mga Pintados ng Wellington 1: Kabalen Kai !

kabalen kai

ready to sell out even before lunch, the happy couple behind KABALEN KAI, Nok and Edna Bognot, are all smiles on a rainy-sunny Saturday!

[ Note : It always makes my day to meet a Filipino kabayan in Wellington, whether at work or at play. Because it’s such a treat for me, I promise whenever I can to post it in this here humble little blog of mine. Centuries back, we used to be called Pintados, because we allegedly painted our faces. So welcome to my first in a series called Mga Pintados ng Wellington! thanks for reading! ]

THEY ARE the least obtrusive kiosk / stall at the Hutt Riverside weekend market, where Your Loyal kaBayan (YLB) Noel, when weather permits, spends precious downtime. To be quite honest: smallest food kiosk, least colorful food stand.

The menu is very spartan, admittedly a labor of love, but not that extensive: pork skewers (pork BBQ), BBQ pork bun (siopao); kutsinta, leche flan and Filipino kakanin (rice pastries), pork sisig (bits of pork sauteed and deep fried), and other exotic stuff. Not your normal New Zealand, Kiwi breakfast fare. However:

The Pork Sisig has sold out.

The Siopao has sold out.

Nearly everything else, save for the kakanin and leche flan (which admittedly needs an acquired taste) is gone.

Before noon.

Welcome to Kabalen Kai, loosely translated (in Kapampangan and Maori te Reo) to Homegrown or Homemade Food.

**********          **********          **********

Nok and Edna Bognot (pictured above in their food truck) have always loved cooking for people.  For gatherings of 3 to 300, the Kapampangans (a region or province in Luzon, the North Island of the Philippines) in them have considered catering and pleasuring tummies second to nature. Only when somebody suggested that they do it as a business, starting out small before going big, did they consider actually catering formally.

It wasn’t an easy road. They enjoyed rave reviews, but the overhead ate up any profits. They always got four to five stars everywhere they went, but because they always chose taste over margins, they almost always ended up just over the break-even mark. Very little to show, except full stomachs, satisfied taste buds and good will among kabayan.

kabalen kai menu

yum yum yum! i want everything, pero ubos na 😦

Nok and Edna stayed the course though. Saving up on the fees and licenses, crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s on all the paperwork, they literally rolled out, on a chilly rainy Saturday last April, their mobile resto named Kabalen Kai, a portmanteau of Kapampangan and Maori words.

Two out of four Saturdays (the Riverside Market is only open Saturdays) they’ve sold out, and surprisingly the patrons are not just kabayan like you and me. Asians, New Zealanders, every sort of hungry customer ends up coming back the next Saturday. Nok and Edna are happy, but then again they would be happy if they just broke even.

Masaya kami kapag nasasarapan ang customer, Edna shouts over the hiss and sizzle of the grill.

One more order of sisig, kabalen!

Thanks for reading and more power to you, Nok and Edna!

ga-hibla lang ang pagitan ng pagbibiro & bullying

thanks and acknowledgment to for the picture!

AS USUAL, let me use myself as an example, as all bloggers do. I’m not among the most popular guys in my workplace because of my looks (LOL), or because I hand out chocolates every now and then, or because I smell good and use deodorant all the time (I do). It’s because I get along with every person and this includes allowing my workmates to poke fun at me every once in a while.

The source of the fun is plenty, it never runs out. I am the acknowledged least mechanically apt or mechanically inclined person on site, and in a factory full of machines, that is a particularly standout trait. Suki ako ng plant engineer at plant electrician, although on at least half of my calls to them, it’s a breakdown that can’t be helped. And so my legend grows as someone who gets things broken during his shift. It’s a blown up and exaggerated legend, but I don’t mind because everyone laughs.

Another source of teasing with me is that, as a Filipino, I’m one of the shortest people among staff, if not the shortest guy. It doesn’t help that more than half of my workmates are above 5 feet 10. I usually introduce almost everybody to a newcomer this way : This is Steven. He’s a tall guy!” to which Steven sez ” EVERYBODY is a tall guy to you Noel.” Which usually ends up, again, in laughs and snickers.

The last common source of good natured insults is my lack of driving skill. On site, and probably everywhere else in New Zealand, everyone, from top to bottom, has a car, no matter how flashy or trashy. I don’t bring a car to work because between wife Mahal and me, we have only one vehicle, and she doesn’t mind bringing me to work. I often walk or run home when the weather permits, and bike often when it’s not winter. I actually have a driver’s license, but wear the non-driver tag like a badge of honor, loving the environment, saving on fuel and all that. The honest truth is most of the time I’m just too lazy to pass the driving test allowing me to drive alone (in here it’s called a “restricted” license), and my colleagues see right through me.

**********          **********          **********

Once, an unnamed workmate actually took me aside and asked me if the teasing, taunts and zingers were beginning to get to me. This guy had only been in our workplace a few years and hardly knew the interchange between most of the people, especially oldtimers like me.

It’s nothing, man. You have to have a thick skin when you work here, especially with practically an all male staff, I commented, trying to justify the situation.

