one man’s basura is another man’s yaman


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thanks and acknowledgment for the photo to myguidequeenstown.com!

IF PRECIOUS Reader (kabayan or otherwise) has listened as much as Your Loyal Blogger ylbNoel has yakked (which is unlikely), you’d know among others that I loathe talking / blogging / posting about politics, mainly because we all know enough attention, time and effort are devoted to politics and also because we all know (as well) that as much as you know you can prove yourself right, you can just as easily be proven wrong.

Having said, I can’t avoid reading about how trolls and bullies have preyed upon a national official helping her daughter acquire furniture during her masteral education abroad. I’ll easily show you where I stand by saying not just in the US or the Americas but all over the world, using “pre-loved”, second hand or used furniture, or for that matter any object of daily life, is not just recommended but a well-loved tradition of Filipinos all over the world.

[Just a minor disclaimer po before I go any further: any encouraged use of practical items presupposes you aren’t breaking any rules of hygiene or sanitary common sense, if you know what I mean.]

Much of practical life, Pinoy or not, is fleeting and transitory. Today you’re in New York, tomorrow your job, your love life or your studies might take you to Shanghai, Nairobi or Wellington. You might enjoy the quiet suburban tranquility of Vancouver one morning and be thrown into the tumult of your homeland in Manila the next. In the meantime, what do you do about the items of your domicile, your muebles, whiteware and things you can’t bring around the world with you?

You sell them before leaving, and buy new things in your temporary destination, that’s what you do. Except that with a limited budget and very finite resources, you can’t buy brand new things all the time. This applies whether you’re momentarily traveling or a permanent migrant, but always if you don’t intend to stay in one place for a long time. The following are what I’ve observed in my migratory life and ever-changing abode.

There is no shame in buying second-hand. More popular among students, OFWS and those in ambultory professions, the secondary market is a popular way of furnishing homes and sourcing the things we need, without spending too much money that could better be used for other needs. I’ve read this in online media and can certainly confirm it: there is no shame in buying second-hand goods, especially if it’s quality and you don’t plan to use it for long. In fact, if you intend to resell it (or better, donate it) after use, it’s a sign you are concerned for the environment.

Where I live in the Wellington and in the Greater Wellington region, Salvation Army stores are overwhelmingly the most popular sales destination for new arrivals from the Philippines as well as other migrant countries. It’s a win-win situation. Buyers are able to furnish their households with reasonably priced purchases, donors get rid of items they no longer need (without wastage) and the Salvation Army raises funds to help people in want and in need. Winners everywhere! May I add that long after I’ve arrived, I drop by the Salvation Army store to pick up things that brighten my day and which I know I’ve rescued from the landfill.

Buying from each other, on the Net or word of mouth. Because my Pinoy community is tightly knit, it’s easy for Pinoys to sell to each other, whatever the item and whoever needs it. The only currency here is need, and there are many ways to do it. There are Facebook pages for Pinoys and Asians who reach each other in nanoseconds, physical community notices in churches, supermarkets and weekend events. It could be a 2007 Mazda Demio, an ABS-CBN Star Cinema DVD, even a tadtaran (chopping block) that nobody sells in the department stores, anything that’s useful is fair game for buyers and sellers. As long as it’s an object of desire.

Scavenging is about the journey as well as the destination. More adventurous than flea markets, Salvation army stores and community notices is going around and finding something no one wants but something you might need. Wellingtonians who have lost interest in keeping certain things and who have no time discarding the same often just bring it outside their doors on the roadside, attaching on them the sign “Free to a good home.” If you’re lucky, you’ll find sofas, chairs, desks still quite usable, all just needing a vehicle and some rope for you to pick it up and bring it home.

It’s not limited to furniture. I have joined kabayan going around scavenging for free firewood in winter months, picked up filling material for housebuilding, anything that might be of use that other people no longer need.

There is no shame in second hand goods. One man’s basura might be another man’s yaman.

Thanks for reading and mabuhay!

what pinoys won’t tell you about pinoys


thanks and acknowledgment for the pic to eRepublik.com!

ALTHOUGH THERE IS one other Asian on our work site now (an Indian, in the engineering team), and maybe because the latter is still quite new, at work I’m usually the subject of Asian jokes and slightly race-related remarks, a fact of life I’ve openly embraced since I started working in New Zealand. Because of this, and also due to my good-natured friendliness and approachability, I get along with everybody at work. it wouldn’t be an exaggeration for me to say i’m probably the most popular staff member on site.

I wear my being Filipino on my sleeve, broach my “Pinoyness” as a subject every time an opportunity presents, and always take time to ask about any kind of personal interaction my colleagues might have with other Filipinos, and ask if it reflects positively on us. It usually ends up in a joke or anecdote, which I laugh at, in an easy attempt to make fun of myself. It nearly always lets others know they can laugh with me instead of laughing at me, which is alright in any case.

