hating violence at home & abroad

thanks to flickr.com for the picture!

thanks to flickr.com for the picture!

[ Note :  Written originally for KABAYAN Wellington newsmagazine.  Thank you to the family of Blessie Gotingco for permission for the original article.  Thank you to Publisher Ms Didith Tayawa-Figuracion and Executive Editor Ms Meia Lopez and my co-staff for believing in this kabayan blogger.  And thank you to KABAYAN newsmagazine and YLBnoel’s Blog readers for your readership.  Mabuhay! ]

FOR THREE MONTHS in 2008 while waiting for a full-time job that eventually required me to leave Auckland for Wellington, I tried to survive with two part-time jobs. Keeping one of those jobs meant doing night shifts three times a week, and going home at 11.30 also meant missing the last bus. I had no choice but to navigate a two hour walk through suburban Auckland, good for the legs but sometimes bad for the nerves.

After going through that experience relatively unscathed, I consider myself very lucky, not to mention very stupid. For sure, I could’ve been the victim of opportunistic criminals on wheels who could’ve just run me over, gotten my meager coins and left me battered and bleeding on the side of the road, with no one the wiser. Worse, there might’ve been thrill-seekers or vagrants with nothing better to do than send some poor pedestrian (me) sprawling all over the pavement, laugh it off, and not realize they’d just hurt someone seriously.

I don’t define these dark, dark thoughts as the musings of a paranoid, phobic weakling. The specter of violent crime has in recent days reared its ugly head, all over the meadows, paddocks and dark streets of New Zealand. Its stalwart herald, the news media, reveals every sordid detail of every violent slaying, milking out every last drop of sensational notoriety under the guise of informing the public, “because the public needs to know.”

You and I and the rest of the Filipino community in New Zealand would view all this coverage of violent crime with the most jaded of eyes if not for the fact that almost exactly one year ago one of our very own, an Auckland mother of three was viciously assaulted and murdered in a senseless attack.

Violent crime resonates with all of us in a way that no social issue does. All of us can identify with the victim, because on the most basic level, pain and suffering are as real as breathing and eating. All of us can identify with the families of those left behind, because all of us can empathize with the pain of losing a loved one.

This is why, despite New Zealand being one of the safest countries in the word, an intensively reported crime story like that one involving our kabayan is justified by the anticipated attention, outrage and feedback from all sectors of society. The fact that a Filipino is involved only invites much more scrutiny .

The irony is, violent crime (murders, homicides and serious assaults) has gone down steadily in terms of number of incidents reported and number of victims since the turn of the century. A further source of confusion is the fact that the number of cases resolved as a percentage of total cases has also gone up, debunking the commonly held belief that crime is on the upswing.

But try telling that to the victims of violent crime who are often left scarred for life, if not killed. Tell that to the families of victims who will never see their loved ones build careers, raise families and live fulfilling lives.

Governments of civilized societies can tackle economic issues, educate citizens to help generate the nation’s wealth, or uplift the people through culture and the arts, but no issue is as visceral as meeting crime and punishment head on.

You can be smug with a fat bank account, a late-model car in your garage, and see your kids off to good schools, but none of that will matter one bit if you can’t even go out on a cool, crisp night for a brisk walk. Whatever your station in life, and no matter how long you’ve been in New Zealand.

asian by impression, chinese in looks, but pinoy at heart

Pinoy migrants (including your kabayan) volunteering as honor guard for an official Philippine Embassy event in Welllington, New Zealand.

Pinoy migrants (including your kabayan) volunteering as honor guard for an official Philippine Embassy event in Wellington, New Zealand.

EVERY MIGRANT scattered by the four winds across the seven seas from our Inang Bayan knows this fact of life : we wear many hats in our adopted and host land.  On the street, in the workplace, in church or at the mall, we use many personalities that serve us well because of force of circumstance and practicality.

Most of the time we go with the flow, and just put on the skin we are given : our hosts cannot tell the difference between races of East and Southeast Asia, in fact some have no basic impression of how Filipinos are seen and perceived, Manny Pacquiao and the Fourth Power notwithstanding.

So that when Kiwis assume we are no different from our Vietnamese, Malaysian, Korean or even South Asian brothers and sisters, we just take it in stride and assume the best and most positive aspects of their profiles.

