the privilege of knowing & working for the Barrio Doctor

Ms Didith Tayawa- Figuracion and the great man, Senator Juan Flavier

Ms Didith Tayawa- Figuracion and the great man, Senator Juan Flavier

[Note : Today we give way to someone special on a special subject.  Though we didn't know it then, my friend and fellow migrant Ms Didith Tayawa-Figuracion and I worked in the Senate of the Philippines at roughly the same time.  I couldn't make one word better in this simply written but eloquent tribute to not just a dedicated public servant but a great man, Dr Juan Flavier.  Thank you Didith and Clark (get well soon) for allowing me to repost. ]

Here’s a tribute to SENATOR JUAN MARTIN FLAVIER, my former boss, idol, father figure and Ninong, all rolled into one:

You were my boss in the Senate for 10 years before moving to New Zealand to start a new chapter of my life. In all those years, I have only but happy memories.

I remember how you fondly called me Pocahontas.

I remember how you consoled me after being emotional when substantial changes to the proposed Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA), a landmark legislation, were made at the Bicameral Congressional Committee on Cultural Communities.You said: “Didith, in life, you can’t win them all.You have to be prepared to compromise. What is important is to identify your non-negotiables and fight tooth and nail for them.” These are words that have guided me in life all these years.

I remember the campaign trail and speaking engagements when I accompanied you. No matter how many times I have heard some of your jokes and anecdotes, you never fail to make me laugh.You are a stellar public speaker – funny and witty. I asked what your secret was and you said: “Didith, if you make your audience laugh and cry at the same time, you hit the right spot. Speak from your heart and don’t be afraid to make jokes of yourself and your experiences”. I’m trying to but it is easier said than done.

I remember with fondness our Senate family. We ate together, travelled together. You treated us like your own children. We were a very happy family.

I remember how generous you were in your praises of your staff members. At the signing of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) as a law in Malacanang Palace in 1997, you introduced me to then President Fidel Ramos as the one who worked hard for the passage of the law even if the credit was yours because of your steadfastness and resolute to have this law passed when others have failed. Previous Congresses have not even reached the Second Reading. You always introduced your staff as the ‘one that makes you look intelligent’ even if you should get all the credit because you put your 100% in all you do. We were just happy to say that ‘you are the one that makes us look honourable’. You are a remarkable man, a very humble man.

I remember how you were unconventional as a Senator. Our Senate Office was the only one with a note on the door stating that you do not accept solicitation letters nor invitations to weddings or baptismal as a sponsor. Others said it was a political suicide. You said you are in the Senate to make laws and not distribute money. You also said, how can you be a true godfather to people you do not know and not even met? This is because you take seriously the role of a godfather.

I remember that when you were driven to work and home, you only have one route and traversed it everyday. You never wanted any other way no matter how bad the traffic was.You never had a bodyguard nor used your ‘wangwang’ nor the car’s horn. You even drove your grandchildren, to SM for instance, on your own. You didn’t drive any of the luxury cars other Senators or public officials drove. You lived a life of a simple man despite your stature.

I remember your advice to us at our wedding. Even if you were not physically present at our wedding here in New Zealand, you sent us your lovely message. You said that your secrets to a happy marriage are: 1) never sleep with your problems/issues unresolved because when you wake up the next day, the problem will remain unsolved plus a headache and irritation for lack of sleep; 2) when one is fire, the other should be water; learn to keep quiet and placate the other person before opening your mouth; 3) always say ‘I love you’ and kiss your partner before you leave the house or the car because you’ll never know that it maybe your last and always remember to celebrate important milestones in your life. Simple advices but true and tested.

I remember how you and Ninang Susan allowed us to visit and had lunch with you at your home in Tandang Sora whenever we go visit the Philippines for holiday, even if in those times, you don’t feel well and were not accepting of visitors. You said that we are always welcome and treat your home as ours. We value that trust and privilege.

I will always remember you. You will always be in my heart. I thank God that I had the privilege of knowing you, being close to you. An honourable person like you, in this time and age, is difficult to come by. So it is indeed an honour and privilege to be associated with you in your life’s journey.

I love you JMF. I will miss you. Goodbye.

Didith Tayawa Clark Figuracion
Wellington, New Zealand

the least we can do is call her Jennifer

thanks and acknowledgment to for the lovely photo of Ms Jennifer Laude.

thanks and acknowledgment to for the lovely photo of Ms Jennifer Laude.

[ Yes we love our gays, as sure as we love bashing them.  But does this also mean we should protect the most vulnerable of their lot, the sex workers who must endure the occasional psychotic homophobe?  The answer is : is gay-friendly Pope Francis Catholic? :) ]

ALMOST as an afterthought and nearly needless to say, 99.9% of this letter-length hodgepodge of words and phrases is sourced from the richest of info motherlodes : word-of-mouth, hearsay, urban legend, and deep bias, not the least of which is that most overrated of sources, internet news media.

