catching up with Pinoys’ greatest gift to the NZ pandemic – kabayan health workers

[thank you, thank you and maraming Salamat sa mga kabayang nars na lumahok sa aming munting panayam, tulad ni Kristine Dianne Balatbat kasalukuyang nagwowork bilang registered nurse sa Capital & Coast District Health Board;  one of the most distinguished nursing professionals in NZ, Monina Hernandez (pink scrubs), president of the Filipino Nurses Association of New Zealand and Member of the Nursing Council of New Zealand; and Yen Canada-Wong, formerly of Hutt Hospital but now a full-time wife and mother. Yen had a personal connection to the 11 Pinoy nurses who perished in the 2011 Christchurch Earthquake. They are identified below by their first names in CAPS, comments edited for brevity. Mabuhay kayo idols! ]

I DON’T THINK anyone will argue with me right now when I say that the Pinoy community’s greatest gift to New Zealand in the middle of the Covid19 pandemic is our Filipino health workers, not least the 4337 (as of 2017) nurses that heal, monitor and give comfort to those suffering from the coronavirus and related illnesses in New Zealand.

Appreciated, overachieving and brilliant as they are, our health workers are very human, and very Filipino, meaning they need love, interaction and laughter as much as anyone of us in our barangay, whether we be in North or South Island, Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch, or anywhere else in Aotearoa.

I approached these most essential of the essential workers (but our supermarket workers, food industry workers, emergency services and IT workers are equally important) and asked them a few questions, their off-the-cuff feelings and remarks on their job, the situation, and fellow kabayan Filipinos :

Anyone can react to this, and the answers are rather obvious, but I need to ask: how do we Filipinos thrive in the lockdown environment?

YEN : I think as Filipino, we are used to weathering the storms. As a migrant, I’ve learned to be flexible and basically make do. It might be daunting to be stuck at home but I’ve been trying a few Filipino recipes. Even made some homemade longganisa, it’s been going good for us so far.

KRISTINE DIANNE : But as Filipinos I believe nurses like me are resourceful and easy to cope with these situations. I know Filipinos are very much prepared at this time as they buy the things and necessities they need on this said lockdown.

As an individual who lives alone in NZ, there is also a worry as I am thinking about my family way back home. But I am very privilege we have the modern technology to reconnect to them and a videocall wouldnt transmit the virus anyway.

MONINA : Generally speaking, we all know that Pinoys are flexible, resilient and tech savvy. I suppose all Pinoys are thriving well socially speaking, even if they have to socialise via social media/phone/chats. I think one thing that would be a challenge is for those who are working in essential services. I think a huge proportion of Filipinos work in this area and with that they really have to be careful with how they carry on with their work because they are exposed to the risk of getting COVID due to their work. This means that they are also exposing their families to the risk of COVID because they have to get out of their ‘bubbles’ all the time. Another risk that Pinoys have to face is the loss of income due to business closure or perhaps losing a job. In these instances, I suppose our kababayan here in NZ may need some support from government if they belong in this category.

How has Covid19 impacted your profession and work?

KRISTINE DIANNE : The current covid 19 pandemic change our lives as healthcare professionals. Other workers are staying at home but we need to stay outside in order to help other people especially the sick ones. It plays a huge impact especially when you are going to work using public transport and there are times some people will discriminate you and some will highly respect you. Each day i wake up im thanking the Lord for being alive that I can serve the people again. I know it is a difficult part of us as healthworkers as we are the frontliners. Since NZ announced the lockdown, the biggest worries for me is how to go to work and how to go home safely as limited time on public transport. But as Filipinos I believe nurses like me are resourceful and easy to cope with these situations. I know Filipinos are very much prepared at this time as they buy the things and necessities they need on this said lockdown.

As an individual who lives alone in NZ, there is also a worry as I am thinking about my family way back home. But I am very privilege we have the modern technology to reconnect to them and a videocall wouldnt transmit the virus anyway.

