Alphonse Gets His Passport (Renewed)

When Alphonse got his passport years ago, the application and renewal processes for minors and persons with disabilities were as limited as just showing up at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) for a personal appearance. We filled out the forms by hand and submitted photographs and documentation. I don’t remember if they required proof of his disability then, but I remember bringing a letter from his developmental pediatrician, just in case. Sadly, Alphonse never got a chance to use his passport; aside from a planned long haul trip that went kaput, Alphonse’s resistance to change made it almost impossible to even try. His passport lapsed afterwards and, almost giving up on the dream of Disneyland for him, we let it stay expired.

A couple of months ago, buoyed by his unusual stretch of good behavior, we decided to have his passport renewed. To facilitate the process, we decided to schedule both his and his brother’s applications at the same time. I got appointments for both of them and prepared all the necessary documents.DFA 02 copy

In the midst of the preparations, however, Alphonse got sick. In our experience, any change always upsets his equilibrium; thus, I was tempted to forgo the appointment. But, having waited for it for close to two months, we did not relish the thought of postponing it for another 30 days. Fortunately, Alphonse was calm on the days leading to the date and given that he was on the road to recovery, we green-lighted the trip.

On the day of their appointments, we were at the DFA satellite branch in Megamall a full hour before opening. This guaranteed that we would be on time, with enough leeway to allow for eating or toilet accidents. It also allowed Alphonse to settle in and become more familiar with the area before the early morning crowd came in.

We were first in line when the doors opened at 10 in the morning. Because Alphonse required two persons to keep him company, the officers manning the appointments desk allowed me and my husband to accompany him. We got our numbers (first and second for the day for the  boys) after our appointment papers were verified. I explained each step to Alphonse, carefully assessing if he was anxious, afraid, or angry. There were quite a few people behind us already and we wanted to avoid a meltdown in public. Step One, done.

While waiting for the documents to be received, the four of us sat in the front row on seats reserved for PWDs and senior citizens. When our number flashed on the screen, we went to the designated window to hand in the papers. The DFA personnel were understanding of Alphonse’s inclination to run away when he feels threatened and did their best to talk to him in a low, friendly tone. My husband and I held Alphonse’s hands throughout the process and reminded him continuously that we were beside him all the way. Step Two went without a hitch; except for a swift tussle with the fingerprinting (in lieu of his signature), we managed to move to Step Three right away.

Step Three was a brief stop at the cashier for payment. Alphonse sat down quietly while we waited for his dad to finish paying for their passports. As soon as he was done, my husband joined us in the seating area by the Encoding section.

Step Four, Biometrics Encoding, took the longest. Were Alphonse more cooperative, we would have been in and out in half an hour flat. As it was, it took around 35 takes with the digital camera before the officer could get an acceptable shot, and even then, it looked like a mugshot. Alphonse was obviously anxious and scared by that time. His heart was beating very fast and he had a wild eyed look on him, like a deer in headlights. Moreover, taking his fingerprints via the electronic reader turned out to be a battle of wills. He was stronger than all three of us combined and no amount of hand holding, finger twisting, forcing, and cajoling could set those fingers on the scanner. In the end, we had to let him shake off his fear himself. I had him do a series of touching exercises with his fingers, showing him each time that nothing would cause an “ouchie.” I got him to touch the scanner successfully a few times before we did the actual biometric reading. By the time he was done, he and I were both drenched in sweat.

A♥ stayed behind to pay for courier delivery of the passports while Alex and I led Alphonse out of the offices. Alphonse rushed down the flight of stairs and suddenly threw up, spewing the contents of his breakfast on the floor. We wiped him down, but he kept trying to grab a wet tissue off of us.  When I asked him why he needed a wet wipe, he lifted his right foot, grunted “Uh,” and showed us the vomit still sticking to his shoes. We laughed like crazy then, and he laughed along, the relief visible in his face.

A couple of weeks later, when his passport was delivered, I showed it to Alphonse. He giggled when he saw his picture. I asked him if he was ready to go in a plane and he nodded.

“To Disneyland, Alphonse?” I asked again. He started screeching in glee.

