September 21-27, 2020. This is the first week that I didn’t have to rush every morning to get to Alliance Française for my daily four-hour language classes. I had intentionally not enrolled in the last week of the B1-level program because I wanted at least a week for some rest before my LL.M. (Master of Laws) international arbitration program commenced.
To make most of the free time, I had previously decided to take a leisure trip. The original destination I had in mind was Hamburg, to visit a good friend. But a month or so ago, Germany introduced stricter measures for all persons entering from France, which meant it was too cumbersome to make a visit. I would have had to isolate myself for two weeks upon arriving and that would have been too much trouble. Also, of course, if I only had a week to spare, there wouldn’t have been enough time to complete the two-week quarantine.
July 28, 2020. In less than an hour from Compiègne by train, we arrive in Amiens, an affluent mid-size city north of Paris. Upon arriving at the train station, we wasted no time and immediately walked to Musée de Picardie, which was quite a distance from the terminal. We passed through the pedestrian promenades in the center of the city along the way. At that hour, which was around 4 in the afternoon, the sun was still scorching hot so there were few people walking the streets. Many were under the shades of trees in the parks or in the shaded terraces of cafes.
July 28, 2020. Two of my LL.M. classmates who had remained in Paris over the coronavirus confinement invited me to a day trip to Compiègne and Amiens, just short train rides away north of Paris. It served as our first reunion, months after our abrupt separation as a class last March when most of the class (including myself) hurriedly flew out of Paris to seek refuge in our respective countries of origin.
So I met my Japanese and Russian classmates at the Gare du Nord in the morning and we all took an almost-empty summer weekday train, first, to the town of Compiègne, which only took less than an hour.
July 20-26, 2020. The first half of last week was spent contemplating on and preparing last minute necessities for my impending departure from Manila. I made last minute trips to the mall, saw some friends, and finally got myself to pack the relatively few things I would be taking with me–considering that I would be staying abroad for a year. They all fit in just one suitcase and a duffel bag, actually. I flew out of Manila on July 22 and arrived in Paris the day after, spending a brief layover in Doha, Qatar. I wrote a separate blog entry narrating the experience of the entire transit.
It is by fortunate circumstance that I was allowed to leave the Philippines despite the many restrictions in international travel during these times. I have an existing resident visa for France that allowed me to pass through immigration authorities in Manila just a day before the Philippine government reimposed a ban on ‘non-essential’ foreign travel for Filipinos (not that my departure was non-essential). I was also able to enter France with minimal restrictions. I was surprised immigration at Charles de Gaulle airport did not even ask for any other documentation aside from my passport. I was merely asked if, after all the time I spent in France, I had already learned how to speak French. An odd question at the airport, but oui, I said, un peu, suffisant.
Let’s do this from the beginning. On the night of July 22, 2020, there were only three flights out of Manila airport’s Terminal 3–one for Amsterdam, one of Dubai and one for Doha. I was booked on the flight to Doha that would connect me to a flight to Paris. Given all the restrictions in international travel, I had expected the flight to be sparsely booked. I was wrong. The flight from Manila to Doha was packed to the last economy seat. The flight was full of overseas Filipino workers and seamen proceeding or returning to their work abroad.
The level of pre-departure anxiety I am feeling at the moment surpasses the anxiety I felt when I was first about to leave for Paris for my first year of graduate studies. Surely, the second time shouldn’t come off as uneasy as the first? But, hell, now it does. Maybe because I now know how lonely and difficult it can get, I now know how cold, literally and figuratively, it could be. Most importantly, I am leaving at a time of great uncertainty for everyone with regard to the situation of the pandemic, especially for loved ones who I will be leaving in the Philippines, compounded with the political situation that many friends and colleagues will be facing. Everyone will staying home to weather the storm, why am I leaving?