NBI clearance, bow

How it used to be BEFORE online applications.  (The queues move slightly faster now, thank you.)  thanks to theviewingdeck.com for the great pic!


I hadn’t updated my prescription glasses, so from 15 meters, i could only read one word on the sign near the entrance :


from 10 meters, three words stood out :


Confusing, but curiouser and curiouser.

5 meters  (No wonder no one was paying attention) :


(Reminder : Online applications are free inside the NBI office itself.)

And the reason no one was paying attention to the half-hearted, weather-beaten sign?  Everyone around the NBI Clearance Center entrance was asking applicants : Online application? Online application?  Online application?

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The only explanation I could come up with:  although online applications are encouraged and even strongly recommended for everyone wanting a National Bureau of Investigation clearance (for jobs, security clearances or anything that requires a certification that you haven’t been convicted of a crime), there are still people who don’t use the internet  and have no choice but to do it the old-fashioned way : go to a bureaucrat’s desk, submit a written application and wait for the precious piece of paper.

Enterprising people with laptops and PCs know this, and entice applicants into using them instead of going in, cutting in half the queueing time and, in effect, the waiting time for an NBI clearance, not knowing that in fact, the NBI, anticipating this, already has computer terminals and NBI employees waiting for this type of applicant, ready to help them apply online, for free.  Thus the sign above.

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Although I counted around 800 to 1000 heads as I entered the applicants’ area, I wasn’t too worried.  I had already applied online in a different NBI branch, had my pic and fingerprints taken, and was just waiting for the hard copy of my clearance.

So what was I doing in the main branch?  Unfortunately, because I had such a common name (both the first and last), quite a few people I shared my name with had committed quite-serious crimes, including robbery, fraud and serious physical injuries.

Because of this, my clearance issuance had to go through “quality control” before release, still no biggie, but delayed enough to after my departure date, vacationing OFW that I am.

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Before the “quality control” officer, I was warned to have my application receipt (proof of payment for the clearance), identification document, and airline ticket and produce them instantly.

What I didn’t realize was that there were dozens and dozens of people needing their clearances issued before their respective departure dates, just like me, and we were all cramped into a small 5 meter by 7 meter room.  The salary grade of the QC officer didn’t allow for any bigger.

To speed things up, said QC officer just asked all those present (including me) to place their scraps of paper on top of her desk, neatly and first-come-first-served.

All present (including of course, me) dutifully complied.

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Unfortunately, another person entered the room, added his own scraps of paper and surreptitiously placed these on top of those previously placed in front of QC officer.

I could be wrong, but this person looked like he knew what he was doing, reminding me of “facilitators” who for a small fee facilitate transactions in a typical government office.

Even before any of us could react, QC officer did it for us:

Hoy!  Nakikita mo bang andami nang nauna sa yo?  Kahit taga-rito ka, ilagay mo dapat mga papel mo sa ilalim, dahil huli kang dumating. Hmmp!

Loosely translated, the QC officer berated the “facilitator” for neglecting to follow the (paper) queue, implied that (at least that day)  she served whoever came first, and fellow NBI employees couldn’t expect any favors from her.

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Coincidentally, because of her fair play, my paper got her attention next.  She scrutinized my clearance payment receipt, my passport, and my ticket, didn’t even interview me, scrawled her initials on my paper, and asked me to return in two hours.

In the meantime, I went to McDo for a snack, and on a whim bought a small apple pie for Ms. Low Level But Very Fair Quality Control Officer.

Despite knowing that I was committing the crime of Indirect Bribery under the Revised Penal Code, I wanted to show her my appreciation, and undoubtedly the appreciation of all those persons in the room with me.  I sneaked said pie on her desk when no one was looking, and no one was the wiser.

I got my NBI clearance two hours later without incident, and left the NBI compound containing around 5,000 applicants that day.