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There are many things that are difficult for Alphonse, and in turn, for this family. Travel is one of them. Still, we continue to dream that one day, Alphonse will be able to see more of the world. It’ll be a big step, but if we can’t dream big, who can?

Here are some tips we learned from our experience with Alphonse. I hope this helps your loved ones, especially those with autism, with their passport application:

  1. Set an early morning weekday appointment, the first morning schedule, if possible, so that there are fewer people. If members of the family will be applying or renewing as well, choose the family appointment option. Appointments can be done here:
  2. Come early. Bring his/her PWD ID and inform the guard and appointments desk that you have a PWD with you. There is an option to use the Courtesy Lane, particularly for individuals with disabilities who find waiting intolerable.
  3. Prepare all documents and appointment papers beforehand. Make xerox copies of everything, even the IDs.
  4. Practice the steps for passport application and renewal. Prepare a social story if needed.
  5. If the individual with disability cannot sign his/her name, his/her fingerprints will be needed for data collection. Practice using an inkpad or make a toy replica of the scanner for practice.
  6. Bring all necessary support/materals during the appointment. PECS cards or assistive communications devices are absolutely necessary. Toys and snacks may help in the wait.
  7. Dress your loved one in comfortable clothing.
  8. Choose the satellite branch nearest you to reduce the stress of travel and traffic. Some branches have less foot traffic than others. Still, appointments ease the difficulty of application. Walk-ins are sometimes accommodated but I would not suggest this option for PWDs unless absolutely necessary.

In parting, we would like to thank the Department of Foreign Affairs officers and personnel who welcomed Alphonse with kindness and respect. We would have gotten all their names had Alphonse not needed our complete attention.  Maraming, maraming salamat po. You all made the process so much easier with your tolerance and understanding.



Hello… Again!

If you’re wondering where I’ve been these last few weeks, well, I’ve been traveling with my husband.

Kittymama in LondonOne was a surprise trip that had me gobsmacked and chuffed to bits, the other was planned since last year, with tickets that were amazingly yasui (cheap). Still, they came so close to one another that we barely had time to shrug off jetlag before we were up and away again. In between those two trips, my husband and I had to attend to our duties at work (him) and at home (me), making sure the boys would be well-provided while we were gone. We rushed our errands, paid bills, did grocery shopping, and bought medicines and last-minute necessities to keep the household running smoothly.

We didn’t really encounter a major problem when we left the kids home, thanks to my sister’s babysitting expertise. However, she reported that after a few days, Alphonse started having nighttime issues. He would not turn in early most nights and would fight sleep to wait for us to come home. When I imagine him sitting in the garage all those nights, waiting for the gates to open to signal we were home, it still makes me Kittymama in Osakafeel horribly guilty that we could not bring him along. Alas, those sleep issues will haunt us for a while, I know, as we re-condition him to having us around the house again. Wish us luck!

I’ll have more stories when our lives get back on track. I have a bit more pictures to upload and resize from my camera and my phone. Till then, cheerio and arigatou gozaimasu!



Happiness is…Turning Wicked (xix)

I read Gregory Maguire’s book, Wicked, around a year after it came out in 1995. wicked 07I have read it many times since then, reveling in the revisionist look he took of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. There’s something quite compelling in the way Maguire turned Baum’s Oz around, drawing social and political lessons on what many consider a simple and straight-up fantasy adventure.

What turned my “liking” for this novel into a full blown passion was the music of its stage play, which debuted in Broadway in 2003. I had only read reviews of the play as it transitioned over different stages over the years but Stephen Schwartz’s music and lyrics have drawn me inexplicably close to it. And so, when Wicked finally came to Asia in 2011, my husband thoughtfully booked us plane tickets to Singapore. My friend Auden purchased the show tickets on our behalf, and on February 2012, Auden, A♥ and I watched Wicked at the Marina Bay Sands Grand Theater. It was absolutely fabulous!Singapore 2-17-2012 02

Auden, me, and the Periwinkles

I still have photos from that visit to Singapore, aside from the ones I already posted previously. My favorite, however, is this one of me with the very handsome and absolutely talented David Harris, who played Fiyero in the Singapore production. *kilig moment, with apologies to my equally handsome and talented A♥*

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This is a stolen shot of the stage at the Marina Bay Sands Grand Theater. I don’t do this as a rule- anyone who knows me knows I am such a stickler for rules- but I was too much of fan to pass it up.