But as my constant companion and excellent listener, you already know that, right?  (That’s my way of saying reader beware, accuracy alert and all that. )

But it really insults the intelligence and taxes the patience of whoever has been witness to the murder of Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude and the resulting brouhaha that (1) more than the moral outrage of his/her death is the apparent cover-up of the details of the commission of the crime, and (2) the scant regard for the reckless behavior of American servicemen that is the consequence of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between Pilipinas and Estados Unidos.  Number (1)  is bad enough, but (2) ensures that this sort of thing will not just recur, but will be overlooked and therefore flourish with impunity.

Imagine buying a mislabeled product, bringing it home and finding out it only looked like what you wanted.  What do you do?  Let me guess.  You bring it back to the mall with the receipt, demand a refund (or at the very least an exchange) and come back none the worse for wear.  A no-brainer, right?

Let’s extend the analogy a bit.  We’re all adults here.  (For the kids, you’ll be adults soon right?)  You’re a hot-blooded young stud, you’ve had a bit to drink, after two weeks of non-stop work on a boat in the middle of the sea.  Not only that, you’re starved for a bit of action.  A sweet young thing is in front of you and you can’t wait to bring her somewhere dark and cozy, so you can do dark and cozy things.  After a bit of negotiation, you do just that, bring her to the said dark and cozy place, where you do a lot of necking and smooching, and a lot of other things that can’t be mentioned here.  Along the way you discover that the sweet young thing isn’t what he/she actually is but is more like you, meaning she has all your junk.

Do you say sorry for the foreplay, no matter how enthusiastic, but I’ve just lost interest, and vacate the premises ASAP?  Do you return said not-so sweet young thing to wherever you met and part ways?  Or do you throw a fit or tantrum, demand your money back, and hopefully try your luck again?

You might do one, two or all of those things.  But you certainly don’t beat the sweet young thing up, and break every bone in his/her body and drown him/her in the bathtub.  Because you’re not a crazy, psychotic and homophobic person who reacts as such just because you found someone who has a dick and balls attractive.  (Sorry for the language, but that’s how it is.)

I’m not even sure if Jenny Laude was such (yes, let’s at least call her by her preferred name), but our gay prostitutes are among the most vulnerable in the gay community.  I can’t even imagine the hurt, ridicule, not to mention the danger they expose themselves to, just to earn a living.  I can’t go any further.

The protection afforded by the US Government to US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton is natural and expected.  They will do nothing short of bribe, lie, and conceal the truth to get said US Marine out of the proverbial jam.  Wouldn’t you do the same if one of your citizens were in mortal danger of a long prison sentence in a foreign country?  The problem is, while doing so, justice would be denied to one of our own, who just happens to be a transgender Pinoy/Pinay, Jennifer Laude.

If you wanna continue being outraged, you are certainly free to read on in I just want to commend Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago who is at least entertaining while picking apart the way details of the crime are being obfuscated :

Chief Superintendent Theresa Ann Cid, chief of the Philippine National Police Crime Laboratory, said evidence recovered at the crime scene included strands of hair, two used condoms, blood and urine samples. The PNP is still completing the tests on the evidence.

Told about the condoms, Santiago remarked: “At least we can safely say that the suspect, or what they call in America as a person of interest, ejaculated twice. Would that be correct?”

Cid replied, “Not necessarily, your honor. The first condom has fresh seminal fluid, with fecal material. The second condom seems not to have the presence of semen… Apparently, they were used.”

Chief Inspector Reynaldo Dave, PNP medico-legal officer, said it was safe to say that the condoms were used in anal sex. The police experts, however, said they could not conclude that the semen samples belonged to Pemberton.

“If he was a male, how does he have sex with the Marine?” Santiago asked.

“I just have to corroborate with the findings on condoms and the other pieces of evidence,” Dave replied. “We can safely conclude (anal or rectal sex).”

Santiago said anal sex is “the usual method for transgenders.” (duh)

***     ***      ***

For every Vice Ganda in the super limelight, and every Diego in Mixed Nuts, we probably have a hundred or so Jennifer Laudes who face the dangers of getting beaten up, or worse, getting killed while trying to earn a little money.  Yes we love our gays in the Philippines, but we should also protect them.  Apologies for the scatterbrained and haphazard way I put this together today.  Jennifer deserved a little better.  She still does.

how mom made my day on her birthday

Mommy Dearest with Second Brother.  happy birthday from all of us Mom!

Mommy Dearest with Second Brother. happy birthday from all of us Mom! Thanks bro Jude Bautista for the pic!

[Note : It never fails.  When you dream of someone, either (1) you're thinking of that person, or (2) it's a special day associated with that person.  Dreamt of Mom the other day, wrote this yesterday, posting it today only.  Thanks for reading! ]

MOM would never make it to a My Kitchen Rules final, nope that’s just not her strength.  Neither does she bake, or do breakfast even on her best days.  Sewing, knitting or other homemaking  skills?  She’s not your best bet.

And yet, my mom is hands down an all-time, hall-of-fame, world-class mom, although of course I’m biased.  In your life’s shrinking team of diehard, never-say-die believers, you can count on her to be the last man (woman) standing.   She will always be your worst critic, but only to your face, when it’s just you and her.  Otherwise, she is your most rabid defender, and she will never let you down, in Tagalog, di ka nya ilalaglag kahit kailan.

