But I Don’t Want To Wear Pants!

Two weeks ago I had to make my first appearance at the BI (Bureau of Immigration) over in Cebu.  I live on Mactan, just across the channel so that meant a cab ride of about 15 minutes or so.  I already had been told before leaving the US, but the morning of my visit to the BI my girlfriend reminded me, “Don’t go there in shorts and sandals.  You have to wear pants and real shoes.”  After 3 weeks of enjoying the breezy attire of shorts, loose shirts and sandals the first thought that came to mind was, “But I don’t want to wear pants!”.

I also didn’t want to waste half the day and extra cab time having to make two trips for non-compliance so, I dug out my suitcase where I’d tossed away my jeans and reluctantly threw them on the bed.  From under the bed I found my shoes (kinda dusty already).  Also in my suitcase were the 20 pairs of brand-new socks I mistakenly thought I was going to need.  Standing there at 10am with the fan running and a bead of sweat dripping down the side of my head once again I mumbled, “I really.. really don’t want to do this.”  But.. if I wanted to be legit with the Filipino ‘Man’, I’d just have to make it happen.  It took switching shirts three times before I finally convinced myself a Polo shirt looked better than a Hawaiian shirt when wearing Levi’s.  My feet were already complaining from the socks and shoes.  Geez, and I hadn’t even left the house yet.

I gotta wear pants?
I gotta wear pants?

I made it to the BI and sure enough.. a BIG sign at the door stating in no uncertain terms that these hot, uncomfortable clothes were indeed mandatory.  Government can’t seem to function if I’m not inconvenienced in some manner, no matter what country I’m in.  I got the form, forgot to bring a pen.. but the nice lady at the desk loaned me hers.  I was doing good until it asked how much I weighed and how tall I was.  How am I supposed to know how many ‘Kilos’ I weigh?  I’m 225 Pounds (more or less) and 5’10”.  I don’t know how many ‘centimeters’ tall I am.  Why the trick questions?  Why did the world embrace the metric system?  Why is the US still the only country using feet and pounds?  Despite my inward grumbling.. the question waited to be answered.  I could already imagine them escorting me to a plane headed for Malaysia with a blacklisted passport to never return all because I left these two crucial questions blank.

What to do?  I was at a total blank.  I suppose I could guess.  Maybe I’m 8,768 Kilos.  Is that like.. as big as a car or about the size of a bag of rice?  Panic started to set in.  That woman wanted her pen back and I know she’s keeping an eye on me.  Again with the sweating.  ‘Think’, I told myself, ‘..what would McGuyver do?’.  Then it hit me.. my cell phone.  I started looking through the apps hoping, hoping by some bizarre chance there was a converter to switch from ‘normal’ to ‘science project’ values on my phone and.. YES!, there was one for converting to this bane of math known as metrics.  I typed in the values and jotted them down on the form.  Good thing I didn’t guess.

I wasn’t sure how long I’d have to wait.  I gave the lady her pen back and she told me, “Window 1”.  I thought she said, “When do one”.  “Do one, what?”, I asked.  Is there something I was supposed to do before I got here?  I don’t like surprises when dealing with governmental agencies. “What you want to do?”, she replied.  What is this?, now she’s my guidance counselor?  So I started again, more slowly,  “When.. do.. I… what?”  That’s when she pointed at the big sign behind me that said, ‘Window 1’.

Oh.”, was all I could say, “..thanks.”

After that little incident I sat down, after going to ‘Window 1’.  Meanwhile two Swedish women were sleeping on the hard, plastic chairs in front of me.  Now.. I know what you’re thinking.  No, these were not like the Swedish ski instructors from some daydream.  These were big, farm girls.  And the thought that they’d been here long enough to fall asleep told me I might be here until the place closed.  Maybe I should have gotten here earlier.   But that would have meant me getting up earlier and.. well, that’s not really my style.

To my right was a nice enough gent in his 50’s.  I asked him how long he’d been waiting and he said about 90 minutes.  We exchanged introductions, I gave him my card.  He was an ex-pat from United States, married to a Filipina he’s just madly in love with and they have two young kids together.  Thank God he was there, we chatted the time away and before I knew it they were calling my name to ‘Window 2’.  I was making progress.  I went to ‘Window 2’ where they asked for my Visa extension fees, stamped some papers, did some stapling, gave me a receipt and then.. told me to sit and wait for Window 3.  (I thought I was so close to leaving.)

More waiting.  The two Swedish gals practically burst into dance when their name was called.  They went to Window 3 and left as giddy and giggly as two milk maids on their day off.  My chatting buddy had already left.  Nothing left to do but decide which woman was the absolute prettiest in the room.  That took about 2 minutes to decide.  Clock still ticking.  Ticking.

