it shouldn’t be too hard distinguishing between partisanship and just doing your job

Amba crowd

Our current Ambassador Jesus “Gary” Domingo, far from being partisan, is just doing his job, which is besides representing the Philippines in New Zealand, serving his one and only constituency in New Zealand, the Filipino community.

There, I’ve said it.  If you don’t want to read any further kabayan, that is the tight, concise summary of what I’m saying here.  It’s enough.  But if you need me to expound, please read on.

*****          *****          *****

Like most of us kabayan early last year, including nurses, teachers, IT professionals, scaffolders, dairy workers, accountants, admin officers,  to me “Jesus Gary Domingo” was just a name on the list of ambassadors-in-waiting at the Commission on Appointments published in our national broadsheets back home.

Two things intervened: I would soon visit the Philippines, and the ambassador and I had a mutual friend from a few years back, something I discovered on Facebook (of course).  One inquiry led to another and before I knew it, Amba Gary (as he is more well known now) and I were having breakfast at Pancake House in Greenbelt Makati the same Sunday I ran a half-marathon.  (That was a BUSY morning.)

That breakfast turned into brunch and turned into an early afternoon merienda.  We didn’t stop talking about Star Wars, our alma mater, common friends, his stints abroad (through which I vicariously lived his diplomat adventures) and a myriad other topics. Time simply flew.

One of the few things I remembered about him, in that solitary conversation, was that, representing his country in the various countries (and international organizations) he was assigned to was a given.  It was part of the job.

The unwritten part of your job, he said, was being the unofficial “elder” or respected person in the Filipino community.  That was nowhere in the statutes or codes of the foreign service, but it was implicit in the nature of the job.

In a very real sense, Amba Gary told me, politics is an essential part of the job of ambassador.  But at the same time, the ambassador is above politics.

He is there for everybody.

In this regard, I believe with my heart that if anybody (political party or not) asked Amba Gary to endorse or support their candidacy or cause, basta Pinoy, Amba Gary would not think twice.  He would do it.

He never does things half way.  Statements, pictures, the full support of the Embassy, logistical support within reason, anything.  Basta Pinoy.

In this sense, therefore, let me correct what my title above might convey.  Amba Gary is indeed partisan, but only partisan for the cause of the Pinoy community.

I have not read any statement made by or on behalf of the Ambassador.  I don’t need to read it, actually because everything here is based on my opinion and mine alone.

Neither have I consulted anyone in the Embassy, least of all Amba Gary, before posting this.  It would at the very least be awkward, and Amba Gary would simply recoil from saying anything in defense of what he believes is doing his job.

I’m taking too much of your time now kabayan.  Please let me just say one more thing.  Amba Gary is probably one of the best the foreign service has now.  We have been lucky enough to have him.  If he has any fault, it’s being naive enough to dismiss the possibility that anyone would think he has less than the purest motives.

Well, nobody’s perfect.

Thanks for reading and mabuhay tayong lahat!

paalam (for now) to Phil pesos, US dollars and the daily use of cash

BLEW BY the money changer today, one of only two kiosks in our small city near Wellington (Mahal works in the other one but she was at home sick today).

Among other things my chores were to pay the internet / phone bill, buy something to complete the immunity smoothie recipe, and exchange the pesos and dollars we held during our three-week vacay back to the currency of the natives.

I was struck by the disparity of the situation: In the Philippines, cash was king, the liquid that coursed through all transactions.  In certain places you could even use local money, US dollars and euros, whatever you had in your pockets.

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

In New Zealand, it’s almost like there’s an effort to evolve into a cashless society.  The moment anyone doesn’t use an ATM or debit /credit card you can see the cashier / retail guy roll his eyeballs, thinking oh here’s another oddball with the banknotes and coins.

On public transport, almost everyone uses the Snapper, an electronic data card containing bus or train credits, consumable and to be topped up / reloaded whenever needed.  For this reason, drivers get cranky if you don’t have the exact change because, well drivers don’t expect that many people to carry cash and coins around anymore.

