Love (for kabayan) in the time of coronavirus

call center agents

NO MATTER how many times I show off my Pinoy accent to the call center person (clipped vowels, unexaggerated consonants and unaspirated p’s and t’s), they won’t volunteer to ask, or even assume, that I’m a Filipino. This call was no exception.

CALL CENTER PERSON (Itago natin sa pangalang “Jennifer”) : Ah, before I can rebook your ticket Mr Noel, you have to accept the price addition and change fee and also the change name and I also have to confirm your personal details and flight details to make sure the new flight time is available.

ME : Yes, I’m aware of that Jennifer. I also want to make sure I can transfer the ticket to my wife’s name with the correct spelling and details without too much hassle, and I also hope it’s not too expensive.

JENNIFER : I’m sure I can help you with that Mr Noel, may I have the full name of your wife as appears on her passport please?

I give her Mahal’s details and surely, coupled with my own Pinoy sounding name, assume she will start talking in Tagalog, to make things easier for both of us.

JENNIFER : Thank you very much Mr Noel, now let me repeat your requested rebooking details together with the details of your transferee, which is of course your wife. Is that OK?

Hmmm. Kahit na di naman sya hirap sa English nya, parang mas madadalian kaming dalawa kung pareho na lang kaming managalog.

ME : You know Jen, I have a funny feeling you’re from the Philippines and you’re probably aware I’m also from the Philippines too. It might be better for us to talk in Tagalog na lang.

JENNIFER : That’s OK sir, you can speak with me in your preferred language as long as I can understand you. However since I’ve already started speaking to you in English, if you don’t mind I’ll continue, but I’m glad to know we can both speak and understand Tagalog. Now, here are the details . . . 

Maybe it’s just my imagination, but I can feel the relief and warmth in her voice now. I want to ask her why she doesn’t just switch to our native language but thought better of it, thinking both of the rules in her workplace against speaking in Tagalog and the fact that most likely, our call was being recorded. Instead I just spoke to her one-sided in Tagalog.

ME : Curious lang ako Jen, naapektuhan ba ang calls or business nyo sa coronavirus? Nabawasan ba ang travel and bookings mula nung pumutok mga cases ng virus sa China?

JENNIFER : Not that I can tell sir, as far as we can see, business is business as usual, we handle the same volume of calls although I can see quite a few cancellations in particular destinations.

I can’t ask which, as I know she will decline to answer. I decide to not pursue that line of questioning.

ME : Anong gagawin nyo kung magsara mga principal nyo at mga business na pinaglilingkuran nyo? ( I know that as call centers, they are “outsourced” by the actual businesses)

JENNIFER : Honestly sir, nothing changes. We just do lateral training and move fluidly between one industry to another. We’ve been doing this for years and my team and I have worked for dozens of accounts in different industries. The only thing we can’t do is move from one account to its competitor. As long as there’s work, we just keep working.

Impressed lalo ako di lang sa English nya kundi sa bilis nyang sumagot. She’s not only smart, she’s quick on her feet in responding to different questions. Parang beauty pageant contestant.

ME : Great to know Jen, pero paano naman sa Pilipinas? May nagbago na bang malaki sa mga nakikita mo?

JENNIFER : As far as I know sir nakikita ko sa mga airport may mga check sila at mas strict sila sa mga overseas travellers, nakamask na rin mga checkers sa mga mall at crowded areas. But other than that I don’t see much changes anywhere else. Won’t you be seeing these things for yourself Mr Noel?

Before answering I make a mental note to NOT notice that Jen made a “slip of the tongue” and actually spoke in Taglish for a few sentences. Just hope it doesn’t get her in trouble.

ME : I actually went home three times the last year Jen, for family reasons. For that reason alone I’ll have a hard time returning to the Philippines, payat na’ng budget. But even if I had the money, because there’s so much uncertainty surrounding public health, I’ll think ten times before going home this year. And I’m guessing I’m not the only one.

JENNIFER : (quickly recovering from her lapse in Taglish) That’s too bad sir. Your family will miss you here. Meanwhile your kabayan will keep the struggle alive sir, don’t you worry.

She didn’t know it but that short reply of hers brought a lump to my throat, I suddenly became emotional. I thought of her daily struggles going to work, keeping body and soul together, working overtime just to make ends meet, and helping her entire family while being a productive member of 21st century Philippines. Love for country, love for kabayan.

ME : God bless you Jen, and God bless your family. Sige, maraming salamat sa tulong mo. Kung dadalaw ka rito sa New Zealand, maraming magbibigay sa yo ng mainit na pagsalubong. You know my details, heh heh heh!

JENNIFER : Maraming salamat sir.

Was that thank you a lapse or intentional? Mabuhay ka Jen!


fighting the urge to say “buti nga sa yo”(serves you right) to fellow migrants from China

[thank you for Al Jazeera for the video, I’m not the owner, and thanks to Filipino Migrant News for naming as one of the Social Media Influencers in the Pinoy community in New Zealand! Grateful and humbled po, please continue to visit our site kabayan and friends ! ]

IF YOU. Precious Reader, thought that there were (are) a lot of Filipino migrants in New Zealand (at least 35,000), there are even more Chinese migrants (at least 171,000 as of a 2013 census), outnumbering us at least four to one.

