3 cringe-worthy items of Pinoy reality that we think are secrets

rizal monument rizal monument 2144x1424 wallpaper_wallpaperswa.com_92

OF COURSE, I’m proud of my country.  And of course like any of you adobo-eating, TFC-watching and Arnel-Pineda/Charisse-listening faithful, you’d never deny the fact of your homeland, nationality and skin color, proud as you are of your lahing kayumanggi.  It’s just who you are.

Just the same, there are some things we’d rather keep among ourselves, fellow Pinoys (and spouses, you’re stuck for life I’m afraid).  Every country has its deep dark secrets that have been with us for generations and I’m wondering if you’ve been keeping this from friends from other countries.  If so, let me give you some sage advice.  They already know, or are already discovering our not-so-nice qualities.

But before that , some kind words.  Among all the big migrant groups in New Zealand, I daresay that our ethnic group is in the top three most popular, if not the most popular ethnic group or nationality.  I’ve wrung your ears out in posts past about the motley reasons, and I probably don’t need to enumerate them here but I’ll still give you a few : our famous trait of pakikisama (“getting along”), sturdy work ethic, more-or-less acceptable English, ability to laugh ourselves, etcetera etcetera.  You know the rest.

But this post isn’t for flattering you or me.  It’s one of those few times that we’re not positive and point out the negative in ourselves.  Here we go :

depressing regionalism. In a special “prayer for the faithful” portion during one Pinoy Mass I attended, each individual prayer was read in a different dialect, which Mahal discerned almost immediately because the first prayer was in her beloved Pangalatok.  I also heard my mom’s Bicolano and my fraternity brothers’ Ilokano and Bisaya, and the lasting impression I got was that our various sub-languages sound so different from each other.  This is the most visible indicator of our famous regionalism, which our history textbooks teach us was the main reason various colonizers were able to subjugate us with ease.

I never found out how true or factual this was and considering how long ago since our colonial times, we probably never will.  But to this day, each Pinoy knows how fragmented and disjointed we are, especially overseas.  I mean, wherever in the world, you will find Chinese Associations, Hindu groups, even various organizations representing different nationalities.  But we Pinoys just can’t be Pinoys.  We have Batangueno associations, Ilonggo associations, Pampango groups, as many groups as there are fruits in the Pinoy orchard.  I don’t know about you, but with so many provincial groups it certainly looks to the average non-Pinoy that our sense of national identity isn’t that well-developed.  In short, with kanya-kanya, tayo-tayo and sila-sila, how do we get anything done as a people?

superstitious. I have worked in Makati, the most modern city in the Philippines for around a decade, and often visited in it for years more.  Yet I have never, I mean never seen a building with a 13th floor.  I have attended many wakes and funerals in my time, also back home, and I have never seen a pregnant woman in attendance.  And there are so many superstitions associated with every facet of life, be it weddings, baptisms, funerals or even birthdays.

In many homes, You won’t see many mirrors facing each other, or beds facing doorways because according to the practice of feng shui, these invite bad luck or worse, death to the homeowner and his/her family.  Wow, that’s really tough for the designer.

Every culture has its own set of superstitions but because of the centuries old practices of Catholicism, rural beliefs and Chinese as well as other cultural influences, it’s a multi-dimensional tapestry of superstitions in the Philippines, and I can’t even begin to tell you how many there are.  Hard to believe, but we’re nearly past the first quarter of the 21st century, but many of us are controlled consciously, subconsciously or otherwise, by our superstitious beliefs.

We are held in Big Tobacco’s thrall.  First, a large part of the Northern Luzon region relies on tobacco, so it will always be part of our economy, fueling jobs and business from farmgate, to manufacturing all the way to the retail sari-sari store (and don’t forget downstream industries that benefit); you can’t imagine our country without it.  So much so that every branch of government is in the pocket of Big Tobacco, whether the latter needs billions in subsidy, billions in tax breaks, friendly regulation, or simply looking the other way when Tobacco does its own bit of subtle advertising.  In practical terms, cigarette companies can do anything they want in our country, and there is nothing we can do about it.  That is the biggest, ugliest and worst-kept secret in the Philippines.  Ultimately it’s not that surprising, since it surely is happening in other so-called “developing” countries, but the least we can do is be honest about it to our Kiwi (and other) friends.

There, I’ve said it.  There are many more cringe-worthy items about us that we’d rather not tell, but ultimately we should let others know for them to better understand us Pinoys as a people.  These are just the ones that came to mind, please give me a buzz and tell me if you’ve got any more.  Thanks for reading and mabuhay ang Pinoy!

the razor-thin line between drastic action and compassion

thanks and acknowledgment to photosearch.com!
thanks and acknowledgment to fotosearch.com!