What most of my workmates don’t always realize is that like any other race in the human community, Filipinos have a good side and a bad side. We like to show our “presentable” face to the rest of the world, while naively pretending our warts and zits are invisible. Yes we are likeable, we like to think, but there are annoying aspects of our character that have become so predictable that they are just a part of our Pinoyness as our food, our skin pigment and our facility in English. These are just a few that we’re not proud of, but which our non-Pinoy neighbors are slowly beginning to discern:

Pinoys are notorious gossips. We are so gossipy and loose-lipped about our fellowmen (and women) that we hardly use the term chismoso (and chismosa) anymore, it’s such a natural thing to talk about the personal lives of other people, under the dismissive phrase napag-uusapan lang naman (we’re just discussing it in passing, or “by the way”). It’s almost as if we as Filipinos are kind and decent in every other away except in the way we trash other people who have the misfortune of not being around, and therefore unable to defend themselves when their personal lives are being discussed.

I’m no saint or angel just because I condemn this very Pinoy behavior. In fact, when I don’t watch myself, I do it without even realizing it, until I sit back after a conversation and think about, now what if instead of talking about Person A with Person B (in the most graphic detail possible) without a second thought, Person B was discussing with A about me? How would I feel?

I’m also not saying that people from other countries don’t do it, especially since the people I enjoy gossipy talk with are New Zealanders, Brits, fellow Asians, etc. But because I know my own kind, I know we are above the norm in shaming our kabayan behind their backs. Oh well, nobody’s perfect.

“Keeping up with the Joneses”. The Urban Dictionary defines this phrase as “to strive beyond one’s means to keep up socially and financially with others in one’s social circle or neighborhood.” It can cover any object, trivial or massive, from buying a Fitbit sports watch to starting an entire property makeover just to show your neighbors, friends and colleagues that whatever they do, you can do just as well or better.

If you use this to do better in life, improve your situation or help you reach goals in your career, relationships and community, why not, diba? An example is to take out a student loan to join your friends enrolling in a masteral or postgraduate course.  Trouble is many of us Filipinos , upon discovering the travel, purchase or party plans of their peers, borrow money or overextend themselves just to keep up with the same. Maxing out the credit line during family weddings, town fiestas and holidays are nothing new to us, but we always have to outdo ourselves from previous gastusan (spending sprees) just to comply with the saying, para wala silang masabi (so they can’t complain). We would rather cope with material hardship and eternal debt than not keep up with appearances. Recently, Filipinos have matured in this respect, but old habits die hard.

Crab mentality. This is subject of much debate and discussion, but in my experience Pinoys do not support each other whenever one of their own is on the fast track towards success and achievement,  as compared to other nationalities (in my very limited perspective, of course). Hindi naman ito strictly crab mentality, but when you’re not happy for kabayan, what are you then? Hardly any room for being neutral here.

Among Chinese, when a member of their community is running for office, being recognized for special achievement in their profession, in the arts, or civic duty, the whole universe of ethnic Chinese (whether from the mainland, Taiwan or Hongkong) rallies behind him as a brother or sister. When a Thai, Vietnamese or Southeast Asian opens a business, you can be sure it will receive the patronage of their countrymen. I’m not so sure about parallels in the Filipino community. More so in the international sphere, when Pinoys up for high positions, awards and recognition get less than the support they so richly deserve, from kabayan and the kabayan community.

I may be generalizing, but would you disagree with my stinging assessments? On the whole, Pinoys are appreciated, across the board, by different races. It’s time that we start, on the one hand, taking a long hard look at ourselves, and on the other, start appreciating ourselves.

Thanks for reading, mabuhay!

quick thoughts on dad on Father’s day


Bruh  Mom n Dad

Mom and Dad on one of many happy occasions spent together. Here they are with Fifth Brother, who cuts a dashing figure himself 😉 Photo courtesy of the Facebook photo library of Ms Dely Imperial. Happy Father’s day everyone!

IF MOTHERHOOD is nurturing, fatherhood must by extension certainly be building, building up or developing. If the most dramatic (although not comprehensive) part of the mother narrative is bringing the child from conception to newborn, then the most critical part of being a dad, in my humble opinion (IMHO as they now say on abbreviated social media) is guiding the inchoate or formative years of the toddler, through pre-teen awkwardness, and into young adulthood.

Both are challenging, and motherhood is certainly the more thankless, and therefore nobler task.  But fatherhood is equally demanding, and may require more of the latter parent’s time and commitment in later years.

I emphasize the building or building up nature of dadhood because you cannot start in the middle, or worse, the later part of fatherhood. Each step along the way requires you to build on previous work. The work of days, weeks, months and years. There is no other way.

I know this because I hold my father in the highest esteem. He was born during the Second World War, to my knowledge had no access (or had to desire to have access) to fatherhood self-help books, disdained the psychobabble and psychoanalysis made famous during the seventies and eighties, but was there for me as a provider, disciplinarian, mentor, adviser, and everything else I could possibly want as a child and young man growing up in the Philippines decades ago.

I also know this because I was not always there for my children, and therefore enjoy a healthy relationship with them despite and not because of the father that I was. I do not always enjoy their full trust and confidence, and it will take the rest of my years to develop a better relationship with them.