Mabuhay po kayo, Ms QC officer!






the agony & ecstasy of a 21k back home

finisher shirt and medal[  Note : If ever the opportunity presented itself on vacay, I told myself that I would run at least a half-marathon.  Lo and behold, right before the start of my last week, a 21-kilometer race was scheduled, just beckoning me to join.  Here’s how it went, thanks for reading Precious Reader! ]

LONG BEFORE I saw the finish line but less than 2 km away, I was already feeling nauseous.  In fact, I was already feeling faint, and for the first time since I started running around two-and-a-half hours ago (although I didn’t know it then) I was beginning to entertain doubts about finishing this crazy endeavor called a half-marathon.

Only the simple fact that there were others around me who were doing the same thing, trying to survive the 21k, willing themselves to finish despite fatigue, nausea and general discomfort, the reality that I was practically the oldest guy in the bunch, and finally, pure pride and the fear of ridicule, kept me from dropping out, dropping dead and giving up.

But, as usual I’m getting ahead of myself.

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Obviously everyone around me was excited, despite the muggy night air, despite the horrible starting time (2:00 am!) and despite the grueling 21 kilometers of tedious running ahead of us.

I had a special thrill ahead of me: when I finished (IF I finished) I would’ve been able to say that I ran not just two marathons but two marathons in different countries, New Zealand and the Philippines.  Not even the hardiest, most experienced and most conditioned runners I knew could say that, I had the advantage of travel and being at the right place at the right time.

But now at the starting line, I wasn’t so sure of myself.  Unlike my first half-marathon in Wellington, I didn’t prepare religiously, I hadn’t watched the things I ate the last few weeks (sisig, crispy pata, lechon, lauriats like there was no tomorrow… you be the judge) and most importantly, my running buddy Bunso my younger son was back in New Zealand and unable to hold my hand from start to finish.

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First five kilometers, although the exhilaration of running with hundreds and hundreds of gigil runners was intoxicating, I had a bad feeling because that part of the race, you’re not supposed to feel anything, pure adrenaline, the scenario of being with runners loving what they do, and everyone cheering you on, it should be effortless.

That early, it wasn’t effortless for me, and a bunion on the right side of my right foot was beginning to pinch me.  My shoes were less than a perfect fit, and I hoped the discomfort wouldn’t be too much for me.

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The route was easy enough : Skyway on Filinvest City in Alabang, then Sucat, turning around just before Bicutan and back the same way.  Easy enough except that once you got your rhythm and maintained the spring in your step, you had to contend with boredom and the lack of interesting things to see both on the track and the general surroundings.

I knew even before the first quarter of the run that there were lots of people who would finish ahead of me, probably 75% of the runners.  Not only was I a slower-than-average runner, but I also needed to make sure that I had enough in the tank to finish the distance.

So I didn’t mind that there were dozens and dozens of runners passing me every few minute, but I also noticed that the superfast runners who started out like jackrabbits at the opening bell  were starting to slow down, probably because they’d started out too intensely.  It was a cliche, but it wasn’t a sprint but a marathon.

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The soreness started even before we made a U-turn near Bicutan, and I found myself starting to avoid the glances of race marshals who were trained to keep their eyes peeled for the slightest sign of weakness or lack of resolve, early fatigue or worse, anyone experiencing shortness of breath, chest pains or cramps, all danger signs of something worse that could happen.

As long as the legs weren’t complaining, I was OK.  Soreness was expected, but as long as it could be endured till the last 5k, life was good.

Problem was, remember the bunion (kalyo) on my right foot?  The slight discomfort was beginning to grow into a worrying inconvenience, soon not only the shoe but the sock would chafe against the tenderizing skin.  I could run a certain way so that the impact was lessened, but doing so would affect my running gait, in effect I would tire more easily and seriously endanger my chance of finishing the race.  Problems, problems problems.

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All around me at the last 6k people were starting to slow down.  Some runners would let me pass them, then recover their strength and pass me right back, and slow down again.  I couldn’t adopt such a run-walk-run strategy because it would be a temptation to just taper off the rest of the way : I didn’t trust my stamina enough to rely on that.

By the two-hour mark, the night sky was giving way to pre-dawn light.  Early morning buses were blasting their horns right underneath the Skyway below us.  The air was so layered I could smell different parts of the air : carbon monoxide, exposed rubbish, and the dust particulates.  And of course, I could smell my own sweat.

