How Awkward Ba Is My Color?

( originally written 26th September 2009 )
Dear batchmates, kabayan and friends :
QUICK QUIZ : Which of the following smacks of race (not racist) undertones, and which more importantly are you familiar with?
(A) you are walking along the footpath (sidewalk), and from the other end, a Caucasian is doing the same.  Shortly, before you realize what is going on, he/she crosses the street,  for no apparent reason, giving the impression that a face-to-face encounter with you, however momentary or fleeting, was being avoided.
(B) two Caucasians are talking or discussing something, and the moment you enter the room, they stop for the shortest of nanoseconds, as if deliberating whether or not to acknowledge your presence, send an unspoken message to each other, continue as if you’re invisible, and give you an impression, however subjective, that their topic was hurriedly altered by your arrival.
(C) you are heating your lunch in the office microwave oven.  It happens to be fried fish with rice (waiting for patis or bagoong & kamatis for good measure), and of course, the aroma escapes into the lunch room.  The Asians and non-Caucasians don’t seem to mind (although you don’t know for sure), and everything is peachy until a late luncher walks into the room and in a raised voice, booms “What the bloody hell smells?”  An uncomfortable silence ensues, sheepish smiles emerge all around, except from the individual with the acute olfactory sensibilities, who happens to be non-Asian, non-Indian, and non-Polynesian.
Give yourself a point for each YES answer, another point if you have experienced something similar to any of the scenarios, and if you scored anything above 4, you have gone through the gamut of Noel’s Portfolio of Race-Generated Awkwardness
It is our way of saying that in varying degrees, and we’re sure this applies to every kabatch and kabayan overseas, we have tasted many permutations of these and other eksenas that bring up awkward sentiments.
No, we hasten to hesitate (is that possible?) using the word racial or racist but you can’t deny that there’s an element of race involved in all the skits above.
And that’s part of the migratory adventure.  You are caught between letting the moment slide, as par for the course, mitigated especially by the fact that you will ALWAYS be a guest in this country, in the face of all political correctness, on the one hand, or doing the brave thing and bringing it up in the next staff meeting, in no uncertain words letting it be known that there is a pebble of discomfort in your shoe, not life threatening but nevertheless causing you discomfiture whenever.  The mother company in fact encourages you to write, email or phone in any situation where even a whiff of something improper or awry passes your flared nostrils.  In practice, though, we don’t think anyone has ever written HQ about anything like Scenarios A, B or C above.
It was different when we were much younger back home.  We always associated being white with God (the ubiquitous pictures of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary made sure of that), visiting priests and nuns (pedophilia was a word far far away from anyone’s lexicon) and of course, our beloved police detectives, superheroes and entertainers on TV and radio.  Being white was not only superior, it was on a totally different plane of existence for most of us.  Even in Makati, Cubao and (shudder!) Divisoria in the 1970s being white guaranteed that your little brown (and yellow) brothers and sisters would stop and gawk at you, as if to say si Jerry West (or Larry Bird) ganyan pala ang hitsura or nakakasilaw ang Marilyn Monroe (Farrah Fawcett).  And who could blame us for thinking so?
Do you sometimes agree that not only individuals, but a people or community of persons may mature and evolve in their view of others?  We have the audacity to say such because at home it is no longer uncommon to hear word-of-mouth, common wisdom, op-ed pages pooh-pooh whatever previous generations thought of as pre-packaged Anglo-Saxon, American or even European superiority which, fairly or unfairly, characterize our perceptions of the White Man.  It has even become the fashion to debunk First World-oriented ways of looking at things, a perspective which no doubt has been associated with white devils, or what the statesman Blas Ople famously called, at the Manila Hotel lobby to their faces you white monkeys.
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Two more observations : We don’t want to Google it right now, but Eleanor Roosevelt, who as a First Lady was certainly ahead of her time, said it all: No one can humiliate me (or make me feel inferior in some versions) without my consent.  While this certainly makes sense, it’s the rest of the world that we’re sometimes concerned with, especially if the offending material reaches more than a few eyes or ears but which seems to be directed to us.  While most Filipinos (and Asians for that matter) have the self-respect, composure and elegance to breeze by the most pointed undereducated barbs and redneck rubbish thrown our way, it’s how others perceive the way we react to it that is sometimes cause for concern.  And of course, the bandwagon and domino effect that it unfortunately generates.
This is why to our humble mind, it always makes good practical sense to raise a hoot whenever there is a slight (no matter how slight, heh heh pun intended) however inadvertently, directed to people of our color and culture.  Not for any other reason (e.g., that it’s because we are famously K.S.P.) but so that it’s for the record (emails, public statements etc), to remove any future uncertainty on how we perceive it, as well as for the later generations not only in our particular community but in other similar communities.
We promised a second anecdote.  On our first day in our present workplace a year-and-a- half ago, our manager startled us with a slightly emotional pep talk :
We will always be second class citizens here.  Not just HERE in the mill, but in this country.  You and I know that.  But let’s use this to become better workers, because our skin will not allow us to be just as good as them.  We have to become better, and not just better, but a lot better than our colleagues and workmates.  Anything less and they see not a lesser workmate, or an inferior level of work, but brown skin, smaller eyes, or your cheeky off the boat accent . . .
Needless to say, our boss was / is a non-white, a Sri Lankan, probably the only one in his level in this First World country.
He had been here for the last 20 years, and yet feels the same way as he did in 1988, when he first arrived.  Is he with the minority, or the majority, of our kind?  is the question we cannot answer.
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This is ironically all so unfair to the White Man, but like everything else in Life, is the way things are, and the way things will always be.
Thanks for sharing your time with us.
Your Loyal Batchmate / Your Loyal Kabayan