***     ***     ***

My mom gives it you straight, no chaser, undiluted with PC words or flattery.  But her support for you is 101%, unqualified and uncompromising.  She is just like that, to all her five sons.  In our Overseas Chinese school back in the 1970s, there was once a Chinese parable taught to us about a mother hen, loving and nurturing to her brood of chicks, but who didn’t flinch when an eagle swooped down to pick up one of the weaker chicks.  The mother hen dove straight and true and pecked the eagle with pinpoint accuracy on the eye.  Mr One-Eyed Eagle left that particular brood of chicks after that.

That mother hen is my mom personified.  She is all smiles and schmooze in sociable times, but not when it comes to family.  She will in this regard not hesitate to aid and defend, and as to whatever means necessary, she will later neither confirm nor deny.  That’s just Mom for you.

***     ***     ***

In her later years, she has mellowed alright, but she has not given up helping others, whether it be finding a job for a young hopeful, referring an ailing kaprobinsya to a specialist doctor friend, or just helping making ends meet for a troubled family.  Mom will never talk about these things to you, because that is not her style.  That’s how she’s always been, and how she’ll always be.

And that’s why I know that on her birthday, Mom deserves the best.  Thank you again esteemed bros for being there for her back home today.

***     ***    ***

I nearly forgot to tell you how she made my day.  Didn’t I just tell you Mom never varnishes the truth or butter you up with a bit of flattery?  Well she has learned it a bit, and she even tried it on little old me, her most underachieving son!   I just called on her birthday, and she was as usual selling her favorite deli items in an American Embassy sponsored event, the American Woman’s Club Bazaar:

Kurot, kurot! kurot, kurot! kurot, kurot!  Hello?

Happy birthday mom from all of us in New Zealand!

Wow, thank you for remembering me, my FAVORITE SON.

I laugh an inappropriate laugh, woohoohoohoohoo!

Why are you laughing ? Mom asks with almost surely a twinkle in her eye.

I almost say I’m laughing because I’ve never heard you say THAT before Mom, but I say because I’m so happy I’m your favorite son (today) Mom!   I wish you God’s blessings of long life and health, now would you like to speak with your FAVORITE daughter-in-law? :) :) :)

I guess every mom is entitled to have a favorite son on her birthday, woohoohoo!

***     ***     ***

Happy birthday Mom, you are the very very best!  I love you lots!


blessed to be working, blessed to be working in NZ!

they hadn't known it yet, but a dinner I had with family was in thanksgiving for many blessings in NZ!

they hadn’t known it yet, but a dinner I had with family was in thanksgiving for many blessings in NZ!

LUCKY as an attribute is nice and all that, but in my humble opinion it bespeaks a certain passivity, not unlike Juan Tamad under the guava tree waiting for the low-lying fruit (low lying na nga eh) to fall.  If it’s all the same to you, I’m partial to the word blessed because although one is still fortunate enough to run into good tidings and pleasant surprises, there is still a modicum of doing the hard yards, being at the right place at the right time, and doing all the little things to deserve the manna from heaven.

So if you will forgive my audacity Precious Reader, I’ve recently been blessed in not one, not two but three different ways that I simply have to (1) thank the Almighty Creator, Ang Maykapal for making the same possible, (2) celebrate such felicitous occasion/s in word and in deed with loved ones, and (3) relate all these to you through my peripatetic and evanescent blog corner, whether or not you want to know/read about it.  Please indulge me in my thanksgiving today. :)

Unfortunately (let’s avoid that word from hereon) I have promised to my maybahay (wife) Mahal that I will no longer blab about my/our personal life/lives because too much of our laundry is being hung out for everyone to see, if you don’t mind the idiom.  I will therefore try to be as circumspect or roundabout in words as possible, use the indirect route in making kwento (story) to you, but at the same time share as much to you about my good news without violating my privacy, if that’s at all possible. :)  Right now I’m not sure yet how I will fare, as it is all very impromptu.


Around this time of the year Mahal and I get a bit antsy because our right to stay in NZ gets imperiled, depending on whether or not we are found fit to be issued another permit allowing us not only to work here but to stay here as well.  Most of the kabayan we traveled to NZ with have become permanent residents, quite a few have gone home broken hearted, but a hardy few like us have soldiered on, clinging to the hope that one day soon we will join the others who have already called New Zealand home.

But it’s no joke now to continue justifying being a guest worker in Middle Earth.  Here are some of the questions for the employer to answer with clinical accuracy :  Have serious efforts been undertaken to advertise the job so that New Zealanders are sufficiently informed?  Have serious efforts been done to train New Zealanders for the job in question?  And has it been established, finally that no New Zealanders are available for the job?

In order for everything to go smoothly, meaning me getting my precious document, the answers to those questions, must be yes, yes and yes.  With proof and supporting documentation attached.

Which is why, every time I get my new document, it’s a minor miracle.


