Of Lemons and Lemonade

Sometime end of September, my friend, Lily C. Fen, got in touch with an offer to write for Roots & Wings, the Filipino quarterly magazine in Europe that was founded in Stockholm, Sweden in August 2009. The prospect of writing while on sick leave is daunting, not only because I haven’t written in a while, but also I was to stay away from anything that’s to elicit stress. It took about three weeks to decide, consulting back and forth with my doctor and a few close friends. In the end, I agreed. One cannot possibly go through life without stress, and I thought that this writing opportunity can jumpstart the writing project I’ve been meaning to put in words.

In this issue, I visited Papa Oro’s Ricebowls and More in Baden and the Fernweh Festival in Bern to support Filipino businesses in Europe and appease my homesickness at the same time.

Read the entire R&W November issue here.

Bending Without Breaking: Book Launch

The small conference room adjacent to the Refomierte Kirche Bern looked like a typical Pinoy household frantically getting ready for a fiesta. I had never seen a much bigger huddle of Filipinos since arriving in Switzerland in 2015. The community was there to help us launch “Bending Without Breaking,” the brainchild of some of the founding members of Samahang Pilipina. So, in a way, it was fiesta.

Like all chance meetings, my introduction with these ladies was as mythical as when Paul McCartney met John Lennon. I met Lily Fen through an Italian girl I sat beside during a writing workshop in Zürich, and Lily introduced me to Anny Hefti, who was already mulling over collecting stories from Filipinas who migrated to Switzerland long before I was born. Soon after, I was introduced to the other 10 ladies who would complete the group.

After two years of workshops, writing sessions, and editing, our stories of leaving, arriving, living, and staying in Switzerland were ready to be read.

In the middle of fighting an invisible war, I am thankful for the patience of my co-editors, Lily and Lenny Bugayong, and the trust of Anny, Susan, Alice, Evangeline, Esther, Helen, Catalina, Melody, Evelyn, Lina, and Weni, all of whom held out their hands and allowed us, editors, to guide them in shaping their migration stories.

If there is anything that this book has made me realize, it is this: through these women’s lives, I see, that however hard it is rebuilding my life here in Switzerland, it will, at some point, become home.

From left to right. Standing: Weni Gamboa, Lily Fen, Alice Carada, Me, Melody Hunter, Susan Nagel, Helen Gaganao. Sitting: Anny Hefti, Lina Emmert, Evelyn Steiner, Lenny Bugayong. Not on the photo: Evangeline Bugayong, Esther Windler, Catalina Weber.

Visit the book’s website at www.bendingwithoutbreaking.com to find out more.

Smell of Sunday

Tucked in the corners of Quezon City once housed my grandmother’s small restaurant that started out in the 60s and ran, on and off, until the early 2000s. The main drag: Enia’s Pancit Malabon, my lola Enia’s take on one of the Philippines’s versions of a noodle dish that hails from the city of Malabon. The restaurant was carved from our garage where my family awkwardly fitted three alternating tables with four chairs each, easing the flow of incoming and outgoing customers. While the small place got filled with dining patrons, the bulk of the business was the delivery of made-to-order Pancit Malabon to residents and businesses around the city.

The restaurant kitchen was our family’s kitchen, and I grew up in it. I remember the house stirring at 5am, even on a Sunday. While the noodles were bathed in warm water, the house-help pounded and ground crabs, the base of the pancit’s sauce; my grandmother cut squid and pork tongue that were boiled and softened the night before; my grandfather trimmed and pasted brown paper that would hold the bilaos (woven serving platter); my mother shelled and deveined shrimps; my father scrubbed and polished the jeep, ready for the day’s delivery; my aunt halved kalamansi (lime); and my sister, my brother, and I eagerly helped by peeling boiled eggs and pounding chicharon (fried pork rind).

As soon as the ingredients for the Pancit Malabon were ready, we enjoyed an early breakfast of rice, scrambled eggs, and tuyo (dried fish), side served with tomatoes and patis (fish sauce). After washing the dishes, my grandmother would begin preparing the ingredients for lunch, marinating meat in soy sauce and kalamansi, and slicing potatoes, carrots, and bell peppers for a hearty Menudo dish. She slow-cooked this until it was time to eat again. After lunch, we would start preparing for merienda (afternoon snack). We rolled saba (sweet plantains), strips of langka (jackfruit), and brown sugar in egg wrappers and deep-fried them until golden. After merienda, we would commence boiling monggo (mung beans), which would be sautéed in garlic, onions, and tomatoes in time for dinner. Rice was a staple in all meals, except merienda. And in between these meals, orders of Pancit Malabons kept the stove from getting cold. Each dish was a labor of familial love.