There is no such thing as perfect fatherhood because along the way, we learn as we go. Our being dads will be marked by our failures just as much as our successes, but I am willing to bet my last fifty pesos that we will be loved just as much, regardless of our failings.

Thank you for being my dad, I love you very much. Happy Father’s day to all!

my mother the legend


[ We hardly see Mom in formal wear, so this is a treat! Taken during the wedding of her grandson Jay Bautista to Linnel de Villa last March, Mom is the lovely lady in the center. Also in pic are family friend Miggie Isla, my brother Doc Donald Bautista, and Dr Nick Cruz, one of the couple’s sponsors. Thanks and acknowledgment to the Facebook photo library of Jude Bautista. For more pics please visit http://judebautista.wordpress.com. woohoohoo!]

IF MISTER SLASH MISS PRECIOUS READER (that’s you) has read any of our previous posts about mother, motherhood or mother’s day, you’d probably know that we’re a big fan of mothers in general,  and her special day (being Mother’s Day, besides her birthday, just where do you place that apostrophe?) is just one more reason to show her respect, gratitude, love and all other positive feelings and thoughts that affirm her place in human history.

But I also want to convey said feelings personally, about (who else?) my own mom.

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Let me balance it out first: Mom’s not perfect. She doesn’t always go the diplomatic route, is sometimes given to temperamental outbursts, and definitely, definitely speaks her mind. But it only underscores the indisputable fact that there’s not a single fake bone in her body.

Now for the good part : At 78, Mom gets up around 5.30 am most days to prepare for work. It’s not part-time work, a casual job or even volunteer, just-to-keep-busy work.  It’s a real six-day, 52-week job that she’s held in the only career she’s ever loved: retail and point-of-sale. Only because she’s had the benefit of experience, and her savings, she’s her own boss, in her own business.

During the week, she supervises her staff who mind the kilns and cure the meat (it’s a ham baking business), fills out orders and schedules deliveries. Everything is in preparation for the weekend markets (when she wakes up even earlier, hears the first Sunday Mass) in Salcedo Village Makati, Mount Carmel Quezon City and Libis Pasig, where the actual selling takes place. There’s very little inventory because all of her kiosks nearly always sell out.

The rest of her time is divided into catechism work in their parish, indulging Dad in his favorite pastime, stud poker and Texas hold’ em poker, and reading the latest romance and suspense horror novels of her fave authors. Oh, she’s also anticipating news of her first great grandchild!

Long after her years of motherhood (where she raised five sons forever grateful), she continues to be motherlike. She looks after the tuition needs of dozens of children of relatives in Bicol, will send help to a sick family member but will forget about it as soon as the money transfer is complete, most days she will send food to sick kumares and old friends who can no longer look after themselves.

(btw, you won’t hear or get this confirmed from anyone. This is the sort of thing that doesn’t get talked about, least of all by Mom herself. It just isn’t her thing.)

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I could go on and on, but it would take the rest of the day. Just one last Mommy anecdote : On my last balikbayan visit, Mom pulled me aside to tell me to get serious about work and a more stable future overseas. Before I could finish, she asked me: howz your immigration going?

I said di pa tapos Mom, inadvertently letting on that the entry fee (application fee) wasn’t cheap.

She answered : I know. This isn’t much, but don’t spend it on anything else. I’m praying for you, pushing US$500 into my surprised hands.

I was speechless for awhile, marvelling at the irony of the situation: the OFW being given a handout by his mother. The speechlessness was broken by Fourth Brother (a migrant like me), who also took me aside to ask:

Binigyan ka nya ng pera ‘no? Magkano ? $500?

I said, yes, how did you know?

He replied : Hahaha! Utang ko yan sa kanya!  kakabayad ko lang sa kanya kanina. He added that he had a feeling it would go to me.

She had paid her good fortune forward instantly!

As she has been doing and continues to do, all her life.

God bless you Mom! From all of us in Manila, Auckland and Wellington, New Zealand and New Mexico, USA, happy mother’s day! I love you always!

And Happy mother’s day to all!

 

“nagi-guilty ka ba kabayan kapag di ka nag O.T. or nagsickie?”*


[In picture above is kabayan and dairy worker Socrates Mallari, who I hope doesn’t mind my use of this pic,  he is helping turn the wheels of the New Zealand economy! Thanks and acknowledgment for the pic to Socrates and stuff.co.nz, happy mothers’ day to all!]

I LOVE my job, despite and not because of what I do. My job validates me, gives me dignity, and gives me a chance to pursue the Pinoy dream of a better life in a foreign land.

Down to the details, it’s a job that involves considerable manual effort, physical activity (pareho lang ata yun), shift work, (night shift and afternoon shift, meron ding morning), going on fifth gear when something’s wrong in the factory. The speed and reaction time is crucial, because for the whole factory (four levels), only two of you monitor everything, and keeping the factory running is the first and only priority, but when everything’s cool, OK naman.

Because of the migrant mentality where you feel you have to do equal or more of your share as a perennial outsider, I need to foster a brutal work ethic. Never late, never absent, first in and last out (within reason), and always volunteering for extra work and covering up for staff on leave. It’s the way it is, and everyone covers for everybody else, anyway. You just don’t wait for the request to become an order.