MONINA : COVID has been a huge challenge to the nursing profession because of the risk of exposure and the demand for them to cover for other colleagues when they have to self-isolate or when they are sick.

The biggest challenge?

MONINA : COVID has been a huge challenge to the nursing profession because of the risk of exposure and the demand for them to cover for other colleagues when they have to self-isolate or when they are sick.

KRISTINE DIANNE : (answers the question with a request) the challenge for ourselves and our kabayan is to not to make us feel discriminated. We don’t have the virus. We are taking care of ourselves and please during the lockdown stay home for us as we stay at work for everyone. Please be kind at the midst of the crisis. Let us not be selfish. Let us offer our help to our fellow kababayan.

Bonus question. The craziest or most inspiring story about your job since the lockdown?

KRISTINE DIANNE : The craziest story I’ve  heard since the lockdown is about people who try to avoid you because they think you have the virus, thinking you are carrying the virus but in fact you follow stricter safety measures compared to anyone else. But the most inspiring story I had kuya is when people in the hospital like me try our best to cope with the stress by diversional activities like having a good sense of humor out of everything.

Do you have a story about yourself as a health professional or about someone you know as a health professional and frontliner that makes all of us Pinoys in NZ proud? Please tell us all about it via the comments section below or email us at  Mabuhay!



28 days later – essential (worker) but alone

lunch room sign

[ a shoutout and digital applause from this space to our selfless health workers who sacrifice their time, energy and safety for all our medically compromised. We can’t thank you enough! ]

IT’S NOT REALLY 28 days yet, only the 6th day as of this writing, but going by a post-apocalyptic zombie movie of the same name, living as an OFW in New Zealand in very unique and unusual circumstances for 28 days, I thought of using the movie title as my own.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declared CoVID19 Alert Level 4 last Wednesday, meaning, in summary, that all non-essential industries and professions would cease operating or working, people would practice social distancing of two meters, and as much as possible and observing only strict exceptions, every household in this country of 4.5 million would stay within their household bubble for the next 28 days or 4 weeks.

I’m not a health worker, caregiver, IT or telecoms worker or a supermarket staff, but I work in an essential industry. The most I can tell you is that I work in the food manufacturing industry, and common sense dictates that the country cannot survive long without food. Thus, I have continued work as normal and have so far done my part in this national, actually global emergency, the pandemic caused by the coronavirus, which you’ve heard enough about.

[ Just so there’s no misunderstanding, people are allowed to take short walks and even runs or use their bicycles outside their homes, under the warning that everyone must observe strict social distancing every time another human being is encountered. Hopefully no one abuses or misuses this privilege, for now, in the face of all risk, public health and welfare takes priority over everything else, including the right to move around. ]

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I’ve done the following more than once before, but not altogether in one week : I’ve worked alone in a shift (but not alone in the site), worked extra hours for someone who couldn’t come to work; and worked on a Saturday. All were due to various unrelated reasons, but really, indirectly, connected to the pandemic.

My shift partner had a family matter to attend to and so had to ask me if I could carry on alone (I could, with a little difficulty); someone who was working after my shift couldn’t come to work because his scheduled driving test was postponed (as were all driving tests in New Zealand during the lockdown); and finally, extra orders for our product meant that extra production time was needed, and so the workweek was abruptly extended to Saturday. Guess who drew the short straw? Yes boss, your loyal kabayan Noel.

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I can’t complain though. I get paid overtime, I keep working when all others in non-essential industries receive a drastically reduced wage subsidy from both their employers and government, if at all, and I’m secure in my job for the next 28 days, in fact production is at an all-time high. We can’t keep up with orders and trucks can’t pick up and deliver our product fast enough.

The changes are obvious though. Where before we were discouraged from working alone, as I said above, it’s now almost commonplace that we’ll be ask to mind the machines and factory without seeing another person almost throughout the shift. Safe enough, but when there are factory issues we can’t take the regular 15-minute breaks every two hours. But it’s a small sacrifice when the factory can’t stop; it has to run 24/7 to fill the orders and requirements of all the supermarkets throughout the Lower North Island.

