Philippine Travel Log: Gotchya Day Zero

Adoptive families have an extra holiday to celebrate each year.  In addition to birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Kazmir Pulaski Day, adoptive families celebrate “Gotchya Day”.  This is a special holiday for an adopted child commemorating the day when his or her parents came and “gotchya”.  I suppose any number of days could be candidates for a technical definition of Gotchya Day – the day you meet your child for the first time; the day you step off the plane on American soil together; etc – but evidently the common definition is the day you take possession of your child’s legal documents, travel papers, etc.

Today was that day for us.

We got up, got ready, ate breakfast buffet at the Jeepney (I still drool every time I think about it), and the waited for Che, our social worker to arrive.  We had planned to connect with her today, get John’s official papers, and to visit the Intercountry Adoption Board (ICAB), where Philippine culture dictated that we meet a representative of the board, exchange gifts, sign a token document (the excuse to get us together), and make a showing in front of them with our new child.

Che arrived at the InterContinental 30 minutes early – something that never happens in Philippine culture, except for when we met with her the week prior (before going to get John).  So, I guess we should have known, but managed to be caught off guard again, and we rushed out of the room without the gift we’d brought for ICAB, which embarrassed us to no end once we realized it (about halfway there in the car).  We met Che in the lobby, and unlike our last very talkative, very social encounter, this one was all business.

We jumped into a hotel car (we never went anywhere by ourselves), and headed across the city to ICAB’s offices.  John fell asleep on the way over there, and when we got there, he wanted nothing to do with anything or anybody.  He was groggy and uncertain in new surroundings and is generally shy around new adults, so that was a combination that led to his burying his face in my shoulder and being completely unwilling to acknowledge anyone that we met.  Faith and I, of course, were self-conscious, thinking that ICAB would think he hated being with us, which are silly thoughts, but we had them anyway.

Our trip to meet these folks really was perfunctory.  The obligatory nature of the visit was pretty obvious.  We signed the guest book, signed a meaningless form we easily could have signed anywhere, met a member of the Board, and engaged in casual conversation for a few minutes (mostly centered on how blessed we are and how blessed John is – which are important, real truths, but we were discussing them with a total stranger whom we *had* to visit with, holding a child who really didn’t want to be there).  They gave John two very nice gifts – a little Jeepney toy (I’ll try to post a picture) and a miniature Philippine flag.  We were totally embarassed at our forgotten gift, and John of course had no interest in their gifts at the moment, which didn’t exactly make us less self-conscious.  But we got through it, having only spent less than an hour there.

As soon as we got back in the car, John was happy again.  I see how it is!  We drove the 30 minutes back to the hotel, and retreated to our room with Che to conduct business.  She gave us and walked us through our official packets for the immigration departments of both the US and Philippine governments.  The packet she gave us for US immigration was an 8.5×11″ sealed document that we explicit instructions not to open.  We also received John’s passport and visa, and the papers to give to Philippine customs and integration which would allow us to take him from the country.  The longer we talked, the more rules and regulations and don’t-forget-to-do-this’s and don’t-forget-about-that’s she shared with us, so the more nervous I got about making sure that we get it right when we actually tried to pull off the exodus a few days later.

One of the big things I remember is that we absolutely could not under any circumstances leave the Hong Kong airport.  If our feet were to touch Chinese soil, it would invalidate John’s travel papers.  Since his Visa was issued from the Philippines, he had to enter the United States from the Philippines.  If our feet were to touch Chinese soil … er … tarmac, then it would mean we would be entering the US from China, not the Philippines.  Or, more precisely, we *wouldn’t* be entering the US at all.

But that paled in comparison to the realization that we had been wrong about John’s name all this time.  Here I was, having wrestled for hours on the phone and in person with travel agents re: John’s return plane ticket to the US, and it turns out that the wrong name was on the ticket.  On every document we’d ever seen, John’s name was listed as “John Lloyd Labiste”.  We thought John was his first nae, Lloyd was his middle name, and Labiste was his last name.  Everyone called him John Lloyd, but we always assumed (wrongly) that there was some Philippine custom that dictated the common use of both his first and middle name.  In our meeting with Che, I opened John’s passport, and clearly read that his full name was “John Lloyd Moyon Labiste”.  I had no idea he *had* a middle name.  And now, after all the concern about the name on my ticket being “Jeff” instead of “Jeffrey” and how we were concerned that the Chinese wouldn’t let me on the plane, I was freaking out a bit.  Especially when you combine it with the first realization … no leaving the airport.

