M.I.A. 72 hrs

Dear batchmates, kabayan, officemates and friends :
CO-WORKERS or workmates are like siblings you’ve known all your life.  When you’re together, they can’t stand you.  But as soon as you’re out of sight, or give notice that you will be, they miss you :
“Find some snow, climb a mountain, run wild mate.  You won’t have the time like this till Christmas.”
Sure I will.  I just need to know if I can stay here much longer, first.
“Recharge, re-load, reinvent yourself, OK Noel ?”
Certainly.  As soon as I make sure I have airfare to scoot back home in case I’m kicked out, my gracious hosts 🙂
“Send postcards, take pictures, but don’t spend too much bro ?”
I hope I don’t sent postcards and pics from Taal, Mayon and Pinatubo  Where I’ll be staying for good…  Spend??? I wish.
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Only 8 hours earlier, Boss advised us what we had feared most : he could no longer continue keeping us on roster and risk being cited by the authorities… evidently what happened to us only 12 months ago, as well as to many other work permit / visa holders was now depressingly deja vu.  Worse, we hadn’t budged from our original position of bargaining from a position of relative weakness, owning nothing but our meager skills and available labor, and arrayed against willing locals slash willing trainees, we didn’t rank high on a reissue permit list.
Alternating between doublespeak, officious request and sincere compassion (besides himself, we’re the only other Asian in the dozen plus staff), Boss sounded a bit unsure of how to break it to us.
“I don’t want you to stop working ; you and I know the rosters have been set for the next few months and I’m happy you’re here (wink-wink and fingers crossed), but it being a big company, we can’t be seen as doing anything dodgy.  If you’ll agree to using your leave while you wait for your new WP, you won’t run out of money for at least the next two weeks.  I hope you understand NOel…”
And so the subterfuge of unlikely vacay (in the midst of 24/7 production) was improvised, both to save face and to produce easier answers in awkward discussions…
His words belied his concern, which was not entirely altruistic, although we appreciated it.  Training dollars and company time had been spent on us, and we were remunerated for our time learning the ropes.  Not only would the employer be starting from scratch if we were unceremoniously repatriated, the new candidate would have to learn to get along with a diverse group of workers and lifers in a deeply blue-collar industry supporting a medium-sized community.
Concern, compassion and good intentions aside, the idea of leaving your job, albeit temporarily, is certainly never an abstraction.  We knew the probability of a hitch in our gig was just lurking in the shadows, and yet we hardly made enough preparation, save setting aside leave credits and a tiny tiny rainy-day fund that would be wiped out in case we were sent home prematurely.
First day : We tried jogging among large oak-like trees, even talking to some of them.  Did you really provide shelter to Frodo & Co. when the Ring-Wraiths were almost upon them? …  Rugby fields vast as half a dozen basketball courts laid side-by-side overwhelmed us, such devotion to the sport.  And adding to the beauty of our hosts’ land was the total effort to keep it pristine and pure.  Almost unbelievably, the news that Gandalf / Sir Ian McKellen was actually walking the streets of downtown, while doing a play for a month here, got us roaming said streets for a precious sighting. 
2nd day : We hardly make a dent on The Bridge, an audacious biography on The Life and Rise of Barack Obama, despite all the idle time on hand. without having reached the political chapters of his life, we surmise (duh) that he is an extremely intelligent and probably a once-in-a-lifetime synthesizer of opposing beliefs and groups.  Despite it being a very new and relatively expensive book, the fact that the public library system of the city we live in is both generous and well-stocked with new titles is a Godsend for us, in our coerced inactivity.
3rd day : after missing chat time with the kids, we try to beat our puny record in Mahjong Solitaire (casual games are slowly but surely outpacing games on traditional platforms like PlayStation and Wii, astounding), and when that bored us senseless, sampled random showbiz tidbits on Yahoo! Phils.  The news about John-Lloyd and Shaina got us taken aback, but not for the obvious reason, his vocal admission of love for Vina Morales‘s sis.  It was the fact that for a sustained period, this broad-appeal idol was linked to three, countem three women at the same time, with no violent objections from either the linkees or so-called guardians of moral values.  It indicates one of two things, in our simplistic view : first, that JLC is so popular that people can actually believe that he has honorable intentions for one, two or even three ladies and has the mojo to make it work.  Second, that the timeless double standard that exists vis-a-vis genders (what is acceptable for guys might not be the case for girls) extends to showbiz, and remains so today.
4th day : Work Permit miraculously issued, and not a second too soon : our name was already penciled in for regular shift the following week; and while we are as usual grateful to our hosts, we just the same continue to wonder why, if migrants are welcomed with open arms everyday here, we still look over our paranoid shoulder for any boot directed at our backside.
Thanks for reading ! 

