[ Note : Written originally for KABAYAN Wellington newsmagazine. Thank you to the family of Blessie Gotingco for permission for the original article. Thank you to Publisher Ms Didith Tayawa-Figuracion and Executive Editor Ms Meia Lopez and my co-staff for believing in this kabayan blogger. And thank you to KABAYAN newsmagazine and YLBnoel’s Blog readers for your readership. Mabuhay! ]
FOR THREE MONTHS in 2008 while waiting for a full-time job that eventually required me to leave Auckland for Wellington, I tried to survive with two part-time jobs. Keeping one of those jobs meant doing night shifts three times a week, and going home at 11.30 also meant missing the last bus. I had no choice but to navigate a two hour walk through suburban Auckland, good for the legs but sometimes bad for the nerves.
After going through that experience relatively unscathed, I consider myself very lucky, not to mention very stupid. For sure, I could’ve been the victim of opportunistic criminals on wheels who could’ve just run me over, gotten my meager coins and left me battered and bleeding on the side of the road, with no one the wiser. Worse, there might’ve been thrill-seekers or vagrants with nothing better to do than send some poor pedestrian (me) sprawling all over the pavement, laugh it off, and not realize they’d just hurt someone seriously.
I don’t define these dark, dark thoughts as the musings of a paranoid, phobic weakling. The specter of violent crime has in recent days reared its ugly head, all over the meadows, paddocks and dark streets of New Zealand. Its stalwart herald, the news media, reveals every sordid detail of every violent slaying, milking out every last drop of sensational notoriety under the guise of informing the public, “because the public needs to know.”
You and I and the rest of the Filipino community in New Zealand would view all this coverage of violent crime with the most jaded of eyes if not for the fact that almost exactly one year ago one of our very own, an Auckland mother of three was viciously assaulted and murdered in a senseless attack.
Violent crime resonates with all of us in a way that no social issue does. All of us can identify with the victim, because on the most basic level, pain and suffering are as real as breathing and eating. All of us can identify with the families of those left behind, because all of us can empathize with the pain of losing a loved one.
This is why, despite New Zealand being one of the safest countries in the word, an intensively reported crime story like that one involving our kabayan is justified by the anticipated attention, outrage and feedback from all sectors of society. The fact that a Filipino is involved only invites much more scrutiny .
The irony is, violent crime (murders, homicides and serious assaults) has gone down steadily in terms of number of incidents reported and number of victims since the turn of the century. A further source of confusion is the fact that the number of cases resolved as a percentage of total cases has also gone up, debunking the commonly held belief that crime is on the upswing.
But try telling that to the victims of violent crime who are often left scarred for life, if not killed. Tell that to the families of victims who will never see their loved ones build careers, raise families and live fulfilling lives.
Governments of civilized societies can tackle economic issues, educate citizens to help generate the nation’s wealth, or uplift the people through culture and the arts, but no issue is as visceral as meeting crime and punishment head on.
You can be smug with a fat bank account, a late-model car in your garage, and see your kids off to good schools, but none of that will matter one bit if you can’t even go out on a cool, crisp night for a brisk walk. Whatever your station in life, and no matter how long you’ve been in New Zealand.
EVERY MIGRANT scattered by the four winds across the seven seas from our Inang Bayan knows this fact of life : we wear many hats in our adopted and host land. On the street, in the workplace, in church or at the mall, we use many personalities that serve us well because of force of circumstance and practicality.
Most of the time we go with the flow, and just put on the skin we are given : our hosts cannot tell the difference between races of East and Southeast Asia, in fact some have no basic impression of how Filipinos are seen and perceived, Manny Pacquiao and the Fourth Power notwithstanding.
So that when Kiwis assume we are no different from our Vietnamese, Malaysian, Korean or even South Asian brothers and sisters, we just take it in stride and assume the best and most positive aspects of their profiles.
The Vietnamese are awesome in math and engineering, the Malaysians are among the world’s best in racquet sports, Koreans are world class in electronics and you know that Indians and Pakistanis have no peer in IT. So we just appropriate the shiniest and most glittering parts of their personalities. Either that, or we deny that we’re from those countries.
