readjustment bureau

OFWs in a hurry to leave the airport to meet Nanay, Tatay, Junior, Ate, Bunso, and most of all Mahal :)

OFWs in a hurry to leave the airport to meet Nanay, Tatay, Junior, Ate, Bunso, and most of all Mahal ūüôā

[ belated happy birthday to classmate and friend Allan Refuerzo, Imee Sy and Rory Reyes! ]

ADJUSTMENT IS a well-worn, familiar route on the migrant GPS.  All kinds of adjustment occupy the migrant mind : adjustment to climate, adjustment to ways of doing things, and adjustment to language are just some of the constants we live with as settlers on foreign lands.  You might survive without swift adjustment, but embracing it will make your life a whole lot easier.

You’re able to get along with more locals faster, you’re understood more readily, you don’t stand out or attract too much unwanted attention, you discover faster ways of doing things, and ultimately you get more things done. ¬†You reach short-term goals faster, which helps you get to long-term goals faster.

What doesn’t always get mentioned in the migrant, balikbayan or OFW discussion, a lot of which certainly gets heard both at home and abroad, is the adjustment the Pinoy makes or has to make whenever he/she (for brevity, he na lang) returns home, either for vacation or for good. ¬†Part of the law of the universe states that what goes up must comes down, for every action is an opposite reaction, and balancing the positive force is, necessarily, the negative counterpart.

It’s not as difficult as returning toothpaste to the proverbial tube, reversing the downflow of a river or stream (it’s impossible, actually) or unmaking a hurtful comment, but it’s somewhere ¬†in the neighborhood. ¬†Even though you seek to undo a lifetime of habits, ¬†beliefs and culture, it’s doable because you have no other choice (you’re already overseas), economics coerce you to (you have a family to feed) and pride is a great, awesome motivator (you can’t go home and face everyone who’s never stopped encouraging you, as well as those who can’t wait to see you fall flat on your face).

But is it as practical to unlearn your new accent, start driving on the right side of the road again, pick up typical Pinoy ways of doing things like chismis, kaplastikan and sipsipan and socialize with all sorts of people like you never left home?

[ Please don’t misunderstand. ¬†The shadier side of being Pinoy is done just as often in my temporary adopted land, by both the locals and Pinoys like me. ¬†It’s just that well, it is so acceptable and traditional the way we do it back home, and people where I am still pretend ¬†they don’t do it as well, or at least don’t mention it in polite conversation. ¬†I’m not being a hypocrite, or at least I hope I don’t sound like one. ¬†ūüėČ ]

But back to readjustment.  My last trip home, I probably had the hardest time to adjust, because I was coming from very cold weather, had very little time to prepare for a homecoming (there was a death in the family), and I was coming home to the hottest weather in the Philippines, April-May scorchers.

I think I mentioned in a previous blog that (1) just standing in place made me sweat buckets, and (2) the heat waves were coming from both the atmosphere and the white-hot concrete, how could I cope?  Additionally the humidity and muggy air were not helping any; I could almost slice the air with a knife, and I could likewise imagine the insides of my nostrils sweating from the hot, hot air. The immediate and obvious question is, without the aid of an air-conditioner or an unexpected shower, how do you adjust to hot weather after half a decade away?

The short answer is you don’t, not unless you have the time, patience and forbearance to bear it and realize that everyone else is enduring this three-quarters of the year, why can’t you? ¬†Mind over matter, sensible dressing and knowing when to cool down are just a few ways to acclimatize (pun intended) yourself to the weather that’s been part of your DNA and that of your forbears.

a food court big enough to hold a movie premiere in. :)

a food court big enough to hold a movie premiere in. ūüôā

Another readjustment Mahal and I have found challenging is to get used to people eating out or planning to eat out at the drop of a pin. ¬†Because eating places are accessible and plentiful, public transport is universal and nearly 24/7 and Pinoys are naturally apt to get together and celebrate via lunch or dinner, it’s quite normal to just call or SMS the members of your barkada, posse or extended family and meet at the mall. ¬†Anything goes from there, but for sure you will select a place to share a meal and just watch the masses of Pinoy mallgoers like yourself pass you by.

We literally ate out every night our short stay back home, not just to meet friends and contemporaries but because it was the easiest and most convenient way to catch up with people that we had to meet by necessity.  Not only did we not have a proper meeting place, we needed to meet someplace halfway close to where all parties came from.  And no other place was more equidistant than a mall, and where in the mall was it more conducive to meet than a restaurant or fast food place?