A Precious Memory of Tess & Dad

 [ Note from YLB : We sympathize with kabatch Tess Aldeguer – Tangco‘s loss, and we fondly remember her dad who we met once upon a time in high school.  If we were back home Tess this what we would say… ]
Dear Tess and batchmates :
MEMORIES are sometimes the most imperfect and fallible of all the mind’s devices, but just the same we rely on them beyond logic and reason.
Because we were born before the age of digital cameras (that now do away with film and the need to rush to the store), real time (that transferred memory into pictures and back again) and the information highway (that socialized and dispersed memories ten to a hundredfold within moments), we depended on what we remembered, especially about remarkable events and individuals that made an indelible mark on our lives.
One such memory that stood out for us was a chance encounter with Mr Charlie Ang, Tess’s dad, when we were all in the pink of youth and without a care in the world. 
That solitary visit that we made to the Ang/Aldeguer household allowed us to discover two things : first that the mestiza features of Tess and her siblings came mostly from their mom, but which were nevertheless balanced in charm and class by their dad; and second that he lost no time in making us feel as welcome as a well-loved member of the family, although it was the first (and ultimately the last) time he saw us.
Somehow he knew that we were stricken with hua na gong DNA, asked us not to bother twisting our tongue with Fukienese, asked us about being friends with his daughter and other kabatch, and wished us well in our university adventures, which at the time were coming soon.
Just like that.  Our memories of Mr Ang would be cemented by those precious few moments, but they would be enough.
Just like memories, our dads and what they represent may not always be crystal-clear, but we remember the important things : their love and dedication to us and the rest of our families, their unconditional love for us no matter how we fare, and their unfailing devotion to us for the rest of our lives.
Thank you Tess for making our short memory of your dad possible, thank you for being an awesome daughter to an awesome dad, and thank you for sharing your dad with the rest of us.
Prayers and hugs from all of us.
YLBnoel.wordpress. com
noel0514.multiply. com

Quirks, Tics & Where The Remote Settles (Or Dissecting An Accidental Couch Potato)

Dear batchmates, kabayan and friends :

IT’S NOT Waiting for Godot, but it gets you out-of-sorts just the same.

When you have time clearing your inbox, looking sideways for online blinks on your contacts list, and scrounging around for supposedly life-changing books you’ve always wanted to read (but never went beyond Page 1), you know you have a lot of time on your hands.

It’s quite a ways from getting by on 5 hours beddy-bye time, changing work skeds in the wink of a bloodshot eye, and forever on standby for emergency shifts and freezing late-night overtime (the range this week : a goose-pimply 4-6 degrees Celsius), but as they say, when you journey on the sails of life, who knows where the four winds will bring you?

Forcibly or not, these days are ripe for rearranging furniture, cleaning out your moldy cupboards, and whisking away the cobwebs that clutter your dusty bookshelves and bureaus. For the OC cleaners and sorters out there, we know you are aghast at our wayward unhousebroken habits, but for us, it’s just a reminder that wherever you are, you are home sweet home by keeping it just the way it is : once a packrat, always a packrat.

Inevitably, the magnet that draws your attention, for the simple reason that it assaults the two major senses ( and indirectly another two ) is the most momentous invention of the 20th century, so central to human existence that we don’t even need to mention it here, you know what it is.

For those of us in the workforce who punch in a more-or-less crowded workweek, and for whom there are a very limited number of hours with which to do what we truly love, after the essentials, incidentals and eventuals, it is a fact of life that we still devote at least an hour or two daily to wallowing in front of the telly, such a way of life it is.

Like billions of others, we have our preferences and quirks when it comes to viewing the idiot box ( no offense meant ); we just wonder, voyeuristically, how it compares with others.

** ** ** ** **

We’ve heard somewhere that comedy is nothing more than irony delivered in either an elegant or shocking way. Nowhere is this more evident than in our two favorite comedy shows. We’ve lots of ha-ha-ha generators, but nothing gets us hysterical more than Two And A Half Men and Big Bang Theory, which are so popular they are aired on FreeTV twice weekly in our neck of the woods, albeit current season episodes are shown only once a week.