But not everyone always feels the same way, especially the katutubo or those who feel a little entitlement in the Land of the Long White Cloud (New Zealand’s name for itself). They don’t do anything not in their job description, don’t want to be held accountable for anything that doesn’t involve their work (fair enough), and the first question they ask when requested to do something beyond the usual shift is “What’s in it for me?” Ito naman ang nakasanayan nila bilang katutubo or locals, and beyond a few mutterings, no one begrudges them for that.

Ang problema nga lang, even as they look mediocre on absolute terms (in a vacuum), migrant workers, not the least of which are Pinoys, make them look worse (if that’s at all possible). No one to work the (urgently needed) extra shift? I’ll do it, boss! Someone needs to help out in packing (a different department)? Count me in boss! Could you come a little earlier to cover for the previous shift (who’s AWOL and nowhere to be found)? Consider it done boss! You do these things for no other reason than you earnestly feel the need to give back, and hopefully the positive deed will be paid forward, eventually back to you. The locals grumble and mutter, but what can they do? Their free time and weekends are sacred to them, and everybody respects that.

Which is why, out of every 10 offers to work overtime, whether it be on a regular shift (extension) or weekends (Saturday mornings) as long as I can remember I accept around 9. The money’s good, but it’s a concrete manifestation of your willingness to go the extra mile, especially on an unexpected turn of events. (extra orders, down time, when maintenance eats into production time, and so on and so forth).

I sometimes pretend to make a big deal out of it, bitch about having to work when I could be resting (I have lower back, gout and chronic sleep apnea issues which wife Mahal has put up with brilliantly), but in the end I almost always say yes. Saying no is not part of the equation.

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Similarly, another migrant in our workplace has infected nearly all of our production team with his durability and iron man attitude. In the eight years I’ve known him, he has called in sick a grand total of ONE time, and he was so sick we were all concerned if he needed hospital care (he is a confirmed bachelor and lives alone).

So, colds and coughs, feeling a little bit under the weather, hungover after a “bender “(walang katapusang inuman might be an accurate translation of this Kiwi-ism), etc might be enough for somebody to call in sick, but not for our production team.  You know you’ll eff up the shift schedule, there will be people before and after your shift who will cover for you, but unless you really feel unable to come to work, you don’t want to impose.  Just as they don’t want to impose.

I don’t know if this is unique to the migrant work ethic, I would be naive to think so. But it certainly comes up together, being a migrant who more than wants to pull his weight at the workplace, and the harder attitudes of trying to do more, and put in an honest day’s work almost without fail.

Throughout my gig at my workplace, I’ve been told: Use your sick days when you need to.  Don’t feel as if you have to work beyond the pale, every single time.  Get a life.  Achieve the work-life balance.

I can do all of those, but in keeping with my migrant mentality, I internalize what the American philosopher and psychologist William James said about work, or activity: Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action.

Thanks for reading, mabuhay!

*O.T. = overtime.  Sickie = a Kiwi term for using sick leave.

belated happy birthday Ganda!


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TO VARYING DEGREES, all fathers view the relationship with daughters as ultimately to be overcome by a usurper. It will be (in order) a new playmate, a best friend, a colleague, a boyfriend, and ideally (but not necessarily) a husband.

You guide them towards their first steps, capture their first moments in a party dress, bring them to school on their first day, and walk them through disappointment, heartbreak, and triumph, knowing that it is the way of the world.

Despite this, you gladly give up your precious daughter to maturity, womanhood, and another man in his life, knowing the process is immutable and change is inevitable.

Benefiting from this wisdom of the ages, I enjoyed every minute of daughter Ganda’s childhood that I bore witness too.  She was showy without being pretentious, friendly without being overbearing, naughty without being disrespectful, and self-aware without being self-absorbed.  She was all those things, without ever stopping being a joy in my life.

She is all of 25 years old now, every bit a woman, and with a guy in her life too. She has picked up the cynicism of the postmodern world without abandoning the optimism of the traditional world she left behind, in her youth, and in the Philippines. I can only wish her luck in this shattered world I will soon leave behind for her.

I cannot stop looking at her 4 years young, gorging on brandy-laced fruit cake and dropping off into happy sleep afterwards. I cannot help seeing her as perpetually a toddler, although she will be raising a family soon. I cannot view her as anything other than my own, even if she will be someone’s wife, mother and daughter-in-law soon.

But I can hope.

Belated happy birthday Ganda!  I love you always!

bakit nga ba balat-sibuyas tayong mga Pinoy?*


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[ Thanks and acknowledgment for the photo to yoga4ayear.wordpress.com!]

MAY KASAMA ako sa trabaho.  Sabi ni Mahal (nakita na nya nung sinundo ako minsan) may hitsura naman sya, matangkad at matipuno.  Nasa kanya na sana lahat, problema lang ay (1) matapang ang putok nya, at madalas nyang nalilimutan mag-deodorant; (2) minsan lang sya mag medyas kahit nakasuot kami lagi ng balat na work boots (summer pa man din), at (3) tinatamad syang magsipilyo araw-araw.  So sa madali’t sabi, kahit anong kapogihan nya, nababawale-wala sa kalamugan nya.