Indianero Jones & The Greatest of the English Crusades

( originally written 10th October 2009 ) 
Dear batchmates, schoolmates, kabayan and officemates :
IN A WAY PROBABLY not anticipated by its original users, the English language has filtered down into every nook and cranny of this 3rd Rock From The Sun.
At the Foodcourt with our Cryptic Crossword, NYTimes Crossword & Sudoku (& other assorted timewasters) we see Brazilian and Argentine amigos (Spanish vs Portuguese speakers) sharing bread but not nearly a common tongue; hear Slovenians, Croatians, Bosnians & Montenegrin, chattering about muffins, tea and the Adriatic coast (a feature all 4 nations share), but not in their respective languages; and finally, wrapped in a sickly-sweet PDA (public display of affection), isang magsyotang singkit na Tsino at Hapon, who genetically geographically and historically are closer than kissing cousins, even share more than a few cultural markers (calligraphy, religion, rosy-white makeup prized throughout history) but can’t understand each other’s dialect . . .
Guess how all these strange bedfellows communicate with each other?
It’s not just an overseas phenomenon : When we see an Ilocano, Ifugao, Ibanag and Igorot together (this is not the start of a joke ha) the usual currency of palaver is Ilokano, but only because the other ethnic groups grudgingly accept the first-among-equals status of the former.  Otherwise the common language is ang wikang Ingles.
And some of the best exchanges back home can be heard among Cebuanos, Ilonggos, Chabacanos and Kinaray-a’s who speed up the conversation among themselves by just speaking a common medium. We’ll give you just one guess as to what it is, and today’s clue : it’s NOT Tagalog.
Given the reach and completeness of the Queen’s English, which was hurled across the horizon of history with the (naval) advance of the British Empire, extended with trade and mass media via the United States of Obama and broadened beyond the broad spectrum of consciousness via the World Wide Web, it’s no big surprise that English is probably the
one voice among our Babel of tongues that can be heard, understood and responded to in every country anywhere on Earth (just like Visa or MasterCard? ).
The runners-up presented formidable opposition but in the end fell just a tad short : Chinese-Mandarin, although aided by the clever Pinyin system, doesn’t have the support of the Roman Alphabet for easy conversion, and Spanish, while it enjoys the benefit of the common alphabet used by the Indo-European family of languages,and widespread use across 4 continents around the globe, does not have the universality and facility of use in both speech and text that English possesses.
Whereas before English speakers demanded as a threshold requirement to communication the condition of non-native speakers (those who weren’t born to it) knowing and speaking  the language the way only they do, these days a kinder, gentler English ear demands only that we know the rudiments of the language and are able to express ourselves in a basic and practical fashion.
Witness the way Manny Pacquiao captured the hearts of US media right after the Hatton fight, when he won them over with just a few English sentences : gud ibning ibribadi, hop ibriwan had a gud time, just doing my jab guys (left or right? ) en nating personal. (YouTube search : Manny Pacquiao vs Ricky Hatton Post Fight Conference)
In fact, it is now a badge of reverse chic to speak the lingua franca in our charming little accent without regard to proper treatment of sibilants and plosives as well as the “proper” schwa or rounding out of various vowel sounds.
It has also been conceded by many in the literary world that both British & American “native” writers no longer hold the monopoly of being the best writers in English, as proven by wordsmiths like Salman Rushdie, V.I. Naipaul and Haruki Murakami.
Just like the hard currency of gold and commodities, the universal medium of communication has been democratized, socialized and even subsidized.  Anything short of that, and chaos reigns.
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Does anyone remember the various English Campaigns all throughout our elementary years, using a combination of approaches to mold us into obedient little English speakers : one peso per word of non-English spoken; secret marshalls to check those wayward Taglish rebels (yes, everyone spying on everyone else), and stars to the perfect English champions ?
Well, we first bristled like indignant thoroughbreds bucking our riders. Taglish forever, we said, encouraging our Fukien brothers and sisters as well, and whoever needed to speak pure English anyway ?  Not Dr Jose Rizal, not Dolphy, NOT Erap, and certainly not Bruce Lee.
Gradually though, we realized the long term value of maintaining the fluidity of our English, of making believe, and finally believing, that we could speak with the best of the world when it came to English.  THIS was the true success of the English Crusades.
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Long before we admitted such status to our kids, their keen perceptiveness and pure intuitive powers discerned it : we were by far the underachieving brown sheep (wag naman black) among our siblings: this was to be the intergenerational chip on their shoulders that burdened them not only before the eyes of their better-dressed cousins, but also before the stoic eyes of their grandparents, our ageless evaluators.
We rationalized the situation, taking advantage of their (thankfully) sharp minds and big heart : true, you may not enjoy their advantages and their sophistication.  But master the skill of articulating yourselves, preferably in English, and you can keep up with them toe-to-toe, neck-and-neck and make the best of your situation.
This was how we learned that of the great motivators, Pride hath no peer.  Nicole not only sought self-improvement via speaking and listening English, she also tried her hand at basic Mandarin via Meteor Garden and F4, no mean feat for someone who never attended Hogwarts or any other Chinese school. (We admit this impressed the pants off a lot of dad’s relatives )
Brent took the time to better himself with English not just through self-help language websites, but also pored through his Ate’s College English textbook.  We were humbled by their effort, paying off as it did these days with them holding their own against our Xavierian nephews back home and Kiwi nieces from the other side of the fence.
Whatever school and from whichever background they hail, it would be hard for any parent not to be proud of children like these.
English-wise, though, we will always be partial : Hogwarts pa rin.
Thanks for sharing your time and thanks for the memories.
Your Loyal Batchmate / Schoolmate / Kabayan / Officemate

Bonding Beyond the Babel of Language

This is our maiden orig blog on wordpress, so please bear with us. Thanks for your time !