“That’s just it,” countered my workmate right back at me. If half those comments made at you were made to me, I’d instantly confront them or report it as harrassment, he added.

Whoa whoa whoa, I mentally checked myself.

If this guy was reacting so strongly to what he’d been seeing that was done to me, the cutting remarks, the comments on my faults, and the general mocking, either the guy was a supersensitive type, or maybe I had been getting used to too much borderline bullying at work.

The only problem? One, a lot of people did it to me, and Two, I really didn’t mind.

**********     **********     **********

For a couple hours going to work ( I walked that day) I thought about Sensitive Co-worker’s comments. Thought about it really hard. Here’s what I came up with.

( I’m not trying to justify the situation OK? )

For starters, I’m really a self-deprecating, aw-shucks, wala-lang kind of guy. Which means, if it helps lighten the mood, and if it doesn’t reflect on my character, race, personal integrity and the like, all is fair in love and war for me. I DO  have a thick skin.

Secondly, I owe a lot of guys a lot of favors around the work place. I am admittedly not high on mechanical aptitude, and I lean on the maintenance staff for helping me out when I’m in a bind or a breakdown during my shift. Because I’m a nice guy, these technical guys go the extra mile for me. I do the same whenever I can, which isn’t often. ( Think about it, what can I do for them? next to nothing.)

And lastly… It’s nearly at the back of the mind, below the surface kind of thing, but after more than 10 years working in Wellington, I still see myself as the guest, the outsider, always on the outside looking in. I’m here via the goodness of their hearts, my hosts I mean, and to be courteous, tolerant and literally, to have a thick skin. So far it has worked for me.

Is it part of the normal day-to-day of people working with each other? Is it borderline bullying? What if everybody does it? Not just to me, but to everybody else?

I’m not prepared to answer that now. On this issue, I’m a fence sitter.

**********          **********          **********

Obviously, what is alright for one person may be quite stressful, or even painful to another. If you feel harrassed at work on any level, don’t let it pass. Tell someone,  someone you trust in management, or your human resources (HR) officer. In my case,I recognize that the notoriety I enjoy at work is a double-edged, 50-50 thing.

But at the moment, I’m not complaining.

Thanks for reading!



why the NZ pinoy community is like a layered sapin-sapin

thanks and acknowledgment to

[Note : It goes without saying, but everything here is Your Loyal kaBayan Noel’s opinion. No research, no stats, just me.  If you’re still reading, thank you po. 🙂 ]

IN MORE than one local movie I saw growing up in the Philippines during the 1970s, someone would burst into a scene shouting, sunog, mga kapitbahay! SUNOG! (fire, neighbors, FIRE!) which would launch everyone in the scene into chaos, running around like headless chickens before an organized effort to put out the fire was conducted. The communication was short but sweet; the reaction instantaneous. A universal response of help for your fellow man, and an instinct towards self-preservation.

Figuratively, there are a few fires facing our little barangay community in Aotearoa, New Zealand. But the response is not as readily discernible as the cinematic fire scene above.

Instead of literal fires, we have social issues that potentially affect all Pinoys here. I picked out three major issues facing the Pinoy community in NZ today.

The first is the use of private educational training institutes to convince would-be kabayan into applying for student visas, in the hope of using a “back door” to residency. (This might’ve been effective before, but not now.) I won’t comment on whether or not this has helped Pinoys, it helps to know that an element of fraud has entered the picture, and there has been enough public discourse on the matter.

The second great issue is the situation faced by many Pinoys already in New Zealand: Is residency available, and how difficult (or easy) is it to attain such residency status? How important are the specific skills possessed by our different kabayan in improving their migrant status? Assuming a particular set of skills brought you to New Zealand shores, will the same skills give you permanent resident status? Are there any other avenues to migration success, like new legislation, amnesty, etc that are available?

Last but not the least is the ever-present issue of racism, overt and subtle, that permeates into all layers of NZ society.  It’s an issue that affects all migrants not just us Pinoys, but it’s important nevertheless.

These three issues affect us all in different ways, and to gain a personal understanding, I thought of how the NZ Pinoy community is divided, for my purposes, three generic (for lack of a better word) classes that view these and future issues in their respective ways.

(Describing or touching on the issues themselves is only incidental, my paksa is just to pigeonhole how we as Pinoys are affected and guessing at how each might react.)

WAGs and family. Or short for Wives and Girlfriends of Kiwis, and immediate family. These are our kabayan who’ve gained entry and residence into New Zealand via the partnership visa, by being wives, partners and fiancees of citizens here. On the surface, they are the ones who would have the least relateability to current issues facing migrants in New Zealand. After all, by virtue of being family, they are instantly considered New Zealanders as well, don’t you think?

It’s not as simple as that. For one thing, they have to live and work here like everyone else, and they have to prove that they are as skilled, dependable and as able to contribute to the local economy of their new home as well as the next guy (or girl). As much as anyone else, Pinay wives and partners of Kiwis keep their eye on the employment and economic pulse, because they have to compete for jobs and wages as most of us do.