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At Filinvest City, probably a kilometer before the finish line, every exposed part of my body was screaming : the lactic acid in my legs, the bunion in my right foot, my upper arms chafing against my torso, even my slippery spectacles pinching my temples.  Literally, naduduling na ako sa pagod at hilo.  Only the potential embarrassment of fainting kept me plodding on.

At the end it was anticlimactic : everyone was doing a slow jog now, and even then it took every last ounce of energy to force myself not to walk because jogging would give way to walking, and walking would give way to stopping.  Too dangerous, even then.

At the finish line, I gulped three cups of free electrolyte drinks, munched a free banana, slapped salonpas and pain-relieving gel, all provided by the sponsors, slurped arroz caldo and got my finisher’s medal.  The electrolyte drinks promptly gave me diarrhea, and as soon as I collected my wits, grabbed the first bus back to civilization.

And that, Precious Reader, was that!

Thanks for reading!





(wag maging) dayuhan sa sariling bayan (don’t be a stranger in your homeland)

san carlos[it’s already too late for a last, senti blog for the year so instead i’ll move it forward and nail a first blog of the year, up to you na lang Precious Reader to like and hopefully appreciate the topic.  onwards 2016!  Thanks to philippinecities.com for the San Carlos City pic above!]

EARLY ON, I’d already given up learning goodwife Mahal’s Pangasinense dialect, not the least because it was markedly different from the Ilokano tongue of my contemporaries in university, but also because I didn’t want my in-laws to think I was trying too hard.  In my slanted opinion, the Pangalatoks sound somewhere between Ilokanos and Kapampangans (although the latter really take some getting used to if you’ve never heard them before).

How wrong I was to not try learning even a few phrases!  Tell you what, the Pangasinenses dearly love their language, just as they love everything about their province.  This, despite the fact that the province is divided into large groups of Pangasinenses, Ilokanos and Tagalogs.

The dialect is richly sprinkled with the schwa sound (roughly a combination of the short “a”, “e” and “u” sounds), kien is a particle I heard in almost every sentence, antotan and labut were words obviously with a lot of uses / meanings since they were used as often as we did “uh” and “naman” in Manila.

Where we stayed for New Year’s Eve was a city that was considered the heartland of Pangasinenses, and I saw close-up how Mahal’s people were : frugal, hardworking, and clever.  Of course, I’m being biased and opinionated, but in the sort time I was there, that’s what I saw.

Almost every house I saw had either areas set aside for the drying of palay, an open area set aside for carpentry work or woodwork, houses were always being rebuilt or remodeled, and believe you me, I hardly saw any idle menfolk around, of course it was the holidays where people were expected to be hung over, tongue in cheek. :)

The reality however was, everyone was just waiting for the national elections, and based on the public works posters practically shouting the names and mugs of the incumbents, not everyone was patient enough to wait.  Everywhere were not-so-subtle posters, pictures and greetings of personalities obviously seeking public office.  Even schools had posters of potential candidates surrounded by children, purportedly benefiting from the incipient education policies of these candidates.

Sa bagay, campaign period for the national elections is less than four months away.

All in all, I haven’t been around my homeland much, but I can tell that San Carlos City is one of the more progressive places I’ve seen.  I only hope that in their drive towards progress, the Pangasinenses don’t lose sight of themselves and their identity.  The fact that Mahal comes from here is just a bonus.

Thanks for reading!





2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 21,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 8 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

the final shift before Christmas

“in lieu of the usual 5-minute nap breaks, for December we have better coffee and more potent tea for you hardworking employees!  don’t forget the higher production targets this month, the kids can’t be disappointed!”

[The other titles that made it before final print were : Work, the migrant and the silly season and Noel Learns and Earns.  But this one won out in the end.  A blessed Christmas to all! ]

I FINISHED  my last shift 3.00 am Christmas Eve.  What I thought would be an easy coast to the finish line became an eight-hour ordeal, imposing the burden of my mistake on my colleagues, and finished only by the grace of God.  The only silver lining here was that I gained yet another hard-earned lesson, actually THREE lessons in the School of  Hard-knocks (or pasaway, in current Pinoy idiom).