In fact, if you’re ultra-comfortable with using your mobile phone, banks have already gone one step further, partnering with merchants across the industry: combining telephony, electronic point-of-sale technology (EFTPOS) and sensor/scanning innovations, your smartphone now also serves as your wallet.  In a lot of places, including airports, taxis (Uber and Grab, of course), moviehouses, name it,  cash as well as your back pocket has become obsolete.

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

Because of big business and the humongous market, the Philippines without a doubt will catch up with New Zealand.  But for now, based on my recent visit last month, cash is still preferred.  People still lug around fat wads of crisp or grimy peso bills for everyday purchases.

Just look around you, as I did while going around shopping centers in Greenhills, Megamall, Robinsons Galleria and Makati.

A good portion of goods and services still need to be purchased with salapi.  Not only because of the delay in upgrades, it’s also due to the fact that Pinoys in urban areas still depend on the informal (some say underground) sector of the economy.

Think about it kabayan.  Yosi (Cigaret) boys, sidewalk vendors, sari-sari stores and ambulant sellers.  Even watch-car boys, taho and balut vendors, bote diaryo buyers (with those kariton or wooden trolleys who buy your junk) or even, don’t forget, jeepney drivers.   Can you imagine them carrying card readers for your ATMs or credit cards to swipe?

Getting one of my credentials from a government agency, I once asked if I could pay with ATM (ATM!) or credit card.  The cashier just looked at me as if I was nuts.

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

A short word on US dollars, based on my limited OFW experience.  Like anywhere else in the civilized world, US dollars are acceptable, sometimes even more desirable than local currency.  This is because of the stability and universality contained in those dead presidents.  But there is another reason, as if you didn’t know.  Almost everywhere also, currencies are pegged against the US dollar.  This means the NZ dollars in my figurative pockets were meaningless in terms of Philippine pesos unless they were first (theoretically) expressed in terms of US dollars; then and only then would it make sense to convert them into usable Philippine pesos here (there, nakabalik na pala ako sa New Zealand).

Whatever, be it in US$, NZ$ or PhP, it pays (literally) to keep your funds in the liquidest form, i.e., ube (P100), Ninoys (P500) and that trio of heroes I still can’t identify (P1,000) but come in very handy when I buy my favorite electronics, pasalubong and colorful running shoes.

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

Which was why, literally, until wheels up of our departing airplane, we still thought it prudent to carry around a little cash just for emergencies in the motherland.

Compare this to our host nation, where I could go for weeks, months even, without seeing a dollar note or coin crossing my palms.  From the time of wage payment (online) till the last cent is spent (online), I don’t see a physical manifestation of my pay.  Not that there’s much to spend, by the way 🙂

Oh well. na senti lang ako returning all that money back to origin (the Philippines) where the pesos I exchanged will surely go.  After all, that’s where Pinoy pesos should be right?  In Pinoyland.

Where I dream of returning, by the way.  All the time.


Thanks for reading!

pay as you go (please park your conscience at counter)

How much would you be willing to pay to avoid waiting here? thanks and acknowledgment to!

(Note : This is a longish post.  Thanks and mabuhay everyone who made my trip here a genuine pleasure!)

WHAT WE’VE noticed in big, big government agencies that process massive amounts of nameless faces each day is: as you go further up the conveyor belt, the flow gets smaller, the crowds start thinning, but it gets more intense.  You get closer to the document (or service) you need, but the suspense gets thicker.

Will there be a problem? Will the pencil-pusher ask a question you can’t answer, or worse, can’t answer without jeopardizing yourself?  And lastly: if an extra “consideration” is needed to speed up the process, will you afford it, and if so, will you make little compromises with yourself, tainting both the corruptor and corruptee?

But, as usual, I’m getting ahead of myself.

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

In a complete reversal of last year, where I went through the entire process legally and regularly,  I braced myself to do anything and everything to get my government document (I can’t tell you exactly what it is but you probably have a good idea, I need a new one every year) in the quickest possible time and with the least amount of stress.

If you can believe me, Precious Reader, my righteous intolerance  for shortcuts and corruption in bureaucracy gave way to a pressing need to procure my document before I was to return to the salt mines.  One week before the return flight home just wouldn’t cut it, and my long experience with sharing my name (common given name and very common family name) with a gazillion other brown brothers allowed me to discern that the process would take an extra week, just to ascertain that I wasn’t the guy they were hunting in cases captioned Robbery with Homicide, Qualified Theft and Illegal Possession of a Common Name (made that last one up, heh heh).  So for convenience and survival, I temporarily abandoned my scruples, and laid out a few hard-earned but well-spent bills of dinero for “extra service.”