CIRCA 70s.  Dad’s relatives always got a kick whenever we tripped over ourselves in Mandarin.  Though their first tongue was Cantonese, Mandarin was close enough, and we got extra pogi points if we didn’t just say those phrases we learned in school, but those that we heard on Chinese movies, like yi lu shun feng (a blessed journey) and starting every greeting with jixiang (good fortune), phrases you don’t even hear in modern conversational Chinese anymore 🙂

With Mom’s relatives, it wasn’t much different.  On visits to Legaspi, Naga and Masbate, aunts, uncles and cousins always smiled wider grins whenever we could greet them in Bicol (maray na aga) and appreciate the fresh coconut milk (tipong) that they never ran out of and other fresh fruit and fish that seemed to sprout and jump out of nowhere.

Strangers and acquaintances never fail to become instant friends and intimate bedfellows as soon as familiar words are spoken, sifted from the babel of chatterings and into the dialect of one’s childhood. 

It becomes even more personal when the well-worn idioms, sayings and colloquialisms of the same language are spouted, used and re-used, reliving fond memories and recalling a swell of pride for country and village.

JFK did it in Berlin, with one sentence and bonded instantly with his freedom loving West Germans (ich bin Berliner), the vanquished Arantxa Sanchez Vicario forever won the hearts of French Open faithfuls despite losing to Stefi Graf in 1996, when she gave her concession speech in flawless French, and opera babe Hayley Westenra solidified her icon status in China (yes, they love her there) when she sang Yueliang Daibiao Wodi Xin (The Moon Represents My Heart) to millions of adoring Chinese fans.  She had an excellent repertoire of arias, but all it took was one simple local song to win them over.

Perhaps it’s overrated, the kinship and affinity that almost instantly attaches when the accents, syllables, sibilants and plosives roll over the teeth and tongue in ways one is used to.  But you can’t tinker with human nature.

We once upon a campaign worked for a presidentiable who was a cinch for Malacanang, if hadn’t been for the five-cornered race (all serious contenders) but the fact was, our boss was prepared not just to preach to the choir (his bailiwicks) but to reach out EVERYWHERE.  He was equipped to do this, being conversant in Tagalog, Ilocano, Kapampangan and his wife’s first tongue, Ilonggo (you probably guessed who ).

To consolidate his linguistic advantage, he had an Ilokano speechwriter, consultants for Pampango, and his wife’s handlers did his speeches in the Visayas. And he spoke all of them brilliantly. Too bad the fans didn’t translate into votes.

And it’s no secret that bilingual, trilingual and even quadrilingual children are those who become more adept at lateral thinking, and develop sharper skills in cognitive and intuitive learning.  Something to do with learning to think and perceive the same concepts in different ways.

Never will we forget our Chinese history teacher who, for all her stiffness and formal airs, gave us the tip of a lifetime : never forget your Chinese, and doors will always open for you everwhere.  Keep flexing your Mandarin, and the muscle memory will take care of everything else, be it career, business or your social life. 

Well, she hasn’t been proven wrong yet.

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We have been blessed to be able to communicate and think in three languages, but it’s a blessing that needs to be used, developed and sharpened constantly.  For after all, language is ultimately a medium with which to deliver the message.

Thanks for your time, maraming salamat and xie xie nin !,,

R – a – C – i – S – t – S & r – A – c – I – s – M (rong ispeling iz rong)

