happy last day of the year day, kabayan

[ thanks for all the blessings this year, the visits to this site, the kind comments from you Precious Reader. We face the new year with hope and energy, but for now we celebrate. Don’t drink and drive! ]

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER. In my ripe middle age, I’ve come to a belated conclusion, one that any person not born yesterday would’ve discovered after a couple of new years’ eves: it’s probably the only day of the year when it’s socially acceptable to drink, even get smashed with alcohol: we drink to forget the regrets of the year. We drink for other reasons of course, but I’ll get to that later.

I regret not spending more time with my father. on the surface this seems a perfectly reasonable and commonsense regret, until you realize that I had the previous 50+ years of my life to spend quality time with Dad, who died middle of this year. I did spend good times with him, first as a child, then as a young adult, then as a sidekick, and finally as a (younger) friend. To have spent a half-century of growing up, laughter and related joys with such a remarkable person is not that bad. I just could’ve spent more.

I regret not saving more.  Every year I start out with the same lofty goals: hit a savings goal, cut down the credit card debt, and diversify investments. Before the year is half over I realize I’m nowhere near where I set out to be, and call it a day. 2019 was no different for me, and I can’t even say I’m a year older and a year wiser. I’m ever closer to retirement, I need new income and revenue sources, and more than ever, I need discipline. I can’t rely on winning the Lotto anymore.

I regret not educating myself. YouTube, podcasts, self-learning modules, etc etc, even jobs where you don’t get paid with anything except the training, these are the tools of the day. Everything is being done now so that learning is easier, textbooks and rote learning is now merely among the many, many ways to absorb skills and expertise. Age is no barrier, certainly not an excuse, and every day I wake up I need to challenge myself to learn something new.

But we also drink to celebrate the blessings of the year.

I celebrate being healthy this year. No modesty in this aspect, when you’re healthy you’re healthy, and any person my age, occupation and location (pang Tinder data), when you can still do the things you do, you’re lucky.

I celebrate having someone to love and be loved. Self-explanatory mostly, but scientists are just beginning to prove in understandable terms that love is a human, physical need. Loners die earlier. Couples thrive in the hardiest conditions. And families who look out for each other, flourish in the worst situations. It’s not quantifiable, only observable. And the best way to observe it is in your own life. I’m happy to say that this year, I’ve stayed in love and found more ways to appreciate it, my situation and my loved ones. Happy for that.

I celebrate having the job I have, in the country I’m in. I’m not sure what job I would have if I stayed in the Philippines, but given the comfort, convenience and stability that goes with my job in New Zealand, it’s a neat package.  Work now in agreeable conditions, short commute to work near the sea and valleys, clean air and blue skies, with (hopefully) reasonable health care and semi-retirement waiting. I can’t complain.

Lots of things to be sad about this year, but even more things to be thankful for. We celebrate the new year tonight, but for now we are grateful for the year almost done.

Thanks for reading, happy 2020!


my father the Jedi knight

[He’s definitely not a Jedi Knight in Star Wars’ Rogue One, not even a major character in the Star Wars saga, but Chirrut Imwe a.k.a Donnie Yen reminds me a lot of my dad, so I’ve chosen to use their pics here side-by-side, hope you don’t mind. Now everytime I see him in a movie, I remember Dad when he was young, healthy and happy. Love you Dad. ]

BACK STORY.  What every OFW (overseas Filipino worker) dreads turned into reality for me this year, missing my dad’s last few days before he died late August.

I will never be able to take his precious long walks with him again, talk to him about yesterday and yesteryear, the greatness of the 1930s, the 1940s and 1950s. I will never hear his caramel-sweet singing voice again, singing Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Michael Buble.

But I have memories, that much I have. It’s the first Christmas I won’t get to call him, or even imagine him and Mom having a bit of holiday cheer. Like many semi-orphaned baby boomers, I took for granted their presence in my life and never contemplated a life without them.

*****     *****     *****

The last year of his life my father was a shell of his articulate, vibrant self. His long, entertaining discussions and arguments with anyone had been reduced into one-sentence soliloquies and a couple of words that passed for replies and comments.

Even his precious walks and strolls were now almost completely gone, and his visits to the hospital due to kidney issues were becoming more frequent.

On the odd good day though he could still gather enough energy to get up at 6 am, ask his faithful alalay-cum-driver Val to accompany him to McDo U.N. Ave for breakfast and walk with him around the Luneta Oval. (How I wish I could’ve been home to be there with him even a couple times!)

He would ask to talk on Skype to his great grandson Theo and ask about the lives of his grandkids. Mom would marvel at his energy level, and struggle to keep up with him. But those days were few and far between.

But I’m not here with you to talk about Dad’s last days. I want to tell you more about the person he was the majority of his life.

*****     *****     *****

Balance in the universe. He wasn’t an overly religious man, but he believed there was a balance in the universe, not so much good vs evil but more like positive negative or action reaction sort of thing. He was a firm believer in karma, not upsetting the natural course of things and letting things be.