I carry with myself a letter written by the Managing Director of our Company, stating that because I work in an essential industry producing a commodity essential to the daily lives of millions of New Zealanders, interfering with my work would be considered harassment. My work would be the equivalent of the work of the frontliners and special workers back home in the Philippines.

Indeed, on my way to my night shift, seeing any another vehicle bearing what I assume would be essential workers is quite rare, practically none.

The week before, every time I spoke to a colleague I was admonished by the acting site manager (our site manager was stranded in Christchurch by the lockdown) to strictly observe the required 2-meter distancing, avoid face-to-face communication and not to overfill the lunchroom (see above announcement in pic). We don’t even talk with the supervisor face-to-face anymore; he calls or talks to us through our Bluetooth earmuffs (pic below) :

bluetooth earmuffs

Ultimately, although there is another person on this shift with me, I am responsible for half of the entire factory and I stay on my half alone for most of the eight hours. I monitor the steady running of the machines, make sure they do what they’re told, and I don’t see or talk to another soul the rest of the shift. Just as well, for health and safety reasons.

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Production continues indefinitely as long as there were people available and overtime work was accepted. Unless it was for medical reasons, leave wasn’t practical — where would you go and what would you do? Everything was closed down, no public transport, and the airport was closed to all but the most essential travel.

The bottom line was quickly formed in my mind. The lockdown is a shutdown. The only solution against the virus spreading was people keeping to themselves. I and my colleagues in the essential industries are the few exceptions, needed to keep people fed and comfortable in this unprecedented time.

As a Pinoy and as a migrant, this is my chance to prove my worth. Simply and decisively,  I must do as I’m told, and do what I’ve always done: work, work and work. Work until the limit of my capacity, and perhaps beyond. In that way, I do my share as a productive member of the land of my hosts. I can do no more, and no less.

Mabuhay po tayong lahat, pangalagaan po natin ang kalusugan ng buong mag-anak!

Thanks for reading!

ginigisa ng kabayan sa sariling mantika (when your countryman fries you in your own juices or oil)

Cannibalsstock_Cannibals_34640741[back home we have a saying: ginigisa sa sariling mantika; literally, being fried in your own juices or oils, when your own resources are used to take advantage of you. Doubly worse when a supposed friend or ally, your own countryman or compatriot, does the dirty deed. Thanks for reading, stay safe everyone!]

NAIVELY PERHAPS, I’VE ALWAYS been faithful to the notion of the good nature of the Filipino overseas. Sociable, team-oriented, friendly, ready to help, all embodied in our beloved term bayanihan

…and above all honest and decent. Or at least, fair.

Even when I hear about how kabayan (countrymen) take advantage of fellow kabayan in our major population centers in New Zealand, I usually dismiss this as a unique, embarrassing one-off or outlier behavior of misguided Pinoys.

That was till recently when a new flatmate of ours recounted how, regularly and as part of everyday life, Filipinos and even those he trusted took advantage of him, overcharged him and never looked out for his welfare.

Dodong* was a late and unexpected addition to our household. The previous occupant, an architecture student going to Weltec suddenly changed her mind and decided to leave last week to study medicine back home in Colombia. So Mahal and I didn’t expect a new room aspirant, much less a Filipino, to ask around for it (we put up an ad just in case, but got a reply within 24 hours) so soon. Seemed that he answered an advertiser (also Filipino) who declined because they needed a female flattie.

He asked our rate (market rate), declared he would take the room sight unseen, and would move in the same day. Wow, my maybahay (wife) told herself mentally, no one does that, told Dodong there was a bond and advance, which the kabayan accepted without batting an eyelash. He moved in with his tools and bed linen later that day.

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First chance I got, I asked Dodong, who I found out had been working on short-term projects as a carpenter the last five years in Dunedin, Christchurch and now Wellington. I believe in the wisdom of settling board and lodging as soon as possible, but why didn’t he shop around?