And because we met for dinner just as often as we met for lunch, this brings us to another quirk we had to get used to all over again : our kabayan back at home stay up late as often as they want, and we seriously had an issue with this. In Wellington, almost every weekday we are tucked in by around 9.30 just to be able to get up by around 5.30, enjoy hearty breakfast, bike to work and report for duty by 7.00 am.

would you believe happy hour hasn't even started? :)

would you believe happy hour hasn’t even started? ūüôā

In contrast, nobody in Manila seems to be ready to call it a day until around midnight, everyone starts howling at the moon by around 7.30 pm, sits down for dinner after traffic and their favorite telenovela around 9.00 pm, finishes social obligations including Facebook and e-mails 11-ish, sips barako coffee and enjoys late night news half past, and finally catch zzzz’s at the stroke of 12.

If this sounds familiar to you, so many people we’ve met do this regularly, which was why they didn’t think twice about meeting us at ungodly hours of the night. Just to be able to readjust to these three areas made our recent visit more interesting, and although life would’ve been easier without the readjustment, we would not exchange it for anything else. ¬†As the Chinese proverb goes, may you live in interesting times. ¬†And living it adjusting, readjusting, and readjusting yet again.

Thanks for reading!

sad but true : this shabby airport is my own

where the adventures of all OFWs start :(

where the adventures of all OFWs start ūüė¶

HOPING AGAINST hope and against great odds that things improve, I’m going to do something unpopular and say something that I think many of my countrymen (and countrywomen) have felt for some time now : our airport sucks.

I use an unequivocal term (sucks, rhymes with an even worse term that we need not use in polite conversation) that leaves little room for doubt.  In almost every which way our airport is inferior to others in our region, and especially in light of the fact that very near our NAIA 2 are two world-class airports (as in, tops in the whole wide world) that in relative terms just make us look worse.

Notice that I don’t try to disown or distance myself from this sad situation :¬† Manila International is mine as a Pinoy who was born and bred here, and will always call the Philippines my home.¬† Not migration, nor assimilation, nor time, nor distance will stop me from calling the Ninoy Aquino International Airport my home base.¬† Unfortunately, that doesn’t change the immutable fact that, again, said airport sucks.

I’m afraid it doesn’t get any better from here : there are so many ways to pan the place, from its threadbare carpets, its old, old, washrooms, to its inefficient air-conditioning.¬† But because the boarding time call is nigh, and I’m about to lose internet time, I’m just going to focus on two areas.

First, why are the airport’s facilities focused on making sure the OFW, especially those on their way back to the salt mines, has paid the OWWA levy? ¬†There is an added layer of checkpoints/booths just to make sure such fee has been paid.¬† OFWs are not allowed to board unless they have paid such fee, and their receipts verified and/or cleared.

A good amount of space in the airport, right next to the airline check-in counters, is devoted to last-minute payments of OFWs who might have forgotten to pay their fees. ¬†It’s declared by successive administrations that in recognition of the OFW’s nation-building contributions, travel tax is waived, but wouldn’t it sound more sincere if the OWWA imposition was likewise taken off our hardworking kabayan’s back?

Secondly, in almost every corner of many airports across the East Asian semi-continent, you see various conveniences thoughtfully laid out for the traveller. ¬†Shops that peddle items that you might’ve forgotten and urgently need, lounges, even shower rooms and changing rooms for your baby.

Instead of copying this trend, our airport seems to be going backward.  Even the most basic toilet services are being neglected in both quantity and quality.  Not only are there not enough facilities, the existing ones look quite old and shabby.  Think broken tiles and toilet seats that have seen better days.  No soap, and yes Virginia, no toilet paper.

So sorry to nitpick, but instead of basic comforts for our poor OFWs, tourists and business travellers, the airport authority would rather invest on : a cigar shop, simcard booths ¬†and a smoker’s room. ¬†There are lounges, yes, but I would bet my last pirated DVD that this is exclusively for business class and first class elites.

And I know I promised only two complaints, but something really sticks down the back of my throat : the check-in counter of the airline we travelled on (no fault of the airline itself; the latter is actually one of the better carriers around) was identified only via a temporary looking banner or trapal behind their counters.  Very amateurish, no permanent signage and quite unbelievable for a national airport.

Just one more moan and groan : did you know that past the immigration checkers but well-within the duty free area, there is not one single money-changer / bank outlet for the multitudes who might want to change pesos into other money and vice-versa?  Truly deplorable.  You need to go out back into the check-in area and look for one of only two bank branches where the staff sleepily change your money, at uncompetitive rates by the way.  Sheesh.

