2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 21,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 8 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

the final shift before Christmas


“in lieu of the usual 5-minute nap breaks, for December we have better coffee and more potent tea for you hardworking employees!  don’t forget the higher production targets this month, the kids can’t be disappointed!”

[The other titles that made it before final print were : Work, the migrant and the silly season and Noel Learns and Earns.  But this one won out in the end.  A blessed Christmas to all! ]

I FINISHED  my last shift 3.00 am Christmas Eve.  What I thought would be an easy coast to the finish line became an eight-hour ordeal, imposing the burden of my mistake on my colleagues, and finished only by the grace of God.  The only silver lining here was that I gained yet another hard-earned lesson, actually THREE lessons in the School of  Hard-knocks (or pasaway, in current Pinoy idiom).

*****     *****     *****

It started when I saw the rosters posted for the week ending on Christmas Eve.  For a change, I was to work night shift, my first as a shift supervisor.  Such a term is actually a glorified way of saying you’re the senior between yourself and your shift partner, the only other person in the building.  And that if any sh*t happens during your shift, that’s right, it’s all on YOU.  For that, and an extra dollar an hour, you get to be called shift supervisor.

I should be one to complain.  I had been trained to be shift supervisor because there was no one else who was willing and able to be trained, because no one else was available, and because quite frankly, no one else was willing to do shift work.

*****      *****     *****

And besides, the job was one of the things keeping me in this country, which for the last seven years had been good to me and wife Mahal.  So what if every third week I worked night shift?  It was a job for mine to take, no one else wanted it as badly as I did, and there wasn’t much for me to do if the job didn’t exist.

The problem was, I didn’t have the confidence to do night shift, because night shift essentially meant running the entire factory alone, without the team leader holding your hand for troubleshooting, no plant engineers to fix spouts, conveyors and airlines in a jiffy, and nobody else (except your shift assistant) to help you.  Turning out 4 tons of product from 6 tons of raw material every hour, processing them through two dozen pieces of machinery, monitoring the same as well as the final product through a tedious sked of tests and checks, was something I’d never done at night, but the team leader told me in so many words, if I wasn’t ready now, I’d never be ready.

The only way to motivate myself was, telling myself Noel, this is what you’ve been trained for.  Physically, mentally and emotionally, you CAN’T be more ready.  So that’s how I started Sunday night.

*****     *****     *****

Except that things actually turned out peaches and cream.  The machines, old as they were, behaved like good little schoolkids and did what they were asked.  The product didn’t turn out awry and was up to spec.  And I had a great time.

Until Wednesday night.

*****     *****     *****

Ironically, it started with a teeny-tiny mistake concerning a procedure that I’d done dozens of times before without a hitch.  It involved shutting down an airseal / airlock a few seconds between changing product silos.  On. And off.  And on again.  That’s it.

Because it was already my last shift of the week, and because the first two hours went by swimmingly, my mind shifted into cruise control, and literally entered holiday mode.  The slight inconvenience of changing silos barely crossed my mind, and I was already thinking of the next steps after temporarily switching off  said airseal / airlock.

Except that I didn’t turn said machine on again.  That was when all hell broke loose.

*****     *****     *****

First, the product weigher through which all the final product passed through overflowed.  Despite the glaring mess, I missed THAT as a sign of  a bigger mess, which was the control sifter upstairs that was also overflowing.  Finally, one of the main airways through which the final product flowed before entering the main conveyor backed up and choked, forcing me into the last resort of shutting down the entire system altogether.

All in all, it took us at least an hour to clear around 50 bags of product, call the plant engineer (on call) and rouse him from sleep (twice) to clear the airways;  for my partner and me to clean up the rolls that treated the raw material so that they would start properly, and do general housecleaning to get rid of the mess I created.

*****     *****     *****

Through this, I expected my assistant, a 68-year old Samoan migrant who’d been in New Zealand the last 30 years, to at least frown, be sarcastic or complain about making his life miserable on our last shift before Christmas.

But he never said a word, despite the fact that we put in work the equivalent of the last few days put together.  I was beside myself with embarrassment, but the work had to be done.

*****     *****     *****

The lessons I told you that I learned?

First, that every work day, from the start of the week to the end of Friday, should be treated the same.  The level of energy, focus and intensity should be consistent and unwavering.  Otherwise, you’ll get lost in your own daydreams and get into trouble.