This was what he told me: with another carpenter he paid $160 a week each to share a room, definitely above market rates (nearly double) but because the agent herself procured the room, he had little choice but to comply.

Worse, barely a month after he moved in, the agent decided that there was enough room for two more Pinoys and the two-to-a-room became four-to-a-room, without even notice or a sori ha? from the agent. And the best (worst) part? The $160 rent obligation didn’t change, he had to continue paying the same.

The most incredible part of this OFW horror story wasn’t any of the details above but the fact that Dodong wouldn’t have left if not for two things:  first, that being on night shift, Dodong had to wait until one of the two new occupants woke up and gave him a decent space to snuggle in (!), and second, even on the days he slept nights, at least one of his three roomies had a severe snoring problem, and that, to him was the final straw. Wow.

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I wish I could tell you that this was an outrage to Dodong, but to him it was no worse than his work experience in Christchurch: there were 12 of them in the house, and four to a room was quite common during his Christchurch gig. Everything was in-your-face, no privacy at all, and although there was never a lonely moment, he didn’t miss it.

Lastly, something odd struck me with Dodong’s length of stay in New Zealand. Five years! No plans to make it permanent? As in permanent residence? After all, he was contributing to the engine of growth of Aotearoa, had a squeaky clean record, paid his taxes, and of course, always went to work as a skilled worker.

Dili man, Dodong told me. He never considered any status other than guest worker / work visa, as no one ever told him he might be eligible, and that his day consisted only of getting to work , doing the work, and getting home to work. He never thought he might be welcome in New Zealand.

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The common denominator in all these, kabayan? You don’t need to be a genius to guess it, and I’m guessing you have: He has, and has always had, a Filipino agent, and moreover a Filipino organizing his stay whenever he moves from project to project. The faces and places may change, but the system remains the same.

Squeeze the last drop out of your kabayan, and if he or she never complains, so much the better.

God bless you Dodong, you suffer in silence, but the laws of karma and the universe will never change.

Thank you for reading, mabuhay!

*not his real name.

oras nang tumigil ng pagyoyosi kabayan

THERE’S NOTHING NEW  that I can say now that you haven’t heard before. Because you’ve heard it so often I won’t even repeat it, just my personal experience and how it relates to others in my situation kabayan:

MGA NASAYANG NA PANAHON, HINAYANG SA KAYAMANANG DI MAEENJOY. Most OFWs and migrants finally wise up and quit smoking later in life, during in middle age. When you’re young and beautiful, you think you’re bulletproof and live forever, which of course isn’t true.

Now when you’re a smoker and at the same time an OFW or migrant two things are going to happen in your middle age (50 – 65 years old ish) whether or not you quit : first, you’ll start to enjoy the things you worked hard for, savings, mortgage and retirement. Second, partly because of the natural processes of aging and partly because of the years and years of exposure to tobacco suffered by your lungs, your body begins to break down, both with weakened lung function, weakened heart, and as a result, a vastly diminished lifestyle.

May these two factors (enjoyment of your life’s work and the inevitability of suffering from smoking) coexist? Maybe, for a short while. But logic, the laws of health and common sense will take over before long.

Sayang naman. Maganda ang tanawin. Nakaiwas ka sa init ng Inang Bayan. And tragically, now that you have the time and resources to enjoy life, you can’t, because you have to devote all your money to medicines and doctor’s bills.

THE UNSEEN EFFECT TO THE FAMILY. If something happens to you and you die, you leave a family looking forward to making up for your half-a-lifetime of absence (if you’re an OFW) and now unprepared for a life without you. You cultivate resentment and bitterness because you may have provided and prepared fo a financially secure life, but you neglected your own health in the process, leading to disastrous and tragic results.