In the same breath, pwede na rin tayong magpakilala. By our English alone, they immediately discern that we can easily understand and be understood by any other English speaker all over the world, witness our overwhelming popularity in business process outsourcing and call center businesses. Then we give them our famous pakisama approach at the workplace, complemented by our world-famous smile. I’m willing to bet that in the first five minutes alone, whether you’re talking to an Aussie, Kiwi or South African, they’ll know that your Pinoyness is distinct from the rest of our Asian neighbors, in all modesty. :)
***** ***** *****
Getting out of the Chinese shadow is a slightly bigger problem. Even forgetting for a moment that the Chinese race is the most populous in the world, (1) the astounding number of chinese migrants everywhere, (2) the overwhelming popularity of Chinese takeaway, and (3) the greater than passing resemblance we share with the Chinese make it easy for New Zealanders to think of Chinese at first blush and mistake us for Chinese.
More than that, every Pinoy on our islands has an average of at least 15% Chinese blood or ancestry. Three of my four grandparents myself had very strong Chinese roots, maybe why I like asado siopao and siomai so much, just kidding. The Chinese have more strong than weak points (respecting sovereign territory not one of them), and absorbing the good more than the bad is the only way to go.
But let’s be honest with ourselves : Sure they may enjoy the largest economy on Earth, and you can’t live without their noodles, dumplings and roast duck. But WE Pinoys speak the best English outside England, we can work with anyone and anywhere in the world, and no one compares with our nurses, teachers and seamen (that’s seamen with an “A”). Any day of the week, and any week of the year, while we may look like them, I’ll take Pinoy over Tsino every single time.
***** ***** *****
And finally …
We owe it to ourselves to tell our hosts, co-migrants and workmates that while we respect and admire other races, we are proud to be Pinoy. They may not be able to distinguish between our fellow Asians, and we may closely resemble our Oriental neighbors, but there is no better person to be than to be a Pinoy, and no lovelier home than the Philippines.
[ Note : This has nothing to do with being Pinoy. Nothing to do with being migrant either. Well, in a way it has a little to do with both, because anything to do with me right now has to do with being a Pinoy migrant, so parang ganun na rin. Happy birthday Kuya JB Baylon! ]
Health and safety meeting. I’m seated next to Sam, who because we’re from different departments I don’t see everyday, but who always makes my day with his size and attitude. I say size because his biceps are the size of my thighs, and his thighs are the size of my torso (in diameter), and I say attitude because he’s always cheerful and upbeat.
Before I nod off to dreamland, I whisper something to him.
“Any chance you’ll get it soon Sam?”
“Easier to squeeze blood out of stone, Noel.”
I sigh at that. By itI mean getting regular status, because if any temp at the work site deserves it, it’s Sam.
Other things I know about him : He’s Tongan, and loves rugby, almost as much as he loves his wife and daughter, but not quite. He’s also downed 36 bottles of beer. In one sitting. And played rugby the next morning.
Lastly, when it still wasn’t politically incorrect, Sam (around my age) once ate a platter of whale meat, freshly caught and for breakfast. Breakfast! Probably more than a few years ago.
One more thing. On longevity alone, Sam certainly deserves more than a serious look by way of becoming regularized. I can’t tell you how long he’s been on site, but let’s put it this way. He was already the champion in drinks our last Christmas party. And we’re almost there again around this time. As Kris A. would say, deserving naman, daba?
***** ***** *****
Union meeting. Time to negotiate another CBA again. Of course, there’s the pay rise, lagi namang kasama yon sa bagong kasunduan between labor and management, but there are a few other items. Shift allowances, confined space allowances, working at heights allowances, redundancy packages, and all that. You might never get anything, but it never hurts to ask.
All the time the union rep was consulting us prior to negotiations, my thoughts kept returning to Sam. Here we were on the gravy train talking about getting an extra 12 dollars an hour just for using the forklift, and outside the room he was working today, not even sure if he was gonna be on the roster next week. Wasn’t very comforting.