The Vietnamese are awesome in math and engineering, the Malaysians are among the world’s best in racquet sports, Koreans are world class in electronics and you know that Indians and Pakistanis have no peer in IT.  So we just appropriate the shiniest and most glittering parts of their personalities.  Either that, or we deny that we’re from those countries.

In the same breath, pwede na rin tayong magpakilala.  By our English alone, they immediately discern that we can easily understand and be understood by any other English speaker all over the world, witness our overwhelming popularity in business process outsourcing and call center businesses.  Then we give them our famous pakisama approach at the workplace, complemented by our world-famous smile.  I’m willing to bet that in the first five minutes alone, whether you’re talking to an Aussie, Kiwi or South African, they’ll know that your Pinoyness is distinct from the rest of our Asian neighbors, in all modesty. 🙂

*****     *****     *****

Getting out of the Chinese shadow  is a slightly bigger problem.  Even forgetting for a moment that the Chinese race is the most populous in the world, (1) the astounding number of chinese migrants everywhere, (2) the overwhelming popularity of Chinese takeaway, and (3) the greater than passing resemblance we share with the Chinese make it easy for New Zealanders to think of Chinese at first blush and mistake us for Chinese.

More than that, every Pinoy on our islands has an average of at least 15% Chinese blood or ancestry.  Three of my four grandparents myself had very strong Chinese roots, maybe why I like asado siopao and siomai so much, just kidding.  The Chinese have more strong than weak points (respecting sovereign territory not one of them), and absorbing the good more than the bad is the only way to go.

But let’s be honest with ourselves :  Sure they may enjoy the largest economy on Earth, and you can’t live without their noodles, dumplings and roast duck.  But WE Pinoys speak the best English outside England,  we can work with anyone and anywhere in the world, and no one compares with our nurses, teachers and seamen (that’s seamen with an “A”).   Any day of the week, and any week of the year, while we may look like them,  I’ll take Pinoy over Tsino every single time.

*****     *****     *****

And finally …

We owe it to ourselves to tell our hosts, co-migrants and workmates that while we respect and admire other races, we are proud to be Pinoy.  They may not be able to distinguish between our fellow Asians, and we may closely resemble our Oriental neighbors, but there is no better person to be than to be a Pinoy, and no lovelier home than the Philippines.

Mabuhay po tayong lahat!

kwentong obrero nitong biyernes ng your loyal kabayan (blager)

Sam the Tongan always makes my day.  Whether or not he knows it. :) Malo lelei!

Sam the Tongan always makes my day. Whether or not he knows it. 🙂 Malo lelei!

[ Note : This has nothing to do with being Pinoy.  Nothing to do with being migrant either.  Well, in a way it has a little to do with both, because anything to do with me right now has to do with being a Pinoy migrant, so parang ganun na rin.  Happy birthday Kuya JB Baylon! ]

Health and safety meeting.  I’m seated next to Sam, who because we’re from different departments I don’t see everyday, but who always makes my day with his size and attitude.  I say size because his biceps are the size of my thighs, and his thighs are the size of my torso (in diameter), and I say attitude because he’s always cheerful and upbeat.

Before I nod off to dreamland, I whisper something to him.

“Any chance you’ll get it soon Sam?” 

“Easier to squeeze blood out of stone, Noel.”

I sigh at that.  By it I mean getting regular status, because if any temp at the work site deserves it, it’s Sam.

Other things I know about him :  He’s Tongan, and loves rugby, almost as much as he loves his wife and daughter, but not quite.  He’s also downed 36 bottles of beer.  In one sitting.  And played rugby the next morning.

Lastly, when it still wasn’t politically incorrect, Sam (around my age) once ate a platter of whale meat, freshly caught and for breakfast.  Breakfast!  Probably more than a few years ago.

One more thing.  On longevity alone, Sam certainly deserves more than a serious look by way of becoming regularized.  I can’t tell you how long he’s been on site, but let’s put it this way.  He was already the champion in drinks our last Christmas party.  And we’re almost there again around this time.  As Kris A. would say, deserving naman, daba?