TO PUT it mildly, Nonu* was a walking heart attack waiting to happen.  He was THAT close (put two fingers together) to collapsing into a crumpled heap, all 120 kilos of him, and unless he did a 180-degree turnaround in his lifestyle, diet and physical activity, he was literally one collapse away from a 111/911 call.

Sorry to sound so morbid, but Nonu is one of only 14 or 15 colleagues we have at work, and so we know each of them rather well, or at least, as much as one knows people you see 8 hours a day,  5 days a week, and 230 days a year.  They’re not family, but not many people come closer.  I can’t say we were close, but because of a recent dramatic episode at work, our work schedules touched, at least for the remainder of his career in our workplace.

A little backstory for you dear reader.  Many Samoans (an example of which is Nonu) are blessed with two precious gifts of sports : strength and speed.  Samoans seem to possess an uncanny combination of these two unearthly qualities and are perfect for that most beloved of sports this part of the globe, which is of course, rugby.

Nonu didn’t reach the pinnacle of rugby reached by his namesake Ma’a Nonu, which is being an All Black , but he played his share of rugby in his younger years.  Unfortunately, by the time he stopped playing, his athlete’s eating habit of eating first, second and third helpings to keep up with his energy requirements had become so entrenched that it had become part of his way of life.

Compounding this high-protein, high-carbo and high-everything else way of life was the fact that while Nonu was no longer a spring chicken, he was getting alarmingly heavy for his own good.  Even the moderate demands of his job didn’t stop him from gaining weight.  Cleaning the multi-storey delivery area for the site’s raw materials, monitoring the screening machines and conveyors and clearing the delivery pit of waste and extraneous matter, demanding enough for a man in tiptop condition, was excessive for Nonu’s overweight frame.  On the north end of his 50′s, at that.

This was where I came in.  As unobtrusively as possible, I was to perform his physical duties, keep an eye on him so he wouldn’t do any kind of physical activity, and melt away into the background, every time a delivery truck dropped a shipment into the pit.  It would help of course if I did this as quickly and efficiently as common sense would allow.

I’m not Mr Fitness myself mind you, but I have been lucky.  The combination of exercise and physical activity of work have kept me as fit, spry and flexible as any 48-year old and wife Mahal has kept my diet sensible enough so that I’ve more or less stayed near my fighting weight, bilbil notwithstanding.  Compare my modest fitness to overweight, sedentary and wheezing Nonu, and it became urgent that he needed every little bit of my help, according to SuperBisor who briefed me on the gravity of the situation.

I was 100% in agreement with SuperBisor, and had no problem with any extra chores especially since I liked Nonu and wanted him to take it easy, given his situation.  Except that the first time I started helping out, Nonu couldn’t help himself and started backing me up, and inevitably exerting and straining himself to the point of breathing heavily with every stroke of work.  I realized that I couldn’t stop him from doing what he’d been doing for at least the past 10 years, and with a heavy heart made sumbong (report) to Bisor, who had no choice but to confine Nonu to a desk outside his regular post at the delivery area.

In the same breath I remarked to Bisor how guilty I was telling on Nonu and asked if he really needed to be restrained, under close supervision, to a desk job away from his regular work.

Listen Noel, Bisor explained.  Would you rather tell on Nonu, or watch him keel over from a heart attack and never be the same again?  He is a very ill person, and cannot perform any physical activity.  If you want to help him, please do what we discussed.  As always, Bisor was doing everything by the book, and everything by the book was, as always, the right thing to do.

***               ***               ***

Working, doing the things we love, and providing for our family are all good things, but they all take a back seat to watching out for Number One, and that of course is our health and well-being.  We can’t enjoy the fruits of our labor if we’re not healthy enough to enjoy the rest of our life.   It sounds corny, but it’s never too late to start being healthy.  Never too late, that is, until it’s too late.

Thanks for reading!

*not his real name.

why Kristel Sevilla is our favorite Kinoy

Our fave kabayan Kristel near the children's ward of Hutt Hospital that she's grown to love.  Thanks and acknowledgment to Nurse Kristel and BernieVImages!
Our fave kabayan Kristel near the children’s ward of Hutt Hospital that she’s grown to love. Thanks and acknowledgment to Nurse Kristel and BernieVImages!

[ Note : We had the good fortune to interview one of the most remarkable Kiwinoy individuals we've met in Nurse Kristel Sevilla, and the result is the repost below.  Thanks to Ms Didith Tayawa Figuracion and Ms Meia Lopez, publisher and editor of Kabayan Magazine in Wellington for allowing us to repost this.  If you would like to see the rest of issue no. 5 online, please click this link!  Mabuhay Kabayan Magazine and the Pinoy community in Wellington NZ! ]

IN THE last few years, so many things have happened to our kabayan, nurse Kristel Sevilla, that one might be led to think that she has led the adventures of half a lifetime.  But this twentysomething has not even begun to live her multi-faceted life, and indeed, so soon after only her second anniversary as a Kiwi-Pinoy.