Before I knew it, they called my name and with a big smile the Man behind Window 3 pointed at the new stamp on my Passport and said, “Congratulations, we need to see you again in September.”  He gave me an official note stating I was not a threat to the country or something along those lines.  I felt like I’d gotten a pardon from the Governor.  With a big smile and my passport safely tucked in my front pocket I walked out of there.. into the blazing heat.. wearing denim pants and shoes.  Once again with the sweating.

This experience brought me to a distinct conclusion regarding some of the adjustments I’ve made now that I’m here ‘for the duration’.  My conclusion is, “Living here, for a guy, is kinda like having a perfectly good excuse for being a kid again.”

I started adding it up.  Every night it’s warm out and I don’t have a curfew.  My folks were Hispanic, I only heard about ‘curfew’ from my White friends.  It could be 11 at night and our parents didn’t bother looking for us until they were done talking or ready to lock the door.  Meanwhile, my cousins I were running around somewhere in a 3 block radius.

No more wearing shoes.  Wearing sandals is kinda like being barefoot, but with thicker soles.  No socks to deal with and going barefoot in the house was now perfectly okay.  Hispanic Moms won’t let you walk “on the cold floor” barefoot because that’s how you get the Flu.  (shaking my head)  Now.. I can walk barefoot all over the tile floor all day long.

One that I miss from my childhood.. peeing when you need to outside.  I don’t take advantage of this to the degree some of the Filipino men do.  Locals here will go pee in broad daylight against whatever wall even as midday pedestrian traffic passes by.  Me, I have two rules; (1)  Only at night.  And (2) With no one around.  This has saved me several times since I enjoy late-night walks.

And yet another thing.. I can wipe my hands on my shirt or shorts.. and nobody says a thing.  I’ve always used napkins back home.  Here, more often than not napkins are pretty scarce.  And when you do get them, they’re kinda useless.  I just wait til I’m done eating and, if there’s no sink nearby.. I wipe it on the back of my shirt or shorts.  Stains?  The maid will take care of it.   “Not my job.”

Hand Sanitizer - It's manly!
Hand Sanitizer – It’s manly!

The only new habit I’ve taken up that I never, NEVER did in my life before is.. using that ‘Purell’ Hand Sanitizer stuff.  Ever since it came out I thought it was kinda ‘girly’.  But now, I keep that stuff in the kitchen and another one in my backpack.  When I noticed how many times a day I saw some dude peeing in broad daylight.. I got myself some bottles of that stuff right away and now I use it all the time.  It’s not lotion, so it’s actually, technically NOT ‘girly’.  In fact, it’s got alcohol and kills (germs).. and that’s kinda manly when you think about it.

And finally.. nicknames.  When I was kid we all had nicknames.  It seems here in the Philippines as if nobody uses their real name.   I met a woman today, asked her name.  It was something like Beatrice Magdalena Maria Estrella Garlejo.. but all her friends call her ‘Beece’.  Yolej goes by ‘Angel’.  Merlynne goes by ‘Shorty‘.  Delia goes by ‘Deding‘.  I don’t even know what Steff or Linda’s real name is.  Vaughn goes by ‘Yvonne’, but that’s for a whole other reason.   And a certain someone goes by, “Mindanao Bob”.   Me.. most everybody here knows me as either  ‘Enrique’ or ‘Reekay’.

Add to that being able to sleep-in in the mornings, snack any time I feel like it, take naps when it gets too hot and, yah.. this is even better than when I was a kid.  If only the BI would let me show up in shorts wearing a Hawaiian shirt with ketchup stains.. life would then be perfect.

Post Author: Henry Velez (10 Posts)

Henry Velez is a recent (2012) addition to the Philippines and brings with him a fresh set of eyes as well as a talent for bringing his first-hand observations clearly to the reader. Motivated by both a life-long passion for writing, as well as for a Filipina he met in the US, Henry dove right in and made the move to the Philippines 'sight unseen'. He currently maintains three blogs, one which is devoted to his adventures here, and is currently working on a fictional novel set in the Philippines. We wish him the best of luck in his new adventures!

How to Move to the Philippines Manual


  1. Mark says

    Never felt the need to urinate in public in the Philippines or anywhere else for that matter, or to wipe my hands on my clothes after eating. Napkins are available in restaurants in the Philippines – just try asking for one sometime. Your maid might thank you for it. When conducting official business anywhere in the world, it’s always advisable to dress appropriately.

    • says

      Especially when eating chicken, I’d need a full package of the type of napkins they have here.. which are single-ply and only 4″x4″ in size. That’s why I’ll use the sink if they have one, but if there’s no sink and the napkins are useless.. wiping on the shirt is the only option left. I decided to fire the maid (more on that at my own blog, just click on my name above) so I only have myself to blame for having to scrub out any stains.