*****     *****     *****

Union meeting.  Time to negotiate another CBA again.  Of course, there’s the pay rise, lagi namang kasama yon sa bagong kasunduan between labor and management, but there are a few other items.  Shift allowances, confined space allowances, working at heights allowances, redundancy packages, and all that.  You might never get anything, but it never hurts to ask.

All the time the union rep was consulting us prior to negotiations, my thoughts kept returning to Sam.  Here we were on the gravy train talking about getting an extra 12 dollars an hour just for using the forklift, and outside the room he was working today, not even sure if he was gonna be on the roster next week.  Wasn’t very comforting.

[  We’re not getting into the nitty-gritty legalese of this situation, kabayan.  Company has its reasons for regularizing any warm body doing work.  Or not regularizing.  On the other hand, if Sam wants to come to work anytime his bisor texts him, good for him and God bless him.  Just sayin, you know? Wala lang.]

*****     *****     *****

Uwian time.  Nauna na ako sa locker room para di makalanghap ng mga amoy bawang at sibuyas, and that’s putting it mildly.  Springtime pa lang, but it’s already getting sweaty around the work site.

Curiously, I see Sam, still not going home though, because there’s still overtime work available.  No one wants to work overtime on a Friday (everybody’s already drunk thinking of their first brewski watching the All Blacks thrash Namibia, kahit replay), but beggars can’t be choosers, and Sam at least for today, isn’t a chooser.  He will grab any overtime within 10 meters.  I’m happy for him (that he has overtime money coming) but I would be happier if he was seriously considered for regular status.

Hey Sam, have a great weekend.  May I take I picture of you I ask on a whim.

“If you’re gonna take my picture Noel, make sure I look good.”

The result is the pic up there.  Does he look good kabayan?

Thanks for reading!

the Dad of my life

Dad & Your Loyal Blogger.  Happy Birthday Dad!

Dad & Your Loyal Blogger. Happy Birthday Dad!

The number one thing in life should be to please your father.  – NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, eulogizing fellow HOFer Moses Malone

BY NATURE, Man is an ungrateful creature.  When you see water flowing uphill, it means that someone is repaying a kindness, says the Chinese proverb, which anyway applies universally.  Our memories are so short, as to forget the profoundest of kindnesses as soon as we turn our head away from our benefactor, without so much as a thank you, or till next time.

Which is why, the only gratitude that we never stop repaying, in this ungrateful world that we live in, is to our mothers and fathers.  The gift of existence, life and love is something we enjoy every day of our lives.  Who better deserves recognition for this gift than the ones who brought us into this world?  But it doesn’t stop there.  Raising us, educating us, and giving us guidance as long as we need it, is the lifelong vocation of those tasked to be our parents after the Divine Creator.

Everything I am today (which really isn’t that much) I owe to my folks, and my father is a massive 50% of that team.    All that society and culture asked of him was to be supporting cast to our heroic mom, provide the basic needs of life, and be there to discipline and admonish us when we strayed too far from the straight path (daang matuwid, a wink to Pres Noynoy).  He was much more.

He didn’t need to be a benevolent provider, a constant supporter in everything I did, and a dependable friend throughout my childhood.  But he was.  He set aside time despite his myriad responsibilities and interests, stimulated our minds through reading and entertainment, and taught us the value of family and relationships for the rest of our lives.

He wasn’t that creative doing these things, but he didn’t really need to be.  All we needed was a good example, and that was himself and our mother.  We learned probably half of the realities of life through his work ethic, his love for his own family, and his personal values.  As a son, I could not ask for anything more.

*****     *****     *****

The connection was bad, the long distance toll was not consumer-friendly, and my timing was less than ideal.  But I was still able to get a greeting in to Dear Old Dad, who isn’t as sharp or fast as he once was, but is still as dashing and witty.

He and Mom were lunching with my Philippines-bound bros, I didn’t have much to say in the few minutes allotted, and as mentioned above, the connection was awful.  But I was able to say the money-shot words :  Happy birthday from Wellington Dad, from everyone here!  I love you.  I was cut off before I had a chance to hear his response, but even from 15,000 kilometers and half a world away, I could discern two things : the smile on his face and the twinkle in his eye.

And that, my friends, was that.

Happy birthday Dad!