It’s hard to exaggerate the decrepitude of your very own airport when, sorry to say, it certainly looks like they don’t even try. ¬†Remember, this is the premier airport / tourism facility of a country riding high on a world-class tourism campaign.

I’m not looking for explanations or even replies from public relations or corporate communications experts of either our airport or the national government of my country. ¬†In fact, I am quite aware that my observations will be construed as unduly negative, unpatriotic or even contrary to efforts to develop our image abroad.

I just want our airport to make travel easier, be more user-friendly, change the mindset of the jaded jetsetter, and prove to all OFWs that their taxes are channeled to projects that affect them directly.  Giving NAIA a long-overdue makeover will do all of the above.

And it needs to be done yesterday.

Thanks for reading!

reminders for the visit home

almost there... almost there... kill me, please :(

almost there… almost there… kill me, please ūüė¶

I COULDN’T believe it, but there I was. ¬†Dusk, microwave-heating sun long gone, and barely moving, waiting for our ride, and I was perspiring. ¬†Not the ga-munggo (beadlike), slow-drip way, but sweating buckets, just idling my engine and revving my pistons. ¬†I didn’t know which was more unlikely : that I was nearly suffocating without the maximum Philippine heat, or that I was no longer used to weather here.

I am literally embarrassed to tell you this, but the tropical paradise that I thought would be an unexpected treat, after leaving late-autumn Wellington, wasn’t the purely pleasant experience that I thought it would be. ¬†Not only does the climate average around 10 to 15 degrees higher, the humidity or water droplets in the air is doubly stifling, almost like the air is sweating right along with you. ¬† This partly explains why, even after sunset, and despite just staying in place, my sweat glands were working overtime, on practically every square inch of skin available.

Curiously, all around me were kabayan, fellow worker ants and others just trying to survive, and they weren’t sweating a bit. ¬†In fact, some looked quite comfortable in the last heat wave of the day. ¬†Just a bit bushed and lonesome for home.

Lesson : You live or die with the temperature-cum-humidity. ¬†You can take refuge in the air-conditioned hotel room, mall and rarefied resto function rooms, but if you want to be true to yourself and your motherland, spend a few hours each day under the Metro Mania sun, complete with muggy air, soot and carbon monoxide. ¬†It’s good for sustaining your gratitude for living in your adopted land.

What I won’t forget about this trip home was the fact that I suffered a permanent gout attack that last the duration of the two weeks plus here. ¬†I don’t know which factor was responsible for it : the airplane food I consumed, the free alcohol during the same flight, the extended period of time I spent on my fat behind, bloating the blood vessels coursing through my legs, or my recent lack of exercise. ¬†Or a combination of some or all. ¬†Whatever my legs looked like those of the Jollibee mascot or the stumps of a sumo wrestler’s, resulting in restricted mobility. ¬†My gait was labored, and every step was an ordeal, whether we were checking out the latest 1st class imitations in St Francis Square, enjoying the newest extensions to the Pasig malls, or looking for cheap DVD copies in Greenhills.

What’s worse, the inflammation wasn’t subsiding any time soon, and the usual trick of drinking water by the giant glassful wasn’t working. ¬†My brother prescribed gout medication and it eased the pain somewhat, but since I arrived and to this day, my lower leg and ankle have been numb, tender and unable to bear the usual weight of a slightly overweight, middle-aged Asian, that’s me.

Lesson : Make preparations and allowances for your ailments, conditions and particular quirks of your body. ¬†The usual medications might not be available, you might require a strict diet regimen that your hosts and the local milieu cannot provide efficiently, and the climate, drinking water and time zone are a triple whammy combining to convert pleasure into torture. ¬†NOT the sort of Facebook posts you’d want your 800 friends to see.

Lastly, Mahal had her folks, six brothers and sisters, dozen-plus nephews and nieces to visit in various parts of Luzon, there were old cronies, contemporaries and buddies to look up and pester, and an election that just happened to be taking place while we were here!  So much to do and not enough time, obviously, to do it in.

Lesson : You can’t do everything, much as you’d like to do so. ¬†Focus on what you intended to do in the first place, which is family, friends, and the agenda attached to your trip, whatever that is. ¬†So pick your spots and fight the battles that count. ¬†You can’t win them all, because winning the war is the prize that matters. ¬†You can’t please everybody, keep the big picture in mind, and begin with the end (of the trip) in mind.

Most of the above sounds easier than it actually is, and doesn’t talk about anything you don’t already know. ¬†But forewarned is forearmed, preparation is the key to victory, and all that. ¬†Don’t say I didn’t warn you, because all my travails can still serve as a bad example. ¬†And all that.

kapitbisig with bunso into the undiscovered country

not my first choice, but obviously this is one of his favorite pics.  Here it is, Bunso.  Cheers!

not my first choice, but obviously this is one of his favorite pics. Here it is, Bunso. Cheers!