For obvious reasons that paragraph up there had to be in the mother tongue, but it’s just for me to tell you what happened next: he was told, once by our supervisor, and another time by me, probably his only friend on the work site. We didn’t exactly get the result we wanted, but substantial change isn’t made overnight. And the first step/s has been taken.

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The Filipino in me would not have survived a talking-to like that, because I am so balatsibuyas (onion-skinned).  Being told you have not only one but three repulsive hygiene habits would be enough for me to shrink into an emotional cocoon for an indefinite period.  Other races and communities may react differently, but I’m confident enough to say that Pinoys (Filipinos) have such a fragile (yet confident) self-image of themselves that a personal attack would have lasting effect. Which leads me to the following strong reasons why we are so sensitive:

Pinoys are eager to please, so when they’re not appreciated, they just don’t get it.  From Day One at my job here in Wellington, I’ve tried to be friends with everyone, avoid conflicts whenever I can, and be pleasing in my demeanor and personality.  Through the eight-plus years, I’ve learned that this doesn’t always work.  There will always be people who wonder, what’s up with this guy, trying to be nice to everybody???  Sometimes it has the opposite effect, and generates awkwardness or even conflict when your too-eager-to-please effort creates misunderstanding.

Minsan iisipin ng tao sipsip ka sa boss, kahit wala ka namang balak sumipsip, o maiinis naman ang mga katrabaho mo kapag masyado kang masipag, dahil maraming tinatamad.  You can’t please everyone.

So this is the way the average Pinoy processes the situation: ang bait-bait ko na nga, pinapansin ko lahat, ngiti to the max, tapos ngangaragin pa ako? (Despite my niceness, efforts to say hi to everyone, smiles all around, I still get vexing comments?) And the expected counter-behavior follows.

Pinoys are very careful in their words, so even the slightest sharpness in language affects them negatively.  In our ideal world, we do our best to say only positive things both at work and socially,  not only because it’s in our nature, but because we don’t want bad vibes to rebound to us.

As in the first situation above, reality is quite different. There will always be negative people, people who use profanity and colorful language regularly, and people who won’t think twice about putting you down, for whatever reason.

The trick is, to use a double standard; one for people you know share your values and manners; and another for people you meet everyday at work or in public, where anything goes.  It’s a bit cynical, but if you get used to it, you don’t get as bothered.

And lastly…

Every little gesture or thing counts for Pinoys, so there is greater probability of getting hurt or offended by the littlest things.

Ang Pinoy kasi, di lang nabati, nasisira na ang araw. Minsan nginitian mo na, kulang pa.  Kailangan daw, bungisngis.  Kung ano’ng kinasanayan ng kabatian mo, whether it be a big grin, a high five or unmanly giggle, if you don’t do the same every day, it becomes an issue.

Some Kiwis I work with say as little as “uhms” or grunts the first time you see them in the morning, with the barest of nods. Unless there’s something to be happy about or celebrate, people don’t just jump out of their skin to greet each other where I work, or maybe it’s just me.  Because I go out of my way to punctuate a morning with the warmest “good morning bro/sis!” kahit alam ko minsan mapapahiya ako.

Not so much with other Pinoys.  Minsan lang sila mapahiya, masama na ang luob.  You’ll never get the same greeting from them again, just because you failed to greet them with the same intensity they greeted you.  Am I making sense?

I used to be the same way kasi. The smallest gesture missed, the simplest hello unsaid, always set me off and made me do a double-take.  Was it intentional? Did I do anything to displease that person previously or the day before? And so on and so forth.

Now, I know better, belatedly of course. You can’t please everybody.  You can’t let others dictate the way you feel. More importantly, what we perceive in other people’s outward gestures can never be 100% correct. In fact, we are often wrong. So that, being balat-sibuyas because of one or two gestures is simply folly.

Thanks for reading, mabuhay!

*or, why are Filipinos so onion-skinned (sensitive)?

it shouldn’t be too hard distinguishing between partisanship and just doing your job


Amba crowd

Our current Ambassador Jesus “Gary” Domingo, far from being partisan, is just doing his job, which is besides representing the Philippines in New Zealand, serving his one and only constituency in New Zealand, the Filipino community.

There, I’ve said it.  If you don’t want to read any further kabayan, that is the tight, concise summary of what I’m saying here.  It’s enough.  But if you need me to expound, please read on.

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Like most of us kabayan early last year, including nurses, teachers, IT professionals, scaffolders, dairy workers, accountants, admin officers,  to me “Jesus Gary Domingo” was just a name on the list of ambassadors-in-waiting at the Commission on Appointments published in our national broadsheets back home.

Two things intervened: I would soon visit the Philippines, and the ambassador and I had a mutual friend from a few years back, something I discovered on Facebook (of course).  One inquiry led to another and before I knew it, Amba Gary (as he is more well known now) and I were having breakfast at Pancake House in Greenbelt Makati the same Sunday I ran a half-marathon.  (That was a BUSY morning.)