I can’t tell you exactly what blessing I received after that, but it has to do with a basic, basic life skill that has eluded me the entire time I’ve been overseas.  I never made learning that skill a priority back home because, to be blunt about it, public transpo was plentiful and available at all hours twenty-four seven (alam mo na no?)  Mahal however made it her Number One goal as soon as she followed me here, went through the various stages and now is  a full-fledged, certified and dependable possessor of the life skill.  While I still don’t know how to do it.

Late last week I finally took the written exam needed to be issued the initial permit for that essential skill, and I had to burn the midnight oil learning all the possible questions and committing to memory the correct answers.  Luckily (that word again) there is a website/s dedicated to helping you pass the exam, and by the skin of my teeth, I passed the learner’s (oops) theory exam.  It was quite a routine pass, but I realized I’d been in NZ seven years before finally making this step.  A belated kudos to me.


And finally.  I had very little to do with it, but just by being a member of the union and ratifying the collective bargaining agreement between our worksite and the mighty Big Employer based in Imperial Auckland, I very recently received a fifty cent increase on my hourly wage.

Don’t laugh please.  I know it sounds like a paltry sum, but there ARE  eight hours in a day, and 40 minimum hours in a work week, so those cents add up.  Plus, my overtime rate is likewise enhanced, not just by 50 cents but  by $0.75 because of the overtime premium.  Proportional increases also for the shift and meal allowances when applicable.  So it’s not really a bad deal.

In fact, I now have to watch the quality of my work, because my adjusted hourly wage rate is nothing to sneeze at.  I have to be responsible, dependable and dedicated, in addition to being disciplined and hardworking.  All because of those additional 50 cents.  In short, I have to be worth it. :)


See, I told you the past few days have been kind to me.  So many blessings in my life that I have to be thankful for.  All centered on the reality that I’m blessed to be working, and blessed to be working in New Zealand.  Mabuhay po ang uring manggagawa!  

Thanks for reading!


happy milestone, sad milestone

semi-lighthearted and slightly inappropriate dismissal internet meme.

semi-lighthearted and slightly inappropriate dismissal internet meme.

I’M RINGING Dad’s phone on his birthday, despite Youngest Brother’s admonition that he sleeps at odd hours and would rather not be woken or disturbed.  He was unavailable the last few times I asked to speak with him (through Mom, no offense meant) but I want to personally greet him on his happy day, his 82nd.

kurot, kurot! kurot, kurot! kurot, kurot!  (that’s how I perceive the ringing sounds)…

ANSWER CLICK. (without waiting for a hello?)  Happy happy birthday Dad!  We all love you and miss you here in Wellington, especially me, Mahal, Panganay, Ganda and Bunso!

Answer : Ano yun?  Eche-che!  Si Ricky to Noel (Ricky’s the family driver who doubles as Mom’s delivery person for her Christmas yummies business), matagal nang binigay sa ‘kin ng ama mo itong celfone, ayaw raw nya nang tinatawagan.  Andun pa sila sa bahay ni Mommy mo, tawagan mo na lang run.  Pero salamat sa bati mo, lapit na rin birthday ko, sensya na nagmamaneho ako rito papuntang Libis hehehe…  (I rush a goodbye fearful for his safety)

Ngek… I gather from that short call that not only have I been out of touch with Dad for too long (contenting myself by saying hi through Mom and other go-betweens), but that Dad is no longer accessible via phone or text, not that either mode had ever been a reliable way to get through to him.

Kurot, kurot! kurot, kurot!  Kurot, kurot!  (getting through to Noel’s folks’ residence)… Mom herself answers the phone.

Hi Mom!  Happy birthday to Dad, how are you getting through the rains?

Mom :  Very very bad ang rains Noel, flooding everywhere.  Dad is having breakfast beside me, he’s eating now.  (I have to state the obvious and ask to speak with him, after Mom talks about the weather and asks about the kids, who I myself communicate only through Facebook and short SMS these days.)  Dad is saving his voice (huh?) but I’ll tell him you want to say hi.  You mean you want him on the phone?  Oh heto na sya. (THAT took some time.)

Me :  Happy happy birthday Dad, how are you?  Sobrang long time na, I saw your pics with Big Brother, Second Brother and all of the family yesterday in Fancy Resto, you’re having too much fun!  Are you still running ?  How are you spending your happy day?

Dad :  Thanks for remembering Noel, I’m sad that you’re not here, your kids actually greeted me through their Lola earlier than you, but that’s alright.  I miss you all, yes, we ate in that fancy restaurant where the food doesn’t fill you up despite being too expensive, I don’t run anymore but still do a lot of walking.  I stopped driving too, not safe anymore.  But everything else ( I detect a naughty edge in his voice, mwahahahaha ) I still do.

Me : I’ve taken up running again, but it’s never enough.  I still eat too much, got some gout now, and the cholesterol’s creeping up, all your grandkids are working now, and both Ganda and Bunso have gone back to school.

Dad :  Never too late for YOU Noel, do what you want while you can, have as much fun as you like, but don’t forget to pray always, attend Mass and go to confession (he never forgets that), don’t worry about me,  and I hope you didn’t send me anything I won’t need naman.  (He says that every year.)  Now don’t waste any more money for this phone bill, I’m off to enjoy myself, sadly not with you (yeah, right).