[ blogged with permission from the subject below. Maraming maraming salamat for all the birthday greetings, special mention to SJCS 82 kabatch, Alphan brods and Rehab II inmates, grateful acknowledgment to all those who visited My Aunt‘s wake, thought a kind thought and whispered a prayer for her. ¬†Thanks for reading!]

Marching in the Gay Pride Parade is less exciting now that my parents support my sexual orientation. Рunknown

When we bump into each other at the Gay Pride Parade, remember to look surprised. Рunknown

Here¬†is a little tip for all of you. Don’t come out to your father in a moving vehicle. – unknown

I’VE OFTEN conceded that when it comes to our kids, you can only attempt to impose or imprint so much of yourself on them before acknowledging them as adults like yourself, as co-equals and peers in God‘s creation. ¬†You can impose a lifetime of religion, philosophy and worldview on your progeny, but you are being breathtakingly naive if you think that they will buy into your party dogma even ten effing percent of the way in. ¬†Using another oft-used but timeless phrase when it comes to parents of incipient adults : it’s not about you.

I already heard a bit from his brother and sister here and there, but Bunso gave me a precious gift when it came to his gender orientation : his honesty and thoughtfulness in telling me himself. ¬†No umms, ahhs and wishy-washy hesitations of being neither here and there when it came to probably one of the most important things about his life that he would tell me. ¬†Papa, I’m gay. ¬†You probably know already but here I am telling you, and I hope you still love me for what I am.

Well, not that dramatically and I edited a few words, but essentially that is how he told me and his stepmother.  Oh, how I loved him more for that !

Setting aside the usual stereotypes and fallacies associated with gayness, let me be a proud, politically incorrect parent for a moment and describe Bunso : he is a highly intelligent, handsome and articulate person, who has all the right (and wrong) reasons to wear false masks and hide behind facades to camouflage his gayness, as so many have done (and continue to do) before him.

To his credit, he didn’t shout it out to relatives from the previous generation. ¬†He kept his “proper” self pinned on and showed just enough to hint to others that there was much more inside. ¬†He definitely didn’t declare it prematurely unless he was sure a relative or family friend wouldn’t turn out judgmental or homophobic. ¬†He was all-out ready to come out, but not recklessly. ¬†Again, I doff my Liza Minelli beret to him.

But after migrating to a tolerant, progressive-thinking country, it was too much for him to resist the inevitable.

Things came to a head when he treated Mahal and myself to dinner soon after his first sweldo (paycheque), where symbolically he showed his appreciation for our moral support and encouragement.  Interestingly, it was the same week the gay marriage bill was passed into law in our temporary adopted land.  In no uncertain words, he told his dad and stepmom : this is a celebration of the gay marriage law as much as it is of my new job, guys.  WE WON!

That, and the previous declaration he made, pretty much formalized how he was and is. ¬†I did my best to indicate and manifest to him that we would love him no matter what, but just the same I considered it my bounden duty to apprise him of the realities of being gay (as if he didn’t know). ¬†I said something like this:

You know that you will always have our love and support anak, especially now.  But outside family and friends, forgive me for being blunt, but you will not always have an easy time.  In fact, you should expect not to have an easy time, in work, among strangers, and especially among strangers.  

I didn’t say so out loud, but he knew my subtext: not only are we by nature a marginal group because we are migrants and newcomers, your gayness excludes you further, not per se but in many situations, anticipated or otherwise, unintended or not. ¬†It is, after all, uncharted territory, undiscovered (and sometimes dangerous) country.

Youth that he was (is), he brushed aside all these uncertainties, and dismissed all our apprehensions with a metaphorical que sera sera.  Emphatically, I am and should be ready to declare my gayness because of the road paved by the blood, sweat and tears of my predecessors.  Acceptance of my ilk as a reality in society is an idea whose time has come.

Standing on the shoulders of giants, my son sees the future.  How could I not be proud of him? (thanks for the paraphrased aphorism, Sir Isaac Newton!)

***     ***     ***

I confess that everyday is a new day for me when it comes to being by his side, figuratively of course.  His journey is mine, as well as his triumphs and defeats.  I can only be there for him as he dives head first into the undiscovered country, but one thing for sure : his destiny, unique as it is, is his own.

Proud of you anak, love you always, and thanks everybody for reading!

good night but not goodbye beloved Tita!

she touched all of our lives.  A rare pic of my aunt with Mahal myself and a cousin.
she touched all of our lives. A rare pic of my aunt with Mahal myself and a cousin.