Before we continue with her OFW tale, we must tell you that besides her job as a pediatric nurse at worldclass Hutt Hospital down in Wellington, Kristel is an active member of the Pinoy Catholic community of  Paraparaumu , volunteers for the Munting Bayanihan Dance Ministry (also in Paraparaumu), is currently a servant leader in the Wellington Filipino Chaplaincy, and sings soprano in the Wellington Filipino Choir.  If you think saying that was quite a mouthful, then try actually doing those things, which Kristel does with as much commitment as a barangay captain, religious sister or professional singer.

But she didn’t plan to wear so many hats in her dream job overseas.  In fact, our kabayan didn’t even intend to point at New Zealand on the spinning globe.  Out of the possible work destinations for an experienced Pinay nurse (nearly limitless, actually), Kristel narrowed in down to the United Kingdom and NZ, the latter a recent choice given the obvious advantages (healthy environment, English speaking and immigrant friendly), but Middle Earth offered an intriguing option : devoid of any Kristel’s friends and family, she saw the country as the best opportunity to sharpen her skills at independence.

And her resourcefulness was indeed tested even before she arrived on Middle Earth’s shores.  On the longest leg of her journey here, Kristel’s skills as a medical professional were put to the test by a fellow passenger who was suffering blinding pain from somewhere in his abdomen.  Intuitively drawing on her knowledge and experience, our kabayan heroine suspected liver-related issues and made sure her suspicions were relayed  to the airline’s doctor on the ground.  For her grace under pressure, Kristel earned the thanks and gratitude not only from her co-traveller but the airline as well.   This, even before she practiced a single day of nursing in New Zealand.

There were a few months of loneliness and adjustment, especially in Palmerston North, where malls close at 5.00 pm and streets are deserted shortly after.  But anywhere there are kabayan, there are churches, and where there are churches there are church  groups.  Back home, Kristel was hardly a joiner but like most of us, she was raised to be a devoted member of the Catholic church.  In no time, Kristel found herself serving in multiple capacities in different Catholic organizations, and the loneliness turned to the flurry of service and activity.

Beyond all of these, nothing is more important to our fellow OFW than her work taking care of recovering children in one of the busiest hospitals in New Zealand.  More than the precious dollars and peer recognition that many of us aspire for, it’s the intangibles that make Kristel’s day.  Kiwi nurses frequently ask her why patients send a personal message of thanks to Kristel in a culture where impersonal service is the norm.

She also takes pride in the fact that more than one child in the pediatrics ward has named her favorite doll after her.  it doesn’t take too much to conclude, the parents say, that the favorite doll is named after the favorite nurse.

And any time Kristel is a child’s favorite nurse, it makes her day.

the last 36 of the last work week of summer

A pleasant surprise : "Noel : thank you for changing your hours and working O.T. (overtime) to get the retail (packer) up and running the last few weeks -Ben (obviously the supervisor)"  Awww..
A pleasant surprise : “Noel : thank you for changing your hours and working O.T. (overtime) to get the retail (packer) up and running. -Ben (obviously the supervisor) On top are two supermarket vouchers totalling $50. Awww..

THROUGHOUT HIS professional life, Dad was/is a deskbound, adding machine-holstered white-collar worker, but he was always blue-collar in attitude and approached work the way a wage-paid laborer did.  Day in and day out he answered the call, and only the most extreme reason could keep him from work.  Showing up everyday and on time shows you care for your job, he said in so many words.  It didn’t matter how high or low you were on the totem pole, if you were there ready and good to go, ready for your mission, then the boss looked good, and if the boss looked good, then oftener than not, things would look good for you.

It was just as well for me when I carried on with that work ethic in New Zealand where I now live and work, ’cause it seemed that in blue-collar Wellington, where the luck of the draw landed me, everyone who liked his job (and lots of those who didn’t) showed up for work every day that the Lord made (or bawat araw na ginawa ng Diyos, if you like), 15 minutes before the bell rang, and bright and cheery for work.

Bright and cheery also included being battle-ready for anything new on the menu, meaning if training or upskilling was available, you grabbed the offer, because usually that meant new machinery or new positions were emerging in the workplace.  On the record nothing would be taken against you if you refused, but the boss would remember the next time you needed a favor or when advancement was appearing, and likelier than not you wouldn’t be recommended.

So work ethic and “optional training” had combined to give me the position of backup operator on the brand-new packing machine.  Theoretically, as long as I was dependable and a third shift was needed, I was their man.  Unfortunately, theory turned into reality when one of the regular packers accepted a supervisor’s job in his hometown’s winery, an irresistible prospect for him, and because of staffing issues the packing machine quickly fell 200 man-hours behind based on a constantly increasing order schedule.

