bansot, potot & boy liit : celebrating pinoy height


the bigger they are, the harder they fall. thanks to newphilrevolution.com for the photo.

the bigger they are, the harder they fall. thanks to newphilrevolution.com for the photo.

BANSOT IS a rather severe term. it means unflatteringly short, positively runt-like especially next to lanky and statuesque companions. I’m not too vain to deny that it’s been used on me a few times in life; in school I’ve never stood taller than 3rd or 4th in line (when everyone’s arranged in ascending order) ; in adult life I’ve never been surprised to be among the shortest in the many workgangs i’ve been privileged to join; and by nature any male above 5’7 (1.68 m) and female above 5’4 (1.65 m) I consider model-sized.

Still it’s not too brutal, sometimes it’s almost endearing. A cute Visayan classmate in university called me potot, I didn’t mind cuz of the speaker’s eye-candy charms but the nickname was in reality even more unflattering than bansot (short AND pudgy).  Contributing to the mitigation is the fact that hundreds of thousands of my kabayan share my below-average height, in fact it’s the supra 67-inchers that stand out back home in the Philippines, and no one would bat an eyelash at anyone below, because it’s the norm.

It’s a totally different story though half a hemisphere away in Isla Puting Balat. Here, the average height allows you to play interbarangay basketball with the bigs, and the guys on the high-end of the range are positively stratospheric, so that seeing people 6’5 (1.95 m) and above on Queen street is not rare. And so I find myself among the smallest members at the workplace, not that it’s a bad thing at all. I’m used to looking above eye level all my life.

Quite the converse of sour-graping: in my quiet little cave, small is good. For one thing, in a temperate, four-season clime like Wellington’s, being relatively short allows me to keep warm more easily than it would a considerably taller person. Think about it.

Shorter means less flesh for warmth-giving blood to circulate in, shorter bones and ligaments to percolate, and lower volumes of body fluids to heat up on a cold, windy and rainy day. Just curl up, snuggle up to the nearest willing snugglee and avoid the consequences of using rusty heaters, hungry fireplaces and extravagant electric blankets. As they say, kapag maigsi ang kumot, matutong bumaluktot.  Never  truer than with compact Asian bantams like me.

And as long as we’re on the subject of Asians, Mahal just loves it when a new store she visits provides a section for either teens, Asians, or even better, both. The obvious reason is for as long as we can remember, the fit is more snug, the symmetry is accommodated and the look is ultimately better if Asian dimensions are thoughtfully considered in any article of clothing, be it a trouser, skirt, blouse or especially outerwear like blazers, coats and jackets. More than a few times esposa hermosa found something she liked but couldn’t fit into perfectly, went to the teens section and found a similar item in her size.

Other times, the more established chains “downsize” their popular brands and made available to Orientals like Mahal and Pinays like her, trendy designs that she otherwise wouldn’t have been able to wear unless they came from Asian-based labels. For me, I’ve never been conscious about the difference between getting garments off the adult or the boys rack, as far as I’m concerned, as long as the shoe fits, wear it all day.

Lastly, being the runt of the litter may not be the most attractive role, but on the odd day it has advantages. You fit into spaces no one else can fit into, your smaller hands and fingers can reach into tinier nooks, corners and crevices, and you can even be allowed to perform one-man jobs (observing all the safety procedures, of course) where two men can’t fit into the space. Your time and energy acquires a premium that only a privileged minority at work can provide. The bite-sized, fun-sized minority.

I don’t remember the exact words, but one of my favorite authors once said, the only time I have the right to look down on my fellow man is to do so when helping him up. I may not have the height to look down on people, but I can always aim for the stars.

Thanks for reading !

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si indianero jones at ang paghahanap ng mahiwagang flat (indianero jones and the quest for the elusive flat)


with a little help from TradeMe and the Salvation Army store, Mahal was able to assemble our new living room.  In the foreground is an unfinished TV stand.

with a little help from TradeMe and the Salvation Army store, Mahal was able to assemble our new living room. In the foreground is an unfinished TV stand.