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It started when I saw the rosters posted for the week ending on Christmas Eve.  For a change, I was to work night shift, my first as a shift supervisor.  Such a term is actually a glorified way of saying you’re the senior between yourself and your shift partner, the only other person in the building.  And that if any sh*t happens during your shift, that’s right, it’s all on YOU.  For that, and an extra dollar an hour, you get to be called shift supervisor.

I should be one to complain.  I had been trained to be shift supervisor because there was no one else who was willing and able to be trained, because no one else was available, and because quite frankly, no one else was willing to do shift work.

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And besides, the job was one of the things keeping me in this country, which for the last seven years had been good to me and wife Mahal.  So what if every third week I worked night shift?  It was a job for mine to take, no one else wanted it as badly as I did, and there wasn’t much for me to do if the job didn’t exist.

The problem was, I didn’t have the confidence to do night shift, because night shift essentially meant running the entire factory alone, without the team leader holding your hand for troubleshooting, no plant engineers to fix spouts, conveyors and airlines in a jiffy, and nobody else (except your shift assistant) to help you.  Turning out 4 tons of product from 6 tons of raw material every hour, processing them through two dozen pieces of machinery, monitoring the same as well as the final product through a tedious sked of tests and checks, was something I’d never done at night, but the team leader told me in so many words, if I wasn’t ready now, I’d never be ready.

The only way to motivate myself was, telling myself Noel, this is what you’ve been trained for.  Physically, mentally and emotionally, you CAN’T be more ready.  So that’s how I started Sunday night.

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Except that things actually turned out peaches and cream.  The machines, old as they were, behaved like good little schoolkids and did what they were asked.  The product didn’t turn out awry and was up to spec.  And I had a great time.

Until Wednesday night.

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Ironically, it started with a teeny-tiny mistake concerning a procedure that I’d done dozens of times before without a hitch.  It involved shutting down an airseal / airlock a few seconds between changing product silos.  On. And off.  And on again.  That’s it.

Because it was already my last shift of the week, and because the first two hours went by swimmingly, my mind shifted into cruise control, and literally entered holiday mode.  The slight inconvenience of changing silos barely crossed my mind, and I was already thinking of the next steps after temporarily switching off  said airseal / airlock.

Except that I didn’t turn said machine on again.  That was when all hell broke loose.

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First, the product weigher through which all the final product passed through overflowed.  Despite the glaring mess, I missed THAT as a sign of  a bigger mess, which was the control sifter upstairs that was also overflowing.  Finally, one of the main airways through which the final product flowed before entering the main conveyor backed up and choked, forcing me into the last resort of shutting down the entire system altogether.

All in all, it took us at least an hour to clear around 50 bags of product, call the plant engineer (on call) and rouse him from sleep (twice) to clear the airways;  for my partner and me to clean up the rolls that treated the raw material so that they would start properly, and do general housecleaning to get rid of the mess I created.

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Through this, I expected my assistant, a 68-year old Samoan migrant who’d been in New Zealand the last 30 years, to at least frown, be sarcastic or complain about making his life miserable on our last shift before Christmas.

But he never said a word, despite the fact that we put in work the equivalent of the last few days put together.  I was beside myself with embarrassment, but the work had to be done.

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The lessons I told you that I learned?

First, that every work day, from the start of the week to the end of Friday, should be treated the same.  The level of energy, focus and intensity should be consistent and unwavering.  Otherwise, you’ll get lost in your own daydreams and get into trouble.

Second?  I hate to admit it, but in holiday mode, I was losing sight of the most important thing in my life after love and family, and that of course was/is my job.  It feeds me, shelters me, clothes me, keeps me warm, and allows me to stay in my host country.  What could be more important to me now?

So what if it was the week before Christmas?  Many others were also working the same sked, and it wasn’t even Christmas Day yet, which of course was a holiday naman.  In fact, many people in certain industries would be working through the holidays, knowing fully well it’s the nature of the job.

I’d be denying reality if I denied that many people in New Zealand, and even more in the Philippines, would give an arm and a leg (figuratively) to be in my shoes.  Someone quite close to me is in an industry that pays him more than double anything I could ever earn here, and yet he is jobless.  During the holidays.  That’s quite hard.  And makes me more appreciative of my work.