To truncate a potentially longish story, I was transferred from my regular department to packing, on a 10-hour 0500 to 1500 shift to make up for lost hours.  Before the end of the second day the site manager decided that even that wasn’t enough, and asked the packing supervisor to ask me if I could change from morning/afternoon shift to the graveyard shift.  Before even thinking, and undoubtedly because of Pinoy pakisama I just said “sure why not?”  After all, the week was almost over, and the overtime money couldn’t hurt.

Famous last words.

It's a different model, but this is what the packer looks like
It’s a different model, but this is what the packer looks like

Problem is, 12 hours during the night is a bit different from 12 hours during the day.  The lack of sunlight and daytime warmth makes the hours stretch endlessly, and the lack of human company stretches same even longer.  It helps that you keep going round and round a machine roughly 10 square meters in area, and constantly feed it paper bags, glue and plastic rolls for the bag bundler oven.  You also weigh product regularly and never stop monitoring the various conveyors, metal detector, bundle labeller and robot palletizer.

In short, while the work is tedious and wears on your limbs, if you do your work, you almost never get sleepy.  The machine was notorious for kinks on any or all of its various innards, but because the catchup production was a high priority, the site manager actually gave me the round-the-clock assistance of the plant engineer, unheard of before she thought of doing it.

And all this, heading headfirst into the biting wind of autumn.  Summer was long gone and on annual leave.

***               ***               ***

The first night was the hardest, because jams on the conveyor were constantly holding up production.  The scale inside the packing machine needed at least one recalibration, and the metal detector was either too sensitive or not sensitive enough.  But as soon as the different machines settled in, production was smooth for the rest of the night.

This is what the robot palletizer looks like.  Ours has a cage around it, because you don't want to be ANYWHERE near it when it's working;  one hit and you're a goner. :(
This is what the robot palletizer looks like. Ours has a cage around it, because you don’t want to be ANYWHERE near it when it’s working; one hit and you’re a goner. :(

The robot palletizer was another matter.  Bundled product coming into the final conveyor must be exactly in the same place every time, otherwise the bundles don’t get piled up correctly and the robot must be reset.  The robot palletizer is exactly what it sounds a metal arm that scoops up anything you want and depending on the pattern you program into it, piles up neat piles of bundles all night long.  The bundles can’t be too fat or too thin, the shrink-wrap plastic at just the right temperature so it won’t be too hard or too soft for the robot to pick it up neatly.

So as you can see, I had plenty of things to occupy me, and on pure adrenalin and healthy stress, I hardly even had the time to sit and have a cup of tea.  It was only my forklift guy and the engineer who reminded me to take the breaks before I realized it was the crack of dawn.

This went on for two more days, and the next week was a “regular” shift schedule of 10 hours, which I didn’t mind too much because I had the advantage of day shift.

Two weeks later, I realized how important the 24/7 shifts were when the supervisor sent me a thank you note (with the blessing of the site manager), and a $50 supermarket voucher.  Suddenly the cold and tedious nights of those shifts just became a distant memory.

Now, on to just another week of night shifts to finish…

Thanks for reading!

a pinoy’s peek above the Great Wall of chinese inscrutability

thanks and acknowledgment to lovethesepics.com!
thanks and acknowledgment to lovethesepics.com!

[ Note : On balance, this post is rather politically incorrect.  Forewarned is forearmed, thanks for reading! ]

WITH THE benefit of hindsight, it’s not hard to understand why there are so many strong emotions and opinions evoked by the Chinese.  Not only are they members or descendants of the largest (so far) ethnic group on the planet, they are overwhelmingly one of the largest migrant groups, spread far and wide all over the world.

Chinese are known to be adaptable, hardworking, resilient and loyal to family.  On the other hand, Chinese are also known to be rude, arrogant, materialistic and parochial.  Translated into more familiar terms, they are known to be bastos, mayabang, mukhang pera and suplado sa ibang lahi, certainly not among the more positive traits we as Filipinos and Asians like to be identified with.

Lest you call me racially intolerant and insensitive to other cultures, I have more than the traditional 15% Chinese blood that most Filipinos have.  At least two of my grandparents sailed on overcrowded migrant boats from Southern China, and my features are distinctly Cantonese and Fujianese, which happen to be the provinces said forebears came from.  Call it what you want, love/hate your own, or familiarity breeds contempt, but I share affinity with the people of whom I blog.

[ Additionally, people all over Southeast Asia (where we come from) like to say they are Chinese Malaysian, Chinese Filipino or Chinese Thai for example, but ethnically and to a large extent culturally, they have retained a generation or more of Chineseness (for lack of a better term).  This is technically accurate in my opinion, but I refer not to them.  Rather it is the mainland Chinese from the People's Republic of China (PROC), specifically the portion that has migrated to New Zealand, which is of course where I am now. ]

Chinese are rude and uncouth.  Let’s get our hands dirty right away shall we?  It’s hardly debatable that many Chinese are loud and unsubtle, not given to say please or may I? and frankly, say what they mean, even if it comes across (in English of course) as discourteous and impolite.  Mahal has a colleague at the sushi bar who is an expert in sushi rolling and seafood salad creation (probably the best in their branch) but is quite poor in customer relations.  She has turned off even the most understanding customer many times, and has never apologized for her behavior.