That breakfast turned into brunch and turned into an early afternoon merienda.  We didn’t stop talking about Star Wars, our alma mater, common friends, his stints abroad (through which I vicariously lived his diplomat adventures) and a myriad other topics. Time simply flew.

One of the few things I remembered about him, in that solitary conversation, was that, representing his country in the various countries (and international organizations) he was assigned to was a given.  It was part of the job.

The unwritten part of your job, he said, was being the unofficial “elder” or respected person in the Filipino community.  That was nowhere in the statutes or codes of the foreign service, but it was implicit in the nature of the job.

In a very real sense, Amba Gary told me, politics is an essential part of the job of ambassador.  But at the same time, the ambassador is above politics.

He is there for everybody.

In this regard, I believe with my heart that if anybody (political party or not) asked Amba Gary to endorse or support their candidacy or cause, basta Pinoy, Amba Gary would not think twice.  He would do it.

He never does things half way.  Statements, pictures, the full support of the Embassy, logistical support within reason, anything.  Basta Pinoy.

In this sense, therefore, let me correct what my title above might convey.  Amba Gary is indeed partisan, but only partisan for the cause of the Pinoy community.

I have not read any statement made by or on behalf of the Ambassador.  I don’t need to read it, actually because everything here is based on my opinion and mine alone.

Neither have I consulted anyone in the Embassy, least of all Amba Gary, before posting this.  It would at the very least be awkward, and Amba Gary would simply recoil from saying anything in defense of what he believes is doing his job.

I’m taking too much of your time now kabayan.  Please let me just say one more thing.  Amba Gary is probably one of the best the foreign service has now.  We have been lucky enough to have him.  If he has any fault, it’s being naive enough to dismiss the possibility that anyone would think he has less than the purest motives.

Well, nobody’s perfect.

Thanks for reading and mabuhay tayong lahat!

paalam (for now) to Phil pesos, US dollars and the daily use of cash


BLEW BY the money changer today, one of only two kiosks in our small city near Wellington (Mahal works in the other one but she was at home sick today).

Among other things my chores were to pay the internet / phone bill, buy something to complete the immunity smoothie recipe, and exchange the pesos and dollars we held during our three-week vacay back to the currency of the natives.

I was struck by the disparity of the situation: In the Philippines, cash was king, the liquid that coursed through all transactions.  In certain places you could even use local money, US dollars and euros, whatever you had in your pockets.

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In New Zealand, it’s almost like there’s an effort to evolve into a cashless society.  The moment anyone doesn’t use an ATM or debit /credit card you can see the cashier / retail guy roll his eyeballs, thinking oh here’s another oddball with the banknotes and coins.

On public transport, almost everyone uses the Snapper, an electronic data card containing bus or train credits, consumable and to be topped up / reloaded whenever needed.  For this reason, drivers get cranky if you don’t have the exact change because, well drivers don’t expect that many people to carry cash and coins around anymore.

In fact, if you’re ultra-comfortable with using your mobile phone, banks have already gone one step further, partnering with merchants across the industry: combining telephony, electronic point-of-sale technology (EFTPOS) and sensor/scanning innovations, your smartphone now also serves as your wallet.  In a lot of places, including airports, taxis (Uber and Grab, of course), moviehouses, name it,  cash as well as your back pocket has become obsolete.

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Because of big business and the humongous market, the Philippines without a doubt will catch up with New Zealand.  But for now, based on my recent visit last month, cash is still preferred.  People still lug around fat wads of crisp or grimy peso bills for everyday purchases.

Just look around you, as I did while going around shopping centers in Greenhills, Megamall, Robinsons Galleria and Makati.

A good portion of goods and services still need to be purchased with salapi.  Not only because of the delay in upgrades, it’s also due to the fact that Pinoys in urban areas still depend on the informal (some say underground) sector of the economy.

Think about it kabayan.  Yosi (Cigaret) boys, sidewalk vendors, sari-sari stores and ambulant sellers.  Even watch-car boys, taho and balut vendors, bote diaryo buyers (with those kariton or wooden trolleys who buy your junk) or even, don’t forget, jeepney drivers.   Can you imagine them carrying card readers for your ATMs or credit cards to swipe?

Getting one of my credentials from a government agency, I once asked if I could pay with ATM (ATM!) or credit card.  The cashier just looked at me as if I was nuts.

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A short word on US dollars, based on my limited OFW experience.  Like anywhere else in the civilized world, US dollars are acceptable, sometimes even more desirable than local currency.  This is because of the stability and universality contained in those dead presidents.  But there is another reason, as if you didn’t know.  Almost everywhere also, currencies are pegged against the US dollar.  This means the NZ dollars in my figurative pockets were meaningless in terms of Philippine pesos unless they were first (theoretically) expressed in terms of US dollars; then and only then would it make sense to convert them into usable Philippine pesos here (there, nakabalik na pala ako sa New Zealand).