(Something tells me he still asks for a hall pass from Mom, not that he can do much with THAT, and he’s gonna pull out all the stops just for this one day.  I salute him silently and pay him my respects before ending the call.)

In case you hadn’t discerned it, Dad is someone who has done the hard yards, paid his dues, and is now enjoying himself immensely, while he still can.  He has nary a care in the world, is lucky enough to have his wife attend to his needs, and the freedom to do whatever reasonable thing he wants given his health and age, emphasis on the reasonable.  Happy birthday and be happy (though I know you are) Dad, you deserve it.

***     ***    ***

In the giant army of business waging an eternal war to make profits and fighting the competition, most of us are but foot soldiers in the trenches, not much more than kindling for the fireplace, statistics that don’t matter among the millions of dollars in other assets and liabilities.  Yes, that’s what we are, and what we do.  Beasts of burden performing units of production that the bean counters tick off on a worksheet, at the end of the financial year.  It shouldn’t hurt too much to know this, as long as we put food on the table, a roof over our heads, and hopefully a small nest egg at the end of our productive years.

Which is why, despite the shoddy way he was treated, I understood why they were getting rid of Arthur, who after all the upskilling, his commitment to being hardworking and dependable, and his attempt to do everything management had asked of him, Was. Being. Let. Go.  After no clear violation of any rules, and after more than 25 years of faithful service to the company.  Actually, three incarnations of the company, whom he had served without question.

Yes, he hadn’t reached his production targets.  Yes, he was unlucky enough to have been watching the machine on his shift when the latter broke down, and yes he wasn’t fast enough to anticipate breakdowns on the machine, which after all was less than a year old and filled with PLC (programmable logic control) settings that even the supervisor had trouble coping with.  But the signs were ominous and bad news couldn’t have traveled fast enough around the site : he was on his way out, he had been dealt several quick cuts, and blood was in the water.

Most of us were in denial in the lunch room, but each one of us knew we were just delaying the inevitable by keeping our hopes up.  They would let him go, Just. Like. That.

All my rationalizing about them putting him to pasture went out the window when I saw him with the union guy after his exit interview one Friday.

They’re letting you go, huh? was the smartest thing I could say.  His eyes were bloodshot, and he himself didn’t have anything to say.  The unmentionable became to only thing left to say, save for empty encouragement and false assurances of hope.  You’ll find another job.  They’ll always need good forklift drivers like you.

He looked lost.  He never married, never bought anything more expensive than his second hand car.  His job was his only source of pride.  (His life!)  And now they took it away from him.  After 25 years of faithful, uncomplaining service… I know all bloggers are verbose persons, but at this point, words escape me now.  I’m too sad for  Arthur.

***     ***     ***

Two men at anniversaries of their lives.  One celebrating an 82nd birthday, and the other, the last day of his long, long career.  I don’t even know why I talked about them together, because the expected outcomes of their milestones are quite different.  They just happened within a week of each other, that’s all.  And I hope they both move on.

why Filomeno “Palo” Gagasa and family are my favorite Kinoys

Favourite Kinoy Palo Gagasa with his daughters Nymia (foreground) and Engr Ammiel (with glasses)  and wife Amy.

Favourite Kinoy Palo Gagasa with his daughters Nymia (foreground) and Engr Ammiel (with glasses) and wife Amy.

[ Note : Sorry for the long absence, thanks to Ms Didith Tayawa-Figuracion and Ms Meia Lopez for letting me repost this, please visit Kabayan Magazine Issue  7  at when you've time, kudos to all writers and contributors for the outstanding issue! ]

FROM THE Philippines, to the Middle East, and finally to Aotearoa, there is no stopping my favourite Kinoy Palo from reaching his goals.

Thirty years ago in Quezon, Palo loved nothing better than to play basketball all day and guzzle lambanog with his friends afterwards in Sariaya Quezon.  This of course didn’t sit well with his parents and elders, but Palo was also stubborn and loved the admiring glances of girls who happened to watch the interbarangay basketball league where he excelled.

His only other pastime was playing with the construction cranes that his contemporaries who were already working in construction firms allowed him if only to encourage him to do something else besides basketball and lambanog.

It turned out to be one of the few things that Palo did well, as he became a natural in handling telescopic cranes, hydraulic trucks and all-terrain loaders, piles, pulverizers and crushers that all required the same thing : dexterity in operating multi-levered systems of control, quick thinking and an instinct for safety while working under pressure.  Adding Pinoy abilidad to the mix, and Palo soon forgot about basketball and beer and found himself moving rapidly up the ranks of specialized crane operators.  He operated them like they were extensions of his hands, which before knew only lay-ups, rebounds and three-point shots.

He moved up so fast that before he knew it, he was already lifting massive billets, pillars and slabs of concrete for projects like the Metro Manila Skyway and the MRT-3 on EDSA, working for employers like Foundation Specialists in Makati City.  He was building a very specialized niche for himself, for very few people were doing the work he did, but he felt that he could be earning much more, notwithstanding the loyalty and gratitude he felt for his past employers who gave him a break.