MAHAL AND I have spent the past three weeks applying for, being selected and moving into a new flat.  Hope you don’t mind if I share with you what we’ve been through.  (It’s also my way of telling you why I haven’t been yap-yap-yapping as much recently. 🙂 )

Please DON’T be offended if, first of all, the prospective or potential landlord/landlady categorizes or profiles aspiring tenants like us, especially migrant Pinoys, according to number of children, number of pets (if any), and whether or not we smoke (I quit six years ago) or drink (very moderately naman).  I’m not sure how it goes in Auckland, but those are some of the very first things asked by landlords/landladies when you apply to rent a flat in windy Wellington.

Frankly, he (or she; for brevity i’ll just use the masculine noun and pronoun if you don’t mind) could do a lot worse.

I wish I photocopied the questionnaire, but one landlord actually asked if both Mahal and I were gainfully employed, how much we earned, how many credit cards we had and whether or not we had criminal records.

The fellow, who turned out to be a friendly sort and shortlisted us to be his tenants, said he had previous problems with tenants and now went to the extent of checking the premises periodically for traces of methamphetamine, cannabis and other dangerous drugs not just for consumption but for production.  Turned out that removing all traces of the dratted substances from one of his co-landlord’s properties after the latter had been used as a P-lab (or shabu lab, for us in the Philippines) cost many more thousands of dollars than if they had just screened tenants more judiciously.  Such that being a bit anal in his tenant applications didn’t seem so outrageous anymore.

And I wish I could be as outraged about landlords‘ overkill re kids, pets and smoke, but it’s just a generous helping of commonsense when selecting who will be stewards of your rental investment, which is a favorite source of retirement income for many prudent New Zealanders.  Each additional child means additional pressure on the facilities in terms of wear and tear, risk of damage and maintenance cost to the flat.  Having pets often means lots of hair, scratches and tolerated additional use to just about every corner of the house.  This doesn’t bode well for picture perfectness and pristine-ness of the apartment, but a lot of Kiwis and Maoris are petlovers, what can you do?  And I don’t have to tell you about how nicotine and tobacco smoke leave ugly stains on the walls, especially over time.

There is a finite number of desirable flats near workplaces in our city, and the skilled workforce is constantly growing.  This means it’s a lessor’s market, and because queues for flats form immediately as soon as they are offered, landlords have the luxury of picking from the very best of the bunch.

Mahal and I have no kids, no pets, and neither of us smoke.  But that didn’t mean we were automatically going to be ideal and prime candidates for the choice flats we applied for.  In fact, I don’t think we even made it as a finalist for any of the first few flats we expressed interest in, and the guy I told you about above was just being polite.  To be fair, his flat had central heating, used a sophisticated energy-conscious sunlight absorbing heat-and-light system, had new wallpaper, tiling and carpeting installed wall-to-wall.  I’m sure more than a dozen candidates submitted applications and he would’ve had a hard time just whittling down the list to superperfect, handsome and beautiful shortlisters.  Deep sigh. 😦

Eventually our persistence paid off though.  We found someone who appreciated our (as yet) childless, pet-less and tobaccoless status, liked that we ticked all the boxes on his checklist, and approved our flat application after a cursory interview.

They’re almost self-evident, but I have to give you a very brief summary of what I’ve picked up:  (1) Keep an ideal flat in mind, but don’t be too choosy.  You won’t get the first flat you apply for, almost surely.  (2) It’s probably better to deal with a rental agency than a landlord direct, as it helps both sides.  (3) When you’ve been approved as tenant and before starting to move, sell or give away as much stuff as you can before actually moving, it saves a lot of grief and stress.

And finally, amass as many cardboard boxes (preferably the corrugated ones) as you can, be prepared to throw away stuff you won’t need anymore in your new home, hire a skip bin just before moving, and get as much help as you can.  Congrats on your new flat!

is this coke ad for real ?


THIS AD is so unbelievable ( I suggest watching it to the end) that I still have trouble not thinking it’s a gag or satirical in nature.

As the ad proclaims provocatively : imagine if cigaret companies said they were doing something to protect you.  The phrase is enough to make you at least think about, if not take seriously the content.

In a nutshell, the ad says if you choose to lead a healthy lifestyle, then the answer is right in front of you.  Don’t drink Coke.  It’s killing you, and your family.

If this is a gag, then the creator is probably going to face a lot of defamation / libel / slander suits from Coca-cola.  If it’s not, then Coke is quite brave and honest to put up such an ad.