Whatever, be it in US$, NZ$ or PhP, it pays (literally) to keep your funds in the liquidest form, i.e., ube (P100), Ninoys (P500) and that trio of heroes I still can’t identify (P1,000) but come in very handy when I buy my favorite electronics, pasalubong and colorful running shoes.

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Which was why, literally, until wheels up of our departing airplane, we still thought it prudent to carry around a little cash just for emergencies in the motherland.

Compare this to our host nation, where I could go for weeks, months even, without seeing a dollar note or coin crossing my palms.  From the time of wage payment (online) till the last cent is spent (online), I don’t see a physical manifestation of my pay.  Not that there’s much to spend, by the way 🙂

Oh well. na senti lang ako returning all that money back to origin (the Philippines) where the pesos I exchanged will surely go.  After all, that’s where Pinoy pesos should be right?  In Pinoyland.

Where I dream of returning, by the way.  All the time.

Sigh.

Thanks for reading!

pay as you go (please park your conscience at counter)


How much would you be willing to pay to avoid waiting here? thanks and acknowledgment to pinoyexchange.com!

(Note : This is a longish post.  Thanks and mabuhay everyone who made my trip here a genuine pleasure!)

WHAT WE’VE noticed in big, big government agencies that process massive amounts of nameless faces each day is: as you go further up the conveyor belt, the flow gets smaller, the crowds start thinning, but it gets more intense.  You get closer to the document (or service) you need, but the suspense gets thicker.

Will there be a problem? Will the pencil-pusher ask a question you can’t answer, or worse, can’t answer without jeopardizing yourself?  And lastly: if an extra “consideration” is needed to speed up the process, will you afford it, and if so, will you make little compromises with yourself, tainting both the corruptor and corruptee?

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

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In a complete reversal of last year, where I went through the entire process legally and regularly,  I braced myself to do anything and everything to get my government document (I can’t tell you exactly what it is but you probably have a good idea, I need a new one every year) in the quickest possible time and with the least amount of stress.

If you can believe me, Precious Reader, my righteous intolerance  for shortcuts and corruption in bureaucracy gave way to a pressing need to procure my document before I was to return to the salt mines.  One week before the return flight home just wouldn’t cut it, and my long experience with sharing my name (common given name and very common family name) with a gazillion other brown brothers allowed me to discern that the process would take an extra week, just to ascertain that I wasn’t the guy they were hunting in cases captioned Robbery with Homicide, Qualified Theft and Illegal Possession of a Common Name (made that last one up, heh heh).  So for convenience and survival, I temporarily abandoned my scruples, and laid out a few hard-earned but well-spent bills of dinero for “extra service.”

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My brother knew a friend of a friend, who knew a Contact, and our instructions were simple and specific: all we had to do was give our names and IDs and leave it with his guy (as I’ll elaborate on later, the instructions were simple so they could be followed to the letter) .  Two texts and that was it, we would leave our names, show our IDs, and get our documents from Brother’s Friend of a Friend a day later.  But no.  I had to ask around, wait a while, just to be sure it would be ready on the same day.  I’m stupid that way.

So we text and meet the Contact, a burly guy wearing polo barong and maong (ikr?) and a nonchalant but all-too-obvious mother-of-pearl-handgripped 9mm bestfriend.  So despite his admin or desk status, he was authorized to carry a gun.

Oh well.

Ibigay nyo lang sa kin ID nyo at lumang dokumento, ako na’ng bahala. (Just give me your IDs and old documents, I’ll just take care of everything), he said.

No introductions, not even the sycophantic grin.  All business.  And after all, we were the ones who approached/roused him out of his apparatchik stupor.  We duly complied, but because we didn’t have our old documents, he had to make do.

(But weytaminit, kapeng mainit, wasn’t that the reason for our meeting?  If we had the old documents with us, the processing time would’ve been dramatically reduced, and we probably wouldn’t even be meeting that day. But that was that.)

Almost as an afterthought, but calculated to be asked just before he left us, he asked for the legal processing fee, which was of course a perfectly reasonable expectation, but at this point the stage where I made my FIRST mistake.

The unwritten rule in situations like this, where a lot of things are spontaneous and dependent on the moment is: for application and processing fees, HAVE THE EXACT CHANGE READY.

I gave him a one-thousand peso bill, which Contact put in his pocket, for a P220.00 payment and change for which I would never see again.

Mahal my gorgeous wife, who was with me and who also needed the same document, glared at me, and whispered, bakit di mo hiningi sa akin? May barya ako rito! (Why didn’t you ask me for the money? I had effing change here!)  Ahead of me, she instinctively knew we would not get change for that.

Sigh.

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He then led us through a labyrinth of people and pencil-pushers much like any government office where documents and services are needed 8 hours a day,  5 days a week, and 52 weeks a year.  The only difference?  We were breaking lines and disrespecting queues left and right, bypassing gatekeepers, breaching lines of disciplined applicants that had been there for hours and hours, and who were all, without exception, giving us the evil eye.  Security guards and queue wardens were all ignoring us or looking the other way at the right time.  All because of Mang Contact our escort, who did it like he was smoking a cigarette or chewing gum.

