the razor-thin line between drastic action and compassion

thanks and acknowledgment to!

thanks and acknowledgment to!

TO PUT it mildly, Nonu* was a walking heart attack waiting to happen.  He was THAT close (put two fingers together) to collapsing into a crumpled heap, all 120 kilos of him, and unless he did a 180-degree turnaround in his lifestyle, diet and physical activity, he was literally one collapse away from a 111/911 call.

Sorry to sound so morbid, but Nonu is one of only 14 or 15 colleagues we have at work, and so we know each of them rather well, or at least, as much as one knows people you see 8 hours a day,  5 days a week, and 230 days a year.  They’re not family, but not many people come closer.  I can’t say we were close, but because of a recent dramatic episode at work, our work schedules touched, at least for the remainder of his career in our workplace.

A little backstory for you dear reader.  Many Samoans (an example of which is Nonu) are blessed with two precious gifts of sports : strength and speed.  Samoans seem to possess an uncanny combination of these two unearthly qualities and are perfect for that most beloved of sports this part of the globe, which is of course, rugby.

Nonu didn’t reach the pinnacle of rugby reached by his namesake Ma’a Nonu, which is being an All Black , but he played his share of rugby in his younger years.  Unfortunately, by the time he stopped playing, his athlete’s eating habit of eating first, second and third helpings to keep up with his energy requirements had become so entrenched that it had become part of his way of life.

Compounding this high-protein, high-carbo and high-everything else way of life was the fact that while Nonu was no longer a spring chicken, he was getting alarmingly heavy for his own good.  Even the moderate demands of his job didn’t stop him from gaining weight.  Cleaning the multi-storey delivery area for the site’s raw materials, monitoring the screening machines and conveyors and clearing the delivery pit of waste and extraneous matter, demanding enough for a man in tiptop condition, was excessive for Nonu’s overweight frame.  On the north end of his 50’s, at that.

This was where I came in.  As unobtrusively as possible, I was to perform his physical duties, keep an eye on him so he wouldn’t do any kind of physical activity, and melt away into the background, every time a delivery truck dropped a shipment into the pit.  It would help of course if I did this as quickly and efficiently as common sense would allow.

I’m not Mr Fitness myself mind you, but I have been lucky.  The combination of exercise and physical activity of work have kept me as fit, spry and flexible as any 48-year old and wife Mahal has kept my diet sensible enough so that I’ve more or less stayed near my fighting weight, bilbil notwithstanding.  Compare my modest fitness to overweight, sedentary and wheezing Nonu, and it became urgent that he needed every little bit of my help, according to SuperBisor who briefed me on the gravity of the situation.

I was 100% in agreement with SuperBisor, and had no problem with any extra chores especially since I liked Nonu and wanted him to take it easy, given his situation.  Except that the first time I started helping out, Nonu couldn’t help himself and started backing me up, and inevitably exerting and straining himself to the point of breathing heavily with every stroke of work.  I realized that I couldn’t stop him from doing what he’d been doing for at least the past 10 years, and with a heavy heart made sumbong (report) to Bisor, who had no choice but to confine Nonu to a desk outside his regular post at the delivery area.

In the same breath I remarked to Bisor how guilty I was telling on Nonu and asked if he really needed to be restrained, under close supervision, to a desk job away from his regular work.

Listen Noel, Bisor explained.  Would you rather tell on Nonu, or watch him keel over from a heart attack and never be the same again?  He is a very ill person, and cannot perform any physical activity.  If you want to help him, please do what we discussed.  As always, Bisor was doing everything by the book, and everything by the book was, as always, the right thing to do.

***               ***               ***

Working, doing the things we love, and providing for our family are all good things, but they all take a back seat to watching out for Number One, and that of course is our health and well-being.  We can’t enjoy the fruits of our labor if we’re not healthy enough to enjoy the rest of our life.   It sounds corny, but it’s never too late to start being healthy.  Never too late, that is, until it’s too late.

Thanks for reading!

*not his real name.

why Kristel Sevilla is our favorite Kinoy

Our fave kabayan Kristel near the children's ward of Hutt Hospital that she's grown to love.  Thanks and acknowledgment to Nurse Kristel and BernieVImages!

Our fave kabayan Kristel near the children’s ward of Hutt Hospital that she’s grown to love. Thanks and acknowledgment to Nurse Kristel and BernieVImages!