[ We’re not getting into the nitty-gritty legalese of this situation, kabayan. Company has its reasons for regularizing any warm body doing work. Or not regularizing. On the other hand, if Sam wants to come to work anytime his bisor texts him, good for him and God bless him. Just sayin, you know? Wala lang.]
***** ***** *****
Uwian time. Nauna na ako sa locker room para di makalanghap ng mga amoy bawang at sibuyas, and that’s putting it mildly. Springtime pa lang, but it’s already getting sweaty around the work site.
Curiously, I see Sam, still not going home though, because there’s still overtime work available. No one wants to work overtime on a Friday (everybody’s already drunk thinking of their first brewski watching the All Blacks thrash Namibia, kahit replay), but beggars can’t be choosers, and Sam at least for today, isn’t a chooser. He will grab any overtime within 10 meters. I’m happy for him (that he has overtime money coming) but I would be happier if he was seriously considered for regular status.
Hey Sam, have a great weekend. May I take I picture of you I ask on a whim.
“If you’re gonna take my picture Noel, make sure I look good.”
The result is the pic up there. Does he look good kabayan?
The number one thing in life should be to please your father. – NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, eulogizing fellow HOFer Moses Malone
BY NATURE, Man is an ungrateful creature. When you see water flowing uphill, it means that someone is repaying a kindness, says the Chinese proverb, which anyway applies universally. Our memories are so short, as to forget the profoundest of kindnesses as soon as we turn our head away from our benefactor, without so much as a thank you, or till next time.
Which is why, the only gratitude that we never stop repaying, in this ungrateful world that we live in, is to our mothers and fathers. The gift of existence, life and love is something we enjoy every day of our lives. Who better deserves recognition for this gift than the ones who brought us into this world? But it doesn’t stop there. Raising us, educating us, and giving us guidance as long as we need it, is the lifelong vocation of those tasked to be our parents after the Divine Creator.
Everything I am today (which really isn’t that much) I owe to my folks, and my father is a massive 50% of that team. All that society and culture asked of him was to be supporting cast to our heroic mom, provide the basic needs of life, and be there to discipline and admonish us when we strayed too far from the straight path (daang matuwid, a wink to Pres Noynoy). He was much more.
He didn’t need to be a benevolent provider, a constant supporter in everything I did, and a dependable friend throughout my childhood. But he was. He set aside time despite his myriad responsibilities and interests, stimulated our minds through reading and entertainment, and taught us the value of family and relationships for the rest of our lives.
He wasn’t that creative doing these things, but he didn’t really need to be. All we needed was a good example, and that was himself and our mother. We learned probably half of the realities of life through his work ethic, his love for his own family, and his personal values. As a son, I could not ask for anything more.
***** ***** *****
The connection was bad, the long distance toll was not consumer-friendly, and my timing was less than ideal. But I was still able to get a greeting in to Dear Old Dad, who isn’t as sharp or fast as he once was, but is still as dashing and witty.
He and Mom were lunching with my Philippines-bound bros, I didn’t have much to say in the few minutes allotted, and as mentioned above, the connection was awful. But I was able to say the money-shot words : Happy birthday from Wellington Dad, from everyone here! I love you. I was cut off before I had a chance to hear his response, but even from 15,000 kilometers and half a world away, I could discern two things : the smile on his face and the twinkle in his eye.
[ Note : Sorry to break this long hiatus with a less-than-positive post, but you get your blog ideas where you can. happy birthdays to Frank Lloyd Gonzaga, Rhoneil Fajardo, Bok Labastilla, Butch Dado and Louie Angelo Fortuno! ]
I’M ALWAYS happy when a kabayan, either one visiting from the Auckland site or a work contractor from nearby, is in our worksite. The other morning I saw a youngish, unmistakably kayumanggi (naturally tanned) face assisting the in-house engineer on an assembly of spouts being installed, and before I could ask, one of the electricians shouted, here’s a countryman of yours, and everybody else chattered about [groan] having another Asian to worry about on the site, a recurring joke among the regulars.