*****          *****          *****

My brother knew a friend of a friend, who knew a Contact, and our instructions were simple and specific: all we had to do was give our names and IDs and leave it with his guy (as I’ll elaborate on later, the instructions were simple so they could be followed to the letter) .  Two texts and that was it, we would leave our names, show our IDs, and get our documents from Brother’s Friend of a Friend a day later.  But no.  I had to ask around, wait a while, just to be sure it would be ready on the same day.  I’m stupid that way.

So we text and meet the Contact, a burly guy wearing polo barong and maong (ikr?) and a nonchalant but all-too-obvious mother-of-pearl-handgripped 9mm bestfriend.  So despite his admin or desk status, he was authorized to carry a gun.

Oh well.

Ibigay nyo lang sa kin ID nyo at lumang dokumento, ako na’ng bahala. (Just give me your IDs and old documents, I’ll just take care of everything), he said.

No introductions, not even the sycophantic grin.  All business.  And after all, we were the ones who approached/roused him out of his apparatchik stupor.  We duly complied, but because we didn’t have our old documents, he had to make do.

(But weytaminit, kapeng mainit, wasn’t that the reason for our meeting?  If we had the old documents with us, the processing time would’ve been dramatically reduced, and we probably wouldn’t even be meeting that day. But that was that.)

Almost as an afterthought, but calculated to be asked just before he left us, he asked for the legal processing fee, which was of course a perfectly reasonable expectation, but at this point the stage where I made my FIRST mistake.

The unwritten rule in situations like this, where a lot of things are spontaneous and dependent on the moment is: for application and processing fees, HAVE THE EXACT CHANGE READY.

I gave him a one-thousand peso bill, which Contact put in his pocket, for a P220.00 payment and change for which I would never see again.

Mahal my gorgeous wife, who was with me and who also needed the same document, glared at me, and whispered, bakit di mo hiningi sa akin? May barya ako rito! (Why didn’t you ask me for the money? I had effing change here!)  Ahead of me, she instinctively knew we would not get change for that.


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

He then led us through a labyrinth of people and pencil-pushers much like any government office where documents and services are needed 8 hours a day,  5 days a week, and 52 weeks a year.  The only difference?  We were breaking lines and disrespecting queues left and right, bypassing gatekeepers, breaching lines of disciplined applicants that had been there for hours and hours, and who were all, without exception, giving us the evil eye.  Security guards and queue wardens were all ignoring us or looking the other way at the right time.  All because of Mang Contact our escort, who did it like he was smoking a cigarette or chewing gum.

Another rule I made for myself (and future corruptors like me): when you are breaking lines and jumping queues, keep your head down and don’t engage.  Don’t look at anybody, much less look at anybody in the eye.  They quickly make the assumption you’re either a VIP or bribing somebody, which we verily were.

After a very summary data-processing interview where the guy in front of the screen took our details (already in the system) and updated our statuses (unneeded) we were scooted away to fingerprinting and photo-taking, which took less than a minute for both of us.  Again, we broke a few lines and earned a few more unpleasant stares, from people who had booked appointments days before and were returning just for that particular process.

After our much-reduced waiting and processing time, we were handed appointment slips of paper which were dated two weeks in the future, long past the day we would leave the homeland and back to New Zealand.  After a moment’s distress, I had an “aha” moment where I reminded myself : this is what Mang Contact is for, polo-barong and maong, ivory handgun, giant government ID and everything else.

Of course we gave our slips of paper (receipts, actually) to the Contact, who after returning our IDs, whispered (why was he whispering? no one was paying attention, and what he had to say, everyone knew about, maybe even pretending not to be in on it) , magJollibee muna kayo, balik kayo apter lanch, pumunta kayo sa (name of office that double-checked our common names).”

Which was hunky-dory with me, because, per Brother’s simple and specific instructions, we were to respond, ibigay nyo na lang mga dokumento kay (Friend of a Friend of Bro), OK na.  We were gonna get the documents from Bro’s Friend of a Friend in 24 hours, anubanamanyon?