Like 90% of you, I have been a cola drinker most of my life, and it has contributed to many of my incipient health problems.  I have been proactive and have tried to cut down cola consumption, but it is a daily struggle.

Please contact me with what you know about this ad.  I am leaning towards it not being genuine (from Coke), but the possibility that it is, is intriguing.

Thanks for reading!

happy birthday to 1 of the coolest pinoys in welly : mr Ricky Montenegro!


with loved ones and family : the families of Tom and Ining Agustin (Ricky's niece), Hope and Eric  Bautista (Ricky's nephew), and of course, Mahal, Ganda, Bunso & me. Others in the party were Tita Nannette (Ricky's sis-in-law) and Panganay (not in pic)

with loved ones and family : the families of Tom and Ining Agustin (Ricky’s niece), Hope and Eric Bautista (Ricky’s nephew), and of course, Mahal, Ganda, Bunso & me. Others in the party were Tita Nannette (Ricky’s sis-in-law) and Panganay (not in pic). btw, Ricky is seated near the center in red shirt & blue cap.

THE FIRST time I saw Tito Ricky (after which I’ll just call him Ricky for short) he was playing with my elder brothers Tim and Donald, the latter copying all of his actions and hanging on to his every word.

If he could impress my brothers that much, and I certainly thought my bros were the coolest guys in the world (at the time), then how cool could Ricky be?

Believe it or not, that was around 40 years ago, just a little more than an eternity for some of you out there.  I have known the guy you see in the center of the pic above for most of my life, and he has never been less than awesome for me.

Technically, being my mom’s first cousin he belongs to the previous generation, but because we are so close in age he is actually part of mine.  And in spirit and temperament, he is certainly a child of the Seventies.

Through the decades I lost track of him, but was pleasantly surprised to discover that in my temporary adopted hometown in NZ, he was right there with his family.  The floodgates of memories in Masbate, Bicol (where my grandmother and his mother were born), Makati and Mandaluyong were opened; and all the funny and feel-good things that we had shared we recounted.

And now that you mention funny, Ricky is funny personified.  He is a born comedian, able to make jokes out of every saying, story and situation.  It doesn’t hurt that he has a superfunny wife Maya who plays straight person and repartee giver to his hilarious material.

But most of all, Ricky is someone who stands for God, country and family, and is as Pinoy as Pinoy gets.  He is a man’s man, and I am happy to be his nephew/fan/friend.

Last 12th February, through the thoughtfulness of wife Maya, son Sigfried, daughters Pao and Angela, Ricky celebrated his 51st birthday in the presence of the people who matter most to him : family.  Thanks for always being there for us Tito Ricky, thanks for the invite, and thanks for the memories, woohoo!

Happy birthday from all of us!

bringing the Philippine Embassy to your bakuran


The Philippine Embassy mobile consular team with volunteers of the Pinoy community in Rotorua, NZ.  From left : Atty Levy Ang-Strang, Mrs Lourdes Spijkerbosch, Mrs Gloria Avena, Mrs Ofelia Coralde, Ms Susana So, Atty Giovanni E Palec, Ms Marjorie Luxford, Ambassador Virginia H Benavidez, Mrs Tania Short, Consul General Marcos A.S. Punsalang, Ms Cherry Andrews, Ms Mary Bel Garcia, Mr Larry Reyes, Mrs Josefina Emberga and Mrs Alexis LewGor

[ Note : We don’t always engage in hyperbole, but our Embassy has been an overachieving team that has exceeded even the most generous expectations. Kudos to Her Excellency Ambassador Virginia H Benavidez and her dedicated, workaholic team at the Embassy! ]

THE NUMBERS say it all : 4,895 e-passport applicants, 1,242 overseas absentee voting registrants, 220 notarial documentation, 143 National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) clearances, 165 reports of birth and marriage and 18 dual citizenship.

Exceeding even the most optimistic goals, the past 14 months have seen our Philippine Embassy reaching unprecedented heights in delivering more effective and efficient services to Pinoy communities throughout New Zealand and countries in Polynesia under its jurisdiction through its groundbreaking mobile consular outreach missions.

Bannered The Philippine Embassy in New Zealand: Serving with a Smile, Going the Extra Mile and Reaching Beyond Our Grasp, direct and onsite consular missions started upon the arrival of Ambassador Virginia H. Benavidez  in September 2011.  Since then, the outreach missions have been a game changer in concretely manifesting our government’s priority concern for kabayan OFWs‘ welfare, protection and interests.