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This January, Manila makes history as it hosts the Australian company of Wicked. Three of the actors of the Singapore show will reprise their roles in Manila. The roles of Elphaba and Glinda will still be played by Jemma Rix and Suzie Mathers, respectively. Dr. Dillamond’s role will still be performed by Glen Hosgstrom. Steve Danielsen, however, takes over the role of Fiyero (I will miss David Harris, sigh). Maggie Kirkpatrick will be Madame Morrible and Jay Laga’aia will be the Wizard.

The show will run from 22 January to 23 February 2014 and demand for tickets have been so high that even before production started, the show has already been extended by 16 performances. Manila loves Wicked, for sure!

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I’m really excited to watch the show tonight. I am listening to the Wicked sountrack even as I write this, but I do promise not to sing-along tonight, for politeness’ sake, heehee.  I’ve checked the seat plan of the theater so I know exactly where my husband, son, and I will be sitting. I’ve prepared their clothes and set my hair up in pink curlers. All that is left to do would be to get something green to wear to celebrate tonight’s show.

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And let me share you a secret: Kittymama, Nimes, and the Chocolate Grandparents will be sneaking in my purse for the show too. So ssshhhh… please don’t tell anyone. It’s an opportunity I wouldn’t want them to miss so they’ll be stowaways for the night. Wish us luck!


Home is People

This post should have been up weeks ago but was delayed because of a very nasty bout of the flu. We even scrapped our anniversary weekend plans because of my sickness, boohoo. Still, I say that it’s better late than never. I loved Bangkok so much that the memories remain as fresh as the day we made them. I really do look forward to going back again.


ThailandThree weeks ago, on a rainy, late Thursday night, my husband and I left Manila and touched down at the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand three hours later.  It was two in the morning by the time our tour shuttle let us off at our hotel. Still, we managed to shrug off our day-long fatigue when met with the warm smiles of the people who welcomed us to the city.

It was meant to be a short weekend trip, far enmanila to bangkokough from the boys to get some real respite time, yet near enough to be able to get back home should they need us. It didn’t matter to us, really, that Bangkok is Asia’s number one choice for tourists and still holds the distinction of hosting the most number of visitors per year. A♥ and I chose Bangkok as a destination based entirely on one cosideration: my wish to meet in person one of my dearest Sylvanian friends, Pornphan.

I have known Pornphan through the Sylvanian Families forum since 2009 but had never met her in person. Ours is a friendship based on shared interests and forged through messages on Facebook or on the forum. As such, days before leaving, A♥ and I really didn’t have a fixed itinerary for our trip. All I really looked forward to was meeting her,

And what a meeting it was!

Meeting Pornphan has turned out to be one of the best blessings of our short stay. If we could have extended our vacation longer to enjoy the city more with her, we really would have. Pornphan patiently helped us and guided us to different places throughout the few days we were there. She willingly gave up a weekend of rest and recreation just to keep us company and show us her lovely city.

That’s Kittymama and Pornphan below. Yeah, we have Sylvanian counterparts. 🙂 *snickers*

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We enjoyed a Thai meal with her, with oh-so-yummy pad Thai, and fresh, succulent prawns and crab legs that were to die for! (Sorry, I have no pictures as we gobbled everything up before I remembered that I had a camera, heehee.) Being the loyal McDonald’s patrons that we were, we also made sure to try Bangkok’s McDonald’s and enjoyed our triple cheeseburgers! I ate too much, as usual. 🙂

We rode river boats- that’s Pornphan right below,

blog 08 and me on the other side of the aisle. I actually enjoyed the boat ride, even if I was deathly afraid of the boat sinking and me drowning, heehee!

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We made our way to the amazing Grand Palace and soaked in the sights of those centuries old marvels.