[ Note : We had the good fortune to interview one of the most remarkable Kiwinoy individuals we’ve met in Nurse Kristel Sevilla, and the result is the repost below.  Thanks to Ms Didith Tayawa Figuracion and Ms Meia Lopez, publisher and editor of Kabayan Magazine in Wellington for allowing us to repost this.  If you would like to see the rest of issue no. 5 online, please click this link!  Mabuhay Kabayan Magazine and the Pinoy community in Wellington NZ! ]

IN THE last few years, so many things have happened to our kabayan, nurse Kristel Sevilla, that one might be led to think that she has led the adventures of half a lifetime.  But this twentysomething has not even begun to live her multi-faceted life, and indeed, so soon after only her second anniversary as a Kiwi-Pinoy.

Before we continue with her OFW tale, we must tell you that besides her job as a pediatric nurse at worldclass Hutt Hospital down in Wellington, Kristel is an active member of the Pinoy Catholic community of  Paraparaumu , volunteers for the Munting Bayanihan Dance Ministry (also in Paraparaumu), is currently a servant leader in the Wellington Filipino Chaplaincy, and sings soprano in the Wellington Filipino Choir.  If you think saying that was quite a mouthful, then try actually doing those things, which Kristel does with as much commitment as a barangay captain, religious sister or professional singer.

But she didn’t plan to wear so many hats in her dream job overseas.  In fact, our kabayan didn’t even intend to point at New Zealand on the spinning globe.  Out of the possible work destinations for an experienced Pinay nurse (nearly limitless, actually), Kristel narrowed in down to the United Kingdom and NZ, the latter a recent choice given the obvious advantages (healthy environment, English speaking and immigrant friendly), but Middle Earth offered an intriguing option : devoid of any Kristel’s friends and family, she saw the country as the best opportunity to sharpen her skills at independence.

And her resourcefulness was indeed tested even before she arrived on Middle Earth’s shores.  On the longest leg of her journey here, Kristel’s skills as a medical professional were put to the test by a fellow passenger who was suffering blinding pain from somewhere in his abdomen.  Intuitively drawing on her knowledge and experience, our kabayan heroine suspected liver-related issues and made sure her suspicions were relayed  to the airline’s doctor on the ground.  For her grace under pressure, Kristel earned the thanks and gratitude not only from her co-traveller but the airline as well.   This, even before she practiced a single day of nursing in New Zealand.

There were a few months of loneliness and adjustment, especially in Palmerston North, where malls close at 5.00 pm and streets are deserted shortly after.  But anywhere there are kabayan, there are churches, and where there are churches there are church  groups.  Back home, Kristel was hardly a joiner but like most of us, she was raised to be a devoted member of the Catholic church.  In no time, Kristel found herself serving in multiple capacities in different Catholic organizations, and the loneliness turned to the flurry of service and activity.

Beyond all of these, nothing is more important to our fellow OFW than her work taking care of recovering children in one of the busiest hospitals in New Zealand.  More than the precious dollars and peer recognition that many of us aspire for, it’s the intangibles that make Kristel’s day.  Kiwi nurses frequently ask her why patients send a personal message of thanks to Kristel in a culture where impersonal service is the norm.

She also takes pride in the fact that more than one child in the pediatrics ward has named her favorite doll after her.  it doesn’t take too much to conclude, the parents say, that the favorite doll is named after the favorite nurse.

And any time Kristel is a child’s favorite nurse, it makes her day.

the last 36 of the last work week of summer

A pleasant surprise : "Noel : thank you for changing your hours and working O.T. (overtime) to get the retail (packer) up and running the last few weeks -Ben (obviously the supervisor)"  Awww..

A pleasant surprise : “Noel : thank you for changing your hours and working O.T. (overtime) to get the retail (packer) up and running. -Ben (obviously the supervisor) On top are two supermarket vouchers totalling $50. Awww..

THROUGHOUT HIS professional life, Dad was/is a deskbound, adding machine-holstered white-collar worker, but he was always blue-collar in attitude and approached work the way a wage-paid laborer did.  Day in and day out he answered the call, and only the most extreme reason could keep him from work.  Showing up everyday and on time shows you care for your job, he said in so many words.  It didn’t matter how high or low you were on the totem pole, if you were there ready and good to go, ready for your mission, then the boss looked good, and if the boss looked good, then oftener than not, things would look good for you.