Even for a blabbermouth like myself, it’s hard to put into words what you feel about someone who’s been such a big part of your life for nearly 48 years. ¬†I won’t even try to be clever or witty Precious Reader (if I’ve ever been), as the person I talk about below is one who doesn’t need hyperbole or burnishing.

WE HEARD updates, text messages and expressions of concern from a brother and a cousin during a period of 48 hours.  Even for a born fighter like my Aunt, it seemed like she was overmatched by her latest adversary.  She had overcome a similar enemy years before, ovarian cancer, and the triumph was resounding.  She would not be so lucky this time.

Depending on how you looked at it, the end came too soon or not soon enough.  From afar, and knowing how much of a born fighter my Aunt was, the fact that between the discovery of her illness and her passing barely a week transpired was nearly unbelievable.  On the other hand, seeing her up close and bearing witness to her pain, suffering and discomfort, it was a blessing that God took her when He did.

The reason such an interest was taken in her health, comfort and welfare, especially in her last few days was that my Aunt had been  wish-granter, dream-answerer and miracle worker for so, so many people for the overwhelming majority of her 91 years.  Whether among her family, or friends, or co-workers, or business partners, or associates, or anyone else who knew her little or knew her well, she was an unforgettable individual who touched the life of anyone she encountered.

It seems like a duh moment to say this, as someone who’s known her for so long, but it was second nature for her to make everyone feel happy about themselves. ¬†She had only two requirements to helping you get your symbolic Happy Meal : you must have a dream (I can almost hear her voice saying so), and you must be willing to work hard, do your share and go the distance to achieve your dream.

If you ticked these two boxes, then believe you me, you got her attention, and as long as you kept alive Requirement No. 1 and sustained Requirement No. 2, she would make sure you got all the help you needed. She would use this simple formula to help hundreds and hundreds, nay thousands of individuals, couples, broods, sometimes whole families and even religious communities.

It sometimes helped, but ultimately didn’t matter to her if these were relatives, friends, friends of friends or mere acquaintances. ¬†The only thing that mattered to her was that you had a dream that was worth pursuing.

She never, never forgot a birthday.  She always sent gifts on wedding anniversaries of her inaanak.  She often issued cheques to charities without asking for receipts or prospectuses.  She never hesitated to help someone in the hospital, anonymously taking care of the bill with little fanfare.

Go to school. Build a career. Raise a family. Erect a home. Work overseas.  Start a business Find a spouse. Heal the sick. Bury the dead. Pray for the dead.  My Aunt had her faves and peeves, but when it came to fulfilling dreams, she did not choose.  Everything was fair game to her.  Each dream looked the same.  And every person deserved a shot at chasing that dream.

I was lucky enough to have worked a brief time with her in the law firm of which she was a fixture for, believe it or not, nearly seven decades.  She rose from the ranks as a legal secretary, to office manager, to administrative director, to director of finance and administration by the time she retired, a lofty post indicative of the trust that her employer reposed in her.

Nine times out of ten, she was the designated problem solver, trouble shooter, peacemaker and decision maker in all things that didn’t involve legal matters, which was after all how the firm earned its income. ¬†Because she handled personnel, logistics, billing and finance matters, there nearly wasn’t anything she didn’t know about in the big, big office she managed.

She certainly looked the part, being sharp of mind and swift in action.  But she was a big marshmallow inside.  I can honestly say that whenever anyone asked for assistance, financial or otherwise, and I happened to be in her office, she would probably ask a few questions to verify how much help the person really needed, lecture them on how to avoid a similar jam in the future, extend the help badly needed, and then some.

There’s so much more I could say here but the space and time isn’t nearly enough, and I’m not sorry to say that you will yet hear from me again. ¬†The reason is by simply being herself, my Aunt wielded tremendous influence over the lives of so many, for so long.

Her being a person of means certainly helped, but the assistance she gave wasn’t always monetary. Sometimes just a kind word, a reassuring pat on the shoulder, a firm admonishment, a gentle prod, or even a strategic introduction to the right person was all that was needed to remedy or improve a situation, and usually my Aunt was right there to administer the proper dose and help deliver the needed outcome. ¬†Sometimes money was the last thing needed, and she seemed to discern when those times were.

For the families in which she was a member by blood or affinity, the great establishment she worked for between 1945 and 2013, and the countless souls whose lives she touched, her death last Saturday marked the passing of an era.  For now, we say good night, beloved Tita , but not goodbye!

Forever proud to be your nephew!