HABANG BUHAY, MAY PAG-ASA. But all is not lost. There is hope. You just need to quit smoking NOW, and reap the benefits, whether you’re an aspiring OFW, or already overseas, or already a migrant. 24 hours after your stop smoking, your heart rate and blood pressure begin to normalize. A few days after you stop, your dental health improves. (please check above for the full summary) Every step of the way, good things happen to the quitter, as long as he has the intention and will to stop. By the way, this is true whether or not you are an OFW or migrant or anything.

Long ago, I started smoking and I did for 24 years. I regret ever starting, but I can’t undo that. I quit 12 years ago, and that, I don’t regret. I hope you can join me kabayan (or friends of kabayan).

Huwag mong sayangin ang mga pinaghirapan mo kabayan. Itigil na ang pagyoyosi, today and right now.

Thanks for reading!

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.



bato bato sa langit… trusting our own kabayan, in cash and in kind

[ thanks and acknowledgment for the video to  ilovejamich, thanks for reading! ]

SA MGA BLOG post natin, hinikayat ko at pinilit ko na sa habang panahon, laging positive ang mga paksa at usapin dito. I’ve always tried to highlight the good side of migrant life, the positive attributes of the Pinoy migrant, how well we get along with fellow Pinoys and with others, our famous industriousness, sociableness, civic mindedness etc.

But like any other migrant community in New Zealand, there is always a shady, darker side.

People taking advantage of newcomers’ ignorance or lack of experience as migrants. Migrants stealing from fellow migrants. Enterprising members of the same community pretending to help newcomers, or even countrymen back home, only to be exposed later as using the kindness of others to line their pockets with ill-gotten cash or property.

The basic theme is this: where there are people to be taken advantage of, there will be people to take advantage. Where there is a thriving migrant community such as ours, kapwa Pinoy (fellow Filipinos) “off-the-boat” (recently arrived from the Philippine), less-informed or less sophisticated financially or professionally will always be easy targets for the unscrupulous or looking to make a quick and dodgy dollar. Cheating and thievery are universal across all cultures, and we Pinoys are no different. The temptation is simply too much.

It doesn’t even have to be illegal or criminal to qualify as migrants taking advantage of fellow migrants. It might be too sensitive to specify a particular good or service so I won’t. Say for example a desirable item or service is offered by a kabayan (literally “townmate” but used by all Filipinos to refer to each other) to his fellow countryman, a recent arrival to New Zealand. The latter, trusting the word of his new friend not only because they are both Filipinos but come from the same province and city, speaking the same dialect, immediately and gratefully accepts the offer, believing it to be a superior, or at least competitive price.

What newcomer kabayan doesn’t know is that the price that he is paying to his new kabayan friend is not only uncompetitive but is much higher than market price, or what the fairest price would be. But because he trusts his countryman, he will pay the price for his naivete. A costly lesson, which he could’ve avoided had he not been so trusting or at least used the internet to check prices and the friendship of his new-found and soon-to-be ex-friend.

Over the last few summers and autumns (it’s summer now in Wellington), we’ve dealt with and been exposed to many kinds of Pinoys, mostly good and a few not-so-good, and for what it’s worth, bato-bato po sa langit, ang tamaan wag sana magalit (nothing directed against anyone) here are my five centavos’ worth of advice:

Maintain a healthy sense of scepticism, no matter how much you share in region or dialect with a goods or service provider, or the things (hometown, schools attended, sports teams you follow) you have in common. So you grew up within 5 kms of each other, went to the same mababang paaralan (primary school), follow Ginebra, follow Pacquiao, follow everything. You just met five minutes ago, and you’re like twins in likes and dislikes. Soulmates! Does it follow then that you should buy his 1998 Mitsubishi Pajero that has only logged 200,000 kms but has years of life left (based on the optimist’s assessment) in it?