It was just as well for me when I carried on with that work ethic in New Zealand where I now live and work, ’cause it seemed that in blue-collar Wellington, where the luck of the draw landed me, everyone who liked his job (and lots of those who didn’t) showed up for work every day that the Lord made (or bawat araw na ginawa ng Diyos, if you like), 15 minutes before the bell rang, and bright and cheery for work.

Bright and cheery also included being battle-ready for anything new on the menu, meaning if training or upskilling was available, you grabbed the offer, because usually that meant new machinery or new positions were emerging in the workplace.  On the record nothing would be taken against you if you refused, but the boss would remember the next time you needed a favor or when advancement was appearing, and likelier than not you wouldn’t be recommended.

So work ethic and “optional training” had combined to give me the position of backup operator on the brand-new packing machine.  Theoretically, as long as I was dependable and a third shift was needed, I was their man.  Unfortunately, theory turned into reality when one of the regular packers accepted a supervisor’s job in his hometown’s winery, an irresistible prospect for him, and because of staffing issues the packing machine quickly fell 200 man-hours behind based on a constantly increasing order schedule.

To truncate a potentially longish story, I was transferred from my regular department to packing, on a 10-hour 0500 to 1500 shift to make up for lost hours.  Before the end of the second day the site manager decided that even that wasn’t enough, and asked the packing supervisor to ask me if I could change from morning/afternoon shift to the graveyard shift.  Before even thinking, and undoubtedly because of Pinoy pakisama I just said “sure why not?”  After all, the week was almost over, and the overtime money couldn’t hurt.

Famous last words.

It's a different model, but this is what the packer looks like

It’s a different model, but this is what the packer looks like

Problem is, 12 hours during the night is a bit different from 12 hours during the day.  The lack of sunlight and daytime warmth makes the hours stretch endlessly, and the lack of human company stretches same even longer.  It helps that you keep going round and round a machine roughly 10 square meters in area, and constantly feed it paper bags, glue and plastic rolls for the bag bundler oven.  You also weigh product regularly and never stop monitoring the various conveyors, metal detector, bundle labeller and robot palletizer.

In short, while the work is tedious and wears on your limbs, if you do your work, you almost never get sleepy.  The machine was notorious for kinks on any or all of its various innards, but because the catchup production was a high priority, the site manager actually gave me the round-the-clock assistance of the plant engineer, unheard of before she thought of doing it.

And all this, heading headfirst into the biting wind of autumn.  Summer was long gone and on annual leave.

***               ***               ***

The first night was the hardest, because jams on the conveyor were constantly holding up production.  The scale inside the packing machine needed at least one recalibration, and the metal detector was either too sensitive or not sensitive enough.  But as soon as the different machines settled in, production was smooth for the rest of the night.

This is what the robot palletizer looks like.  Ours has a cage around it, because you don't want to be ANYWHERE near it when it's working;  one hit and you're a goner. :(

This is what the robot palletizer looks like. Ours has a cage around it, because you don’t want to be ANYWHERE near it when it’s working; one hit and you’re a goner. 😦

The robot palletizer was another matter.  Bundled product coming into the final conveyor must be exactly in the same place every time, otherwise the bundles don’t get piled up correctly and the robot must be reset.  The robot palletizer is exactly what it sounds a metal arm that scoops up anything you want and depending on the pattern you program into it, piles up neat piles of bundles all night long.  The bundles can’t be too fat or too thin, the shrink-wrap plastic at just the right temperature so it won’t be too hard or too soft for the robot to pick it up neatly.

So as you can see, I had plenty of things to occupy me, and on pure adrenalin and healthy stress, I hardly even had the time to sit and have a cup of tea.  It was only my forklift guy and the engineer who reminded me to take the breaks before I realized it was the crack of dawn.

This went on for two more days, and the next week was a “regular” shift schedule of 10 hours, which I didn’t mind too much because I had the advantage of day shift.

Two weeks later, I realized how important the 24/7 shifts were when the supervisor sent me a thank you note (with the blessing of the site manager), and a $50 supermarket voucher.  Suddenly the cold and tedious nights of those shifts just became a distant memory.

Now, on to just another week of night shifts to finish…

Thanks for reading!

a pinoy’s peek above the Great Wall of chinese inscrutability

thanks and acknowledgment to!

thanks and acknowledgment to!

[ Note : On balance, this post is rather politically incorrect.  Forewarned is forearmed, thanks for reading! ]

WITH THE benefit of hindsight, it’s not hard to understand why there are so many strong emotions and opinions evoked by the Chinese.  Not only are they members or descendants of the largest (so far) ethnic group on the planet, they are overwhelmingly one of the largest migrant groups, spread far and wide all over the world.