Our migrant counterparts, fellow immigrants from China, are like Filipinos. They’re sociable, work hard, pursue the New Zealand dream of health, contentment and safety from war and violence, and just try to get along with everybody.

Actually, that’s a white lie. I’ve stretched the truth a bit.

Using a very subjective standard (subjective because I can only compare everything else to myself), Chinese are not that sociable  (I’m being honest now), definitely not at all the way Filipinos are. There are two main reasons for this:

First, they don’t make too much effort to learn or improve their English. Whatever the reasons are, they just don’t. (No value judgment in this) And second, related to the first reason: because they don’t familiarize themselves with the local language, they tend very strongly to keep among themselves. It’s a fact that despite their numbers, the Chinese are quite a closely-knit community, in New Zealand or wherever else.

Whether it’s intentional or just a character of the Chinese, we can’t fault them for it. In recent times, because of the Chinese incursion into our waters, the way Chinese workers show disrespect for our surroundings in the Philippines, their (admittedly) poor hygiene practices, and the general way we are given less than our due respect between sovereign states, we have apparently even more reason to gloat and say buti nga sa yo (serves you right or you deserve it) when so many Chinese (more than 30,000 now as of last count, and definitely more coming) are suffering from the coronavirus originating from animals and now confirmed to be transmitted human to human.

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They won’t admit it, but the Chinese economy will be affected for months to come. Because the Chinese economy accounts for at least 15% of the world economy, probably more, with all its generation of products, services, consumption and ultimately wealth,  everywhere around the world, all economic activity is expected to experience a downturn, tourism especially, not the least in both the Philippines and New Zealand.

If ever there was a time to gloat, point to karma for all their bullying ways and shout to the whole world that what comes up must come down (or that the good times must end sometime) it would be NOW. It’s so easy to tell the Chinese, get the eff away from my country, I don’t want your money or business, and keep your virals and infected away from our country (just like zombies in a sci-fi movie or TV series), be like gone for the next couple years OK?

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But it’s not right. Just like it’s not right for China to be stepping all over us figuratively and literally the last few years in the South China Sea (only named such because they named it)? you may ask? Yes kabayan, it’s not right, but just because somebody is wrong doesn’t mean it’s alright to be wrong too.

I refer specifically to the way Chinese overseas (not Overseas Chinese, the term some Filipino Chinese use for themselves, but Chinese from Communist China) are being treated, in the Philippines and elsewhere. Being kept away from crowds. Being discouraged from entering restos and malls. Being talked about right to their faces and frankly, being asked to leave because they are, by association, an infected nation.

Nothing could be worse in this day and age, and Filipinos should know better. First place, hindi naman porke’t Tsino ay may virus na. (Being Chinese doesn’t mean you’re sick.) We all know that. Secondly, there are a group of reasons why we shouldn’t behave like racists and treat Chinese in New Zealand and the Philippines (much as it’s our human nature to do so) as second-class, sick and deserving of our insults.

It’s good business. Besides “Winter is coming,” do you remember the House sigul (motto) of House Stark in Game of Thrones? (I’m pretending everyone is a GoT fan.) Yes, it’s “The North Remembers.” Well, using our real-life example, China remembers. It will remember who treated it well and who didn’t. Because we’re already bending over backwards and being extra-nice to China (for all the wrong reasons) we might as well do it for the right reason. China is down, and you don’t hit somebody when he or she’s down. 101%, China will rise again, very shortly, and it will to reiterate, have an elephant’s memory. I’m not saying set up hospitals and take all their sick, just treat them decently, allow their citizens the same rights and privileges as any other visitors here (with the exception of letting in travelers from infected areas, iba na ‘yon), and it will be to our advantage. It’s good business to treat others decently.

It’s good manners. As a member of the family of nations, it’s our duty to extend a helping hand, to the extent reasonable, when someone needs help. China obviously is in dire straits now, and though its pride won’t let it do so, China needs all the help it can get. The Philippines may not be in a position to be altruistic and generous, but we do have human resources available if the need arises, in the form of medical expertise and skills. Subject of course to our own needs and the requirements of health and safety.

It’s good for the soul. When all else fails, we can use the golden rule. No, it’s not the Chinese version (“He who has the gold, makes the rule.”) but “do unto others what you would have them do unto you.” Simply put, you scratch my back, I scratch yours. If we were in deep doo-doo, we would ask help from anybody and everybody, and China isn’t there yet, but getting there. Let’s not wait to be asked and just help anyway we can. It’s good for our soul. It’s good for karma. It’s good for neighborliness. Believe what you want, but it’s a good look. Not just a good look, but it’s good. Period.

And that’s why, we shouldn’t turn our backs now on China and its migrants and overseas workers. Not in New Zealand. And not in the Philippines.