Second?  I hate to admit it, but in holiday mode, I was losing sight of the most important thing in my life after love and family, and that of course was/is my job.  It feeds me, shelters me, clothes me, keeps me warm, and allows me to stay in my host country.  What could be more important to me now?

So what if it was the week before Christmas?  Many others were also working the same sked, and it wasn’t even Christmas Day yet, which of course was a holiday naman.  In fact, many people in certain industries would be working through the holidays, knowing fully well it’s the nature of the job.

I’d be denying reality if I denied that many people in New Zealand, and even more in the Philippines, would give an arm and a leg (figuratively) to be in my shoes.  Someone quite close to me is in an industry that pays him more than double anything I could ever earn here, and yet he is jobless.  During the holidays.  That’s quite hard.  And makes me more appreciative of my work.

*****     *****     *****

And last?  It concerns my Samoan co-worker, in the last couple of years before he retires (actually he’s past retirement age), but still doing his bit to help the team.  I expected him to be short-tempered, resentful, or even walk out of the situation I created.  But seeing his mature, resilient and even cheerful disposition, I realized that not even his “seniorness”, his slowed-down body, and the adverse nature of night shift could change his basic nature:  after more than three decades, he was still mightily grateful that New Zealand had given him a chance to better his life, undoubtedly allowing him to make lives better for his extended family in Samoa (very much like the Philippines).

In case it isn’t that obvious, the lesson here, for me, is never lose sight of the big picture, and always be grateful.  (The sidelight is, don’t sweat the details.)

*****     *****     *****

After things got to normal, I hugged Joshua (not his real name) spontaneously, and uttered one of the few phrases I knew  in Samoan : Faa fetai Joshua, thank you for being there for me.  For us.  Joshua just smiled his stoic, Samoan smile.

A lot of lessons for the last shift before Christmas.

Thanks for reading Precious Reader,spare a thought for those working through the holidays, and stay safe this Christmas!




why Chia Rodriguez-Rubio is my fave kinoy*

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

[  Note :  reposted with permission from the Pinoy Ata Yan section of KABAYAN Wellington News Magazine’s Christmas ish, published by Ms Didith Tayawa-Figuracion and edited by Ms Meia Lopez.  Pictured above is a mixed media work of Chia using acrylic, jute string and newspaper.  The other pic is that of Chia with husband John and son Ryu.  Thanks guys for allowing me to repost! ]

PART OF the migration equation is in many cases, out of need or out of speed, you leave a little of your career behind.  Lucky of course are those who get called overseas because of their vocation, but a lot of us either make the lateral move to become a more desirable migrant candidate, upskill to take jobs our hosts no longer want, or in extreme cases start a whole new career much like the whole new world that we migrate to.
This neither-here-nor-there duality was the dilemma of our kabayan Chia Rodriguez-Rubio, who coincidentally has been part of the Wellington (New Zealand) KABAYAN family from the very start, giving her whole heart and mind to every KABAYAN issue she has been involved in.
Sure, as a fine arts graduate from one of the best universities back home (University of Santo Tomas), she had a ticket to more than a few choice jobs in Wellington: graphic designer, creative department staffer, and advertising artist, which is incidentally three jobs that she’s combined in one for Indpendent Herald, an overachieving small-town newspaper for Wellington’s premier suburb.
But what Chia really wanted to be, and what she wants to be to this day, is to be a free-wheeling, unrestricted artist, in the most general sense of the word.
She feels most at home with strong colors, textures, and expressions in her paintings, which by the way you can check out in artflakes.com.  What she doesn’t feel at home with, ironically, is the term artist especially when it’s fixed next to her name.  Despite her obvious talent.
“I’m scared to call myself an artist. It’s like claiming a title that you’re not even sure you deserve,” claims Chia.
This comes as a surprise to this interviewer, since a lot of her works are aesthetically pleasing, visually arresting, and to be frank about it, vividly expressive, almost like a prism of the painter’s colourful emotions.
Chia draws from a gamut of inspiration for her art, ranging from the classic approach of her grandfather who was an artist himself, to the sleek, ultramodern approach of anime and comics art, inspirations that cover at least part of two generations (the previous and the present) as well as her own.

The result is a style one can call Chia’s personal signature defying classification but at the same time universally compelling.

For now though, what occupies Chia’s time is her job as graphic designer at the Independent Herald and her family, specifically her baby son.

When asked if she would be an artist for a living, she says yes! without batting an eyelash, but only if allowed her as much time with her family and if it paid the bills.

Which as what she would’ve said whether she was back home in the Philippines or in New Zealand.