This is only a random example but it has happened many, many times in New Zealand (with facts and details slightly changed of course). Make a new friend, discover all the things you have in common, learn how similar your likes and dislikes and inevitably the subject of things you need and will purchase soon will surface in the kilometric conversation. The other guy might not have even intended to make a quick dollar or pull a fast one, the temptation is just too much. But the situation presented itself, and by the bare facts presented you just seemed too eager to believe everything he said, so…

understand that as a newcomer (if you’re a newcomer), everything is new, including pricing and the market. respect your ignorance, for lack of a better way to say it. Not only the currency and exchange rate are something to be learned when a migrant is FOB (fresh off the boat), everything is new. From basic commodities like groceries and fuel to rent and basic services, each item must be learned and taken to heart price-wise, not just by the primary income earner but also the homemaker and the elder members of the family. The market (forces of supply and demand) determines price, but what is the market? Like the Philippines, New Zealand has its own set of peculiarities that every Pinoy learns automatically, but some learn faster (or slower than others).

And this different rates of learning is what some unscrupulous Filipinos take advantage of. Again we go to the example of the car, which to 85% to 90% of people living in New Zealand is an absolute necessity. (If you have no family and live in highly urbanized areas like Auckland, Christchurch or Wellington, maybe you won’t need it. But as a Filipino migrant, you’re part of a very small minority.) As in the Philippines and nearly anywhere else, a car is the costliest purchase you will make after buying your house. BUT there is a wide range of choice, from brand-new luxury cars to cheap utility second hand models.

To a relative newcomer straight from our homeland, who knows next to nothing about buying a car in NZ, he or she is an easy target for people who will take advantage, selling to them overpriced, low-quality cars that they can ill-afford to buy and use for the next five years. The question is, are those who take advantage of these newcomers our very own countrymen? I leave this question unanswered, and just advise Precious Reader to pass it on, think ten times before making a big purchase. Whether or not you are buying from a kabayan. And finally…

Do your research. This tidbit of commonsense advice is companion to the first two above, but it can stand alone. Do you check prices before buying anything you like? Ask around for word-of-mouth tips? Of course, we all do! Doing so, we help prevent people taking advantage of us, kabayan and others alike. We spot outrageous offers instantly, know a bargain when we see one, and we also don’t need to be a manghuhula (psychic) to know if someone is trying to help us out with a purchase or just unloading an unwanted and outdated item on us, leaving us with the proverbial empty bag.

There is a wealth of information at our fingertips. Literally, there is an ocean of information on the internet, all you need to do is surf and google the information you need for links to further sites who specialize in analyzing the market for the goods and services requested. Every supermarket and sometimes dairies (small grocery) provides bulletin boards and price guides for cars, applicances and garage sales. On and Facebook Marketplace everything is offered on sale everyday. There is no excuse for not using this available data to just take a deep breath, read, and make an informed decision on anything you buy.

Filipinos are naturally sociable, willing to help each other out, and have the best intentions. But let’s not always be too trusting, and use common sense. That way, we don’t have kabayan, and later only ourselves to blame.

Thanks for reading, mabuhay!


Pinoy message in a (Kiwi) bottle 1


NOBODY WRITES LETTERS anymore, least of all Pinoys. Instant messaging, social media, Skype and even SMS for the older guys have all but sliced the world in half, no matter where we move ourselves to overseas. We are spoiled by the technology of fiber optic superfast and lightspeed communications, demand world-class service and often get it, when we compose, deliver and exchange messages with our loved ones.

It’s a sign of the times when NZ Post, the equivalent of the PhilPost or Philippine Post Office here is in danger of losing so much money that it will cease to exist and surrender all its functions to the private sector.

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

It was therefore a surprise when I saw an enveloped letter given to me by a friend of mine who picked it up in, of all places, a post office. The address was incomplete except for the word “PHILIPPINES” at the bottom, the detailed address probably meant to be filled out later.

Poor guy, nageffort na nga magsulat ng liham, di pa nakarating sa pinaroroonan. When I opened the contents to help see identify the sender, it was no help. It was in a dialect I was unfamiliar with. To those who don’t know, the Philippines is chock-full of sub-languages spoken by even more people than the Tagalogs in Manila. Bisaya, Ilokano, Hiligaynon, Kapampangan, Pangasinense and Chabacano are only a handful out of the dozens of brogues spoken all over our archipelago.