In my usual friendly and not-a-care-in-the-world manner, I dropped all my work stuff and approached the work gang, gestured to the dark-skinned brother and said, Pinoy ka nga ba kabayan, to which he answered in head-scratching manner, I’m only half-Filipino sorry, and mumbled something about leaving the Philippines when he was very young, which I countered with a half-apologetic, half-confused look that most Pinoys give when an assumption they make about people they think are compatriots are proven wrong.
Morning tea I shared a coffee with hilaw na Pinoy’s (half-formed Filipino’s) boss, the principal contractor (PC), and told him he had a Pinoy worker who wasn’t what he initially seemed. Principal Contractor scoffed at what I said, saying that he was as Pinoy as bagoong and patis, because the worker’s Kiwi dad was only his stepdad, no blood relation. As to leaving our homeland when he was very young, PC asked me : “Noel, if you left the Philippines when you were 14, would you forget your own language 6 years later at 20?” Leaving that question unanswered, I wound up scratching my head twice that day.
***** ***** *****
And have I told you about one of Mahal’s newest friends (NF), a former co-worker who’s since left her job but has continued to visit us at home (we’re also neighbors) at least thrice a week, always finding a reason to visit us, not bad company but sometimes making at least one of us wonder, doesn’t she have things to do at home?
Mahal later found out that NF feels a special kinship to Filipinos, not only because she has a Filipino boyfriend (she herself is from one of the countries that, like ours, is being bullied by China in the South China Sea), but because she is not that comfortable with her own people. If she had a choice, she would rather work or spend time with other Asians, not necessarily Filipinos, as long as they share common interests, are in roughly the same age brackets, and don’t have the same passport issuer. Odd, but true.
***** ***** *****
The common denominator, of course, in these pair of anecdotes, is that there’s a slight awkwardness when the individuals concerned are asked about things strongly identified with their countries, i.e., language, countrymen, cuisine, and the like. Specifically, I got the impression in both cases (although not so pronounced in the first case) that, because of one reason or another, some people would rather not associate with people of their country, regardless of the consequences.
You and I know what these consequences are, right? Well, I can think of a few. Kabayan will think you’re mayabang (aloof), anti-social, or worse, you’ve got something to hide. In fact, here are a few reasons, valid or not, that I think some kabayan behave this way :
You’re hiding something from the past. The romantic notion of migration, which I happen to like, is that no matter what you did back home, no matter what mistakes (but not crimes) you committed, you start fresh on these shores. A clean slate, so to speak. Here, no one knows about the skeletons in your closet, and if anyone did, who would know that they’re yours? This is why migration is so appealing for those who want to start anew, forget the past, and forget hurts associated with said past.
Unfortunately not all of our kabayan think this way. Because they think there are people who still give a damn or even remember what happened 10 years ago (I can’t even remember what I had for merienda last Friday), they avoid Filipinos at all costs, attend Mass where there are very few Pinoys, if they attend Mass at all, and go to the Asian and Filipino stores as seldom as possible, buying as much as they can on the odd visit. Sounds unPinoy, and anti-social, but believe me bro/sis, there are people like this.
Why this doesn’t work : Like we said earlier, migration is the chance to start anew, start fresh, blah blah blah, and even then, if you bring baggage from your home province, as long as it doesn’t scandalize anyone or bother anyone else, believe me when I say no one cares. Don’t worry about your image, kabayan. Like everyone else, you are welcome.
You’re hiding from the present. You got here because you married a Kiwi. You got here because of your spouse, sibling, child, and you’re not proud of it. You got here because of a dodgy employer, whom you left as soon as possible and the latter has never let you forget it. You left an unhappy marriage with nothing but the clothes on your back, and staying in different cities away from the former spouse isn’t enough distance. Whatever.
You know that most of your kabayan got here on the strength of their work experience, academic credentials, and other kinds of cleverness. You know that these kinds of topics inevitably come up in all kinds of discussions and you just can’t keep fudging the details. Better that you just keep to yourself, the less said the better.