Let’s be real: more than anyone else, Pinays who are here on a partnership visa don’t want to be seen as getting a free ride on living the dream in Aotearoa. They are just as skilled, hardworking, creative and results-oriented as any kayumanggi brother or sister. Some of us might mention that they are just a bit luckier than the ordinary Pinoy. Just don’t let any of them hear you. 🙂

The student visa holders. These are the kabayan who got here to study a field of expertise, allowed to look for a job for a certain period here in NZ after graduation, and if successful allowed to apply for permanent resident status.

I’ll be brutally honest with you: these are the kabayan who are affected most by the current issue of fraud in the migrant education industry, because the system is being abused in other countries. In the Philippines we aren’t entirely innocent either, unscrupulous kabayan use the dream of using a “shortcut” pathway to living in NZ permanently via the student visa: it simply isn’t done that way.

Some kabayan have hit the home run so to speak of attaining PR (permanent resident) status but they did it the hard, old-fashioned way. They applied for specialty courses in fields where very few or no New Zealanders are available, acquired the necessary skills, and with the companion Pinoy sipag at tiyaga applied for jobs fitting their new qualifications after graduation. These kabayan richly deserve their migrant rewards because they worked for it.

The skilled migrant pathway users. These are the guys who went through the proverbial eye of the needle. They acquired their experience and expertise in the Philippines, the Middle East, all over the world. They were lucky enough to be in professions that were badly needed in New Zealand. And they were either direct hires or gambled time and money looking for jobs that suited their qualifications before striking gold with a Kiwi employer using their particular talent and skill.

You know the script : Nurse, I.T. engineer, scaffolder, carpenter, builder, caregiver, teacher, all the traditional jobs and professions Pinoys are good at. But there are dozens and dozens of other positions we fill, simply because we are needed in the New Zealand workplace : communications linemen, draftsmen, allied medical professions like x-ray technicians, phlebotomists, physiotherapists; the list goes on and on.

Of course you’d expect the partnership visa holders, student visa holders and skilled migrant pathway visa holders to all be affected by an migrant related issue in New Zealand. Each time a Pinoy is granted entry here, we stake our country’s reputation as honest, hardworking, dependable, grateful, courteous, cheerful workers who only want a chance to live the New Zealand dream of a living wage for an honest day’s work.

It’s just we react a little differently depending on how we got here. The Pinoy community has so many layers, like the multi-colored sapin-sapin. The examples above barely scratch the surface.

It’s up to each of us to show others we deserve our precious Pinoy reputation, and everyday the challenge is renewed.

Mabuhay po tayong lahat! Thanks for reading!


to God’s noblest creatures, today is your day! (hi Mom!)

despite our groovy outfits, Mom still stands out (1975 or thereabouts)

IF YOU Precious Reader are like me, there have been few constants in your life. Our postmodern, post Industrial and Social Media-oriented age trains us to embrace change, meet change head-on, and discard the old ways in favor of the unknown, untried, untested and new, as long as the latter has the requisite likes, reposts, or retweets.

I’m no stranger to trying new things, but being a middle-aged, baby boomer, child of the 70’s, I’m afraid of anything shiny, bluetooth-accessible, and assembled best via YouTube tutorials. It’s a hazard of reality that I have to be friendly to user-friendly, cuz it’s not always that friendly, if you know what I mean.

*****     *****     *****

Comfortably old, comfortably, classic and comfortably never-changing for me (and I’m confident for my 4 other bros) is a surprisingly agile, sharp and canny woman still running her own business in Paco Manila, the old country.

She grew up with an absentee father and a mother always needing help with her three siblings, so she had to grow up right away and become first, a second mother, and then a substitute father to the rest of her brood. No surprise then, that she has such a strong personality, a subtlety better suited to a 14-wheeler, and a heart bigger than life itself.

She is the one constant in my life. If ever I have to call home, she is the first person I think of calling. If ever I’m in trouble, and believe me I’ve been there lots of times, she’s the first person I know who’ll bail me out, although not without the required sabon and scolding. I know I’m too old to still get myself in stupid situations, but no one is ever too old to run to their mothers for help.

…and barely 40 years later, we’ve hardly changed! Mom is still the rose among the thorns! Happy Mother’s day everyone!

We’re not lovey-dovey close, the way many offspring are to their mother. Her generation, the way she was (or wasn’t) brought up, and her basic personality doesn’t allow that. But I like to think that she loves me to bits, that way I do her.

After all, I think I’ve said before elsewhere that one of the other-worldly abilities of mothers, especially those with large broods, is that she can make you feel extra-special, alone among others. Later, you learn when comparing notes that she made each of you feel the same way.

In this world, mothers are alone doing that, and Mom is no exception.

******     ******     *****

This year’s Mother’s Day is unusual. My mother is somewhere in Europe, on the pilgrimage of her life with her church group, to visit Rome, the Vatican, and hopefully, Pope Francis. A fleeting glance and a general blessing will be enough for her. As a bonus, son Panganay, working in UK, will be commuting via Eurail just to meet her. It will be a good reunion.

I won’t be able to call or text her. Nonetheless it’s a minor wrinkle for me, much less for her. She deserves this trip and everything, after all her years as a mother, and otherwise.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom! I love you always! From all of us who do.

Thanks for reading everyone!