e arrived at the consulate early (around 7:45 a.m.) and waited for the doors to open at 8 a.m. Our taxi driver agreed to wait for us (for a fee to be determined later--mistake) and we headed up to the consulate's third floor at eight sharp. I was given a few forms to fill out and I paid a small fee of 260 pesos ($10.00). We were then told to return at 11 a.m. Since our flight to Ozamiz City left at 12:50 p.m. (which meant that we would have to be checked in at the airport by 11:50 a.m.), we were worried about missing the plane.

We asked the taxi driver to take us to a restaurant so that we could get some breakfast down. He found a nice hotel with an even nicer restaurant in the lobby. I told the affable driver that I would buy him breakfast and he joined us. The buffet was lovely. I had an omelet that was made right in front of me, Emelda ate light (as she always does) and the driver took the opportunity to fill up. We all enjoyed a leisurely breakfast.

Since we were in danger of missing our flight (depending on how our appointment at the consulate went) this subject came up. Since I knew that it was possible for our appointment to run long, I had checked and determined that there was another flight on the following morning at 6:10 a.m. I knew that we could get to Ozamiz on the next day if we had to, but I wanted to get there sooner than later. Emelda on the other hand was thoroughly enjoying her first trip away from Mindanao (the island on which she lives) and campaigned for us to stay in Cebu City for one more night regardless of how quickly or slowly our consulate appointment went. She argued that this would take the time pressure we were under away and that we could enjoy another day together in private. It didn't really take any arguing. I like the idea!

After breakfast, we headed for a Philippine Airlines ticketing office where we took a number and waited to change our tickets. We were the center of attention as usual. When our number came up, we booked ourselves on the next morning's flight. I paid a small no-show fee of 100 pesos ($3.85) and were on our way.

I had mentioned that I wanted to buy Emelda a swimsuit (she didn't own one), so our driver suggested that we go to a nearby department store (I believe the name of it was 'Ayala' or something close to that). Since we were out of our element, we quickly agreed. When we arrived at the store, there was a small crowd waiting for the store to open. It was approximately 9:50 a.m. Emelda and I joined the crowd and waited for the store to open. A young girl around age five or so kept staring at me, so I began making funny faces in an attempt to get her to smile. Every time I contorted my face, she buried her head in her mama's thigh. After a few minutes, I asked her, "Kumusta ka na?" This is Tagalog for "How are you now?" a common phrase in The Philippines. This brought a smile to the little girl's face and captured her mama's attention. A white man there is a rare sight, but a white man that speaks the native tongue is even rarer. Emelda and I spoke to the lady until the store's doors opened.

As we entered the store, we were met by two long rows of store employees (young women dressed in green uniforms) who greeted us affectionately. A few of them tried to hide their obvious surprise as I walked by them. "Good morning, sir," never sounded so sweet. Emelda and I headed for the ladies' clothing department where we quickly found a great swimsuit. Emelda tried it on but was too shy to let me see her in it.

I had become a big fan of Filipino music, so we headed for the music department where I found two compact discs which are not available in America. I bought them and at Emelda's suggestion, I purchased two handkerchiefs as well. The store was large and impressive and we enjoyed some leisurely 'window shopping' while we waited for our appointment time to roll around.

When we returned to the consulate, there were several American men coupled with Filipino women. The small consulate office was so jammed with people that Emelda and I were forced to stand while we waited for our names to be called. 11:15 rolled around and a few seats were vacated. We sat as we continued to wait. I noticed that all of the other men were in their forties or fifties and all of the ladies were in their twenties. Many of the men were gruff-looking and/or balding. The women were typical Filipinas; beautiful and demure.

Before long, my name was called and we approached the window where the interviews were taking place. To fill you in on the requirements which must be met in order to obtain the Legal Capacity To Contract Marriage form; Emelda had to bring her birth certificate, a photo I.D., a notarized letter of consent from her parents and every letter I had ever written to her. I simply had to bring my passport and 260 pesos (although it is suggested that the petitioning man bring the letters from his fiancée and I had done just that). The final requirement was an interview which would determine if Emelda and I were indeed a legitimate couple or a pair of scam artists. Since we had nothing to be deceptive about, I simply told Emelda to answer any questions honestly and I planned to do the same.The consulate official started in on Emelda, asking her several rapid-fire questions. As soon as she began answering a question, he was on to the next question before she had even finished her answer. How many brothers and sisters does Jeff have? What are their names? What are his parents' names? When are their birthdays? Where does Jeff live? How old is Jeff? How long have you known Jeff? How did you meet? Do you have any relatives in the United States? What is Jeff's favorite color? What kind of car does Jeff drive? What color is it? What is the name of Jeff's best friend? Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Emelda's nervousness was obvious, but she kept a cool head and answered every question she could. When she didn't know an answer, she simply said, "I don't know" as I had suggested.

Next, it was my turn. He hit me with several questions in the same manner. How many brothers and sisters does Emelda have? How old are they? What are her parents' names? He asked me significantly fewer questions than he asked Emelda. After a dozen or so queries, he asked for the letters. I had placed an envelope containing Emelda's letters on the counter and Emelda had placed my letters to her there as well. I pointed to the two envelopes and he asked, "Are these the letters?" I answered in the affirmative while I privately dreaded the idea of a stranger reading my private sentiments to the woman I love. To my delight, he quickly said, "I don't need to read them. You two know each other."