      I don’t hold booze or iced-tea very long so, if it’s night and nobody’s around.. it’s nice knowing I won’t get a ticket for it. Daytime there’s usually a Jollibee’s open, they have real toilet seats, paper and everything. :)

  2. Paul Thompson says

    Socks are not a requirement, as the last time I had a pair on was in Puerto Rico the day I retired from the Navy in 1986. A few years ago in the Philippines you were required to have a collar on your shirt also, but that has fallen by the wayside.

    • says

      I can wear sandals with no socks, but shoes with no socks just weirds me out. So far, with my 2 trips to the BI so far, I take a cab afterward to the SM Mall where I can wear pants in the air-con until the day cools off. Good excuse to catch a movie. :)

  3. Ricardo Sumilang says

    You might also add the urgent need to shower 3 times daily if you lived in a house that only has a fan like yours in Mactan. During my visits to our ancestral house in the barrio, if I didn’t shower in the morning, at noon, and just before going to bed at night, I’d be very uncomfortable and smelling like a pig.

    • says

      I agree. I have a nice, big, tiled CR/Shower room so I take at least 3-4 showers a day here, if for no other reason to just cool off. Especially before bed or after walking in town.

  4. Ricardo Sumilang says

    Regarding Filipino nicknames, consider yourself warned when someday you might be introduced to 60-year old Filipino guy who goes by the name of “Boy”, or meet a 55-year old woman called, “Peachy”.

  5. Rick Heath says

    My girlfriend just informed me last night about the pants, no t-shirt and shoes rules. I have 8 pairs of shorts, about 15 t-shirts and 2 pairs of sneakers and no socks. I told her I live in Southern California and don’t have a need for pants. I just never go anywhere it requires to put them on I guess and it never crossed my mind. I know the DMV could care less what you are wearing as long as you have money. Well, after the shock wore off it looks like another trip to Wal Mart to buy pants and some polo shirts before I leave. I told her last night I wish she would just think of all these little details before I leave and tell me but I just know somewhere along the 18 hour flight I’ll get a text saying, “sorry honey, I forgot to tell you”!!

    • says

      I hear ya! I came from the Inland Empire in SoCal.. only had pants for special occasions and our 3 weeks of winter. ha! Mostly I like Levi cargo shorts. T-shirt, Polo shirt or Hawaiian shirt and sandals now that I’m here. Those packages of sock are just sitting there.. didn’t need them after all. Bring a good can opener though, they’re about $15 here for a good one and if you want to have some corned beef or other canned meats here it’ll come in handy. :)

  6. RandyL says

    Hi Reekeay! The end of your story reminds me of a time when I went to a Baseball game in Chicago (I’m a Cubs fan). In the men’s room after finishing my chore, I turned and proceeded to the exit when the guy (Cardinal fan) that was conducting business next to me said “You know in St. Louis they teach us to wash our hands after peeing!” I looked at him and replied “Well here in Chicago, they teach us not to piss on our hands!” Good thing I was in Chicago. I consider myself well qualified to use the outdoor facilities there in the RP but, like you, only on my terms. The house we are working on will have a shower area installed outdoors in the far patio area for multiple cooling off showers as needed. I’m not opposed to drip drying. Indoor CR’s are just to ‘clammy’ to me as I’m usually sweating again before I leave the room. Live and learn!

    • says

      I am fortunate that I have a very large, tiled CR/Shower room with floor-drain. So I take 3-4 showers a day at the drop of a hat. Especially when I return from a walk into town during the day. I also carry a water-bottle with me in my back-pack when walking the Marketplace. Partly for drinking, but also for running cold water down my head and back for a ‘cool-down’. Very refreshing! :)

  7. James Watt says

    I let my wife wear pants, I wear briefs :-)

    I was aware that a dress code was in force at the B.I. before I came to Mindanao.
    The first time I turned up, I was dressed more smartly than some of the staff. Wearing a tie with a shirt is normal for me.

    There were a few Chinese men wearing vests and flip-flops, there was a woman who looked ‘hippie’ like, but also unkempt, and appeared to be unwashed.

    The number of people who were unprepared for the requirements of Visa renewal, e.g. no photocopies of Passport or other documents, insufficient funds etc. Despite being in the company of a local ‘girlfriend’, who was no help to them, preferring to play constantly with their new mobile phone.

    Then being frustrated at having to fill in the application form, that takes ages, especially if they do not have a pen.
    Then getting more frustrated waiting for the process to progress, some even complaining the staff are playing ‘Space Invaders’ or other games on the office computer, instead of doing the job “we are paying for”.

    I could go on with other anecdotes, but you know what it’s like.

