Last week, I wrote a column here called “Cash is KING.” In the comments, AmericanLola mentioned about how when she first moved here the largest bill available was the P100 bill, and that people would bring boxes to the bank when they were withdrawing money, since they would need a large pile of currency even if they withdrew a relatively small amount of money!
When AmericanLola said this, it reminded me of something that happened the first time I visited the Philippines. When I traveled here, I had already known Feyma through correspondence for a while, and I had an idea in mind that I wanted to marry her, provided that we hit it off in person like we did through letters. So, because of this, I brought some extra money with me when I came here to visit her. I had a little over $4,000 with me when I came here, mostly in traveler’s checks. Traveler’s Checks are not that widely used here, which is something that I did not know at that time. We met originally in Cebu City, as Feyma was studying there at the time. Indeed, I asked her to marry me, and she said that she wanted to be married, but I would have to ask permission from her Father, who lived in General Santos City, so we booked our travel to GenSan.
The day before leaving for GenSan, I asked Feyma if I could use traveler’s checks there. She was unsure. There was an American Express office in Cebu, so I called them. They informed me that they could not guarantee that the traveler’s checks would be usable in GenSan. Since I would be needing cash for the wedding, I decided to go to the American Express office and cash all the checks in just to be certain. I walked in with $4,000 worth of traveler’s checks, and signed them all. The man behind the counter went to the vault and started hauling out armfuls of cash! All P100 notes.
“Can you give me larger notes” I said.
“Sir, these are the largest they make.”
OOPS! What am I going to do with all this cash? Thankfully, the agent at American Express asked me if I needed something to carry the money, and I said that indeed I did. He went and got a very large FedEx envelope, and stacked up all the cash into the envelope. It was like carrying a box load of cash! I was never so security conscience in my life!
As we left the American Express office and headed to the airport, we kept watching to see if anybody was following us, thankfully nobody was. But, as we got into the airport, I started thinking… “I hope they don’t open this envelope for inspection, they are going to think I’m a drug dealer or something!” I gave the envelope to Feyma, figuring that a local person might get less of a security check than a foreigner. The security people asked “What’s in the envelope?” I said “Documents.” They waved us through! Whew!
When we boarded the plane, Feyma sat there with the envelope in her lap. The stewardess came by and said it would need to be put in the overhead bin. Although we argued that we’d rather hold it, there was no point, because the rules were clear.
You can bet that we never took our eyes off that overhead bin the entire way to General Santos City!