*Kinoy, a contraction for Kiwi Pinoy, is a non-racial term for Filipinoswho’ve either been born or have migrated to New Zealand

Alalay shopping with your pinay missus, xmas version

[Note from Noel : alalay shopping is no shopping at all, you are merely there and not there, companion to the actual shopper, there only because you take up space.  But because we love our wives, our partners, our better halves, we all convince ourselves to use up three-quarters of our weekend time alalay shopping.  Lucky you, Precious Reader! ]

CONTRARY TO ALL dark expectations my life has become nearly perfect, katok katok.  I’m reasonably healthy for a man my age and lifestyle, I’ve cornered a gig that not many people like but which pays better than the industry average, my anakis (kids) have all but grown up, are smart and clever (two qualities which aren’t always the same) and are on the cusp of solid careers.  Hope you don’t mind my saying so, but I’ve a wife who is eye candy (to my eyes of course), considers cooking and readying me for work the high points of her day (WTF?), but also works on the side and earns a steady income, and outside of a bank account that’s by far unready for my twilight years, I’m not doing too badly.

Now, the only Everest that remains for me to scale is mastering the etiquette of shopping with Mahal, especially during the silly season.  Here are a few off-the-cuff rules I’ve devised for my brothers-in-arms who catch themselves in the same sticky situation:

[Silly by the way is no facetious or light-hearted definition, judging by the way you elbow, bump hips with or push fellow shoppers during the Christmas season.  And that’s just BEFORE the gates open.  But I digress.]

first rule : Do not complain at any point of the shopping period.  Bro, any time you complain using physical, mental or spiritual reasons, you are putting yourself in an awkward situation.  The first reason is the Missus has set aside a lot of time to doing this; she could be painting her nails, preparing your baon for tomorrow or prettifying herself for some mindless occasion, but because you and she have agreed to to this, you are instead shopping.  So, the less you complain, the better.

The second reason is even more compelling.  She didn’t ask you to come with her.  In fact, having forewarned you that said shopping will take hours and hours of discerning inspection of potential items of sale, you were quite aware of the perils involved.  But no, out of a sense of duty, because you were out of internet data or because you had nothing better to do, you still came out to be with her.  So you are barred, at least for now, from whining and groaning.

Not even the fact that you were the designated driver or that she needed you to drive for her can serve as a good reason, good reason though it may be.  This time, this event and this dedication on your part are all part and parcel of being the dutiful takusa asawa that you are.  So for the time being, just grin and bear it.  Mamaya na lang tayo babawi.

second rule : never complain about the budget, whether said budget is exceeded, or by how much.  Unless you’re asking for trouble, you don’t sweat the details of this shopping enterprise.  You’re just there to agree, to support, and possibly to carry the bags (even that is taken care of by helpful sales assistants).

As you might imagine, there are many reasons for this, but chief is the reason that shopping and making gifts and things available for Christmas is outside your jurisdiction Precious Reader.  It is squarely in the territory of your Mahal, esposa hermosa or wifey, and you should be happy it is.  Selecting everything, and I mean everything related to Christmas, buying the same, and distributing them is something that the love of your life has taken upon herself to doing, believe me when I say you’re much better off leaving such important things to her.

If you want to help, just give her a little more money for the season.  In fact, just surrender your ATM and credit card to her.  Then, wait outside the stores, or have a coffee and wait for her to text you when she’s done.  That would be a great help.

third rule :  Do not be surprised, if you have to return to the store for extra purchases.  In fact, don’t even bat an eyelash when an additional trip or trips are scheduled for unforeseen buys, crazier sales or additions to gift lists at the last minute.

In any other case this would sound unreasonable, inconsiderate or disorganized.  But when was Christmas ever reasonable to you?  When did you ever complete giving all your godchildren gifts the first time you listed them all?  When were your inaanak, friends, or relatives ever considerate of your forgetfulness regarding gift-giving?  And when, God forbid, when has Christmas ever been organized?

Buti na lang, there’s your ever-dependable, ever-understanding and ever-organized wife who’s always there with extra energy and extra ideas whenever you need Christmas shopping beyond the call of duty.  You don’t even need to ask her.  And you know that she knows that cash gifts, angpao, or gift vouchers / gift certificates just won’t do.

Dont’ worry, she’ll have the time, and imagination to select every gift, or buy for that extra Christmas handa.  All she needs is you.  Or your wallet.  Preferably both.

Thanks for reading!