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And last?  It concerns my Samoan co-worker, in the last couple of years before he retires (actually he’s past retirement age), but still doing his bit to help the team.  I expected him to be short-tempered, resentful, or even walk out of the situation I created.  But seeing his mature, resilient and even cheerful disposition, I realized that not even his “seniorness”, his slowed-down body, and the adverse nature of night shift could change his basic nature:  after more than three decades, he was still mightily grateful that New Zealand had given him a chance to better his life, undoubtedly allowing him to make lives better for his extended family in Samoa (very much like the Philippines).

In case it isn’t that obvious, the lesson here, for me, is never lose sight of the big picture, and always be grateful.  (The sidelight is, don’t sweat the details.)

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After things got to normal, I hugged Joshua (not his real name) spontaneously, and uttered one of the few phrases I knew  in Samoan : Faa fetai Joshua, thank you for being there for me.  For us.  Joshua just smiled his stoic, Samoan smile.

A lot of lessons for the last shift before Christmas.

Thanks for reading Precious Reader,spare a thought for those working through the holidays, and stay safe this Christmas!




why Chia Rodriguez-Rubio is my fave kinoy*

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[  Note :  reposted with permission from the Pinoy Ata Yan section of KABAYAN Wellington News Magazine’s Christmas ish, published by Ms Didith Tayawa-Figuracion and edited by Ms Meia Lopez.  Pictured above is a mixed media work of Chia using acrylic, jute string and newspaper.  The other pic is that of Chia with husband John and son Ryu.  Thanks guys for allowing me to repost! ]

PART OF the migration equation is in many cases, out of need or out of speed, you leave a little of your career behind.  Lucky of course are those who get called overseas because of their vocation, but a lot of us either make the lateral move to become a more desirable migrant candidate, upskill to take jobs our hosts no longer want, or in extreme cases start a whole new career much like the whole new world that we migrate to.
This neither-here-nor-there duality was the dilemma of our kabayan Chia Rodriguez-Rubio, who coincidentally has been part of the Wellington (New Zealand) KABAYAN family from the very start, giving her whole heart and mind to every KABAYAN issue she has been involved in.
Sure, as a fine arts graduate from one of the best universities back home (University of Santo Tomas), she had a ticket to more than a few choice jobs in Wellington: graphic designer, creative department staffer, and advertising artist, which is incidentally three jobs that she’s combined in one for Indpendent Herald, an overachieving small-town newspaper for Wellington’s premier suburb.
But what Chia really wanted to be, and what she wants to be to this day, is to be a free-wheeling, unrestricted artist, in the most general sense of the word.
She feels most at home with strong colors, textures, and expressions in her paintings, which by the way you can check out in artflakes.com.  What she doesn’t feel at home with, ironically, is the term artist especially when it’s fixed next to her name.  Despite her obvious talent.
“I’m scared to call myself an artist. It’s like claiming a title that you’re not even sure you deserve,” claims Chia.
This comes as a surprise to this interviewer, since a lot of her works are aesthetically pleasing, visually arresting, and to be frank about it, vividly expressive, almost like a prism of the painter’s colourful emotions.
Chia draws from a gamut of inspiration for her art, ranging from the classic approach of her grandfather who was an artist himself, to the sleek, ultramodern approach of anime and comics art, inspirations that cover at least part of two generations (the previous and the present) as well as her own.

The result is a style one can call Chia’s personal signature defying classification but at the same time universally compelling.

For now though, what occupies Chia’s time is her job as graphic designer at the Independent Herald and her family, specifically her baby son.

When asked if she would be an artist for a living, she says yes! without batting an eyelash, but only if allowed her as much time with her family and if it paid the bills.

Which as what she would’ve said whether she was back home in the Philippines or in New Zealand.