Reason?  In her mind at least, she is frequently misunderstood, and her philosophy is that the customer is always right, but only if he/she is not wrong.  She is always ready to argue about the price of this or that item on the menu, if a price card has been misplaced, or if the wrong amount has been paid.  She may possess the best skills on the staff, but because of her regular “issues” with customers who after all pay all their wages, her career advancement has undoubtedly suffered.  This is too bad, because ironically, she is a kind and generous friend, is good natured and cheerful (after work, of course) and is easier to talk to than the average Chinese.

Chinese are materialistic.  Coming from a history rich in famine, drought and starvation so severe people were starting to salivate at each other, it wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say that the here and now is primordial to the typical Chinese.  With so much emphasis placed on survival and tangible objectives in Chinese society, who can blame them for thinking of food, shelter and necessities first before anything else?   Chinese migrants come to New Zealand with one goal and one goal only, and that is to earn money.  Everything else is secondary, says the same colleague of Mahal who, with her Kiwi husband, newly built house and fat bank account, obviously has reached her goals.

Confucianism and the abstractions of religion and philosophy may have been preserved by ethnic overseas Chinese outside their homeland, but not within.  After the years of want  and deprivation in Communist China, wealth and prosperity is now not just a goal but a birthright for Chinese, to make up for all those lost years.  Can you blame them?

Chinese are proud and arrogant.  The Chinese like to be the biggest and best in everything, be it in national economy, military strength, science and technology, and most especially now, in sports.  This is the historical result of what Chinese people believe were centuries of persecution from the rest of the world, some of it justified (and some not).

I think this blind ambition to be the biggest and best (at the expense of everything else) has trickled down to the attitude and way of thinking of many in the Han race.  A good example would be Chinese students living in New Zealand, particularly the ones who have led a privileged life as only children in China.  Their parents pay first-class tuition to world-class, give them allowances to spend on rent, food and other expenses.  It wouldn’t take much for them to surmise that in the academic sector, Kiwis depend more on Chinese than vice-versa. Now, do the same in other industries like manufacturing, and tourism and we begin to see why Chinese pay other nationalities less than the common courtesy deserved.

I’m not trying to defend or even rationalize the behavior of the Chinese, especially as fellow migrants in a hospitable country like New Zealand.  However, I do admit that it is counterproductive for us to judge other races based on our own.  History, culture, values and even body types are just some of the the few variables that make it unlikely that a group of people could ever be like the next.  Hope that this helps, the next time you hear a Chinese family talk loudly in their own language without regard for anybody else.

I also realize that the above are pretty strong opinions that other people, particularly Chinese would rather not hear.  Too bad.

Thanks for reading!

remembering the kabayan who never came back: the Christchurch 11

[ Note : the video above is a memorial service for the Christchurch earthquake victims of February 22 2011, during which the names of the victims were read out for around 12+ minutes.  If you listen carefully, the names of our 11 kabayan are read with care, if not with 100% accuracy.  Thanks to youtube poster celphoneconz and mabuhay New Zealand! ]

SENDING OFF a kabayan OFW, whether as a friend, loved one, or family member, is always a poignantly bittersweet exercise.  You are sending him / her off to the job of her dreams, after years and years of education and preparation, not to mention investment and financial support, so that the grand plan of building lives can begin in earnest.

But behind all those bright beginnings and lofty dreams is the vague fear of the unknown.  The destination, after all, is a place far far beyond the shores of our homeland, where a culture vastly different from ours requires every bright-eyed OFW  to make adjustments that can make our head spin.  There is also the danger that the uncertainty of long-distance travel, and the randomness of accidents can befall anyone, especially someone in an unfamiliar land.  No matter how auspicious the start, there is always a chance that the worst may happen.

This fear was a nightmare that came true for the families of 11 kabayan who perished three years ago today in Christchurch, New Zealand on what Prime Minister John Key called New Zealand’s darkest day.  Most, if not all of them were Pinoy nurses who in every sense of the word died in the service of their nation, for after all aren’t our OFW the heroes that contribute mightily to our fledgling economy?

Some of them had just arrived in town to start a language and competency course that would ease them into the New Zealand nursing profession, with all the quirks and nuances specific to its culture.  In fact, some of our kabayan hadn’t even unpacked and the policemen who released their belongings to relatives found luggage, cash and valuables of the deceased still sitting on the bed.   Tragic indeed.