Another rule I made for myself (and future corruptors like me): when you are breaking lines and jumping queues, keep your head down and don’t engage.  Don’t look at anybody, much less look at anybody in the eye.  They quickly make the assumption you’re either a VIP or bribing somebody, which we verily were.

After a very summary data-processing interview where the guy in front of the screen took our details (already in the system) and updated our statuses (unneeded) we were scooted away to fingerprinting and photo-taking, which took less than a minute for both of us.  Again, we broke a few lines and earned a few more unpleasant stares, from people who had booked appointments days before and were returning just for that particular process.

After our much-reduced waiting and processing time, we were handed appointment slips of paper which were dated two weeks in the future, long past the day we would leave the homeland and back to New Zealand.  After a moment’s distress, I had an “aha” moment where I reminded myself : this is what Mang Contact is for, polo-barong and maong, ivory handgun, giant government ID and everything else.

Of course we gave our slips of paper (receipts, actually) to the Contact, who after returning our IDs, whispered (why was he whispering? no one was paying attention, and what he had to say, everyone knew about, maybe even pretending not to be in on it) , magJollibee muna kayo, balik kayo apter lanch, pumunta kayo sa (name of office that double-checked our common names).”

Which was hunky-dory with me, because, per Brother’s simple and specific instructions, we were to respond, ibigay nyo na lang mga dokumento kay (Friend of a Friend of Bro), OK na.  We were gonna get the documents from Bro’s Friend of a Friend in 24 hours, anubanamanyon?

My stupid self sez to me : why don’t you just make sure the documents are in your hands ASAP?  After all it’s just a coupla hours, Noel.

So I sez to Contact, with another P1000 bill under the receipts marked two weeks from now: OK babalik kami, maraming salamat po.

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That was my SECOND mistake.  I gave him money that wasn’t for me to give; deviated from the script which was to never see him again, and just wait for the documents to be sent, ultimately, to my brother.

I knew this instantly because, witnessing his double-take, Contact wasn’t expecting the blue bill under the slips.  He said, um, o sige wag ka na bumalik dun sa (office), ako na’ng bahala, and for the first time flashed his toothless smile.

To which I was taken aback and realized my mistake.  He wasn’t expecting the money, because I belatedly remembered Brother saying the Friend of a Friend would take care of him for routine nobodys like me.  The generous change from the unexpected P1,000 earlier (11 paragraphs ago) was more than enough for him. Unwittingly (and without wanting such status), I had become a VIP in his corruptible eyes.

Double sigh.

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After ChickenJoy and Burger Steak Meal, two hours later, I received a text advising me to plant my middle-aged a*s at the Public Assistance Center lobby conveniently located near the sea of humanity being processed and holding their payments on the first, second and third floors of the Main Office issuing documents all Filipinos needed to work.  They were like well-behaved mindless zombies just waiting for their official documents without which they could not start working towards the Filipino Dream.

At the meeting area, I was met by Contact, who said something like this:  May konting problema.  May kapangalan ka sa Mindanao na may kaso, pero aayusin ko.  Steady ka lang dyan, ibibigay ko rin ngayon ang papel mo.  (There’s a slight problem.  Someone with your name has a pending case in Mindanao [the Philippines’s deep south, not the best place to be when you’re going back overseas soon]  but I’ll fix it.  Just stay here.)

He added that to get a certification that this person isn’t me would take another few days from the branch office in Mindanao, blah blah blah but in so many words the message was clear:  Another small payment was needed.

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For (1) finishing the entire process in one day, (2) bypassing the process/es where I had to be checked against other guys sharing my first and last names, and (3) enduring the last of this guy’s bullsh*t, I was prepared to give him what remained in my dog-eared wallet, which was, at the end of the day, all of five hundred pesos.

Without thinking, I fished out the Ninoy, and handed it to him surreptitiously.  Kuya ito na lang pera  ko, pwede na ba yan?  (Elder brother, this is all I’ve got left, will it be enough?)

Without hesitating he took it like it was tissue paper for a runny nose, tossed it into his bulky pocket (which btw didn’t even half-hide the menacing nine-round Argument-Ender tucked in his belt) and asked me to wait some more.

As if I could do anything else.

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Thirty minutes later, give or take an evil stare or two from fellow OFWs,  I was resbak-ing out of there with my newly-minted documents, with an aloha (and toothless grin) from my new Best Friend, Manong Contact.

Of course, that wasn’t the end of it.  I duly reported the day’s activities to Brother, truthfully of course and without varnishing or editing.

He sarcastically intoned, “I gave you simple and specific instructions for a reason.  You were to leave your names and fees with the guy, give AT MOST a little pangmeryenda (a little money for a snack) if he insisted, and leave.  The documents were to be given to me, at the latest, tomorrow.  Which part did you not understand???”

(I fully deserved that, and hung my head.)

Instead, I hung around, and in the process provided meryenda and baon to Mang Contact’s family for two days, gave him the impression I had money to burn, and proved to Brother (and Mahal) that I couldn’t follow simple instructions.

On the other hand, I earned a new Best Friend, who probably doesn’t even remember me by now.

And (duh) we got our documents!

Thanks for reading!