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We shared a tuktuk ride and walked our soles off around the city.

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Pornphan generously spared time to  go with us as we looked for Silkstone Barbie dolls. She took this photo of my husband and me in Ae’s and Timmy’s wonderful doll shop at MBK. 🙂

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Why, we even attended a Sylvanian Day together!

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 What’s a Sylvanian Day without a photo op with Freya?

blog 03And here’s another for good measure:

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Three short days were all we had and truth to tell, it didn’t really seem enough. All too soon, it was time to go back to the kids. And while the sounds and sights of Bangkok filled my heart with a longing for home, it also made me realize that Bangkok and Manila are two places with the same heart- its people.

I’ve been to different cities in search of Sylvanian Families. In each of these places, I found more than what I was looking for. I found Jonathan and Hai Yen in Singapore, Karen and Vicky in Hong Kong, and Pornphan in Bangkok. In each of these wonderful places, I found good friends. The kind of friends you would wish for and choose as family.

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My Facebook status says it best:

They say that “home is people, not a place,” and this holds true for me. Wherever I go, I find a new home in the hearts of the wonderful friends I meet. More than the awesome sights, the great food, or new experiences, it is the coming together of friends that make traveling really worthwhile. I am a really, really lucky gal.

Kittymama in China Part II

It was freezing cold when we reached Beijing and temperatures were to drop some more during our stay there. For one accustomed to tropical weather year round (the Philippines has only two seasons- wet and dry), I handled the negative temperatures (lows of -14ºC, highs of 1ºC) rather well, even as I developed a bit of the sniffles and a rather annoying cough while we were there.

I wanted snow but it didn’t come. What we experienced was a lot of biting cold wind and it was wind chill that drove temperatures even lower. When the sun would come up for brief periods, we would soak in the short lived heat, unmindful that we had not retouched our sunscreens since early morning. It just felt good to be even just a little warm in the middle of all that cold.

Fortunately for me, I had a little more blubber to ward off the cold. (Yay for body fat!) I had fewer layers on than my companions. I could also go hatless and gloveless for periods of time. The cold, I found out, I could definitely handle. What did me in was the amount of walking we did everywhere we went.

There is so much history in China that one can spend a week in Beijing and still not see all of its attractions. Some, however, are simply too precious to pass up, like the Great Wall, the Ming Tombs, and the amazing palaces in the Forbidden City. Others are “tourist-y” things that are unique only to China, mini-stops that are ultimately educational and interesting but may present as a bit of a problem for one’s pockets. You will need a lot of willpower and patience to say “No” to these expensive souvenirs graciously, taking care always not to offend.  Each, however, was always a feast for the eyes, with a heady continuous stream of remarkable history and insights.

Here are some of my favorite pictures from this trip, taken by our trusty point and shoot cameras, the Sony TX9 for me and the Sony T100 for A.  I chose these from an already pared album of 103 pictures, down from the original 491 shots that we had in our cameras. If you’re my Facebook friend, I’m sure you’ve probably seen them all, but indulge me, please?

P.S. While we’re at it, can anyone of my Kitty friends spot the Kitties I brought along?

Warning: Picture heavy

Here we are in Tiananmen Square, with the National Museum of China (R) and the Monument to the People’s Heroes (L) behind us.

A Kitty nerd in front of the Forbidden City, with Chairman Mao watching from the distance

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Back Home

We’re back home and back to our everyday routines. Yet, before the last weekend fades into distant memory,  I want to thank all those who wished us well – Doc Mark, Casdok, Megamom, Leirs, Doc Ness, Beth (FXS Mom), Mari, and Odette — your prayers and well wishes are very much appreciated. 🙂  Thank you, dear, dear friends. We had such a great time that already I am planning and saving up for the another weekend trip next month.

Last Friday morning, Alphonse woke up at the crack of dawn. He was too excited to sleep, I guess. He kept handing me a picture of “car” and I had to repeatedly remind him that it was still too early to go anywhere. We sat down and looked at the picture schedule of his day and that seemed to quiet him down.