To date, our Embassy has conducted no less than eighteen (18) mobile consular missions, bringing unquantifiable benefit to 6,680 Filipinos in key cities in the North and South Islands in New Zealand and in Tonga, Fiji, Samoa and Cook Islands.  We don’t mind saying that not many in the diplomatic community can lay claim to such a gold standard of pro-active performance. 🙂

Just to give you an idea of how busy the previous calendar year was for our Embassy, its  mobile consular team reached out to Pinoys in Christchurch and Auckland in January; Rotorua and Fiji in April; Auckland in May; Dunedin in August; Cook Islands, Whangarei and back to Auckland in September (in fairness, over half of the NZ Pinoy community are based in AKL); the Independent State of Samoa in November and Christchurch again in December.

But even in 2011, mobile consular services started for the first time in Hamilton in October; Ashburton, Invercargill and Auckland in November and Auckland and Tonga in December.

Significantly, in all of the cities visited by the Philippine Embassy, meetings and coordination were made with the respective Filipino community organizations and groups, namely, the Waikato Filipino Association in Hamilton, Filipino Dairy Workers of New Zealand, Incorporated in Ashburton, the Southland Filipino Community Club in Invercargill, Good Shepherd’s Church and the Garcia Law office in Auckland, Association of Filipinos in Tonga, the Alpha Phi Omega Aotearoa, Philippine Culture and Sports and Christchurch Migrants Centre Trust in Christchurch, the Philippine Club of Rotorua, Inc. and the Bay of Plenty Philippine Friendship Society in Rotorua, Filipino Association led by Honorary Consul Dr. Virgilio De Asa in Fiji, Dunedin Philippine Club, Inc., Filipino Community in Cook Islands, Whangarei Filipino Society, Inc. and the Filipino Community in Samoa.

“Their warm hospitality, invaluable support and exemplary cooperation have contributed immensely to a highly successful, productive and meaningful stay and service of the Embassy’s mobile consular team in the various cities in New Zealand and in Tonga, Fiji, Cook Islands and Samoa. Indeed, they are shining examples of the vital partnership between the Philippine Embassy and the Filipino communities in carrying out our God-given mission for our beloved country and people,” says Ambassador Benavidez.

Wherever Ambassador Benavidez and the Embassy team provided services throughout NZ and some cities in the Pacific, the Filipino community unfailingly and profusely communicated deep gratitude to the Philippine Government through the Philippine Embassy for the crucial and sought after consular services at their doorstep as it saved them a considerable amount of money, time, day off and resources, considering that it is often costly, inconvenient and difficult for them to travel to the Embassy’s physical site in Wellington.

Mixing business with pleasure, Ambassador Benavidez was also able to touch base with kabayan and thank them for their invaluable support and continuing cooperation, updated them on the positive economic and other developments back home, focusing on the reform agenda and good governance programs of Pres. Benigno S. Aquino III.

Ambassador Benavidez likewise enjoined them to participate in  the overseas absentee voting process (OAV) and dual citizenship acquisition, briefed them on the urgency of setting up a disaster preparedness and emergency response plan in coordination with local authorities and agencies and conveyed the deep appreciation and recognition of New Zealand’s government and people for their skills, talents, work ethic  and ability to integrate themselves well with our communities New Zealand-wide.

Our Ambassador also took advantage of the missions and the Embassy team’s presence in each city by calling on Mayors, Members of Parliament, officers of the Migrant Centres, Multicultural Councils and Ethnic Affairs Offices to broaden networking, exchange insights and information about the Philippines and personally receive Pinoy feedback and views about the situation as well as contributions of the Filipino communities.  Whenever possible, she also met with local chambers of commerce, businessmen, companies and relevant agencies and institutions to promote greater trade, investment, business, tourism and people to people ties between the Philippines, New Zealand and the Pacific Island countries under our Embassy’s jurisdiction.

But our Ambassador and her loyal team are not complacent.  To ensure that thousands more of our countrymen are reached by the mobile consular services, the Philippine Embassy is set to revisit Taupo, Queenstown, Auckland, Rotorua and other parts of the North and South Islands in 2013.