(originally written 1st August 2009)
( Note from Your Loyal Batchmate / Schoolmate / Kabayan : We know everyone else can spell, just that the extra two or three seconds might just give us enough lead time to sprint away from the lynch mob . . . )
Dear batchmates , schoolmates and kabayan :
We had another of those rare “First World” moments earlier today, which we can’t help but share with you, dear batchmate / schoolmate / kabayan . . .
We were just walking and minding our own business, trying to memorize Pinoy Ako by Orange and Lemons (how poetically ironic) from the rusty MP3 hooked on our sinturero when a squad car hugged the curb and a policewoman stepped out. We kid you not, she looked and walked like ANNE HATHAWAY .  Well, a willowy version of Sen. Pia Cayetano (as if the latter wasn’t willowy enough), but you know how the picture looked, coz that’s how she LOOKED, as pretty as one. 
She very politely asked us to open her car door and sit inside, explain to us the situation asap she would, as soon as we were in the car.  In those few seconds scores of images raced through our mind, from hulidap situations back home, to the recent “arrest seen around the world” made in Virginia on a black, we mean African American friend of Manong Obama, and lots more in between… but being the compliant, Confucian Asian that we were (read: subservient to authority) we meekly entered the squad car… besides, she just filled our RDI (recommended daily intake) of eye candy…
Turns out that there was an attack dog on the loose, chasing down a “felony suspect” (read: a nogoodnick) doing a “runner”… evidently the K-9 agent did not distinguish between bida and contrabida pedestrians… what she was preventing daw was the creature mistakenly confronting me and taking me down, something I found mildly amusing, since we were the only pedestrian and, as far as the eye could see, there was no one else (that’s common, in this birth-rate anemic country)
While her explanation was more or less credible, we heard on her police radio a description of the fugitive: Maori, 180 cm , at least 80kg, dark and curly hair, and a gold band on his lobe. Hmmm, not that we weren’t appreciative of her concern for us, but profile – wise, we don’t think a TRAINED DOG could make a mistake distinguishing the runner for us, ditto with its handler who we assumed was close on its heels (do dogs have heels?)
And was it just us or did the Devil Wears Prada wannabe just cross check my specs ( Asian, slight build, 165 cm, 65kg, straight hair )  with the runner’s ? The description squawked over the radio coinciding with my entry seemed a tad too, hmm… coincidental. 
Although we are a turo-turo of races and cultures back home, we are a largely homogenous lot, predating what a comic sees as a “mocha” race where everybody is eventually molded into an ochre or color-neutral scheme.  In the First World, where strangely enough, the white man dominates (quick: give me a developed nation where whites don’t dominate, not counting China or Japan) , colors tints and hues are mostly distinct and have historically served to polarize attitudes, emotions and long-held beliefs for or against the possessors of those skin colors.
We know there’s enough paranoia running around, but can we blame ourselves if beloved brothers and sisters of the brown and yellow races (that’s just about everyone who isn’t white, except of course our black brothas, who have their own beef with the White Man) look askance and over their shoulder everytime persons in authority run around with lights blazing and alarms wailing?  Too much bad karma floating around, whereever are the Karma Police when you need them ?