As a tribute to the effort of our kabayan I am reproducing the letter here, hope he doesn’t mind. If you Precious Reader can help translate, please do, send it back to us in the comments (thanks in advance), while we also figure out how to best reach the original intended recipients (it’s not a long letter):

different races

Mama og Papa kumusta namo diha? Buotan mga tawo dinhi sa NZ, ganahan kaayo sila og pinoy, mo respeto sad sa mga asian, tungod kay kita kahibaw mo respeto sa usag usa dali ra kaayo ma hire, bisan gamay rame sa amo company.

Taking a wild guess, given my total lack of knowledge of dialects outside Tagalog, Pangalatok (my wife’s tongue) and Bikolano (my mother’s childhood language), I’m going to say this paragraph is a positive one, and it’s obviously about employers hiring more of us, probably because of Pinoys’ sociable traits (but I could be wrong).


Tungod kay kamao ta mo halobilo makig timbayayung, ang mga tsino kay deli makigkuyog sa deli nila kalahi, mga bumbay sad kamao sila mag paraya pero suheto sa tanan, puti sad buotan, unya taas og pasensya, mo tudlo sila sa angay buhaton, kusog lng mo inum nya usahay tapolon mo trabaho, kay taga dinhi man,

Here is a candid depiction of various races and nationalities I think, with the Chinese not too friendly with those not of their kind, is that right? Indians I’m not sure what the letter-writer thinks of them but it can’t be that good 🙂 I’m guessing “puti” refers to European Kiwis who whether good or bad, are so because they’re locals.

mga langyaw ang ng maneho sa mga farm, kay ang mga puti deli ganahan  dinhi na lng kutob, e.kumusta na lng ko sa tanan natong kaparentehan og ka igagawan nato diha, pasensya gyud wala koy pamasko sa inyo og sa mga barkada ko.

The last paragraph is an obvious commentary on the dairy industry: because locals don’t like working on farms, the vacuum is taken up by Pinoys, and this I know because a special visa pathway has been set up for our own kabayan, just to work on farms. The letter writer is obviously a relatively young person, as he is still close to his group of friends (barkada) that he made during his youth.

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

Well, I’ll be very surprised if I hit the mark on even 50% of my amateur translations. I’m shortlisting the dialect used to between Cebuano and Hiligaynon, and I think it’s Cebuano. To the parents of this mystery letter-writer, you should be proud of your son/daughter, who I think is hard-working and misses you very much. So sorry if I can’t translate efficiently.  Guys, please help translate on the comments below if you can.

Mabuhay, thanks for reading!



mga pahabol na pamasko sa ating kabayang naka WV

[I’ve said this many times before, but this blog is definitely not meant to be advisory in nature, we can’t be responsible for any action arising from reading this crazy blog. Please engage the services and advice of a licensed immigration adviser in New Zealand. Thanks for reading, and thank you to
YouTuber amadeusiom for the awesome video!]

BASED ON GOVERNMENT records, of the 193,000 plus plus work visa holders (also known as guest workers) in New Zealand right now (I say plus plus because expanding the strict definitions in practical ways may make it much much more), between 11,000 and 21,000 (based on approvals the last two years, it could be a little more if you include three year visas) are our very own kabayan, or brown-skinned brothers and sisters.

It’s common sense to assume that these work visa holders want to be permanent residents after a while, after all that’s the reason most of them (99.9%) came here to work in New Zealand. At the very least, you sacrifice the best years of your life away from family, friends and loved ones in the Inang Bayan in hopes of giving your children and grandchildren a better life. For the hard-working guest worker, becoming a resident and eventually a citizen allows him/her access to decent retirement benefits, a decent health care system, and a simple but comfortable way of life in New Zealand.