The lure of money to raise his two growing daughters and give them the education that he never received as a child  proved to be too strong, and he distinguished himself by working in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the State of Qatar and the Emirate of Dubai, where the high point (literally) of his career was working in the 828-meter, 163-storey Burj Kalifa, which he helped build using state-of-the-art telescopic cranes and where it was impractical to go down, so he used to stay periods of 48 hours at a time on the very top, something he would never forget.

Such was the specialized nature of this job that he was headhunted by large construction firms all over, including one from New Zealand, which he unsurprisingly had never heard of before.  The offer of long-term employment and New Zealand’s potential as a world-class migrant destination was the tipping point in his decision to shift his paradigm and leave the Middle East for Aotearoa.

Palo did the natural thing and work his darnednest best in Wellington, at one time shuttling back and forth between Auckland and Welly as he was one of only a handful of drivers in all of Australasia  for a vehicle used in supporting “Big Blue”, a massive construction gantry that was instrumental in the Newmarket (Auckland) Viaduct Replacement Project.

Unlike many Pinoys in New Zealand, Palo was offered and received Permanent Resident status in record time, which he promptly used to pass on PR status to his wife Amy and daughters Amiel and Nymia, who recently arrived in Wellington to join their husband and father.

So, from happy-go-lucky basketball player, to hardworking stoic OFW to newly minted migrant, Palo has now come full circle.  Having found time to bond with family without being away from them, he now has time to get fit again, hopefully via the sport he has loved since childhood.  Mabuhay ka kabayang Palo!

ang paglipad ng kulay ni Mahal sa interbyu (Mahal’s flying colors in a work inteview)

The pic's a little too nice, but the store where Mahal applied looks a little like this.  Thanks to for the pic!

The pic’s a little too nice, but the store where Mahal applied looks a little like this. Thanks to for the pic!

[Note :  Just thought you might want to know how a work interview in NZ is conducted. It's not mine, hope Mahal doesn't mind.  :)  I know "flying colors" implies that Mahal was no less than perfect, but with the last two questions asked below, her interview probably qualifies.]

Mahal’s thoughts provided in parentheses and in the vernacular.  Post-mortem of course.

MATHS, MATHS, maths.  Mostly involving computations of grams and grams of precious stuff, up to the 3rd decimal place.  Hear those numbers crunch.  Crunch, crunch, crunch.

(Bakit bawal ang calcu?  Buti na lang nagpraktis ako, pati singit ko pinapawisan.) (hope that’s still GP content, blogwise.  Apologies to all if not.)

Q & A time, with the manager.  She is friendly and informal.  She is also Mahal’s first interview with a Kiwi.  Ever.

(After cursory, initial questions.)  What’s your experience with gold and precious stones been, R?  I see you’re quite familiar with the four C’s of diamonds.  Could you share those with me?  (nasagot ko yon.  Color, Clarity, Cut at syempre Carat.)  Ok, ok.  (small smile, but no-nonsense pa rin.)

Save your best for last, R, because the owner is here for your interview.  He flew down from Auckland just to see you. 

(Omg, omg.  tutoo na to ‘day.)

***     ***     ***

A well-dressed, well-groomed man with South Asian looks seats himself.  (Mahal is not surprised, as the store is frequented by customers from that region in Asia and the shop hints of South Asian decor, tasteful of course.)  

He states matter-of-factly with a polite smile, “you’re dressed smartly.”  

Flying start for Mahal.  For the record, she is dressed in smart pumps, flare pants, sleeveless blouse topped by blazer. Egyptian style choker (that’s the nearest term I can come up with), and for the occasion, Mahal didn’t pull punches with the gold and jewelry. 

What are the types of gold, and what are their commercial names?  Give me a list of precious stones you’re familiar with.  What’s the gold content of those types of gold you mentioned.?  Mahal enumerates the products with deadpan efficiency only barely disguising her nervousness.  The interviewer, who is now obviously past the first stage of curiosity, has moved on, and has asked his branch manager to give Mahal another battery of tests.

More numbers.  More computations.  Curiously, no more sweating this time.

   ***         ***          ***

15 minutes later, the owner is back with more questions.

This time it’s more probing, less on substance and product knowledge which Mahal’s already established and more on sales experience and technique.  This part of the interview ends with a mock sales presentation of 18k gold necklaces which, true to form, Mahal nails with a loud BANG.

To the most important question, Mahal adlibs with seconds to spare.  

Interviewer asks : I know we advertised for a part-time job, but if you were asked to apply for a full-time contract to include foreign-exchange work (the shop has a money-changer side business), would you accept?

Milliseconds pass…

Absolutely!  I just need to wind up my work and continue token part-time with my employer,while I train my replacement.   They’ve been good to me. 

(Mahal has no idea where she got the answer, but it’s a job she did with flourish back home, and she did not hesitate.)