Announcements on the dates, venue and other relevant details about the mobile consular services are posted at the Embassy’s website at wwww.philembassy.org.nz and facebook. Inquiries can also be made through the Philippine Embassy at telephone numbers (+644) 8903741/3742/3744 or email address embassy@wellington-pe.co.nz.

Programs like these, unlikely as they are, shift previous paradigms of a distant, unreachable and indifferent government, and ultimately as the record shows we have the new generation of officials like Ambassador Benavidez to thank.  More power to you Ma’m, and mabuhay ang lahing Pinoy!

how mahal got her groove in the land of 2nd chances


a foot in the door... the work visa, formerly known as a work permit :)

a foot in the door… the work visa, formerly known as a work permit 🙂

IN MANY ways, as you’ve doubtless heard from kabayan communities all over, migrating to a new land is like Life’s second chance.  Lifelong frustrations, broken dreams and failed professions are all swept aside as the prospect of new careers, golden incomes and even a rejuvenated lovelife are all made possible, sometimes at the same time, when one succeeds in carving out a migrant life in the so-called (generically designated) land of milk and honey.

I’m not ungrateful, but after six years here I continue to define myself as an accidental migrant, firstly because my migrant adventure in New Zealand started just as my tourist’s itinerary expired.  More than a few times in this space I’ve had occasion to mention that a generous aunt brought me and a few other relatives to visit my brother in Auckland back in 2007, and during such jaunt my Kinoy bro suggested that, as long as I didn’t have any pressing business back home, I might want to stay behind after the tour group left and try my luck applying for a work permit.

To make a long story short, I got lucky once, twice and yet again.  Because of a “trade” (vocational job) that I picked up, I was able to obtain work permits (now known as work visas) with a supportive employer despite a depressed job market.  I’ve been able to accumulate training and career development that has allowed me to consolidate the modest gains I’ve made as a guest worker.

A second reason I’m an accidental migrant is the nature of my visa: because of my limitations, I don’t have the necessary credentials to realistically see myself as a successful candidate for permanent resident status, so that I’ve been riding the migrant wave on a one-year work visa, which is like being given an amazing car that can bring you anywhere you want (and which runs on ultracheap fuel) but which breaks down one year to the day you’re given such car.  To continue getting around, you need another amazing car, that will (you guessed it) break down in yet another year.  My stay in NZ is contingent on my job, which is in turn dependent on my continued enjoyment of work visa-status.  Because the visa officer every time I apply after every year is someone new, nothing is ever assured.

As you might have guessed, none of this mattered to Mahal, from whom I had been apart for the better part of three years, me coming home only on Christmases and my folks’ 50th wedding anniversary.  Her patience was wearing thin, and not even the fleetingness of a work permit / visa would keep her from joining me in NZ.

The trick was, we had to prove our relationship, as we weren’t married at the time.  Immigration NZ (the counterpart of our Philippine Bureau of Immigration and Deportation) takes a very dim view on ersatz couples who use their “relationship” as a means of getting into the country, as the exercise understandably smacks of fraud and an attempt to abuse the system.  Despite this, thousands upon thousands of applicants use the partnership policy stream to obtain visas into the country.

Just to show you how determined she was, she did the following for the first time: (1) fill up immigration forms invented by probably one of the most meticulous and detail conscious agencies around; (2) submit to stressful interviews from officers keen to know every detail about her life; (3) revisit every place she lived in to compile documentary evidence that she was a law-abiding, upstanding and productive member of the community.

So that by the time a decision had been made regarding her visa application as my partner, just the stress of having gone through the process was drama enough.  But as you might expect, all the trials and tribulations of waiting, waiting and waiting by Mahal to join me in my life as an accidental migrant, upon arrival of that blue-and-white sticker, became worth it.

And just to make the event more memorable, a few days after Mahal arrived in NZ for the first time, a freak tornado visited the town where we lived.  Here’s how it looked:

Since then, Mahal has adjusted to accidental migrant life just as well, if not better than I have, and has incidentally made my life here so much more colorful, meaningful and fulfilling.  She is exceedingly grateful for my helping her get here, little knowing that it is I who have been all the richer.  (Or maybe she does?)

This is why on the third anniversary of her first work permit / visa in NZ, it is worth remembering.  Thanks for joining me here mi amor!