BUT THE RULES KEEP CHANGING FOR THESE GUEST WORKERS. Not just the actual requirements, like the conditions of work, amount of wages, how badly you’re needed by the business or employer, but how these requirements are determined, the way they’re assessed, and terms or definitions of these requirements.

It’s almost like, you start a tournament basketball game with the standard goal 10 feet above the ground, and referees to officiate the game. At half time, the officials’ table suddenly decides just for the heck of it to raise the goal another foot (to 11 feet) and change both referees from professional to amateur, just to show that they’re worth the talent fees they’re paid. Nakakabaliw (crazy), right?  The analogy is a bit extreme, but every now and then, to keep numbers down, and to keep the balance between inward and outward migration, the rules are constantly changed for residency hopefuls.

It’s long past the season of giving, but we thought up a short list of giveaways that would help our kabayan work visa holders:

Expand ANZSCO, or get rid of it. I’m no expert, but I do know that ANZSCO is a list of occupations defining all kinds of jobs in both Australia and New Zealand. It was created in one of those countries, Australia I think, and was adopted by New Zealand to make it organized, easily classified for jobs useful for both countries. The problem is, New Zealand is not Australia, and I’m willing to bet my last peso that there are jobs currently filled by work visa holders not on this list.

ANZSCO might be helpful but there are lots of jobs that fall between the gaps, and therefore make it more difficult for residence applicants. If your job isn’t on ANZSCO, you will have a harder time applying, unless there is a special residence pathway for you. There have been a couple of new versions of the list, but I’m guessing there are a few more jobs that aren’t included.

Retain remuneration bands for purpose of defining skill levels. To be considered skilled and therefore deserving to be invited to apply for residency in New Zealand, working an  ANZSCO listed job isn’t enough. (See what I mean about ANZSCO?) You have to be earning a decent enough wage to show you’re important to your employer and that your job is valued enough to be paid serious coin. Fair enough. But you know what? Just because a rule says it’s a hard enough job and complicated enough job to be paid a certain rate per hour doesn’t mean those working that job are actually being paid that amount.

That’s right. If a scaffolder from Butuan, based on industry rates, should be paid around $27 an hour , enough under the current rules to classify him as mid-skilled and therefore a possible candidate for residency (assuming he complies with other requirements) , it doesn’t mean he actually gets that. He may have signed a contract giving him less, or he may have to earn his desired rate after some experience or qualifications reached. And because he earns less, he is considered unskilled. (So unskilled kinuha pa sya from the Middle East ng recruiter, but I’m being sarcastic OK?)

In a perfect world, sana ifreeze muna ang remunerations to give time, at least to those who’ve already been working here a couple years, to apply first. But no. Next month, after only two years, the rules on this topic are changing again. And if you blink, you might miss the next change…

Make it easier for parents to get in.  This is not really for work visa holders but all migrants, but then again we all want our parents to be with us, so… The latest change in the parent visa category have all but made it impossible for parents of regular migrants to become New Zealand residents. You have to be earning like a senior, senior manager or tops in your field, like a PhD or doctoral degree holder AND earner before your parents can be considered.

Family is very important for many, many migrants in NZ. Having immediate family, and after this extended family is among the priorities for many migrants, among them Asians and Filipinos, when considering New Zealand as a migrant destination. The stereotype of bringing in grandparents to help take care of toddlers and growing children is seriously misplaced and hinders New Zealand from genuinely understanding family as part of the equation in migrating to New Zealand.

The Labor Government made it look like they finally reopened the parent category that was suspended for so long, when actually,  by (again) drastically changing the rules and making it possible for only the fewest of the few (maybe less than 10%) of migrants to bring in their parents, they just broke a lot of hearts. Maawa naman kayo Labor Government, bring back the old rules!

So many late Christmas wishes for our kabayan guest workers in NZ, and chances are they’ll remain just that, wishes. But to get what we want, we sometimes need a rebellion. And as one of the most memorable Star Wars quotes go, rebellions are built on hope. And for now, hope is all we have.

Maligayang 2020 sa lahat! thanks for reading!

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!