Chinese are known to be adaptable, hardworking, resilient and loyal to family.  On the other hand, Chinese are also known to be rude, arrogant, materialistic and parochial.  Translated into more familiar terms, they are known to be bastos, mayabang, mukhang pera and suplado sa ibang lahi, certainly not among the more positive traits we as Filipinos and Asians like to be identified with.

Lest you call me racially intolerant and insensitive to other cultures, I have more than the traditional 15% Chinese blood that most Filipinos have.  At least two of my grandparents sailed on overcrowded migrant boats from Southern China, and my features are distinctly Cantonese and Fujianese, which happen to be the provinces said forebears came from.  Call it what you want, love/hate your own, or familiarity breeds contempt, but I share affinity with the people of whom I blog.

[ Additionally, people all over Southeast Asia (where we come from) like to say they are Chinese Malaysian, Chinese Filipino or Chinese Thai for example, but ethnically and to a large extent culturally, they have retained a generation or more of Chineseness (for lack of a better term).  This is technically accurate in my opinion, but I refer not to them.  Rather it is the mainland Chinese from the People’s Republic of China (PROC), specifically the portion that has migrated to New Zealand, which is of course where I am now. ]

Chinese are rude and uncouth.  Let’s get our hands dirty right away shall we?  It’s hardly debatable that many Chinese are loud and unsubtle, not given to say please or may I? and frankly, say what they mean, even if it comes across (in English of course) as discourteous and impolite.  Mahal has a colleague at the sushi bar who is an expert in sushi rolling and seafood salad creation (probably the best in their branch) but is quite poor in customer relations.  She has turned off even the most understanding customer many times, and has never apologized for her behavior.

Reason?  In her mind at least, she is frequently misunderstood, and her philosophy is that the customer is always right, but only if he/she is not wrong.  She is always ready to argue about the price of this or that item on the menu, if a price card has been misplaced, or if the wrong amount has been paid.  She may possess the best skills on the staff, but because of her regular “issues” with customers who after all pay all their wages, her career advancement has undoubtedly suffered.  This is too bad, because ironically, she is a kind and generous friend, is good natured and cheerful (after work, of course) and is easier to talk to than the average Chinese.

Chinese are materialistic.  Coming from a history rich in famine, drought and starvation so severe people were starting to salivate at each other, it wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say that the here and now is primordial to the typical Chinese.  With so much emphasis placed on survival and tangible objectives in Chinese society, who can blame them for thinking of food, shelter and necessities first before anything else?   Chinese migrants come to New Zealand with one goal and one goal only, and that is to earn money.  Everything else is secondary, says the same colleague of Mahal who, with her Kiwi husband, newly built house and fat bank account, obviously has reached her goals.

Confucianism and the abstractions of religion and philosophy may have been preserved by ethnic overseas Chinese outside their homeland, but not within.  After the years of want  and deprivation in Communist China, wealth and prosperity is now not just a goal but a birthright for Chinese, to make up for all those lost years.  Can you blame them?

Chinese are proud and arrogant.  The Chinese like to be the biggest and best in everything, be it in national economy, military strength, science and technology, and most especially now, in sports.  This is the historical result of what Chinese people believe were centuries of persecution from the rest of the world, some of it justified (and some not).

I think this blind ambition to be the biggest and best (at the expense of everything else) has trickled down to the attitude and way of thinking of many in the Han race.  A good example would be Chinese students living in New Zealand, particularly the ones who have led a privileged life as only children in China.  Their parents pay first-class tuition to world-class, give them allowances to spend on rent, food and other expenses.  It wouldn’t take much for them to surmise that in the academic sector, Kiwis depend more on Chinese than vice-versa. Now, do the same in other industries like manufacturing, and tourism and we begin to see why Chinese pay other nationalities less than the common courtesy deserved.

I’m not trying to defend or even rationalize the behavior of the Chinese, especially as fellow migrants in a hospitable country like New Zealand.  However, I do admit that it is counterproductive for us to judge other races based on our own.  History, culture, values and even body types are just some of the the few variables that make it unlikely that a group of people could ever be like the next.  Hope that this helps, the next time you hear a Chinese family talk loudly in their own language without regard for anybody else.

I also realize that the above are pretty strong opinions that other people, particularly Chinese would rather not hear.  Too bad.

Thanks for reading!