If we can remember the sacrifices they made and the bright hopes and dreams they represented and continue to represent, then certainly our Christchurch 11 would not have died in vain.  Three years on, we salute each of them below , proudly call them our very own, and enshrine them forever in our hall of OFW heroes:

Lalaine Collado AGATEP, 38 years old; Mary Louise Ann Bantillo AMANTILLO, 23 years old; Emabelle Cabahug ANOBA, 26 years old; Valquin Descalsota BENSURTO, 23 years old; Ivy Jane CABUNILAS, 33 years old; John Kristoffer Villegas CHUA, 24 years old; Jewel Jose FRANCISCO, 26 years old; Ezra Mae Sabayton MEDALLE, 24 years old, Erica Avir Reyes NORA, 20 years old, Jessie Lloyd REDOBLE, 30 years old; Rhea Mae SUMALPONG, 30 years old.

Mabuhay po kayong lahat!

Pinoys to Kiwis : maraming maraming salamat po!

Prime Minister Key warmly accepts the token of appreciation from the Pinoy community in NZ from Ambassador Virginia Benavidez
Prime Minister Key warmly accepts the token of appreciation from the Pinoy community in NZ from Ambassador Virginia Benavidez

[ Note : One thing you can't deny about our Ambassador, and it's the fact that she's one of the hardest-working ambassadors around.  Here she is taking time from her busy schedule to personally thank one of our biggest supporters post-Haiyan, the people of New Zealand.  Mabuhay tayong lahat! ]

TO PERSONALLY convey our President’s best wishes and reiterate the millions of Pinoys’ heartfelt gratitude for the New Zealand Government and People’s generous support after supertyphoon Haiyan ravaged Central Philippines last year, our Philippine Ambassador Virginia H. Benavidez paid a courtesy call on the Right Honourable John Key, Prime Minister of New Zealand.

Words will never be enough to thank countless New Zealanders for the outpouring of generosity, care and compassion which gave comfort, strength and hope to recover and rebuild what nature’s wrath had laid to waste, said the good Ambassador.

Prime Minister Key warmly welcomed Ambassador Benavidez and was pleased to hear about the latest developments in the multi-stakeholder and multi-dimensional reconstruction and rehabilitation in the Visayas region.  He also acknowledged the continuing important roles and contributions of 40,350 Filipinos in New Zealand.

As a token of appreciation, Ambassador Benavidez presented to Prime Minister Key a painting by Paco Gorospe, a leading Filipino artist, depicting fishermen casting their net and catching bountiful fish.  It is especially meaningful as among those affected by the unprecedented devastation are the fishing communities who are now being assisted in the on-going restoration of livelihood in the massively affected areas.

Prime Minister Key thanked Ambassador Benavidez and admired the painting which he said would be hung in an appropriate place in the Parliament.  Ambassador also presented a special thank you message from the Philippine community who were deeply moved by the overflowing kindness and overwhelming support from the people of New Zealand.

For his part, Prime Minister Key gave a framed and signed photograph of the Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130 aircraft which was sent immediately to provide the much needed airlift and logistical support delivering tons of relief supplies and equipment and evacuating a large number of survivors to nearby Cebu.  In expressing her deep appreciation, Ambassador Benavidez said that the Prime Minister’s gift is a much treasured one that will always be a grateful reminder of New Zealand’s humanitarian mission and assistance in the aftermath of super typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

just another day in the life of a clueless balikbayan dad

thanks and acknowledgment to thepsychmaze.wordpress.com!
thanks and acknowledgment to thepsychmaze.wordpress.com!

[Note: Just a heads up to you Precious Reader.  My last trip home wasn't supposed to be of the rest and recreation type, but I resolved that at least one good thing was going to come out of said trip, and my notes are below. Thanks again for the awesome help Doc Marcia & boyfriend !]

SER, MADAMI na pong transferee papuntang abroad ang humihingi sa amin, at sigurado po akong course description at hindi syllabus ang kailangan ng anak nyo, yon na po ang ipi-print ko kahit ilang subjects po yan?  Said the guy from the Office of the Registrar.

[rough translation: listen you clueless balikbayan yahoo, i process transfer documents like your daughter's every day of my life, so just hand me your list and let me do my job intiendes? ]

Hmm… This wasn’t gonna take a 30-minute walk in the Luneta Park like you thought, Noel, I said to my  less-than-confident self.

Because daughter Ganda knew that the all-knowing Office of the Registrar apparatchiks in the so-far college-that-must-not-be-named (out of respect to Ganda) would say something like the above, she made me bring copies of course descriptions which were precisely what she didn’t need.

Sorry pero hindi nga course description ang kailangan ng anak ko, heto nga oh may dala pa ako mula nung last time na humingi sya.  Gumastos nga sya para sa wala eh.  I said.