My stupid self sez to me : why don’t you just make sure the documents are in your hands ASAP?  After all it’s just a coupla hours, Noel.

So I sez to Contact, with another P1000 bill under the receipts marked two weeks from now: OK babalik kami, maraming salamat po.

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

That was my SECOND mistake.  I gave him money that wasn’t for me to give; deviated from the script which was to never see him again, and just wait for the documents to be sent, ultimately, to my brother.

I knew this instantly because, witnessing his double-take, Contact wasn’t expecting the blue bill under the slips.  He said, um, o sige wag ka na bumalik dun sa (office), ako na’ng bahala, and for the first time flashed his toothless smile.

To which I was taken aback and realized my mistake.  He wasn’t expecting the money, because I belatedly remembered Brother saying the Friend of a Friend would take care of him for routine nobodys like me.  The generous change from the unexpected P1,000 earlier (11 paragraphs ago) was more than enough for him. Unwittingly (and without wanting such status), I had become a VIP in his corruptible eyes.

Double sigh.

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

After ChickenJoy and Burger Steak Meal, two hours later, I received a text advising me to plant my middle-aged a*s at the Public Assistance Center lobby conveniently located near the sea of humanity being processed and holding their payments on the first, second and third floors of the Main Office issuing documents all Filipinos needed to work.  They were like well-behaved mindless zombies just waiting for their official documents without which they could not start working towards the Filipino Dream.

At the meeting area, I was met by Contact, who said something like this:  May konting problema.  May kapangalan ka sa Mindanao na may kaso, pero aayusin ko.  Steady ka lang dyan, ibibigay ko rin ngayon ang papel mo.  (There’s a slight problem.  Someone with your name has a pending case in Mindanao [the Philippines’s deep south, not the best place to be when you’re going back overseas soon]  but I’ll fix it.  Just stay here.)

He added that to get a certification that this person isn’t me would take another few days from the branch office in Mindanao, blah blah blah but in so many words the message was clear:  Another small payment was needed.

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

For (1) finishing the entire process in one day, (2) bypassing the process/es where I had to be checked against other guys sharing my first and last names, and (3) enduring the last of this guy’s bullsh*t, I was prepared to give him what remained in my dog-eared wallet, which was, at the end of the day, all of five hundred pesos.

Without thinking, I fished out the Ninoy, and handed it to him surreptitiously.  Kuya ito na lang pera  ko, pwede na ba yan?  (Elder brother, this is all I’ve got left, will it be enough?)

Without hesitating he took it like it was tissue paper for a runny nose, tossed it into his bulky pocket (which btw didn’t even half-hide the menacing nine-round Argument-Ender tucked in his belt) and asked me to wait some more.

As if I could do anything else.

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

Thirty minutes later, give or take an evil stare or two from fellow OFWs,  I was resbak-ing out of there with my newly-minted documents, with an aloha (and toothless grin) from my new Best Friend, Manong Contact.

Of course, that wasn’t the end of it.  I duly reported the day’s activities to Brother, truthfully of course and without varnishing or editing.

He sarcastically intoned, “I gave you simple and specific instructions for a reason.  You were to leave your names and fees with the guy, give AT MOST a little pangmeryenda (a little money for a snack) if he insisted, and leave.  The documents were to be given to me, at the latest, tomorrow.  Which part did you not understand???”

(I fully deserved that, and hung my head.)

Instead, I hung around, and in the process provided meryenda and baon to Mang Contact’s family for two days, gave him the impression I had money to burn, and proved to Brother (and Mahal) that I couldn’t follow simple instructions.

On the other hand, I earned a new Best Friend, who probably doesn’t even remember me by now.

And (duh) we got our documents!

Thanks for reading!

ang pagbabalik: raw notes coming home and the first 24 back home

thanks and acknowledgment to naira forum!

thanks and acknowledgment to naira forum!

It’s not even the first 24 hours, but I’m not drunk, I have a keyboard in front of me, and I don’t have a pressing engagement.  Not that I have any pressing engagements the next few days, weeks, or the rest of my stay back in the Philippines.  I’m here (1) to visit family, (2) to attend a nephew’s wedding, the only son of our eldest brother, the first of the next generation, and (3) to spend vacation leave like a real vacation leave.