So, if we’d have gotten to Hong Kong with the wrong name on John’s ticket, and we couldn’t get on the plane, we’d have been trapped trapped trapped.  Che shared this concern, so Faith and John headed out to the pool, and Che and I got another hotel car, and headed to the airport to work with Philippine Airlines to resolve it.

Now, keep in mind that I’d already worked with United several times before leaving the States, spent a bunch of time with Philippine Airlines at the airport when we arrived in Manila, and even worked with the travel agent at the hotel to resolve ticket issues before we went to get John.  If you’ve been reading my blog, you remember all that, I’m sure.  Well, we show up at the PAL office at the airport, and the first thing they tell me is that the ticket isn’t right anyway, so it’s good we came to see them.  Immediately, I start praying again, fighting not to worry about the outcome.

Just like my last experience with Philippine Airlines, we started at “you’re totally screwed” and worked our way through several intermediate options until we finally arrived at “no problem”.  By the time it was all said and done, we paid a $25 change fee, they reprinted the ticket with “John Lloyd Labiste” on it, and we were good to go.

Che headed her own way, and I rode back to the hotel in the car by myself, clutching John’s travel papers and his new plane ticket, and thanking God for providing for us yet again.  I found Faith and John still in the pool, having a blast.  It was past lunch time, though, so they got out, dried off, got dressed, and we headed for lunch.

We were craving American food, so we headed over to the mall.  We’d done McDo and Jollibee, so we thought we’d introduce John to pizza.  There was no abundance of pizza places in Makati, and the Pizza Hut Bistro was right across the street from the hotel, so we settled for that.  Coming from Chicago – land of Lou Malnati’s – it’s pretty much a crime against our people to eat the Pizza Hut ‘za, but we figured “Kids like it, right?!”.

We walked into Pizza Hut Bistro, and immediately realized we weren’t in Kansas Illinois anymore.  It was a step in the right direction, though.  Rather than the plastic table cloth booths we’ve come to know and love in the American version of Pizza Hut, we were greeted by white linen table clothes, funky higher-end plates, and a menu which included gourmet salads, pastas, dinner entrees, and indeed classic Pizza Hut pizza.  It reminded me more of a Houlihan’s than a Pizza Hut.  My interest was peaked.

As we sat down, and our waiter took our drink order, my experiences of ordering pizza outside the US came flooding back to me.  Let me enlighten you for your own benefit.

Travel Tip #12: If you’re ordering pizza in Europe (and evidently the Philippines), keep in mind that their “large” is our medium.  Their “family size” is somewhere between our large and our medium.  There is no large, and they’ve removed the letter “X” from the alphabet.  There’s no XL or 2XL anything…  clothes, roads, cars, houses … or pizza.

Travel Tip #13: Cheese isn’t a given.  In the Philippines, our pizza all came with cheese automatically.  Must have been the American influence.  In Germany, if you wanted cheese on your pizza, you had to explicitly ask for it.  So, if you order a pepperoni pizza in Europe, you get crust, sause, and pepperoni.  Much less pepperoni than you wish you had, on a much smaller pizza than you wish you had.  And maybe there’s even a semi-fried egg on top.  But don’t even get me going about the egg thing, which didn’t happen in the Philippines.

Okay, enough about that.  Faith and I ordered a “family” pizza, only half with cheese on it – because John was rumored to be lactose intolerate.  We’ve since learned that dairy really isn’t a problem, but at the time we were being cautious.  The ‘za showed up with far less topping on it than it would have here, and without the cheese it was basically saucey crust.  I choked it down because I’m a fat kid, Faith really liked it, and John had no interest in it at all. What!?  A kid who doesn’t like pizza!?!  I’m appalled.  But not to worry, when we got him back to the States, we discovered that it was just *that* pizza.  He’s all over Lou’s.  *score!*

After the Hut was nap time. John went down without incident, and I think it was my turn to get some computer hang time while he was sleeping.

After nap time, we headed back over to the mall to play.  They had a play land there that John had enjoyed the day or so before, so we figured he would play on that for a while, then we wanted to see if we could buy him another pair of shoes.  Plus, we thought he’d enjoy just exploring the mall.  As it turned out, John had very little interest in the playground, but once he saw the escalators, the next hour was pretty much mapped out for us.  Up and down.  Up and down.  I’m going to estimate 25 maybe 30 round trips on the escalator.  At first, he was tentative about getting on and off, and I had to warn him every time the end of the stairs was coming.  By lunch time, he was leaping out onto the escalator, to the amazement of dad and passersby alike.