OK lang po, pero di ko po kayo matutulungan.  Mga ganyang requirement makukuha nyo siguro sa mga kanya-kanyang faculty department, he countered right back.

So off to the various departments this hopeful clueless balikbayan dad went.

Entrepreneurship Department?  Only one professor in campus, and classes for six hours straight.  I.T. Department?  No professors since yesterday, none expected till next week.  Same with Economics Department, and professors from G.E. subjects completely unaccounted for.   Grand Total of professors who helped me: Two, including an Accounting professor who uncharacteristically stepped out of her class to help me out (maraming salamat po mam!), and a Financial Management prof who was only there because she was also a college official.  (And I’m not any less grateful mam.)

The only way I was gonna get all the precious syllabi I needed, I was told by a faculty clerk (who must’ve belonged to the same union as the registrar guy) was the last-chance saloon, and that my best hope would be the administrative office of the College of Arts and Sciences.

So off to the College of Arts and Sciences I went…

Which told me, in so many words, that they would love to help me in my desperation, as soon as I provided the necessary paperwork, school-to-school.  Requests like these needed supporting letters, and that was how things worked.  Sigh.

Only a few months ago, a friend Ganda had sent had been given the exact same runaround by this little kingdom that had its own rules and regulations.  The school  she was transferring to found it hard to believe that something as simple as course syllabi wasn’t in their college website, but still gave her a final chance to prove that she had already taken the courses that would shorten her academic load to as little as a schoolyear in her new university.  She would only need to show the actual, hard copy of subjects passed in her home country.  And that was why I was now seated on a hard bench outside the Arts and Sciences admin, wondering what to do.

Deeper Sigh.  I didn’t want to disappoint Ganda again after promising to bring home the bacon, but the official communication thing was a bit much to take.  Being at a loss as to what to do next, I decided to make use of what remained of the day, and the NBI not being too far from the U-Belt (which should give you a clue on where the school was), I went to said office to get my NBI clearance.

Because my cousin worked in a hospital near said NBI, I chanced a visit and brought her lunch.

Between spoonsful of Chao Fan, she asked me where I came from.  Off on a fruitless jaunt getting syllabi from X University I said, where Ganda her niece almost graduated before leaving for NZ.

Reeeaaallyyyyyy? said Cousin Doctor.  Turned out, on pure pure coincidence, that her boyfriend taught graduate courses at the exact same university, and was (wink-wink) thick as thieves (pardon the expression) with said X University’s Vice Dean at the (guess where?) College of Arts and Sciences.  Woohoo!

Quick SMS texts and phone calls were made, an even quicker handwritten note was hammered out by said Vice-Dean who was now my newest buddy.

I won’t say I got Ganda’s syllabi that very same day.  But I came quite close.  Let’s just say, uhm, for that school… in record time.

Meantime, we’re all crossing our fingers, but methinks we saved Ganda from having to enroll in nearly one and a half schoolyear’s worth of subjects in the University of Victoria, which, in any country, costs a pretty penny.

Which just goes to show that it pays to gamble if your doctor-cousin working across the street while you’re waiting for your NBI clearance is a girlfriend of a Vice-Dean of the school your daughter used to study in (and needs syllabi from).

Just in case.

Thanks for reading!

goodbye & paalam, sa muling pagkita!

[Note  : No disrespect or sarcasm intended.  Thank you everyone I met or spoke with while I was home unexpectedly, and humblest / sincerest apologies to everyone I missed meeting! ]

Goodbye to Jollibee on every corner, Greenwich in multiple mall locations, and uplifting Chow King breakfasts;

Goodbye urine aromas redolent in many many public corners;

Goodbye to the 7000 daily NBI clearance applicants in Taft Ave Manila, confirmed because queueing numbers only go so high (and God help you if your family name is less than unique), your resilience is admired;

Goodbye to the 1500 daily OEC certificate applicants at the POEA office in EDSA Ortigas, admittedly more comfortable and accommodating to returning OFWs (than NBI applicants);

Goodbye to Beatles tribute band DynaSouls at Mizmo bar and grill in Kamias Rd., certainly one of the best kept secrets in Quezon City (but not anymore, thanks Kuya Oca Gomez Jr!);

Goodbye to friendly and reasonable street children and watch-car boys, who actually have Wi-Fi and Facebook while begging and car-watching;

Goodbye to affordable facials, manicures, pedicures, dental prophylaxis, wart-removal and all other sorts of personal grooming treats and appearance enhancements, that at a fifth of the cost overseas give you oodles and oodles of confidence and stares (or so Mahal sez);

Goodbye to magic expressways that’ve made Northern Luzon so much closer to the Metropolis now, reducing by as much as 20% less travel time;

Goodbye to generously staffed Pangasinan funeral homes, that produce the full complement of pallbearers, hearse drivers, mini-bands that provide live music during funeral marches and render each aspect of the memorial service with thoughtfulness, dignity and professionalism (o sige na nga, Caguioa Funeral which by the way went over and beyond the call of duty or whatever they earned, mabuhay kayo!);