After a three-hour lesson in the morning, a leisurely lunch, and some play time, he knew it was time to go. He hurriedly dressed himself, slung his pecs notebook over his shoulder, and climbed into the back of the car, a silly grin plastered on his face as he waved happily to his nannies.

Thirty minutes into the car ride (we were not even out of the city limits), I took a peek at the back through the rearview mirror and was surprised to see both boys fast asleep. It’s not unusual to see Alex sleeping at the oddest hours- this boy sleeps as soon as the car starts- but Alphonse is another matter. Still, the day’s excitement was probably a little too much for him. Add the fact that he started his day long before the sun was up, and it  was understandable to catch him dozing off.

We got to our destination shortly before sunset. Alphonse spent a few minutes walking around the well-appointed hotel suite. He checked the mini-bar, flushed the toilet a few times, channel surfed, ate the complementary fruits, and paced the entire length of the room as if counting his steps. Then he insisted on opening the balcony door to catch a whiff of fresh sea air. He took three sniffs with his flaring nostrils, frowned at the thick, salty air that assailed his senses, then closed the door back to settle in on the airconditioned room. So much for nature.

Over the weekend, we were able to bring Alphonse everywhere. Alex volunteered to baby-sit while A and I have a quiet dinner but since I don’t trust two teenagers alone in a room together, we hauled them everywhere. Alex feigned hurt that I did not trust him to watch after Alphonse, and he seemed to get a kick from my response that if I catch both of them in a wild party with girls and drinking, I’d have to ground their a**es till they were in their thirties. 😀

It was amazing to see Alphonse enjoy himself. The last trip we were in all together was almost two years ago, a few months before he went on “siege.” Since then, we’ve been wary about bringing him places, as new people, places, and experiences could set off a major tantrum. Lately, however, we’ve seen in him a renewed interest in the world. He’s been so much more attuned to others around him. And yes, his behavior has improved so much that most of the time, he now simply responds to verbal reminders on how to behave and act appropriately.

We were able to eat dinner at a Japanese restaurant and while he kept looking at the other tables, probably wondering why his food was taking a bit longer than he was used to, he did not whine at all nor did he attempt to grab someone else’s food. He played with memory cards until his food arrived, and when it did (a large order of tempura and a bowl of gyu saikoro don), he gobbled it up almost immediately. Not content, he begged for slices of Alex’s teriyaki chicken, and only after eating half of Alex’s food did he appear sated. Then he sat down quietly, taking in the conversations around him, till we were all finished.

It was the same thing when we brought him to fastfood joints. Here in Manila, drive-thrus and home delivery are commonly the methods of food acquisition we use, as they limit our interaction with other habitués of any dining facility. Over the weekend however, we discovered that Alphonse could now tolerate waiting periods, could eat independently, and best of all, would not grab at other people’s food or drinks. It was such a major stress reliever.

The trip without the nannies was a big test, true, but he seemed to enjoy the independence. Of course, I looked in on him while he bathed and dressed (I supervised), but I no longer needed to help him with a lot of things. Also, he used his communication notebook and pecs cards more consistently; we were surprised to find him “asking” for things and not simply waiting for it to be brought to him. And these were some of the lessons we brought home for his nannies. They were there to watch over him, to prompt him occasionally, to help him cope with the things in life, but they are not his hands or feet. Many things he will have to do by himself. It’s time to stop the babying and let him be the man he is destined to be.

Alex and I were reviewing our weekend pictures last night when he remarked, quite aptly, that our pictures seemed so mundane and would hardly merit any praise as travel pictures. (“Mom, you took pictures of the bathroom? Did you take one of the park? How about the beach?”) He didn’t want some of his pictures shown, the ones where I catch him holding on to his PSP as a fifth appendage, and I had to twist his arm a little (not literally) to convince him to allow me to show people how he sleeps with his mouth open. I certainly agree with his astute observations; I did forget to take shots of the lovely beach and the verdant park. Yet, I explained to him, that this last weekend was not about the destination but about the family, not about the sights but the journey. And if those 48 hours were any indication of what our future will be as a family living and loving and thriving with autism, then I can look forward to tomorrow with inextinguishable hope.