There was a constant smell of food that wafted out of the kitchen, seeping into every nook and cranny of the house, so much so that one can taste the air: the sweet smell of cooked rice spiked with pandan leaves, the aroma of stew accentuated with lime, burnt sugar, cooked crab sauce, ground chicharon.

The years passed, and so did my grandfather, grandmother, and father. My mother also started working abroad, and my family decided to close down the restaurant for good. Not too long ago, it was my turn to leave our family home. And while my aunt, my brother, my sister, and my niece are the only ones left in that small corner of Quezon City, I know that their Sundays smell the same; and it’s the aroma I miss the most.

the art of moving

How can one fit 32 years of her life in one luggage?

My carry on had personal documents that validate my identity, toiletries and extra clothes – just in case the airline sends my luggage to Zimbabwe instead of Zurich (I surely needed to gargle my mouth and dab cologne on before I met by my boyfriend whom I have not seen for almost eight months), books – on the account that the person sitting next to me on the plane is not someone I can imagine talking with for the next sixteen hours, and other personal effects which I don’t remember anymore but certainly added to the weight.

My clothes were precisely picked and were not necessarily weather appropriate because how can I, really… Each of the six shirts I took were carefully rolled with enough spaces in between to fill them with my niece’s hearty laughter, the smell of my sister’s cooking, and cigarette smoke coming from my brother’s room. Inside the pockets of three pants were my aunt’s fervent our fathers, hail marys, and glory be’s. I slipped conversations with friends inside each of the three pairs of shoes I decided to take. It was the most difficult, but I managed to tuck in my mother’s sweat and my dead father’s dreams along the linings of the jackets I was hoping to prevent me from freezing. They do the job of keeping me warm on most days, depending on the temperature. Finally, I filled the void inside several bags with 32 years’ worth of life, studies, work, and travel. Things which I hope I can accessorize myself with as I try to find what’s in this new place where I can pour my passions in.

As expected, there were a lot of things I did not bring, hoping to claim some space and in an attempt to justify a regular visit back home. I left Manila with a room that seemed unabandoned. My dresser still has my half-empty lotion and perfume bottles. My succulents are still sitting beside my pen holder and about five books I meant to read before leaving, but didn’t. At the far end of the room, more unread books. I can imagine my six-year old niece walking in and expecting to find me on the bed and watching TV, but she won’t. But I hope my scent lingers on my favorite side of the couch and on the rim of my coffee mug, and our dogs can still recognize the smell of my fading memory after several years.

And then, there were some things I needed to get rid of. Inside the closet are clothes that are entirely unwearable in Switzerland. Some, too thin. Some, too short. Others, too tattered and used. I decided to throw them, together with some burnt ties. Memories of sly faces, half-truths, and whole lies. I have learned to let go of people and things that no longer help me be a better person and instead, rot me from the inside.

So, how can one fit 32 years of her life in one luggage? You can’t. You don’t. I decisively picked out things I want to carry around inside my pocket, juggling them like a set of keys that open doors I don’t mind going in and out of for the rest of my life; things I need to leave in my old home, like an old family photograph that stands on a quiet corner table that will long bind me to my roots; and things that I need to be rid of, burdens that I no longer need to carry. As I walked out of my old life to fly into the new, my luggage was just the right amount of full… And, I think, I have everything I need.

Schengen Visa (Swiss Visa) Application for Philippine Passport Holders

Some years ago, I had the privilege of visiting Europe and some of its countries. With much attention to detail, to the point of being obsessive-compulsive, I was able to process my application with ease. I applied at the Embassy of Switzerland in the Philippines because Switzerland was my point of entry and it was where I spent the majority of my two-month trip. These are two things you should consider in choosing which embassy you want to apply to.

The subject of this article is, and the purpose of my application was “visit of family and friends.” If you are applying for a tourist visa or for any other purpose, you may refer to the corresponding checklists here.

Schengen Countries

Successfully having a Schengen Visa allows you to travel to 26 countries without border restrictions. You only need one visa to go to Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

If you are staying within these countries from the start until the end of your trip, you only need to apply for a single-entry visa. Unless you plan to go out of the area, say you are in France and you want to go to the UK then go back to France, you will have to apply for a multiple-entry visa.

Switzerland Visa Requirements

Following the checklist is may be the key to visa approval. Miss one and you might have to start over the whole application process. To clarify, I applied for “visit of family and friends” and the following checklist was the one I prepared for.