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A previous similar moment : we weren’t settled in our present haunts but already trying out our migrant’s legs on this water logged kingdom.  As was our habit, whenever the free time allowed and the inhospitable rain took a siesta, we ran around the block in shirt + sweater + windbreaker together with 2 jogging pants, lahat na. One occasion, a station wagon sped by but not before one of the passengers slingshot a tape cartridge (one of those 80s tapes that preceded the CD)  at our sweaty head, we caught a slight whiff of alcohol before the decrepit car zoomed into the horizon.  Cluelessly, we picked up the scratchy case and sure enough,  Taiwanese artists ( very reminiscent of F4 / Meteor Garden ) were on the jacket.
Had we the chutzpah, we would have shouted, hoy you anak araw gang of Caucasians, my Lolo was from Canton and married a Navotas Mestiza, while my other Granddad was from Xiamen and wed a Bicolana lass, intiendes? But an Asian Sixth Sense told us it was futile to do so, white is white, yellow is yellow and brown is brown, as far as their myopic blue eyes can tell…
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Last na ‘to; a third similar moment: At work, there is one particular person who, whether or not he can help it, speaks just a few decibels louder to our face (as if trying to make us understand him better), loses just a sliver of impatience with us sooner than with everyone else, and finds a little more fault with our work whenever we happen to share a shift with him.  Of course we will never have the kind of empirical evidence to back up these observations with, but you get my meaning . . .
Nothing, and we mean NOTHING could make him waver in this belief that he was doing everything according to Hoyle, that he was only doing this for our own good (we were the junior and he of course was the senior in-charge) until someone, just for kicks, let loose, in reference to him, the “R” word. (for reference, pls see email title).  Guess who did the 180 degree turn, radically changed his way of talking, assessing and tolerating us the day after? Amazing what a emotionally charged word like that will do to a work situation.
Cause for all we knew, he was just an obnoxious jerk who never gets along with people (he was quite an unpopular specimen at work), but here was a case of the R word working in the yellow/brown man’s favor, sort of a reverse favoritism drama:  Raise the racist bogey / alarm and the candidate goes the other extreme, bends over backwards just to show he’s not what you think he is.  And you end up never knowing (wink-wink)  
Like many social phenomena, you never know how real it is till you experience it first – hand, and in these three instances we felt it flush on the face, realizing with bloodied nose what the Clash of Civilizations / Clash of Races truly means…
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The worst part of racism is when we begin to apologize for ourselves, when we actually believe in the worldview that racial prejudice espouses, where by the color of your skin , color of your eyes and slant & fold of your eyelids you become apart, adrift, and inferior to whoever are deemed the so-called elite.
We mourn the day this ever happens.
Thanks for sharing your time with us.

