Pack it up

Ok. So this blog is moving its way through Kubler-Ross’ various stages of loss (mostly denial), and is now attempting to deal with being back in the US. Does the fact that I’m still scanning for cheap airfare deals back to Manila mean I’m not quite ready to move on, though?

You know, there’s no better swansong to an amazing experience like Galleon Trade than hanging around a Manila air cargo terminal and dealing with customs. Since the captain always goes down with the ship, it was my duty to ensure that the remaining Galleon Trade art all got sent safely back to California.

After spending a long, stormy day in Malate, making a variety of phone calls with the help of the lovely Leslie, struggling to figure out how to send the artwork back home, it turned out that Philippine Airlines’ own air cargo was by far the best deal. (Almost all of us flew Philippine Airlines to and fro.) They didn’t even flinch when I tried to explain about the two empty glitter-covered balikbayan boxes (for every other shipper we called, balikbayan box + glitter + empty= does not compute). Best of all, the work would be shipped on the same flight I was taking, so even if I had to wait a couple of days to pick it up in the US due to customs, it would be home, quick-style.

Got all the work wrapped up safely, bought a couple of cheap suitcases at Robinson’s (it was raining too hard to even consider using a cardboard shipping box), and got to packing. I was able to pack a significant portion of the art into my two check-in bags (and could actually take one person’s art in my carry-on bag). The remainder: 2 heavy mailing tubes, 2 glittery boxes, and 2 cheap, nasty suitcases, were lugged down to PAL air cargo by Romeo and I a few hours before my flight. (Romeo=extremely patient friend).


The air cargo folks were a little uncomfortable with this dubious looking pile of stuff (and yes, I did have to explain yet again about why I was paying to send empty boxes home), but they were really nice about dealing with an unusual load. This, of course, did not make anything move any faster, however. I can now tell you all you need to know about dealing with air cargo, export declaration forms, Philippines customs, U.S. customs, and various sub-categories of shipping and receiving. It’s super-fun cocktail party conversation. I swear.


Here’s the cheery interior of the office where they fill out the export declaration forms. Apparently, they can only complete these forms by typing with one index finger on one hand. I was in here forever.

I was at PAL cargo for easily a couple of hours before leaving to check in for my flight. While at check-in, I was told that I was requested to return to cargo to review my questionable contraband with a customs agent. Gulp. As soon as he saw on my form that I was shipping paintings, he wanted to cut open every box I had (gaaaaaah) to see what I was sending. A little bit of fast-talking, a few charm-school tricks, and (most important), the offer to show him photos of all of the work from my laptop, and he let me off the hook. Everyone down at cargo was really nice, and apologetic that they had had to drag me back for the inspection.

Back to the terminal, back to the plane, and back to California, where I picked up my checked-in Galleon Trade baggage in the midst of the usual overload of luggage.


The stuff that went via air cargo was placed on hold for a couple of days, but was released pretty quickly. The US customs agent was prepared to give me a bunch of grief, too, but ended up being cool about releasing the goods after I explained the project to him. It’s really hard to explain to anyone, anywhere, why one would spend money to ship art for a non-profit, grass-roots arts exchange exhibition. I’m learning.

For all of the years that I’ve been a proud backpacker and light luggage traveler, scoffing as fellow passengers waited for bag after bag at the carousel, I’ve now met my karma. I’ve never had to deal with so many bags and cargo. It actually wasn’t that hard: just funny and new, dealing with all the stuff. Big lesson on international arts exchange: do your homework about costs and customs issues. It all worked out fine for Galleon Trade, but the learning curve was a little on the steep side…

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One Response to “Pack it up”

  1. John Says:

    Slightly off-topic, but I just read William Gibson’s Spook Country. Much of the book deals with trying to find a shipping container that never seems to come to port. It makes freight cool again. Incidentally, the math-problem-validation required for posting is interesting. Not only a spam deterrent, it also prevents comments from the mathematically challenged.

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