Why this doesn’t work. I’ll tell you a little secret kabayan. SURE it’ll be a little uncomfortable telling other kabayan about your personal circumstances. SURE there’ll be some awkwardness when you compare notes about how you got here. And SURE your personal story might be a little different from the next guy/gal. But you know what? No one has a perfect story as to how they got here. No one has an immaculate, spotless record when it comes to the adventure of getting to New Zealand. Otherwise, there would be no need to be a migrant and look for greener pastures. If there was nothing wrong with each of our individual stories, none of us would need to ever leave our Inang Bayan. And that is why, betting my last 500 Ninoy-note (that I’ve been saving in my dog-eared wallet for my next visit home), if you tell me your awkward little tale, Maalala Mo Kaya style, I won’t even bat an eyelash…
You think you’re better than other kabayan. to be brutally honest kabayan, there are Pinoys like this. Just because they left a great, cushy job back home, just because they think they have to sacrifice their creature comforts and “civilized” social amenities, just because they managed hundreds of staff back home, they are somehow “above” all the working classes of New Zealanders, some of whom happen to be the very Pinoys they lorded it over back home.
Truth to tell, kabayan, this type of Pinoys admittedly did have it great back home. They very nearly lived like royalty in the Philippines, what with assistants, junior associates, interns, house servants, servile spouses making up their world, doing everything for them, and at their beck and call. Because of force of circumstance, the urgent need for a change of pace, financial setbacks and similar stuff, these same kabayan have had to migrate, to a world where 90% of your daily lives, you do everything for yourself. A shocking change of lifestyle, but true.
But habits are hard to change, and the kabayan in this last category think they shouldn’t even be doing the things they’re now forced to do, work with the people they used to step all over, and endure the indignities of driving your own car, doing your own laundry, and (God forbid) washing your own dishes. Hard to believe, but they make up for this by avoiding their kabayan totally, hardly going out of the house except to work, do the groceries, and make pasyalan (enjoy outdoors) with only their equals or, as a last resort, family.
Why this doesn’t work. Sooner or later we all discover that because we all eat the same rice, drink the same water, and go to the toilet to do the same things everyday, we are all the same. Better than this, we are born naked and defenseless, and we meet our Maker in exactly the same way. Some of us Pinoys, sadly don’t discover this until late in life, or amusingly enough, when they are furthest from home, in a strange country, and doing what everyone else is doing, namely working for your daily bread (or rice).
The sooner we all discover this, kabayan, the better.
[ Am not sure if watching a grand total of one Piolo Pascual movie previously (Starting Over Again with Toni Gonzaga) and watching Sarah Geronimo cry over an audition during The Voice Philippines blind auditions qualifies me to review the first ever Piolo – Sarah G movie, but the latter was the highlight of the day, in fact of the week, so I didn’t hesitate. ]
EXPECTEDLY, the movie starts with the breakup. Sigawan, sumbatan, sisihan, the three S’s of Philippine drama, and the protagonist couple physically and emotionally break up. The rest of the movie is a buildup towards the eventual reconciliation and reunion of the protagonist couple which as you know in Pinoy movies is a must, because a happy ending is the only ending possible.
Except that the breakup scene isn’t the real (sequential) start of the movie, as the film traces the long and winding road that leads to the defining moment of The Breakup Playlist, a surefire box office tsunami back home, & shown in Wellington as a project of three fundraisers, good for them.
In fairness, the plotline is realistic and credible : Piolo’s character, lead vocalist of an up-and-coming band, discovers Sarah’s character in a singing workshop for raw singing talents. They feel each other out, musically, professionally and emotionally, until Piolo convinces Sarah to leave her law school studies and join him in what turns out to be a breakout, career-making teamup for them in the form of Pencil Grip, the band with no limits in terms of fans and success.
Happy ending, right? Alas, it’s only 45 minutes into the movie. The green-eyed monster better known as professional jealousy creeps in. Naiinggit si Piolo sa creative input ni Sarah, and eventually he cuts short what he fears will be his absorption by Sarah’s brilliance. Human nature makes you side with Sarah, because Piolo is so mean to her during the pre-breakup scenes. But the rational side in you says : Teka muna, tama naman si Piolo, nalulunok na sya sa impending stardom ni Sarah.