Dead Man Walking

Canadian visa for single entry

Image via Wikipedia

(originally written 18th July 2009)
For the second time in 16 months, I was Dead Man Walking.
Apologies for the drama, but for all intents and purposes, I no longer belong among the people I walk, for the simple reason that I had lost my right to stay in The Land of Milk & Honey.  ( Not any particular place, actually, just any environment where your desired future becomes more distinct and reachable. )
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A DEPRESSION cum recession is never so treacherous as when an incumbent or sitting government defends itself for it, or looks around for excuses and scapegoats to deflect attention from itself.
As you may guess, migrants and and temporary workers are an easy target, once the local populace looks for the usual suspects for their lack of disposable income.
Just as a First World country welcomes its migrants, expats and seasonal workers in times of plenty ( as productive additions to its evolving workforce ), it sees them in hard times as pabigat, liability & usurpers of their natural resources.  Namely, their right to the life to which they are accustomed, viz comfy homes, a pair of cars, and sturdy paychecks.
By way of explanation. . .
Like many citizens of the Third World, we set up camp via the time-tested and honored manner: the back door.  This was the visit / tourist visa, then found a reason for overstaying legally.  In my case, a helpful brother who’d been here the last 14 years produced for us the precious job offer that produced a work permit.
Welcome Noel, you accidental migrant you !
Unluckily, my employer ran into hard times as well and went bankrupt a few months into our new job.  Redemption came in the form of another company looking for someone to train from the ground up, no skills necessary, just someone willing to learn, take instructions without question, and work for minimum wage
Not that I had much choice, and it sounded good to me.
Well, stranger things have been known to happen, but the job kept us from leaving here.  We learned the ropes, improved our work ethic, and allowed us to send home much needed foreign exchange in the meantime.
We were also able to start the first of a series of qualifying exams that would certify us in our trade, assuming we passed of course.
Eerily, early this year, the country began to suffer from one of its worst unemployment droughts in history, no doubt an aftershock produced by the worldwide economic downturn.  Also, various industries the country relied on were taking a turn for the worse, the dairy industry not being the least .
The media wasn’t much help, either.  Headlines like Nine Filipinos Retained in New Plymouth While Locals Made Redundant were both race-insensitive and inaccurate, and only served to unfairly cast us in a (more) negative light.  Was it our fault if we reported to work unfailingly, on time and volunteered for overtime work whenever?  Sure, it made them (everyone else) look bad, but hey, don’t know bout you, but I could certainly use the extra money.  On the other hand, locals never thought twice about taking time off, weren’t always tardy but sometimes cut it close when giving notice they were coming late, and were always on the lookout for a better job. Didn’t look very good against the spectrometer of job loyalty.
Too, the usual 45 working day lead time for applying for a new work permit / visa no longer applied, not only because there were lots and lots more refugees reaching the gates of  the palace, but also because each application was being scrutinized as new, never mind that you’d been working here a year or more, back to zero lahat.  The waiting time to clear your papers now stretched to three, maybe four agonizing months. 