The bread-and-butter laughs from the first show seem to derive from its irony of men no longer straining to show a PC face of being monogamous, sexually conservative, anatomically restrained, etc. Because truly, despite (or because of) most men denying their true selves, we, most of us, are funniest when we are pared down into our honest core.

And the two main characters in this sibling sit-com are brazenly honest, but in different ways. If he would have his way, Charlie Sheen’s character (fittingly named Charlie) would bed a different girl every night, sleep all day, and drink himself to a stupor whenever he feels like it. (Amazingly, in a case of life imitating art, Sheen has been finding himself in all sorts of real-life jams that his 2 1/2 Men persona would have little difficulty getting into.) On the opposite end of the spectrum, his brother Alan (Jon Cryer) does all the right things, place women on a pedestal, denies himself carnal pleasures for all the wrong reasons, and still ends up the loser.

Amazing that we find all this funny, but we invariably watch at least one of the two shows week in, week out.

As mentioned, Big Bang is another variation on the irony theme : that nerds and scholarly, introverted types can actually be cool and emulative. Not that it’s that difficult, as the sit-com confines itself to the tiny world shared by a theoretical physicist, an applied physicist, an aeronautical engineer, and a particle astrophysicist where of course being an egghead is king, the obscure is commonplace, and the lamer the hobby, the better.

We’re not ashamed to admit it, we found kinship with the Trekkie, the StarWars Universe enthusiast, the action-figure connoisseur, the comic book collector, the sci-fi buff and memorabilia hunter, and all other underground and non-mainstream pursuits the main characters enjoyed. That the bespectacled sidekick of Sheldon (he’s the only guy whose name we remember) found a hot girlfriend was just a bonus for us : even wimps of the world, given enough time, can win the pretty girl.

Unsurprisingly, and for lack of memory we won’t mention him by name (changed our mind, Chuck Lorre), we found out that the creator/s of these two shows were one and the same person. Either it’s genius, or the characters are just different parts of the same personality. Unlikely, but not impossible. Go figure.

** ** ** ** **

It’s probably a simplistic observation, but one that we can’t avoid making : where in previous decades, TV crimefighting focused almost solely on the police and investigative branches, today the limelight is on everyone else on the good side : the forensics staff, the criminal psychologists, scientists, even profilers and psychic sleuths get in on the action. It’s almost as if there was a concerted effort to keep the cops and dick tracys out of the center of attention, after years of hogging the spotlight.

One only has to list the casual viewing choices we make on a random night we have disposable hours for the boob tube : CSI  (original and all spinoffs), Criminal Minds, The Mentalist, Lie to Me, Medium, Psych, Numb3rs and Monk. Except for the second and the last on the list, none of the title characters on these shows have gone through regular police training or have entertained any thoughts of becoming a policeman. But just the same they are in the vanguard of the battle against crime.

If we had the chance to live life over, that would probably be part of our vocation. Fighting the baddies without actually getting our hands bloody, or getting involved in the wetworks. Sort of like being a cool superhero, without tripping on your cape or losing the anonymity of your bespectacled, phone booth – oriented alter ego.

** ** ** ** **

We have a confession to make, regarding the 2010 NBA Finals, which besides the few shows we’ve mentioned above, take up the lion’s share of our precious little viewing time.

The games the Celtics won against L.A., we watched every game live (or slightly delayed), and when we couldn’t, saw it on the rare reply at night, followed it up on nba.com, and read all related blogs.

As soon as breaking news overtook us, the Boston losses went abandoned and/or unwatched, we imposed a blog blackout on ourself on internet, and acted like we weren’t a fan.

In short, we are what you might call the sunshine fan. Shoulder-to-shoulder with our favorite team when it wins, and abandoning them as soon as they lose. Not something to be proud of, but that’s how we have evolved, a sad commentary on the fickleness, selective amnesia, and disloyalty of the sports fan on TV.

We sometimes rationalize it (our behavior) by saying that we can’t take the agony of watching our fave team lose, or that we don’t need the stress, but who are we fooling? No self-respecting fan can do that, celebrate with their team only during the victories (and conveniently disappearing during the defeats) and continue staring at the mirror without feeling hollow and demeaned.

** ** ** ** **

A last word. Nothing compels the casual viewer, in almost every Western or Westernized culture, like team sports. And team sports cannot help but ultimately be commercialized into league sports, which devolves into professional media-supported sports.

Someone better tell big-time and big-league sports, specifically the NBA, though, that it will get extinct and bought out by its bigger-than-life athletes, if the trend of teams dealing with one-player franchises (and in effect ceding control to the latter) is allowed to become a distinct possibility.

