My husband and I should have done all our traveling before our 70s, when visa requirements were more reasonable and easier to meet. As happens, it’s only now that we’ve found the time and resources for longer leisure trips.
Still, I find it ridiculous that 77 years after my mother, dead since 2007, gave birth to me at the Philippine General Hospital, I’m still being required to appear personally at the Manila City Hall registry office to get a true copy of my birth certificate. My husband has to do the same thing. We already have photocopies of the certificates, both issued in 2008, when we finally got married, but they won’t do. And, if, for whatever reason, we need them again after six months, we’d have to go through the whole process again.
The National Statistics Office has no records of our birth, otherwise we could have gotten our true copies easily online. I remember they didn’t have my father’s either, but he was born in 1918. You can imagine what a hassle it was to get his death certificate when we couldn’t produce proof he was ever born.
He was a very public figure—five-term congressman, newspaper columnist, diplomat—but we still needed to get affidavits from his younger living siblings to affirm he was indeed born of my grandparents on the 28th day of September in 1918! (It was only then I found out he had a middle name—Miguel.)
Morbid travel insurance
Rules on visa and other travel requirements have drastically changed for those aged between 75 and 79. Travel insurance turns morbid: the premium doubles. And, from age 80, it triples; from 90, it quadruples. In the old days, the most unpleasant requirement was the vaccinations against smallpox and malaria.
It’s my luck that my midyear checkup—blood works and other lab tests—came due in time for me to get a medical certificate declaring me fit for travel; they sometimes ask for it. A personal appearance may also be required by insurance companies; it was waived in my case. My friend who was my own insurance agent attested I was still ambulatory and far from death’s throes, and that was good enough.
My policy had to cover all unfortunate and otherwise unimaginable situations that could befall anyone my age, including death. In fact, the policy at a certain point begins referring to the insured, ever so delicately, as the “remains.” In that case, the policy generously allows two relatives to be flown to wherever death struck, witness the cremation of the remains and, after signing some papers, to accompany the urn containing the ashes on the flight home.
To add insult to morbidity, we were advised to have with us other humiliating visa requirements to prove we’re not indigents who may end up dependent on the state—bank certificates, tax payments, property titles and letters guaranteeing support from relatives or friends in case the need for it arose. With all the papers we’ve had to prepare, it felt more like we were applying for a bank loan, not a mere tourist visa.
Instead of packing suitcases, I was more inclined to prepare my last will and testament and cancel the whole trip altogether.
But I hardly blame embassies for being wary of senior tourists; after all, it has happened often enough that some seniors don’t make it back.
Last year we lost Marilou Vicencio, a twice-widowed classmate, who, after many years of trying to get healthy enough for it, finally took her long-planned trip to visit her children. On a side trip to Las Vegas to visit a friend before flying home, she suffered a heart attack. Her children’s insurance covered the cost of emergency open-heart surgery in the United States, and she seemed recovering until she suffered a second, and fatal, attack.
Before she left, classmates had given a lunch for her and for newly arrived stateside classmates—a despedida and bienvenida in one. Who’d have thought we’d be welcoming her in her mere remains at the Santuario de San Antonio?
Recently, a young friend, the same age as my younger children, Popong de Leon, a successful art collector and art-auction impresario, lost his mom, probably younger than I, on a family trip. Some years back, Josie Lichauco decided to celebrate a milestone birthday with her children in Hong Kong but had fallen ill and died shortly after her arrival.
A most recent case is 96-year-old Washington SyCip, a Philippine icon, who passed away while on a flight to Canada. His niece Li SyCip noted that, when a child is born on flight, the baby becomes a citizen of the world, and that surely the symbolism is not lost on those who knew her remarkable uncle.
One fine morning, we went to the Manila City Hall, not knowing what to expect. It seemed easy enough: We filled out a form and went through the five steps to get a true copy of our birth certificates. We fell in the regular line—no senior privilege was honored—and still we were done in less than an hour. We were asked to pick up our certificates the next day, only because we chose not to pay extra for expeditious processing, which would have turned out our certificates before the end of the day.
Since we were already near Ermita, we decided to lunch at Tao Yuan on Mabini and Malvar, an old favorite, for steamed suahe and Hainanese chicken. Color-coded next day, we took Uber back to City Hall on a hassle-free ride and got our birth certificates as soon as we asked for them. It was a breeze.
Birth certificates naturally make people like us more aware of the urgency of life, and that’s precisely why we’re determined more than ever to enjoy and celebrate life while in good health and fair fortune. What better way to get away from it all than travel and see everything again with very senior eyes.