      ***          ***          ***

So as promised, this is how the interview ended : I know you need to give your (current) boss notice, but can you start training tomorrow?  And can you tell me how soon you can start?  Because instead of a part-time job, I am thinking of giving you a full-time position.

Incidentally, this is how Mahal dreamed the interview would end.  Doesn’t hurt to dream diba?  

Congrats Mahal, and thanks everyone for reading!


[Note : Thanks to Sita Adhikari for the video, this is what it looked like, but the hailstones in Wellington were a bit smaller. ]

IN HINDSIGHT, I should’ve probably followed my gut feel after holding a wet finger up and smelling the air.  I very rarely leave early for work, but the radio said that there would be a short spell of bad weather  in the afternoon, sandwiched by good weather the rest of the day.  Unfortunately Facebook games intervened, and I left as usual around 45 minutes before my shift would start at 3.00 pm.

What followed was like walking into a sucker punch turning into a blind corner. One of the more brutal, coldest and windiest hailstorms pummeled me halfway to work.  Making it worse was the fact that I was on a pushbike, pedalling like it was a summer day.

***     ***     ***

And my bike ride DID start like a summer day, cuz the sun was out, so bright in fact that I even had shades on and only a light sweater on, laughing at all those motorists who had to buy petrol to get to wherever they were going.  Sure I had cold hands and it was hard biking up those bridges and overpasses, but the task at hand for the moment was to focus and get to work on human leg power.

Somewhere halfway to my workplace something abruptly went wrong, as the clouds started moving so fast it reminded me of those scary movies where since the scary parts only happen at night, daytime goes by in fast motion, and the wind started to chill every exposed part of my face.  Having been biking to work a handful of years, this didn’t faze me too much, but the next thing did.

It was starting to rain, but the raindrops were starting to pinch my face and nick my nose, almost like the drops were trying to squeeze (in fast time) oil out of my blackheads.  NOW I was starting to worry.  Against my better judgment I slowed down to check around me despite the fact that every second I was away from shelter was going to be crucial, and sure enough rain was falling down on the asphalt, except that I could see the rain, and it was in the form of white peas and grains.  The road remained dry, but was turning white fast.  And my face was hurting.

When I got to Port Road, supposed to be only a few minutes away from work in normal time, I might as well have been an hour away as the wind and hail was pushing me back.  My helmet was torn away from my head, I was completely drenched (the hailstones were melting of course), and the brutal wind chill factor had pulled the temperature down a few degrees, which was already in single digits to begin with.

It was at this point that I realized that for the first time in a long time, I would not get to work on time.

With the wind, hail and abnormal cold (even for winter) pushing me back, I walked around 100 meters in around 10 minutes, every step a challenge.  I saw that even the cars passing me by were having a hard time, and I wondered if there was anyone as stupid as me out in this ungodly weather.  There was none.  I had begun to fear being blown out to the nearby sea, and considered seeking shelter.  There was none.

It was at this point I realized that I didn’t care about being on time anymore, and just wanted to get to work at a reasonable time.

My face and hands were numb, so numb that I couldn’t even use my phone.  Thankfully, the hailstones and wind had gone down a bit so it was OK to bike, but it was still very cold.  I was bundled up, but inside was drenched.  In my six years in Wellington I had experienced bitter cold, even snow and torrential rain, but never winds and hail.  And certainly not at the same time.

It was at this point that I realized that I didn’t care about getting to work anymore, and just wanted to survive.

          ***         ***          ***

When I finally got to the factory, after what seemed an eternity (actually around 20 minutes only) my workmates couldn’t believe that I had ridden through that kind of weather.  The superflash bundy clock that required my fingerprint (at presumably body temperature) wasn’t accepting my finger, because the latter was icy cold, as was the rest of my body. An electrician on top of the silos had to come down because it was too dangerous, and wheat containers from the port were most likely to stop coming as the port was closed down temporarily.  It was THAT kind of a day, so unruly that even urgent work had to be halted.

My bisor told me that if this incident still wasn’t going to stop me from biking to work in inclement weather, nothing would.

I said that we would have to wait and see. :)  After all, I DID go through the worst, and was still ready for work, after a hot cup of kapeng barako.

Thanks for reading!

Mork, Patch Adams, Mrs Doubtfire, and once a Pinay’s hubby: how could you not love and mourn for Robin Williams?

YOU WOULD have to be a cold-hearted Scrooge and Sad Sack not to appreciate the humor of Robin Williams.  Not only was Mork and Mindy a part of my weekends for so long growing up, his astounding body of work produced trailblazing, off-the-wall and side-splitting comedy that captured the hearts and minds of people the world over.

This was why a great sense of emptiness and sadness overcame me when Mahal greeted me good morning with the simple news : “Robin Williams is dead.”  A whirlwind of memories rushed through me, but no single moment stood out.

This is because Robin Williams has sustained his comedic brilliance almost throughout his career, starting from stand-up to his big break on TV, and his outstanding movies where his skills were brought to the fore : improvisational, drawing from the unlikeliest sources, and imitating accents, voices and mannerisms with intense accuracy.