I didn’t want to rush the ops manager into producing an endorsement letter and supplementary form (where the employer provides additional information about your work details, something you can’t furnish without being self serving) as he was presiding over, in no sequential order : potential redundancies , major repairs (the machinery was reliable but needed constant maintenance), visitors from the main office (we were sort of in the boondocks) and swiping business away from competitors. A work permit renewal, I thought, didn’t rank high on a list like that, but I reminded him just the same. I couldn’t blame him if the letter, a pro forma one actually, wasn’t prepared till around two weeks later, but it was two weeks that was lost forever.
Then came the long wait. A total of five weeks passed before we were told, in a phone conversation ritual we held daily (Please, has my case been allocated to a case officer? Well, may I know when it will?) that Client Number 27948091 (that’s me) had been assigned to an Immigration Officer, whose name I was familiar with, that person having handled a few Filipino applications here.
The ritual, however, didn’t stop, in fact in only became more purposeful and frenetic as I was not only chasing a deadline ( I committed to attend my folks’ 50th wedding anniv June ), I also didn’t want a gap between the expiry of my old permit, and the issuance (if I was lucky) of a new one.
Turned out that that was the LEAST of my problems.
I would have found out later rather than sooner (by mail), but my persistence brought me the needed information first hand:
In light of the current (economic) situation, and the fact that your position doesn’t meet the minimum Skill Level 6, I honestly feel your job should be given to a (local) citizen, and therefore I cannot issue you the work permit you seek.
In those few words, as I said, I became Dead Man Walking.  Frankly, throughout the 11+ months I was bundying in and out, I hardly gave a thought to working anywhere else, at the same time I hadn’t been able to save a cent.  The case officer’s words came out in slo-mo, like an audio tape slowing down.  I was hearing them, but belief was temporarily suspended. Life as I currently knew it was over.
She said that of course, I could still appeal or ask for a reconsideration, but not only was the issue pretty cut-and-dried, lots of Filipinos being in the same boat, there was also the trip back home, for which I hadn’t been able to save.  I should start worrying about that daw.
At this point, I must admit that from time to time, especially during my first long wait for a work permit, I took on casual jobs that were in the gray area of semi-legal,  to keep body and soul together.  Working in the same environment wasn’t anything new for me, but for how long could I do the same?
First, I planned what I would do when I got home, where the prospects weren’t many : my last jobs were in a law firm, a multi-national and finally a call center, where the dead end moods associated with the job / s became deader and deader.  For my colleagues, mostly career lifers (in the first two gigs) and people half my age (in the last, who called me dad and tatay  ) who were just happy with a job, the situation / s was OK, but for me, 40something and no easily marketable skills, how could you stay perky ?  Being an accidental migrant was the thing that saved me from an even more uncertain retirement, but obviously I didn’t realize how lucky I was to stay here. 
And now I was being asked to leave.
Back to the casual and semi-legal, I subscribed to the view that there is honor in hard work, and I joined the ranks of the day-to-day conscripts while waiting for good news from the case officer.  Chinese takeaway, fruit stalls, weekend markets, whose exact locations will remain a secret forever locked away in my heart, were my sometime employers practical enough to take in manpower at a sidelong glance at my gaunt desperation, and Asian enough to look the other way when time came to ask for (any) documentation.  We do after all come from the same continent, Comrade ?   Hard-earned cash at day’s end, no questions asked, just stay scarce when anyone gets too nosy.
A lifejacket came a few days later (although at the time we didn’t know it yet) in the form of a brief email from our main office HR Advisor, who asked us: didn’t you know that your item (position) has always been Skill Level 6, anywhere on either state (the skill level assessment scheme binds two countries) ? And why didn’t u cite in your form that you took the first 2 exams of the Certification Course?
