Monday, February 16, 2015

Connections Across the Pond

red roses | Connections Across the Pond
Valentine's Day flowers, 2015
We write…

Being away from each other on special occasions throughout the year were especially difficult even though technology has reduced the world into a global village. Birthdays, Christmas and New Year's Eve are among those occasions that are extra special that you’d want the one you love to be beside you. But Valentine’s Day reigns as THE occasion on which being away from someone you love can be especially torturous.

Nothing can replace the physical presence of the one you love. Thankfully there are now many ways to bridge the gap that makes it feel less like a chasm. We used several ways, some more than others, until we found what worked best for us. Here’s a rundown of those ways, in the order we used them.

Our first message exchange was via Facebook Messenger after we became friends on social networking site as a result of a relative’s introduction. It started out nicely, but as our messages became longer, the drawback of the limited editing space of Facebook Messenger back then, along with the lack of an auto-save feature, became a concern. We now limit our exchanges on Facebook Messenger to small quips, article links, and quick messages, which in the scheme of things is probably what Messenger was meant to handle.

Still, FaceBook was a way to get to know each other- the kind of friends we had, places we frequented, what was on our minds and interests among other things.


We were both Gmail users, which for me was a first glimpse into the old saying that “great minds think alike.” Gmail and GTalk made it very easy for us to communicate and exchange files in a one-stop-shop environment. We were particularly fond of GTalk because the months before we began our relationship, we were always happy to see each online whenever one would log in the morning while the other is ending the day or vice versa.

Over the morning’s starter cup of coffee and work email shuffling, we would chat at the same time, catching small glimpses of each other’s personal day recaps and work lives.Gmail was, of course, an ideal method for longer messages, especially with those where the time spent writing was splintered or had occasional interruptions. We especially liked the large capacity of space that Google grants to every user because we’ve archived every message and chat conversation, and were able to do so without the concern of running out of space.

We also used Beejive GT, a gtalk app for mobile devices. We wanted to use GV Phone but it wasn’t available in the Philippines.


If you and your message recipients use an iPhone, iMessage is extremely reliable. Since you can use it on Wifi networks, it allows unlimited messaging without incurring international text messaging charges. We must have logged in thousands of pages’ worth of iMessage, which could have been a nightmare cost-wise if we were just using regular SMS text lines. It was also a convenient way to send photos and videos but for multiple photos and longer videos, we used iPhoto cloud sharing.


We loved the clarity of the resolution of FaceTime! For the almost year-and-a-half that we were apart, we spoke almost two to three times everyday for hours on FaceTime. Our routine on workdays was to wake each other in the morning.

We used the timezone difference to our advantage and were able to ensure that the other would wake up on time especially for important appointments especially in obtaining documents in government offices in the Philippines and following up on progress of our papers at the USCIS. A mutual friend was right when she said, “you have to admit, nakakaganda ang FaceTime (you have to admit that FaceTime enhances your looks)!”

FaceTime audio became available last year and we found it useful when we needed to give the other a call and communicate while in transit.


Viber was especially helpful outside Metro Manila where the 3G connection was weaker than ideal. Viber was ideal with text messages and voice calls because unlike iMessage, it did not automatically send a text (which amounted to P10 every 160 words for postpaid and P15 for prepaid) as an SMS when 3G was no longer available.

It was a nice alternative in case one app wasn’t functioning and the sticker feature was a funny and creative way to convey messages too.


The MagicJack app on the iPhone enabled calls to any US phone landline or mobile phone from the Philippines, which came in handy.


Whilst this was probably at the time the most common way to communicate overseas via video chat, we found it to be extremely problematic. The app didn’t work consistently, and connections were frequently troublesome. It just didn’t work for us.

Sprint International Texting (Ray)

For a nominal fee of about $10 per month, Sprint offers an add-on (to US mobile service account holders) for unlimited SMS texting to any number in the Philippines. Texting was the most reliable way to keep in touch with Kir especially since she had another phone for business/alternate personal use that wasn’t an iPhone. Whenever she traveled to her province, or other area with non-existent 3G service, we were still able to contact each other. Having firsthand experience in trying to use the equivalent feature with another mobile phone provider, Sprint was by far the most reliable and easiest account feature. Sprint Customer Service made it very easy to activate the feature. Other providers either charged more or required the international texting feature to be a part of another package plan.

ITXTALL30 (Kira)

I had three numbers- one postpaid and two prepaid SIMs in my MyPhone (for basic text and calls). In the Philippines, iPhone gets as hot as iron almost like it’s overheating when you turn the cellular data on which makes battery life last only three to four hours. MyPhone battery lasted for days that’s why when traveling to Abra, which is a 10-hour bus ride from Manila, I usually registered to Globe’s ITXTALL30 promo. This allowed me to send 100 text messages to local and international numbers. Heading north, Globe had a better reception but down south in Mindanao Smart had better signal.

More than anything, the apps we use show our gadget preference and age. Younger couples in long distance relationships would probably prefer WeChat, KakaoTalk, and SnapChat. We, on the other hand, were more comfortable exploiting our iPhone features.

We’re not sure how we would have managed during the days before the Internet and iPhones, during the days of snail mail and international phone cards. We would have found ways but we’re grateful we had the tools and technology available to us today.

There’s an ongoing joke we have about those who are less informed to have to “send load” to their overseas romances, but if you have the right tools, and are aware of the many apps available, it’s quite simple. (See also reliable courier services when in a long distance US-Philippines relationship)#

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