  1. Application Form. You may download the PDF here.
  2. Additional Questionnaire. This will be given at the embassy on the day of the application.
  3. Passport-sized photo with white background.
  4. Valid Passport. At the time of application, passports must be valid at least three months from the end date of your trip. My trip lasted until August 2 so I had to make sure that my passport was valid until November 2.
  5. Photocopy of valid passport. The embassy will be looking for the copies of your passport’s information page (where your picture is on) and the “important reminders” page (where your signature was signed).
  6. Photocopy of OLD passport/s if you have any.
  7. Photocopy of valid visa/s. I submitted a photocopy of my US visa.
  8. Photocopy of expired visa/s. I am not sure if it is true, but having visited Southeast Asian countries and others in the past years may have helped in establishing my love for travel.
  9. Invitation letter from the host in Switzerland.
  10. Photocopy of the host’s passport.
  11. Photocopy of the host’s visa when he visited in the Philippines.
  12. Host’s bank statements. This is to show that the host was capable of supporting me during my stay in the country.
  13. Original copy of Financial Statements. I applied for a Bank Certificate and Statement of Account at BPI. This can be done in one day and for a minimal price.
  14. Original copy of Credit Card Statement/s in the last three months.
  15. Photocopy of items #13 (bank certificate) and #14 (credit card statements)
  16. Certificate of Employment. I requested for this through my company’s HR and had it personalized to include my position, the number of people reporting to me, the breakdown of my compensation, and the purpose for which I applied for the document.
  17. Leave application letter. This was a formal letter I wrote to my direct superiors. It included the duration and purpose of my trip.
  18. Leave of Absence form. I also had to fill-out the official Leave Form from the office.
  19. Photocopy of my payslips in the last three months.
  20. Photocopy of my Income Tax Return.
  21. Round trip air travel reservation. The embassy encourages applicants to NOT purchase the tickets until the visa has been issued. The embassy will NOT reimburse purchased tickets should the visa application is denied.
  22. International Travel Insurance. I purchased my insurance online through BlueCross. Make sure to check if the travel insurance provider you will be buying from is recognized by the embassy.

Setting Up a Visa Appointment

I made sure to have all the requirements before calling the Swiss Customer Service number for an appointment. I was not able to get the date I wanted and was instead scheduled to appear 15 days before my intended date of travel. I wrote an email to the embassy saying that I am scared that they won’t have enough time to process my application. But I was assured by the vice-consul that they only need five days to process the request if the purpose of travel is to visit family and friends or tourism.

Visa Interview

On the day of my interview, I took a break from the office and proceeded to the embassy 45 minutes before my schedule. This gave me enough time to register at the building and embassy security post. I was given the additional questionnaire which I filled out while waiting for the consul to call me.

As of this writing, the visa fee for Switzerland is 4,800.00 (updated, 2021). Collecting this was the first thing the consul did when I got called. After that, he asked for my requirements and sifted through each with optimum precision. After a few questions regarding my job, the reason for visiting Switzerland, and the identity of my sponsor, he asked me to take a seat. A couple of minutes after, I was called back and was informed that my papers seem to be in order. I wasn’t even asked for any supporting documents! I was done in under an hour.

Three days after the interview, My passport, together with the visa, was delivered to our office.

EuroTrip Budget

My family is not rich and I am not rich. I was earning enough to be able to save up for this trip, though. It took a lot of self-restraint in walking away from unnecessary purchases and Starbucks coffee. But in the end, I was able to have one of the most memorable trips I’ve ever had in my life.

So… my budget was 50 Euros a day and I planned my trip for 58 days. That means I had to have at least 2900 Euros or at least 150,000 PHP. Although my trip was sponsored, I made sure to have enough money to be able to go around and buy whatever I want. Sadly, I didn’t have enough for a Louis Vuitton bag…

Visa Application Procedure Update

All appointments for the submission of application files must be booked with the embassy’s external service provider TLScontact, Mondays – Fridays, from 8.00 am – 5.00 pm (except during public holidays).
Application files have to be submitted to TLScontact on the day of the appointment at the following address:

TLS Contact Center
Unit 7B New Solid Building,
357 Sen. Gil J Puyat Avenue,
Makati City, Metro Manila

Embassy of Switzerland in the Philippines
24/F BDO Equitable Tower
8751 Paseo de Roxas
1226 Makati, Metro Manila
Tel: +63 2 845 45 45
Fax: +63 2 845 45 38 | +63 2 845 45 39
Email: man.vertretung@eda.admin.ch

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