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


As usual, we left a lot of odds and ends unsorted and loose strings unattached.  Ideally I think, after nearly a decade of going home and travelling 24+ hours at a time, the best time to prepare for a trip back home is around a week before.  But hey, who knows what’s best for each person right?

If you prepare too soon, the preparations you make will lapse or will need new preparations.  if you prepare too late, well, you’ll be late.

things like, someone watch the car please so batteries won’t go dead and won’t get shat on by birds? (we don’t have a covered carport.)  Anyone please watch the flat so the personal property inside doesn’t get stolen and unnoticed till we return? (our backdoor neighbor and daughter Ganda and boyfriend have graciously indulged.) Anyone please bring us to the airport and pick us up when we arrive?  (bless their soul, somebody has raised their hand.)

Milk going bad, too bad, frozen goods stay frozen, what? no pets to feed? and Noel, don’t forget to turn off the automatic water heater to avoid needlessly wasting energy.   Check, check, check?  That’s it.


Because you don’t plan for these things, and it’s nearly beyond your control, it’s almost a given, that :  (1) there will be a baby or babies either next to your seat, behind you, or in front of you.  The chances of this happening are directly proportional to the length of your trip.  Please let me explain.  WELLINGTON to AUCKLAND, 45 mins. = very little chance of a baby in the vicinity.  Remote, if you ask me.  AUCKLAND TO WELLINGTON, approximately 3 hours.  = chances go up moderately.  If you’re lucky, you will hear cooing and gurgling sounds, in the 3 meter radius.  If you’re unlucky, they’re distressed, needing a good breastfeed or needing a major diaper change.  AUCKLAND to MANILA, 7-8 hours = chances go up dramatically, exponentially in fact.

It goes up even higher if you’ve been stress-free (meaning baby-free) the first two legs of the trip, probably 75% to 90%  A few Hail Marys would be useful now.  But looking at the baby carriers, eyebagged parents and feeding bottles around you at Sydney International, you know it will be a long trip.

As soon as you settle in your seat and fasten the seat belt, baby #1  starts crying.  This of course stresses out baby #2, and starts crying too.  They are both within 3 rows of yours.

[Sorry for the extra detail.  Raw notes, after all.]


(Eight hours later.)  It’s not as bad as we dreaded it to be.  The babies actually kept quiet, would you believe a one-year old had his iPad keeping him occupied?  the unmistakable Aussie twang of the Qantas pilot cheerfully informed us that the flight was 20 (twenty!) minutes ahead of schedule, no traffic! he joked.

Alas, traffic welcomed us outside NAIA Terminal 1 to render the time saved totally meaningless.  The trip between the airport and the temporary hotel (we booked a day late, promo was negated by a non-discounted first night), around 15 kms away, took as a little over an hour, shocking in New Zealand terms but actually shorter than average for rush hour travel.

I can’t name the hotel because we didn’t choose in advance, the price was reasonable and they were quite friendly, but the carpet was threadbare, sheets smelled strongly of cheap fabric conditioner and cheap disinfectant (I’m sure the price difference between the next higher brand/s is centavos per kilogram), and the toilet flushed veeeerrrry slowly, a constant worry for me.  Of all the whines, moans and groans this paragraph, only the last one was enough for me to never recommend it to anyone; it is a famous, iconic brand that has seen better days, and is right next to the favorite mall of the snake-daughter.

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

Backpedalling a bit to the airport: I made the basic steps: looked for my brother’s driver, booked a week in advance (he was exactly where Eldest Brother said he would be, dressed in the polo barong that he was supposed to wear and crew-cut hair), bought a SIM card and replaced the New Zealand one in my phone, SMS texted the most important people first: Mother, Eldest Brother, Second Brother and Fifth Brother (I am the Third).  Only Fourth Brother remains overseas.

As soon as we stepped outside the air-conditioned NAIA airport complex, the hot muggy air hit us: not as bad as we anticipated, as there was a low-pressure area that just left Metro Manila.  Maybe 19-20 Celsius.  The carbon monoxide definitely flavored the air, and as I mentioned earlier, what should’ve been a 20-25 minute ride tops in Wellington took us around an hour and a half.

