destination


When my wife and I booked a cruise to Alaska, one must-have that surprised us was the Canadian visa. A visa . . . to go to Alaska. Huh?

The cruise line explained that they had this requirement because we would be traveling through Canadian waters. Given that we were just passing through Canada, and the ultimate destination was US territory, that explanation never really made much sense at the time.

That disconnect disappeared last Monday with what happened to the Carnival Splendor on November 8, 2010. The ship was on a 7-day cruise to the Mexican Riviera when a fire broke out in the engine room, thus depriving the ship of power. According to a report on CNN, the boat is was being towed to Ensenada, Mexico where the passengers would be offloaded.

Switching back to our cruise. Had the unthinkable happened, and we had to be evacuated off our ship, imagine the immigration puzzles, for us, the cruise line, and the host country, that would have cropped up if authorities had to think about what to do with a pair of Filipino evacuees that didn’t have Canadian visas.

Am I over thinking this? Perhaps. I’m not familiar with prevailing practices with regard to immigration rules and disasters. So this line of thinking may be out of whack. I also never really clarified the matter with the cruise company further since we simply took them at their word.

But this belated worry isn’t really far fetched. As reported on last April, Filipinos on board Cathay Airways flight CX275 (Hong Kong to London) unexpectedly found themselves in Frankfurt, Germany. Their plane had to make an emergency landing because of the volcanic eruption in Iceland, and like thousands of travelers that month found themselves stranded in an airport. Since they didn’t have visas for Germany, they had to stay at the airport pending the approval of their 3-day visas. Eventually, the visas were issued, but reportedly long after other nationalities on the flight had been allowed to leave the airport.

Acquaintances working at the Department of Foreign Affairs reported that the Inquirer article had a touch of hyperbole and sensationalism to it. Nevertheless, the report does give food for thought when it comes to expectations about treatment. We are, after all, a visa-collecting nation. Just a fact of life — for now at least.

The Frankfurt misadventure happened in an airport that is accustomed to handling emerging visa situations. Had it happened on the shores of a small town, with local law enforcement unaccustomed to dealing with immigration matters . . . as would have happened to us had our ship run into trouble . . . hmmm. While past experience with Canadian hospitality had been positive, this is still an unknown that I’d rather not have to deal with. Apparently, neither did the cruise line, so they played safe and issued that requirement.

The visas added to the cost of the cruise, but in the final analysis it was a prudent measure. Side-benefit: It added my first Canadian visa to my collection.

Filed under Canada, Visa collection
Nov 10, 2010

Street signs


Street signs are so much a part of city life; it’s very easy to take them for granted. At the corner of any street of consequence back home, you’d find a post from which hangs, or sticks out, a sign that indicates the name of the street. In the case of some low cost subdivisions, the subdivision block number would substitute as a street name. Some signs were large and fancy, with reflective coatings. Others were more austere.

But you could always count on these rectangle-shaped signs to be where they needed to be, and to look the way you expect; as surely as the sun’s rise in the morning, and its replacement by the moon at night. After all, why would anyone do it any other way, right?

Ah . . . assumptions . . . assumptions.

My first overseas destination, Taiwan, was a harbinger of things to come. For one thing, naming conventions there were different. Major thoroughfares were called “roads”. My company’s Taipei office, for example, was situated along Tun Hwa North Road, which could be loosely likened to a wider version of Ayala Avenue in the Makati Central Business District. Yet it was still called a “road”. “Streets” were smaller than roads, and relatively less prominent. Small alleys and side-streets were called “Lanes”.

Taiwanese roads were divided into sections and compass directions relative to a point of reference — a concept that has no Philippine equivalent. This was designed to give people a rough idea where on the road they were. Tun Hwa, for example was divided into North and South by its intersection with another road: ZhongXiao. The further away from the intersection you were, you’d transition to different section numbers. Our office, again as an example, was at the southern end of Tun Hwa called Section 2. Other roads ran from East to West. Some had as many as 7 sections which actually stretched outside Taipei City, deep into Taipei County.

Taipei street signs were also squarer than rectangular. They had to be, because they were bilingual. In keeping with efforts to make the Taiwanese capital an international city, English approximations of Chinese street names, and Hindu-Arabic numerals were included in all signs as an accommodation for the city’s foreign residents.

Canadian streets, at least in Ottawa, had an interesting implementation of a bilingual street naming policy. Since the street names were the same for both French and English, and utilized the same letters, it was a simple matter of adding “St.” and the French equivalent “Rue”. The following photo taken near Parliament Hill shows how they do it.

The Irish like to put both old-Irish and English names of their streets on their signs, as with the sign below for St. Patrick St. in Cork, Ireland.

The photo above also captures a common theme amongst European signs. They often use plaques mounted on the sides of buildings. I first noticed them on a trip to Paris. I didn’t immediately recognize them for what they were, because I instinctively associated signs with posts. It also didn’t help that at the time I hadn’t done my homework and figure out that “Rue” was French for street.

Once I wrapped my head around the fact that the street-name-on-a-post was not a “sacred” rule by any stretch of the imagination, Irish and more recently Italian, street plaques were less of a surprise.

Assumptions are funny things. Sometimes, you can’t even distinguish between fact and assumption because it never occurs to you to re-verify what you’ve already accepted as gospel truth. The nice thing about visa-collecting is that you’re often forced into situations that make re-verification necessary.

I wonder which assumption will be challenged next.

Oct 3, 2010

How this site came about


A Filipino, a Chinese mainlander, and an Australian found themselves in an idle moment during a training session at their company’s technical support center in Libis, Quezon City, Philippines. All three had flown in for the training, including the Pinoy who was a US-based expat. As the conversation wound through the arsenal of icebreakers that erstwhile strangers with a common employer typically share, the discussion eventually shifted to their travel experiences.

Enter a discussion about visas. The Filipino, accustomed to his own visa difficulties when traveling overseas, was surprised to hear that his Chinese colleague required a visa to enter the Philippines. Chinese nationals apparently needed a visa to go anywhere — and the Philippines was no exception.

This started a pleasant comparison of visas in their respective passports. The same way that different countries had different currencies, visas apparently came in a fascinating variety of shapes and colors. European visas, for the most part, all look the same: predominantly green. The Indian visa was a tasteful blend of light shades of orange, blue and violet. Mexican visas had a washed out look but used heavy colors. The Canadian visa was in a category all its own, with the Canadian maple leaf cut into the visa itself creating a unique outline, and only part covered by a plastic security strip with holographic mounties ensuring its integrity.

Their Australian colleague, however, was hard pressed to contribute to the discussion. He had no visas on his passport. This wasn’t really because he was not well travelled. His citizenship simply exempted him from the travel requirements that Chinese, Filipinos, and other 3rd World nationals faced. While it offered him the convenience of easy travel . . .

. . . it also prevented him from forming his own visa collection. Apparently, having a third-world country passport has it’s upsides. 🙂

Needing to go through the visa application process to go anywhere is not something to which people aspire. But as the cliche goes, when given lemons . . . might as well make Lemon Marangue Pie.

Jun 6, 2010