But just to make things clearer, Piolo becomes the temporary kontrabida so he can work his way back to Sarah’s heart. You know the pattern : Couple falls in love, couple falls out of love, and couple rediscovers the things that made them fall in love in the first place, and (sigh) fall in love again. Predictable, but it still works.
The whole movie is a metaphor for a smartphone or laptop playlist that has become oh-so-ubiquitous in today’s handheld world. Each segment represents a song : The Breakup, The Reunion, What Led to the Breakup, etc. etc.
Except that there is really no song, except the Yeng Constantino ballad (Paano Ba Ang Magmahal) that in the story is the composition that brings the two bidas into unprecedented heights and is actually a symbol of their breakup and reconciliation.
So, it’s tried-and-tested formula of perfect love team challenging the world and themselves, tried-and-tested formula of decent acting that although not great delivers the goods; tried-and-tested formula of soundtrack supporting the tearjerker lovefest (Kitchie Nadal, Eraserheads, and of course, Yeng Constantino hits), and the tried-and-tested formula of two icons of Pinoy movies that on their own have never produced anything less than a mega blockbuster. How could they, as a symbiotic pair, not combine to produce an even more explosive hit at takilya?
You get the answer, as I did, only by watching the movie. I’m not embarrassed to say that as a middle-aged Pinoy grandad- to-be, kinilig ako. Was entertained too, by the way.
PS. Sorry to add this, but watching Piolo’s acting, you almost forget that at the very least, he is very likely bisexual. I know I did. :)
[ Paalala : Sorry for the long absence Precious Reader, kung meron pang natitira dyan. At least one blog friend coming across this makes the post worthwhile. Wanted two things : (1) to have posted this on father’s day, but laziness intervened, sigh sorry Dad, and (2) to talk about recent anti-Chinese sentiment, both in NZ and Pinas. But in the real world out-of-blog, you can’t always have what you want. Missed blabbing with you, belated Father’s Day ! ]
MY FATHER is healthy and despite his advanced age has many long years ahead of him, but there are things we can no longer do together. Similarly, I can no longer expect him to impart to me his memories, learnings and insights the same way he used to do (sometimes too enthusiastically) when we were both much younger.
But there are things I would have liked to share with my own kids the way my own father did, with the same length of attention, repeatability, and certitude. He was/is a man with simple likes and tastes, but he was devoted to those things that he did. It’s rather trite, but he lived by the saying anything worth doing is worth doing well :
Karaoke King. As regards do-it-yourself singing for entertainment, he was ahead of his time. Just chuck the mike into the amplifier, and play “minus one” tapes of timeless standards and he would sing to his heart’s content. He was the Karaoke King before the karaoke was invented, and he could match note for note any amateur singing champion, as long as the songs were by Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Matt Monroe, or Nat King Cole. He would inspire at least two of his children, that’s me and Eldest Brother, to sing out of love, no matter if the audience was one or one hundred.
Sadly, I have not paid forward the inspiration my Karaoke King father has given me. But it’s never too late for that, right?
Reading for life. Like Mom, my father loves to read, and you will always find him with a book in hand, wherever he goes and whatever else he does. He is an omnivorous bibliophile, but is partial to war and war-related novels, political biographies, and a wide range of paperback novelists, as long as it’s a good yarn. Needless to say, the years have seen me pick up his reading habits, until I’ve now reached the day when as a dedicated and committed reader, I’m truly my father’s son.
Running buddy. In Dad’s middle age, when I was a teenager, he picked up a physical fitness fad that became a lifelong sport for him, and because he had lots of sons he could pick from as running buddies, we all had a turn at running with our father. As years passed, most of us lost interest, but because I always identified running with Dad, I could never truly abandon it without abandoning a part of my youth.
Which was why when I ran my first half-marathon after nearly 25 years, there at the finish line, just waiting for me, was one of the most satisfying memories of a similar run at the Luneta, with none other than my first running buddy, Dad himself.
Belated happy father’s day Dad, and thanks for all those useful and enjoyable habits you imprinted on me. Love you always!