But I hadn’t passed them yet, I feebly protested.
Well, start acting like you have !  And winked at me she did, electronically of course.
It was too late by then, sadly.  The manager of our out-of-the-way post had no choice but to cut me loose, as my Wapa (what a Kapampangan friend called his Work Permit) had finally expired.  He had already cut me some slack by way of “neglecting” to attend to office matters the first 72 hours, but the risk was, like an infected boil, accumulating more pus by the day : a hefty fine, and censure on the firm (if I was discovered) hung above all our heads like Damocles’ Sword.
With a heavy heart, I left midday with my knapsack carrying my safety gear, hi-viz jacket and workboots out of the factory, probably for the last time.  Sad smiles and words of encouragement (we’ll be waitin’ for ya mate) was my sparse menu for the day, as I had little appetite to see what lay ahead.
But feeling sorry for myself were not items on my forced agenda, as I had an urgent email to write to the immigration officer.  I had the required Skill Level, and (wink-wink) sat the exams on my way to certification.  Wala pa lang nga results, though it was a real start.
**                    **                    **                    **
12 HOURS before the 6th of June (the olds’ anniversary), when I had officially reached Day 8 of becoming a McDonalds bum, the e-mail came.
“Please collect your passport here asap Noel, as I am issuing a work permit and you will need a work visa if you want to go home soon? “
OMG.   From down-in-the-dumps with aimless wanderings scheduled for the day, I instantly morphed into a Tasmanian devil with a jillion-and-one things to do without a clue on what to do first.
But what had just transpired?
The case officer obviously had on her own reconsidered, owing to the sterling advice our HR person had offered and the fact that I had already embarked on steps to qualify myself towards certification.
Just as obviously, me awa pa rin ang Diyos as she could’ve have just thrown my paper in the rubbish bin and consigned my fate to those of scores and scores of other nameless migrants sent back home as it was of course the politically expedient thing to do.
Just to show that not every bureaucrat was of the cold-hearted, clinical type, she told me :
It’s not the easiest thing to do, take away a person’s job as this sometimes has the effect of changing the lives of many more people back home (Top 10 Understatements for 2009 yan, Ate ! ) But all factors considered, and admitting that it is not that easy to train someone for a semi-skilled job like yours, and hoping that you will continue to work towards certification, consider yourself welcomed back to our country.
If I could kiss a government officer over – the – counter, I would have, just that protocol might not allow it .
                    **                    **                    *                    **
6 hours later, after last-minute confirmations, rushed goodbyes and listings of pabilin, I was sleeping on plastic benches in the cavernous waiting area of the airport, which, if you can believe it, was closed (as in doors locked and windows shuttered) between 11 pm and 4 am… not enough flights to keep it open ( I told you it was a small town ) .  I was on my way to join 4 bros, 3 kids, and 4 nieces and nephews and catch the tail-end of my folks’ 50th, which probably won’t be celebrated in as grand a fashion till the 75th, a good quarter-century away.
From Dead Man Walking I was granted a reprieve, a new lease on Life if you may.  Given all the sad news about recession related lay-offs, retrenchments, redundancies and closures of businesses, this was one scary tale that ended happily .  At least for me, and not a local who might have, in his dreams , applied for my job.
Not for this makulit na Pinoy.
Thanks for giving me the time of day, everyone, and don’t ever give up hope.
PostScript. Salamat sa Diyos, we passed the first 2 exams. Kudos to Ross C, Rey G and Juanito C, and all other compatriots who aced their exams with flying colors ! Mabuhay Kayo!