Welcome home Noel.

hacking the genome sequence of the Pinoy relationship DNA (with Pinoys Pinays either or both)


carefully posed “couple” picture.  We were actually harassed and stressed at the time.  

(Note : thanks for indulging me with the longish title, and thanks Glenda Laserna for reminding me. 🙂 Happy birthday Karen Hulleza-Luna and Spencer Tee!)

As it’s recently been the day of hearts, love and relationships, we’re putting on our relationship analyst hat, being eminently qualified with the requisite number of relationships (each one I’m grateful for), number of heartbreaks (most of which I’ve survived) and mental state (as the sign on the door sez, quietly going crazy in an outwardly sane world, kaw rin no).  Now dear Precious Reader, whether or not you’re crazy enough take the pieces of advice below is entirely up to you,  caveat emptor.

Love is universal.  Kabayan like you and me (and everyone else) are sensible enough to avoid the conceit that Pinoys and the way they love are unique, with a few minor exceptions, love across homo sapiens sapiens is consistent, predictable and, given a uniform set of facts or situation, will produce a uniform outcome.

But Pinoys are worth mentioning that we blend the traditional with the modern, the religious with the secular, the zealot with the infidel, the parochial with the cosmopolitan.  We cannot be a cookie-cutter, love-is-love and happily-ever-after love culture.  We have to have our teleserye complications, twists and turns, conflicted inner and outer conflicts and wishy-washy crazy-love lunacy that defines Pinoy love.  (Obvious ba na love-scarred ang inyong blogger? :p )

In a relationship, Pinoys are self-centered, Pinays like to be indulged.  Notice I didn’t say selfish, there’s a difference.  The reality in a relationship is, Pinoys like to think in terms of me all time, a result of history, culture and gender.  What is my breakfast?  Is my underwear ready?  Am I going to do the nasty tonight?  And so on and so forth.  Now, see how his counterpart thinks:  What breakfast will I prepare?  Have I fresh underwear for him?  Is he gonna ask me to do the nasty tonight?  Whether or not you are comfortable with this or want to tweak the relationship somewhat is entirely up to you, but in a nutshell, that’s the template.

Conversely, in return for all this me-me-me preoccupation with themselves, Pinoys acknowledge that recognition, respect, tributes (meaning gifts), especially faithfulness and loyalty, and we’re-not-worthy posturing should regularly be paid to their girlfriends-spouses-partners.  It’s just part of the equation, without which there would be serious imbalance to the relationship.

Frequent hugs and kisses.  Oh-I’m-the-luckiest-man-alive!  exclamations.  Gifts and presents for no reason at all.  Complete surrender of the finance and budget portfolio to the missus.  These are just part-and-parcel of the philosophy of, in return for treating you like a king, treating your woman like the princess that she is.  Good bargain, if you ask me.

Holding your tongue at any and all times, especially when it concerns the following :  Her appearance, specifically her figure, her pretty face, and how she perceives herself.  The standard response may vary (a vigorous yes, regurgitating whatever self-opinion she has of herself, artfully rephrasing what you know is her self-image), but the simple formula is : absolutely yes, you are 100% percent correct, my dear.  There is no deviation from this timeless formula.  Stay the course and relationship success is assured.  Stray from this winning solution at your peril. Nuff said.

Acknowledging the sacred cows of the relationship.  with some Pinoys it’s family.  With others it’s religion.  With still others it’s a combination of the two, children of a previous relationship, politics, what-have-you.  Whatever, it’s a quirk of Filipinos that our very strong family ties, Roman Catholic upbringing, regionalism, etc etc etc will frequently impose themselves at some point on the relationship.

Rather than push back, resist or fight centuries-old institutions that will not easily go away, methinks it would be best to be like the bamboo and bend with the wind, not break and in the process thrive on the chaos.  Admit that sometimes, relationships take second place.  Go through the motions of following Catholic practices (I will probably burn in hell for this).  And if your Pinay sez Ilokano is better than Tagalog, or Bisaya is better than Waray, just nod along, who knows who is correct, in the ultimate scheme of things?