Happy Valentines‘ Day to all!

Thanks for reading!

say hello to my little friend on night shift


"what do you mean you  dropped the spanner???"

“what do you mean you dropped the spanner???”

versatilebloggeraward11[ Note : please excuse the haphazard nature of the blog; I did it before short-term memory fades; you won’t see it every time, but thanks to school paper contemporary Fernando “Fer” Cao and his magnificent wide-angle picture of an idyllic beach, congrats to Fer and Meo Cao, brod Atty Andrei Bon Tagum and every proud parent for their kids’ passing the UPCAT, welcome to Diliman, and advance happy birthday to pinsan Mr Ricky Montenegro! woohoo ! ]

IT’S NOT really night shift, but it ends 11 pm, so that’s half the night gone anyway.  And the friend isn’t so little, almost as big as a small house,  but in relative terms, because there’s a larger, more complicated (and expensive) machine, he’s the small guy.

I’ve done a lateral move from one department to the other, and I’ve been entrusted to operate the newest packer on site, at least on the 3.00 to 11.00 shift.  It turns over between 50,400 bags (the smallest size) to 25,920 bags (the largest) over a 24-hour period, no ifs, buts or maybes about it, smooth as silk and with as little drama as possible.

That’s the equivalent of, depending on the product type, two-and-a-half or four truckloads of something that’s been packed by men and their muscles for as long as anyone can remember.  My participation in the exercise is as custodian and babysitter of one of the most advanced pieces of food manufacturing equipment, yehey for me!

Unfortunately, especially during the getting-to-know-you period, where we pretend we know everything there is to know about the machine but in fact don’t have the least clue as soon as red lights start flashing, potentially a dozen things can go wrong.  Out of the dozen, I’m prepared to deal with at most, two or three.

my little friend, or something that looks very much like it ;)

my little friend, or something that looks very much like it 😉

Glue applicator assembly out of position; tape handle applicator needs reloading (where you go through twenty spools in different directions); a few bags too light; a few bags too heavy; plastic bundler out of plastic, palletizer (which prepares the bundles for loading to truck) not palletizing properly, and these don’t include the foul-ups that the operator isn’t allowed to fix, those electronic, electric and engineering problems need a call-up to the plant engineer, which of course you don’t want to do on your first week alone on the shift, no matter how confident (or unconfident) you are.

Regardless of the nature and gravity of these problems, any one of the above enumeration is enough to delay production and set me back a few hundred bags, which sets back the expected number of pallets by the time my shift ends.

I don’t want to jinx my first few days on the machine, my supervisor has cut me a little slack as everything is new, everything is in the discovery and exploration stage.  Translation : I don’t want to get too ambitious, try anything too crazy, or do anything out of the ordinary.

It helps that the machine is user-friendly, as soon as something goes wrong the corresponding item on the menu lights up and tells you what’s going on, you just do what you’ve been taught.  But so many things can go wrong, and literally a moment of distraction can be disastrous.

And eventually something goes wrong : the oven that sort-of laminates the bundles for neat piling and arranging needs a top and bottom plastic roll that combine to wrap the bundles.  As little as a half-inch length of cellotape left on the top spool gets caught on the bottom roll just as the top roll empties, taking the bottom roll and wastes probably a quarter of the latter.  It takes me between 30 and 45 minutes just to unravel the wasted bottom roll, from the top spool.  So much for a stress-free first shift alone.

Combine this with the slow-downs and time spent replenishing the source silo, and I hardly make a dent on my quota that night.  Sigh.

I didn’t destroy anything on my first evening shift, but I came nowhere near expectations.  But you live and learn.

Thanks for reading!

happy anniversary Clark and Didith Figuracion !


“I will grow old with you.” happy anniversary!

IT’S LIBERALLY used, but the phrase a match made in heaven bespeaks of such hope, joy and love in a relationship looking forward that it’s often used, throwing caution to the winds and damn the torpedoes.  Such a phrase we use with alacrity in defining the marriage of Clark and Didith Figuracion, who recently celebrated their anniversary last 1st February.

They are one of the handsomest Pinoy couples we know in the Wellington Pinoy community. But they are not only glitter and glamor; each carrying a portfolio of impressive talents, skills and boundless energy that, shining in their individual selves, combine to produce an uncommon synergy of leadership, innovation and creativity.