With that, he asked me to raise my right hand. I did so and he administered an oath to me during which I swore to the authenticity of the information I had provided. Next, he signed three or four copies of the coveted form and handed two copies over to me. He wished us luck, gave us a package of forms which I'd need to submit to the Immigration Department in the U.S. and told us that it would be at least nine months before Emelda would be allowed to come to the U.S. We already knew about the 'official' processing time for immigration, but we also knew that there were ways to speed it up, so the pronouncement didn't faze us. I also had a contact in Manila who could allegedly get Emelda to the U.S. in only three months, so I didn't worry about what the man had said. We thanked him (presumably for taking our money, grilling us and prying into our personal life) and headed back down to our jovial taxi driver.

Now that we were past that baptism of fire, we relaxed and celebrated our accomplishment. Our driver showed us some of Cebu's sights. We enjoyed our excursion, free of any pressure from flight schedules or government officials. Since the driver had suggested that we stay at a nicer hotel on nearby Mactan Island (where the airport is located) and since I was in an adventurous mood, I agreed that the Hotel De Mercedes was out. We headed across Mactan Bridge and checked out a few resorts until we found the Maribago Blue Water Resort. It was gorgeous and exotic. Emelda was anxious to stay there and despite the resort's exorbitant cost (she's worth it), I agreed. We checked in and waited for our cottage to be cleaned while we enjoyed complimentary drinks (non-alcoholic ones).

Despite the fact that there was no reason for him to do so, the taxi driver lingered and would not answer me when I asked him how much I owed him (I had made the mistake of failing to negotiate a price in advance). He said that he would leave after we had been taken to our cottage. This struck me as strange and I decided that I didn't want him to know the location of our cottage. I became more firm. He had already offered to pick us up in the morning and take us to the airport, so I told him that we would see him then (hint, hint). I asked him again how much he wanted. When he quoted a price of 1,500 pesos ($57.69). I felt the blood drain from my face and I knew that my dismay was obvious to the man. This was a totally unreasonable price for the amount of time he had spent with us. Emelda's sister earns less than 1,500 pesos for fifteen days of work at her job. This is a lot of money in The Philippines.

Not wanting to cause a scene or have an argument and realizing that I was to blame for not setting a price in advance, I agreed and asked if this would include the morning trip to the airport. He answered in the affirmative, but his lack of enthusiasm worried me. I gave him no tip (a rare moment for me because I tend to tip very big) because of the high price. I gave him three 500 pesos notes and he went on his way. I had just made a cardinal mistake. I paid him for work he had not yet completed (the trip to the airport). I had been warned by veteran travelers not to do this in The Philippines because if there's no incentive for a driver to return (other than honor), a driver tends not to return. I was too stunned by the price quote to withhold some of his payment and I didn't think clearly. I was hopeful that our affable driver was honorable, but I had a head full of doubts as he went to the check in counter to receive his kickback before he returned to his car.

I decided to put him out of my mind and before long, Emelda and I were escorted to a golf cart. We climbed aboard and were joined by a security guard (with a gun) and a porter/driver. We were driven across the resort's grounds on our way to the cottage. The place was beautifully landscaped and quite impressive. The cottage was right on the beach. The white sand provided a sharp contrast to the beautiful blue water. Emelda was beaming and I was getting happier by the second. Not since my family visited an impressive resort in Hawaii (the name escapes me) had I seen such a nice place to stay.

The cottage was luxurious. As the porter brought the bags in and headed right for the air conditioning unit, I took in the beautiful room. Emelda was visibly impressed and I was glad that we had made the decision to stay there. I tipped the porter 100 pesos (a big tip in The Philippines) and we settled in as the air conditioning cooled us down.

After a long nap (we had gotten up early and I was still experiencing jet lag), Emelda flipped the television on and watched for awhile. Since Emelda's family doesn't have a tv, this was a treat for her (the resort has cable). We watched and talked for awhile, happy to be together in such a romantic setting.

When the evening rolled around, we ordered room service. It was delivered to the raised, private patio outside the cottage's front door. I paid around 350 pesos ($13.46) for a lavish meal that would've cost at least double that in America. I gave the waiter a 500 peso note and we thanked each other.

Emelda and I sat down to a romantic dinner overlooking the beach. The food was as delicious as the view. I was sitting across from the woman I love, marveling at my good fortune. Emelda's beauty took my breath away (as usual). It was one of those great moments that you wait for in life. Everything was perfect.

Until the cat started meowing! Man, was this feline annoying! He wouldn't shut up. I guess he smelled the food and figured he'd get fed if he begged. Having come from the if-you-feed-him-then-he'll-just-keep-coming-back school, I nixed the idea of flinging some scraps his way and began flinging ice cubes at him. He gradually began moving farther away and my drink gradually became warmer and warmer.

After dinner, Emelda and I took a walk on the beach. We were the only ones present. The sea was calm. The moon was out. It was another romantic moment. We walked next to the water while holding hands and discussing our future together. After a bit, we found a gazebo. I sat down on a lounge chair. Emelda sat on my lap. We embraced and enjoyed the picturesque view for awhile, contented.

When we got tired, we returned to the cottage. After a little more tv, we retired for the night (but not before Emelda reminded me to brush my teeth). Falling asleep in her arms felt as natural as breathing. I thanked God for my good fortune.