Wisdom. He believed in the power of words, words to praise just as much as words to hurt. Often he would choose his words, pause between phrases, and be careful not to hurt anyone with blunt or undiplomatic talk. He wasn’t the wisest man ever, but he was an avid reader. He could discuss with you Confucian philosophy or the latest political thriller, and everything in between. It wasn’t his intention, but in his late years he became a sage ageless man. He was my Yoda.

Mind-bender. He had his own version of the Jedi mind-trick, albeit with me, his naive, adoring son. Whenever he wanted to sway me to his way of thinking, he wouldn’t cut me off in mid-sentence or argue with me, he seldom did that. Instead he would ask me leading questions like “how about looking at it this way?” or “Have you thought about doing it B, instead of A?” He would never use threats or humiliation, and in the end, without realizing it, I would often be convinced that his was the better way.

He wasn’t a superhero, the richest man in the world, or even the most successful. But my father was certainly a remarkable man. In his own reality, time and place, he was the Jedi knight of my life. Being a Jedi is one of many things I can call him, but it is one of my favorites.

Missing you this Christmas, Dad.

3 things to do when you’re the only noypi on site

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[ Please enjoy the slideshow while playing Pinoy Ako by Orange & Lemons. Thank you for the YouTube video to YouTube poster John Kenneth, and thanks so much to our kabayan for allowing use of their photos. Mabuhay! ]

LATE 2000s, YOUR KABAYAN was leaving for New Zealand and while I wasn’t aware then, I was starting a new chapter of my life working in NZ. In the process I never got to be a Pinoy Big Brother fan. the soundtrack of “Pinoy Ako” by Orange & Lemons has stuck to my mind and spirit all these years though.

Every time I think it’s not worth it anymore working as a Filipino in faraway New Zealand and showing our hosts what we’re all about, I just hum through the song to myself, get a little emotional, think of how lucky I am being an OFW with the job I have, and renew my reserves of energy for work.

For Pinoy Ako, intentionally or not, embodies how proud the Pinoy migrant and / or migrant worker should be in his/her work ethic, his dreams and his craft, anywhere in the world. It’s almost like the song is talking to each and every Filipino worker, telling us: You’re not perfect. But with all your faults, you’re the best the Inang Bayan has to offer, you shine brightest away from home, show the whole world the best face of the Filipino, and come back home to your country’s warm embrace.

But enough of that, I just wanted to show you how in my experience we best showcase our Pinoyness when we’re the only Filipino in our workplace, as is often the case in New Zealand (unless you’re a nurse in a big hospital or a builder in a big construction worksite). If we can just manage to do these three things we balance being the best Pinoy version of ourselves and at the same time show how good we are as interdependent  citizens of our adopted New Zealand:

Highlight the positives, downplay the negatives. As any sociable person would do, when we meet someone new, we talk about the good things first, we put all negative aside for a more candid moment later. As a people, facing other races, we do likewise. We are hardworking. We get along. We smile regardless of the occasion. We make friends with other races easily, and so on and so forth.  Then of course the negatives. We are gossipy. We suffer from crab mentality. We don’t support our own. But the nega, these don’t need to be broadcasted to Kiwis and fellow migrants. When we are in front of others, we put our best foot forward, represent ourselves with the best characteristics ever. As it should be.

Never be ashamed of ourselves. For a long time, I was not only the only Pinoy at our work site, I was the only Asian, probably the first full-time worker who wasn’t European New Zealander (which really means white), Maori or Pacific Islander.

Then a funny thing happened Around a year and a half ago, a Punjabi Indian assumed the role of assistant plant engineer , decent enough, but when I mentioned to him that we were the only pair of Asians on site, he matter-of-fact corrected me.

I’m not Asian bro, he said.

What ??? What are you then I asked, knowing full well the answer.

I’m Kiwi of course. Everyone within earshot laughed, but I knew he meant it. He probably considered himself Indian before, but that was a thing of the past, he was a Kiwi now.

But whether he was just joking, half-meant it, or was serious, I myself would never deny my Filipino origins and ethnicity. The unchanging nature of his appearance only added to the absurdness of his claim, but in my case, brownness or no, I will forever remain a Filipino first, and maybe New Zealander second. I suspect many other kabayan feel this way, without explaining why, and I feel we will be respected more this way.

Stop riding the stereotypes. There was a time when our womenfolk were popular as “mail-order brides” as a way to escape poverty and lack of opportunities back home, and this dubious distinction made its way to New Zealand shores. When one of my colleagues remarked that he might ask a favor from me to procure himself a Pinay bride, I went along with the joke, and promised to look up a prospect or two. I later regretted it, as it didn’t help our image as a decent, hardworking people any. Of course our Filipinas continue to be popular as partners to many New Zealanders, but never let it be said that any of our Pinays are for sale.

There are many other stereotypes. Our being little brown brothers to white colonizers, our  being entertainers of the world at the expense of our equal abilities as scientists, tradesmen, artists, and entrepreneurs. Our being bad drivers. The list goes on, and we don’t need to perpetuate these stereotypes at all. Just be ourselves.

Mabuhay po tayong lahat!