*Kinoy, a contraction for Kiwi Pinoy, is a non-racial term for Filipinoswho’ve either been born or have migrated to New Zealand

Alalay shopping with your pinay missus, xmas version

[Note from Noel : alalay shopping is no shopping at all, you are merely there and not there, companion to the actual shopper, there only because you take up space.  But because we love our wives, our partners, our better halves, we all convince ourselves to use up three-quarters of our weekend time alalay shopping.  Lucky you, Precious Reader! ]

CONTRARY TO ALL dark expectations my life has become nearly perfect, katok katok.  I’m reasonably healthy for a man my age and lifestyle, I’ve cornered a gig that not many people like but which pays better than the industry average, my anakis (kids) have all but grown up, are smart and clever (two qualities which aren’t always the same) and are on the cusp of solid careers.  Hope you don’t mind my saying so, but I’ve a wife who is eye candy (to my eyes of course), considers cooking and readying me for work the high points of her day (WTF?), but also works on the side and earns a steady income, and outside of a bank account that’s by far unready for my twilight years, I’m not doing too badly.

Now, the only Everest that remains for me to scale is mastering the etiquette of shopping with Mahal, especially during the silly season.  Here are a few off-the-cuff rules I’ve devised for my brothers-in-arms who catch themselves in the same sticky situation:

[Silly by the way is no facetious or light-hearted definition, judging by the way you elbow, bump hips with or push fellow shoppers during the Christmas season.  And that’s just BEFORE the gates open.  But I digress.]

first rule : Do not complain at any point of the shopping period.  Bro, any time you complain using physical, mental or spiritual reasons, you are putting yourself in an awkward situation.  The first reason is the Missus has set aside a lot of time to doing this; she could be painting her nails, preparing your baon for tomorrow or prettifying herself for some mindless occasion, but because you and she have agreed to to this, you are instead shopping.  So, the less you complain, the better.

The second reason is even more compelling.  She didn’t ask you to come with her.  In fact, having forewarned you that said shopping will take hours and hours of discerning inspection of potential items of sale, you were quite aware of the perils involved.  But no, out of a sense of duty, because you were out of internet data or because you had nothing better to do, you still came out to be with her.  So you are barred, at least for now, from whining and groaning.

Not even the fact that you were the designated driver or that she needed you to drive for her can serve as a good reason, good reason though it may be.  This time, this event and this dedication on your part are all part and parcel of being the dutiful takusa asawa that you are.  So for the time being, just grin and bear it.  Mamaya na lang tayo babawi.

second rule : never complain about the budget, whether said budget is exceeded, or by how much.  Unless you’re asking for trouble, you don’t sweat the details of this shopping enterprise.  You’re just there to agree, to support, and possibly to carry the bags (even that is taken care of by helpful sales assistants).

As you might imagine, there are many reasons for this, but chief is the reason that shopping and making gifts and things available for Christmas is outside your jurisdiction Precious Reader.  It is squarely in the territory of your Mahal, esposa hermosa or wifey, and you should be happy it is.  Selecting everything, and I mean everything related to Christmas, buying the same, and distributing them is something that the love of your life has taken upon herself to doing, believe me when I say you’re much better off leaving such important things to her.

If you want to help, just give her a little more money for the season.  In fact, just surrender your ATM and credit card to her.  Then, wait outside the stores, or have a coffee and wait for her to text you when she’s done.  That would be a great help.

third rule :  Do not be surprised, if you have to return to the store for extra purchases.  In fact, don’t even bat an eyelash when an additional trip or trips are scheduled for unforeseen buys, crazier sales or additions to gift lists at the last minute.

In any other case this would sound unreasonable, inconsiderate or disorganized.  But when was Christmas ever reasonable to you?  When did you ever complete giving all your godchildren gifts the first time you listed them all?  When were your inaanak, friends, or relatives ever considerate of your forgetfulness regarding gift-giving?  And when, God forbid, when has Christmas ever been organized?

Buti na lang, there’s your ever-dependable, ever-understanding and ever-organized wife who’s always there with extra energy and extra ideas whenever you need Christmas shopping beyond the call of duty.  You don’t even need to ask her.  And you know that she knows that cash gifts, angpao, or gift vouchers / gift certificates just won’t do.

Dont’ worry, she’ll have the time, and imagination to select every gift, or buy for that extra Christmas handa.  All she needs is you.  Or your wallet.  Preferably both.

Thanks for reading!