And while they’re at it, has everyone forgotten that in sports like basketball, there are 30 teams in the league, and every season produces only ONE champion and 29 also-rans? Everybody’s turning out to be sore losers more and more. If fans understand that only one team gets to shine at the expense of all others, why can’t the pros and the team owners?

Thanks for reading !





These Are The Times That Try Migrants’ Souls (or NOel vs Visa, winner-take-all)

Dear batchmates, kabayan and friends :

WHILE the light of post-recession starts twinkling at the end of the tunnel, overachieving guest workers and on-the-fringe work visa holders remain in the shadow.

While immigrant websites paint a rosy picture of laborers’ idylls, and present a come-hither invitation for audacious skilled professionals, the sobering reality puts off even the hardiest job-seekers, who spend as much as six months to a year seeking employment before returning home disillusioned.

And finally, while at times the easiest thing to do is to just give up the dream of sorting out your status abroad, abandoning vain pursuit of the almighty dollar for family and future, in exchange for the comforts and familiarity of Inang Bayan, what awaits you when you return? Nothingness, oblivion and probably worse.

** ** ** ** ** **

Pardon our random musings, but these are the inconsistencies and misplaced premises that continue to disturb our carefully-structured and admittedly naively-formed perspective from our little corner of the world, not unlike the frog at the bottom of the well who imagines that the sky is nothing more than a slice of sunlight visiting his little nook-and-cranny.

We have no idea of the forbidding forces that shape the industrial, economic and business landscape, how they affect faceless peons like us, and of the fallible decisions that will influence thousands of nomads and gypsies among the yellow, brown and extra brown races for generations to come.

Just peek under the microscope, please : for the longest time now, we’ve held a piece of paper that allows us to work for The Man Upstairs, an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. But each turn of the solar circle, the paper turns to dust ; we need to prove ourselves anew, specifically that (1) we weren’t frivolously engaged for work, meaning the employer looked long and hard for locals before settling for a foreigner, (2) that our skill exists as a shortage so acute that it necessitates a search among dayuhan, and (3) in our ridiculously short time here, we’ve accumulated enough training and logged enough hours to deserve being called skilled, albeit crudely, in our particular trade.

Miraculously, we’ve managed to hurdle these 3 challenges the last 24 months, picking up 2 work visas / permits along the way, which when you think about it in the grand scheme of things, should be enough reason for us to be thankful. But there’s nothing like the present, and if we want to continue staying here, the mantra seems to be, at least in the visa officer’s eyes : what have you done for me lately?

Or at least, what have you done to stay consistent to the policy of skills shortage, skills updating, and improbably, skill excellence in a land of trabaho lang, walang personalan? It’s not as if all these were within our sphere of control, but Asians being Asians, with a can-do, do-everything attitude, we do what we can.

The alternative being, of course, losing your right to stay in the land of redemption, the land of possibility, and the land of second chances.

** ** ** ** ** **

To belabor the point : Imagine an expat back home, performing work that theoretically Pinoys can do, but which can be done inimitably best by a foreigner, say, Cantonese cuisine expertise for a world-class HK-style resto in Ortigas Center.

After running through the gauntlet of vetting, qualifying and registering the gastronomic talents of the chef, the employer and / or immigration authorities can hardly be expected to redo the said procedures each time his work documents expire and need to be renewed. If anything, with regular use, his skills improve rather than deteriorate, just like muscles do. Use it or lose it, diba?

Well, it’s a tortured analogy, not very hand-in-glove, but we hope you get the picture. Quite a few work visa holders submit themselves to this exercise not only to satisfy over-rigorous standards of work, but also to appease the demands of political correctness, namely of making sure no locals are bypassed, no matter that the (foreign) incumbents are eminently more qualified in many cases.

** ** ** ** **

On a personal note, we will always be grateful for the chance to have earned our bread in a hospitable country that prides itself in its almost inexhaustible wellspring of tolerance, of the political, racial and economic kind.

We only wish that asterisks scattered here and there regarding the difficulty of balancing between labor needs and nationalistic philosophy will be picked up, sorted out, and spell-checked by the software of Common Sense.

Another cringe-worthy metaphor, but we hope you get our drift. Forgive us for being a bit preoccupied now by job uncertainty and the iffyness of what-comes-next.

With one eye closed and fingers crossed behind the back, we almost shudder as we stammer : Abangan po ang susunod na kabanata. Thanks for reading !