Beyond their obvious gifts, or maybe because of it, they have lent their time and efforts to many a worthy cause for Pinoys, Asians and the greater migrant community in New Zealand’s biggest little capital.  Be it a cultural festival, Wellington Misa de Gallo or simply fund raising for something dear to Filipinos everywhere, Didith and Clark will be there, and will do what is asked of them, but in their own special way.

We’re relatively new to the Wellington barangay but we already know that the Tayawa-Figuracion couple have stamped their class here, and make our Pinoy fellowship a better one.  They are truly among our best and brightest.

Happy anniversary kabayan!

the fantastic Francesco and his primo packaging machine


before a break, Sun morning

our teacher is in the middle. Flanking him are a funny Maori named Beau and Your Loyal kabayan Blogger 😉

WHEN YOU’RE chosen to help operate a flashy new food packer / packager in your worksite (imported from Europe),  a machine that is used in only one other site in the whole country, it’s reasonable to expect that the makers will send someone of their very own to train you to do the best possible job of operating such machine.

It’a also entirely reasonable to expect that such trainer, given the short time available, will be a stern, no-nonsense taskmaster, intent on cramming into your cranium every possible technique, tip and detail needed to run such flashy machine efficiently.

Except that the trainer was about the farthest thing from a stern taskmaster as you could possibly imagine.  Francesco from Italy (where the packer was built) was a cool cat, teaching us how to run the machine using the user friendly panel, simple trouble shooting skills that belied the amazing complexity of the smart machine.  It was so smart that each of its component parts knew when to override itself (when a fault was going on elsewhere) and when not to (when a fault was minor).

The best part of controlling and operating the machine was letting it run by itself, and performing simple tasks like feeding it bags, glue and tape a few times a day.  Otherwise it would hum and perform the work of three men in a fraction of the time.  Bad for labor, but good for productivity.  Ah, such is progress.

Francesco, after teaching us the basic operating skills, had to rush to sub-zero degree Moscow to personally install the machine and once again train just like us its new operators.  He knew the machine top to bottom, knew its every nut, bolt, conveyor and screw, and yet allowed us to discover the machine on our own.

We couldn’t possibly have matched his skill level even after three days of intensive training, but I’m pleasantly surprised to say that, by just being himself, Francesco managed to make the last 72 hours into a relatively stress-free learning experience.  And considering all the stakes involved, that was quite a feat for the friendly Italian.

I won’t forget your teatime tales about all the places you’ve installed the machine in Francesco, your amazing patience, your Marlboro Lights, and I’ll hopefully be an expert operator by the time you return to check up on us.  From everyone in our worksite, grazie and arrivederci !

the smells that betray us all


INDELICACY ALERT : This is not the first time I’ve risked grossing you out, but I’ve never committed premeditated blogging about something that you might potentially find offensive.  You couldn’t avoid getting a general idea about my topic today just like you couldn’t avoid reading the title above, so you probably already know the area of discourse I’m leading you to.

But before that, please indulge me first three bits of news that have struck me as either unbelievable, wise or  smart, if you want further information please feel free to click on the sentence fragments :

When being lucky is sometimes unlucky.  The winning Lotto combination Saturday before last was 1-2-12-27-29-31, with a Powerball (additional one-number draw) of 2.  No less than thirteen individuals correctly guessed the combination, and one person correctly guessed the Powerball number.  This means (1) thirteen people shared the Jackpot prize of $1 million, rounding out to roughly $70,000 each, one of the lowest jackpot shares in NZ Lotto history and (2) one of those lucky 13 winners received an additional $15 million for his correct Powerball guess.  How unfair is that?

So gifted, and yet so guilt-ridden.  Even before the most recent shootings in Sandy Hook School, one of my favorite authors Stephen King had already withdrawn Rage, a book he had written under the pseudonym Richard Bachman.   The fact that two schoolboy killers in 1996 and 1997 owned a copy of the book was enough for him to withdraw it from the market.  Such literary genius Mr King possesses must be balanced by the guilt he must feel as Rage is about a middle school student who goes on a shooting spree after developing a fixation on guns.