    Keep cool, keep polite, keep your nose out of other ‘customers’ business/affairs, that works for us.
    Thankfully we have 59 days between visits, so we can put up with it.

    • says

      This time I took 2 of the forms home with me. That way, next time, I can fill it out at my leisure the night before.. walk in and just hand it in with my passport. Won’t have to write on that little table without my reading glasses. ha!

  8. ScottF says

    Enrique, I liked the article. It sounds like you listened to your Filipina gf and put on pants, shirt, and shoes. But I would like to point out that a Hawaiian shirt goes with ANYTHING!!!! I say this, as I plan on wearing one EVERYWHERE!!! LOL!

    Sanitizer is my wifes best friend! She uses it often! But, there’s nothing girlie about making sure that if you come into contact with something nasty and possibly unsanitary that it is killed without remorse! :) Some do have lotion in them, and I’ve bought them. It’s actually nice to do, because… all the alchohol used to clean your hands will dry them out really fast!

    Call me feminine if you want, I’ll be clean, and my hands won’t be as dry as a… well, you get the picture.

    • says

      You see! I kept telling people that Hawaiian shirts go with pants.. nobody believes me. I’m going to have a seamstress measure my favorite one and start picking out my own colors, that’s my next project. :)

  9. says

    I still don’t know if it is better to leave the country every 59 days or endure the BI.
    Can you just turn around in HK and fly the same plane back? At least no hard plastic chairs.

    • John Miele says

      Why is the BI such a hassle? With the exception of the 13a, my visits usually took less than an hour. I find security / checkin at the airport far more of a hassle.

    • says

      I was under the impression that for an ‘exit’ to qualify, I’d have to be out of the RP for more than 24 hours. I figure if I’m gonna take a flight, I might as well make at least a 1 week mini-vacation out of it. Perhaps Thailand and see the monkey-temple. Still no monkeys in the big avocado tree outside my door. :(

        • John Miele says

          Bob: Technically, you could easily do a same day, just as long as it arrives after midnight the following day. Note that there HAVE been a couple of times I’ve arrived after midnight and they haven’t changed the date on the stamps, yet. It really isn’t keeping in the spirit of the rules, though, and since it is at the BI officer’s discretion to admit you or not, no appeal, I don’t see the value. Quickest from Manila: Cathay Pacific leaving to HKG around three, enter HKG for around two hours, then fly back on the 9:30 flight. How this is easier than simply waiting an hour at BI is beyond me, though. (And with the taxes, certainly more expensive than just paying the extension).

  10. Greg K says

    I been to the BI in Mandaue and never had a real hassle there John….usually in and out within 30 minutes or less. The long pants thing seems kinda funny here in a tropical climate, but it’s not like an everyday thing. Now going once a year means even less of a bother. When I first came here you could wear anything, but I think the new director put a stop to it. I think the reg was there, just never enforced.

    Maybe some BI’S are a hassle, but I think the one here is OK…..and besides, sometimes an interesting person will provide some conversation as you wait.

    • says

      All total, I’d say I was there just under 2 hours. I’m sure it fluctuates to lesser times depending on who is due for renewal. Still less painful than the DMV back home. I just wish I could pay my fees online and be done with it. I’m not married, so I have to return every 2 months. : /

  11. Brent Johnson says

    Henry that’s some funny stuff, I appreciate your writing style! My cousin who is a “missionary” of some ilk in the RP had to “rent” a pair of pants from some dude outside the BI’s office last week because he came in shorts and was not aware of the no-pants rule. He never told me how much this rental cost him.

  12. AlexB says

    Hi Enrique or Reekay,

    Anyone called you Iquing yet? Seems your Hispanic roots is getting some mileage in the country. I was once told to change and wear long pants, and shoes for church in the hottest month of the year. I always carry a small pack of tissues with me, sanitizer, and handy wipes (in case of major emergencies and no water to around).

    Still looking for monkeys? In Romblon province, there is an island called Bonton, where the macaques have literally taken over the islands, harrassing kids, snatching their baon, etc. There’s also Corella tarsier reserve in Bohol, for the pocket sized monkeys, but they look more like e.t.

    Funny piece. A good sense of humour goes a long way in the country I guess.


  13. says

    My wife accused me of writing this article. I had to “rent long pants for 70 pesos ” when we went to the BI, I also went off a few weeks ago about all the nicknames!!

    My wife came running up to my talking about “Koi-Koi”, who the F%$&^ is koi-koi? Oh, that’s “Boy”. You mean Rudolpho, who’s nickname is “Boy, AKA “Koi-Koi”? Her reply, “Oo”. It’s rough enough for me to remember real names, if in fact I know any, than several aliases on top of that.

    BTW, what’s my nickname?
    Ina ko!

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