The funny thing is I can visualize the specific pleasure of laughing at Robin Williams but I can’t picture in my mind a single film where he outdid himself.  Patch Adams, Mrs Doubtfire, Hook,  all consistently churning out the brand that is the genuis and improv of Robin Williams.

Admittedly he appeared in some lemons in recent years, but this never diminished my respect for him as a serious actor, which he hammered into our collective psyches with Dead Poets Society, What Dreams May Come, Good Will Hunting, and so many more.

The world lost a great man today.

PS.  And there’s the inevitable Pinoy connection too.  He was once upon a time married to a Pinay.  How could you not love and mourn for him?

guess who’s coming to dinner (with pinoys)?

Chris and Lauren our Wellingtonian neighbors are on the left.  Mielko the friendly Slavic cabdriver is on the right.  The lovely host is in the middle.  Somebody had to take the pic, so Your Loyal Blogger is nowhere to be found :(

Chris and Lauren our Wellingtonian neighbors are on the left. Mielko the friendly Slavic cabdriver is on the right. The lovely host is in the middle. Somebody had to take the pic, so Your Loyal Blogger is nowhere to be found :(

THERE IS a delicate dance between neighbors that seems awkward at first but later becomes second nature on both sides of the fence.

You want to ask about the goings-on of your next-door bestie, but you don’t want to be perceived as too nosy lest they think you’re a busybody (actually you are), so you strike a balance.

You want to drop in or at least make an appearance every weekend so you don’t come across as suplado (haughty), but you don’t want to be too visible cuz your neighbor might think you’ve got too much time on your hands, so you’re both ever-present and invisible, if that can be possible.

You want your neighbor to know enough about you so that they can convince themselves you’re normal, but you don’t want too much of yourself exposed because that’s when your weirdness starts to show, inaykupo.

I know I’m beginning to sound OCD-paranoid, but such has been the reality of living as a neighbor in highly urbanized New Zealand, at least for as long as I’ve been a migrant.

Mahal and I have been lucky in our present incarnation as laid-back, Asian and eager-to-please semi-detached neighbors.  We have equally laid-back and almost eager to please semi-detached neighbors, just that they are not Asian, and obviously aware of our migrant status or at least not being here for too long, have been quite welcoming of us both as neighbors and as New Zealanders.

Not only did we exchange the obligatory hellos and wassups whenever we chanced across each other on the driveway, but we also inquired about our weekends, our jobs, and what we did with our vacation leaves (they went to the Gold Coast, while we slept through our long weekends), what we did on our respective holidays (they went to Auckland, while we stayed at home pretending we were back in the Philippines celebrating a Pinoy Christmas), and our respective hobbies (the guy is a rugby fan, what a big surprise, while I usually sleep weekend afternoons or play Candy Crush Saga).  Before long, we acted like tight buddies (put your index and middle fingers together) and it was just a matter of time before we invited each other to dinners at our respective home.

Our other next-door was an Eastern European migrant married to an Korean, what a match right?  Turned out they, having been relatively newer to the compound than the rest of us, were ultrafriendly and invited us over every chance they got.  So it would’ve been poor form not to reciprocate and invite them ourselves.  (Plus, they had gorgeous Eurasian kids that inherited only their best features, think straight noses, high cheekbones and chinito / chinita eyes.)

Except that by the time we were able to invite both couples to our munting dampa, the first couple was already moving out, to a bigger home and obviously with a view to enlarging their brood.  We had only one chance to invite them to dinner as neighbors, and that was two Wednesdays ago.

Mahal made exceptional use of the occasion, selecting three classic Pinoy dishes that (she thought) would bring out the best of our salty-sour-sweet cuisine : adobo, kaldereta and pancit bihon, which the guests surprisingly took second and third servings.  (She was also going to be able to show off her new warmer-server she bought for a song at a K-Mart sale, which you might be able to spot if there’s a photo above… yes, there it is. :) )

During and after the repast, a funny thing happened : Chris and Lauren (the Kiwi couple) and Mahal and I knew each other a bit longer, so we expected to bond and chat a bit more freely, but it was our Eastern European neighbor Mielko who would be more gregarious and easy with conversation, stealing the show from right under our noses.

Maybe it was the libation he brought but while we were careful about tripping over our newly-minted Kiwi English accent, and the Kiwis were thinking of anecdotes to show how they loved their Asian friends and Asian takeaway (as if naman Pinoys invented takeaway), Mielko was regaling us with his day motoring his passengers around town in his Japanese hybrid.  A taxicab driver, he says, meets all sorts of people, but sadly the fares he remembers best are the drunks, the quarrelsome and those who refuse to pay.  Of course, we were transfixed by his vignettes on the seediest examples of everyday human behavior.

Before long, as with all dinners where participants come from different cultures, we had run out of things to talk about.  Truthfully, our only common denominator was that we had once upon a time shared a driveway and parking area, and that we had the same rubbish collection day and perhaps the same lawn mower.  But because we made the effort to become sometime friends, it made our little corner of the world a better place to live in.  And long after we’re no longer neighbors, at least there’s still Facebook!  Mabuhay to friendly neighbors and thanks for reading!