Cut off from your daily fix of Farmville OR porn OR Instagram?  Cry no more!  After ruling that a person deprived of Internet service is entitled to claim damages from the internet service provider (ISP), a German federal court has ruled that the internet is “an essential part of life” and therefore losing access gives a person the right to compensation.  One can only imagine the jurisprudence and precedents this innocuous sounding decision will give rise to, not just in Germany but worldwide.

And now on to our sordid topic…

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ESPECIALLY  DURING winter months, I don’t change my safety clothes/work gear daily because I hardly break a sweat and it doesn’t seem right to change clothes every day when they hardly look or smell used.  Our workplace is relatively clean and if I do the work properly, it’s smooth sailing equals sweet smelling during most of the shift.

A colleague once asked how I could use the same work clothes for two days (or even three) without wrinkling up my nose, whereupon I took out a fresh shirt and, next to my day-old hi-viz, challenged him to tell the difference scent wise.

Aba, walang pinagkaiba (hmm, no diff!) I heard him say (although it was the rough Pacific Islander English equivalent), just like the TV detergent ad back home.  He really couldn’t tell which was which, and I told him it was because, modesty aside and outside my control,  if nothing went wrong during the shift requiring serious exertion, I very rarely perspired (except between Dec and Jan, the warmest months here).  I could’ve tried to explain to him that many East Asians are low on the kind of sweat glands that produce body odor, and therefore even if we sweat it doesn’t offend so much.  But I guessed that it would’ve taken more than a few minutes that I had before I had to rush home.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t say the same for some of my workmates, who hardly felt the need to bathe everyday unless it’s unbearably humid or it’s hot date night.  One guy you could actually smell as soon as he entered the locker room, redolent of fried onions, stale ham and last night’s dinner.  Another, the guy who took my smell test, didn’t smell too badly except when he started perspiring and his sweat started to combine with his cigarette breath.  That’s when it was time to avoid him.

Smells and scents, especially of armpits, scalps and perfumes, form part of our sharpest memories from birth, and well into our old age we continue to add to our store of olfactory remembrances.  The shadings and gradings of such are defined strongly by genetics alterations and medical conditions, according to our good friends at Wikipedia, so that culture probably plays a very little part.  Still, I’d like to mention how smells from different cultures help me tell them apart (without mentioning the actual race/nationality) :

Garlic– I can’t mention the nationality, but they are very popular in the online, fashion and culinary world (think of addictive pickled cabbage 😉 ), they’re also great in the telenovela department, but for some reason I hear a good percentage of them emit a garlicky aura sometimes.  So much that I’ve actually tried to engage a few members of that nationality and unfortunately for me (but fortunately for my nose) I drew blanks each time.  Likewise, I can think of quite a few odors worse than a faint garlic smell.

Certain dishes – this is probably the most durable argument against the insistence that diet and/or culture has nothing to do with the way you naturally smell.  Honestly, if we didn’t smell like patis and bagoong, South Asians didn’t smell like curry and Orientals didn’t smell like chili and sesame oil, then how could the rest of the world identify us as if these were our signature smells?

Musky – and yet there are stronger smells than condiments, ingredients and memorable dishes.  If you can’t accept that cuisine and culture play a negligible part in how we smell, then it’s probably a no-brainer that climate and hygiene do.  Why is it that the moment their deodorants expire, males of every skin, color and persuasion begin to smell like a combination of cured meat, gym socks and stale  pizza?  Moreover, and you don’t have to take my word for it, each major racial category has a distinct smell that coincides with sweatiness.

I can’t elaborate without offending at least three-quarters of the male population,  but when you’re born and raised in the tropics, showers are second nature to you.  Conversely, living in sub-zero climes necessitates conserving warmth all the time, so cleanliness and smelling like Ylang-ylang slash gumamela fabric conditioner is not exactly a priority.  And yet, you can bet your last kilo of NFA rice that in the deepest winter, every Pinoy/Pinay in Europe, North America and New Zealand continues to take a shower each day before work, and a second shower before going to bed for good measure, regardless of the season.  (and hopefully with hot, hot water.)

If you think I’m stretching the truth, or exaggerating, just spend a little more time with guys who exercise regularly, particularly in multi-racial, multi-cultural milieux.  And while you’re at it, and especially if you’re a girl, you might as well spend time with their female counterparts as well.  Happy smelling!