Goodbye to high school friends who assemble at a moment’s notice as soon as they know you’re in town;

Goodbye to the front car of the EDSA MRT that allows inside only senior citizens, children, handicapped and women, as well as pregnant ladies and their husbands, which certainly took a huge load off during rush hour (well, Mahal did look pregnant after a heavy meal that night :) );

So many other goodbyes that need be said, but for now, goodbye and till we meet again!

morning with kin, evening with kabatch, & a day to remember

April, Jhun, me, and Tita Nannette.  Jhun's son Gio took the pick, so sayang he's not in the frame.
April, Jhun, me, and Tita Nannette. Jhun’s son Gio took the pick, so sayang he’s not in the frame.

ONE THING I can’t deny my current visit home, and that’s the hospitality of friends.  Because I committed myself to help out with securing daughter Ganda’s academic credentials, I denied myself the pleasure and company of three invitations Tuesday, from a high school classmate (thanks Jerome!) a fraternity brother (thanks Atty Samboy Concepcion and brods!) and political science buddies (salamat Attys Rowel Barba, Eric Acolola and Commissioner Jaime Fortes), each promising a tasty dinner, laughs-a-minute and memories of half a lifetime.

Instead I was chasing documents, pushing papers and schmoozing professors younger than me because I promised my daughter that if ever I got home to the Philippines before she did, I’d do my best to get her what she needed to shorten her course list  (she nearly graduated back home) towards a Marketing degree at the Victoria University at Wellington.

But the day before I just couldn’t help but anticipate meeting  a couple of groups of people despite the fact that we had agreed to meet on very short notice, less than 24 hours before a lunch and less than 24 hours before a dinner.  Even with social networking and SMS messaging at your fingertips, people still need to set aside time from work and play to assemble.

I met my second cousins, siblings Jhun and  April, their Mom Nannette and Jhun’s son Gio at Landmark the other day, continuing a lifelong conversation we’ve always had.  A towering presence was their dad/husband and one of the most remarkable uncles I’ve had, Atty Renato Montenegro,  who must’ve been there with us smiling silently.  I marveled at how ageless Tita Nannette stayed, at the durability of April considering the number of graveyard shift hours she logged in at Convergys, the steady development in Jhun’s career as a section chief at a top ten bank, and the personal bests his son Gio put in as a budding marathoner.

But most of all we talked about endless summers in my mom’s (and their dad’s) hometown in Masbate, where days were long and nights were cool.  Coconuts were there for the taking, beaches were white, and hunting on horseback was there for anyone who fancied it.  Twenty-five years later, I still remembered it like yesterday, and obviously so did my cousins, who have been there probably ten times as much as I have.  Just reminiscing, and talking about their sis Ining back in Wellington took up the better part of two hours, and by then everyone had to break up and return to the real world.  Thanks and till next time!

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(counterclockwise) Me, Philip, Archie, Stef, Gina and Richard :)
(clockwise) Me, Philip, Archie, Stef, Gina and Richard :)

That night I met high school friends  who had blazed trails in their separate career paths, and have been all the better for it.  One had cornered LPG sales in a major Metro Manila market, another had successfully switched careers from sales to I.T.; a third was a leader in a company that did business in at least a dozen industries in industrializing Philippines, and still another was starting to get both patients and recognition in his/her medical specialty.  All I had were my traveler’s tales and notes from all over, but because they had seen so little of me the past decade, I was the star of the night.  [ You will forgive me by the way if I don't identify them by their accomplishments as they are all rather shy about achievement? ]

We talked and joked about a zillion things  childishly and childlikely, because as you might know former playmates and schoolmates are the only people we can behave like foolish teenagers with, because they tolerate us and we all did the same thing together, once upon a time.

There was a recurring theme though : Is marriage, or even a life partner, essential to happiness in our day and age?  It was more than a discussion in the abstract, as I and my only other married seatmate (obviously happy in his marriage) were in the minority that night.

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Nobody took sides because we all discussed the pros and cons of being in a relationship, but we all agreed that the pursuit of happiness was, reduced to its lowest terms, dependent on the self.  We each were responsible (with all respect due to family and lovers) for our personal joy, and we figuratively live and die with that reality.

Other than that, everything else was shallowness and frivolity.  There was a little sober talk about our folks in their twilight years, schoolmates who’d met a sudden demise, and the inescapability of terminal illness, but we otherwise couldn’t deny ourselves the guffaws, giggles and mwahahahas that all reunions, even the impromptu ones, churn out.

Just for the record, thanks for rounding us up quicker than we could say I’m coming! Richard, and thanks for making the night memorable Archie, Philip, Gina, and Stef!  Mga alamat kayo!