Once we finally got past escalator madness, we headed to a store called “Landmark“.  This place was crazy huge.  It’s the same place we had purchased luggage locks the week prior, and we thought that if this place didn’t have shoes for John then no place would.  Sure enough, we found an awesome-looking little pair of sneakers that we all (including John) liked and that were a really great price (translated to like $7!!!).  Having gotten over the positive sticker shock, we went and checked out clothes too.  We found a few we liked, but nothing that really screamed that we must have them.  They were all cheap too.  We would have stocked up on clothes and shoes and probably a bunch of other stuff too, if it weren’t for the fear that John would get it in his head that he’d won the lottery or something.  We have been very sensitive all through this process not to bury him in “stuff”.  We want him to appreciate what he has, whether it’s toys or clothes or whatever.

After our shopping trip, we headed back tot he hotel, where we decided to go swimming again.  We had eaten a late lunch, and snacked a little at the mall (including a stop at BreadTalk on our way out), so we didn’t really feel like eating a formal dinner. Instead we grazed our way through the evening, and spent our time lounging around the pool and just playing at the hotel.

Because we thought we were going to be gone the entire next day (Wednesday), and Ryan (our buddy who worked at the pool at the hotel) has Thursdays off, we made it a point to connect with him and say goodbye.  He introduced us to a friend of his like we were old pals.  He then brought us complimentary chips, peanuts, and water, as he had both earlier that day (while Faith and John were swimming and I was at the airport) and earlier that week.  In addition to the free stuff, we also ordered a majorly-overpriced drink called a “four seasons”, which was a blend of a bunch of fruit juices that was absolutely awesome.  And finally, we took this picture to remember him by.

This was the first time we were out at the pool after dark.  We enjoyed just sitting and watching the beautiful lighted spheres hanging in the trees around the pool.  Here’s a picture of that too.  Eventually, John noticed a couple of pool hands scrubbing the deck on the other end of the pool.  He stood and watched them for a good 20 minutes until they were done, and then asked if he could pick up where they left off.  I asked them if I could borrow their brush for John, and they agreed.  John then proceeded to push water around on the deck by the pool for quite a while.  He loved it!

After the pool was more play time in the room.  We ate snacks, repeatedly reminded John not to turn the clock radio up too high, and generally just messed around.  The three big news items that evening were…

First, John started saying “I love you” and giving kisses to Faith and I today.  This was the hugest thing ever.  We were both SO excited.

Secondly, John decided that he needed to try to get his coins inside Faith’s belly button.  She taught him to say “Get in my belly!”, which I warned was likely something that would come back to haunt her.  And I was right.  It didn’t even take 24 hours.  I shot a video that night of John working Faith’s belly over trying to press coins in.  Afterwards, Faith decided that John needed to get coins into *my* belly.  So, she bribed me to get me to let him do it, and made a big deal to John about how cavernous my belly button is (I guess to entice him to accost me).  So, John pulls my shirt up, takes one look at my big hairy bellybutton, exclaims “YUCK!”, and pulls my shirt down.  Faith could have died.  (Well, that, and I can’t believe I’m blogging about this.)

Thirdly, we broke the chair and fixed the TV.  Faith had been worried for a while that John had turned the TV in our room on and off one too many times, and broke it.  She’d unplugged the (I kid you not) 5 cords that fed the TV, and strictly forbidden John not to touch it again, while waiting on daddy to get around to taking a look at it to see if it was indeed broken.  Tonight, while John and dad were messing around in the room being rambunctous, I sat down on the desk chair, and one of the wheels just snapped right off.  I knew I shouldn’t have gone back for seconds at breakfast, but it was too late.

About 8PM, we transitioned to bath and bed, which were fairly uneventful.  John was so well behaved today, which was such a blessing to us.  In general, he’s such a source of joy for us.  Today was no different.

About Jeff Block

Lover and follower of Jesus, the long awaited King. Husband and father. Writer and seminary student. On a long, difficult, joyful adventure, learning to swim with the current of God's sovereign love and walk with Him in the garden in the cool of the day.
This entry was posted in Adoption, Family and Friends, Travel and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Philippine Travel Log: Gotchya Day Zero

  1. Kim Piet says:

    Ok, you have NO clue who I am…but I’m loving your blog! You’ve pegged the Philippines perfectly in every post, and it’s crackin’ me up! I found your blog by googling the Whittle’s and the Shekinah Home. We are also missionaries in the Philippines, and have a children’s home in Baguio City. We’ve completed 2 international adoptions…two in Tennessee, and our third child will be going to Elk Grove, Illinois in a week or two. SO, as I started reading your posts, I became increasingly intrigued by your experiences. I’ve also found that the last family we worked with, the Reutters, used the same liaison agency as you…and am familiar with Jacky and Che. Small world! If you’re interested, our website is, and I’m on facebook.


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