*****          *****          *****

It sounds simplistic, but many, many relationships I have seen and experienced have survived on knowing these simple truths.  It doesn’t matter if only one or both are Pinoy and / or Pinay.  It works.  Not all the time, but it works.

Happy Relationship or Freedom from Relationship Day everyone!

belated congrats to Ganda!

nicole-gradI’ll never get tired of saying this, but as soon as you become a mom or dad, your life is no longer just about you (or at least, you alone).  Your dreams, energies and aspirations are focused on your family, specifically on the little bundle of joy you’ve brought into this world.

This is why I was beside myself when after three schools, two countries and countless dreams, daughter Ganda picked herself by the bootstraps (does anyone still use that idiom?) picked up lessons from textbooks, her colleagues and the streets and alleys of the world, and along the way picked up and earned herself a double Bachelor’s degree in Marketing and Management last December from the Victoria University of Wellington.

All guardians and elders but particularly parents can relate to this:  an education is by far the best gift one can ever impart to the next generation.  It’s a gift that keeps giving, and a legacy that pays itself forward far beyond the immediate lives and generations concerned.

*****          *****          *****

And as parents, grandparents and guardians, we can choose whether or not to do so, but every little (hopefully) positive thing our children, grandchildren or wards do, we can claim as a reflection of ourselves.  It may or may not be fair to everyone  concerned, but that’s just the way it is.  The apple never falls far from the tree.  Kung anong tinanim, sya ring aanihin.  

On balance, Ganda has been more a source of pride than anything else for me.  Her double degree, graduation and entrance into the work force is just a culmination of all the happiness she has brought me.

I don’t know what else to say here, but Ganda, your life is just beginning.  You can do anything you want, and your potential is limitless.  Your graduation is just a consequence, and not a cause, of your winning attitude.  I love you always, and mabuhay ka!  Congrats again!

irresistible tech, the human need for affirmation, and unequal partnerships (between me & Mahal)


item subject of negotiation, and the freebie beside it. read below for the full story please.

IN MY tiny, well-structured world, despite my old, dilapidated phone (four years old, a hand-me-down from Mahal; I’m not complaining), no one can convince me I need a brand-new replacement. It’s just too frivolous, luxurious, and expensive.

There are only three exceptions.

First, my generous fitness tracker (free, mapmyrun) encourages it.  Second, the South Asian sales guy I (inexplicably) trust at the mall tells me I would be crazy not to consider his one-day-only deal (I always fall for these things so I try not to listen too hard when I pass by the provider’s kiosk).

And here’s the clincher: when Mahal tells me it’s an unavoidable, ultimately inescapable deal to be doing.

And herein lies the rub: in most marriages between Pinoy husbands and the wives they adore, it is essentially an unequal partnership.  The lalake (guy) may profess to wear the pants, make the decisions, blah blah blah, but when the wife doubles down, cashes in her numerous IOUs (in Tagalog, makes those sumbat-sumbat from an atraso you incurred a month ago staining the immaculate new carpet), and otherwise throws her weight around, we menfolk essentially have no answer, other than the two words American husbands are famous for : Yes Dear.

But as usual, I’m getting ahead of myself.

*****          *****          *****

After two weeks of depressing windy-stormy-windy stretches, I woke up to a nearly perfect summer afternoon.  On days like this, sun in the center of the sky and no clouds (cumulus or nimbus) in sight, you forget that you lack sleep, you forget that your extremities are cramping and sore, you forget that you have yet-another night shift tonight, and you just step out of the shade and run like crazy.  Heat and being out in the sun makes you forget you have problems, when you are in a temperate zone.

So I’m out running, on my fourth kilometer, breathless but thrilled to be up and about when I should be sleepless, tossing and turning (the unexpected adrenaline might also be due to the lack of sleep) in bed, and five minutes away from having smelly underarms (another side-effect of intense summer days but worth it, if I’m gonna get my exercise) when the phone registers an incoming from an unknown number.

boing boing boing.  throwback rotary phone ringtone, oddly out of place from a smartphone. boing boing boing.

I don’t answer these calls, because, having worked in an outbound, soliciting call center back home, chances are this call is a solicitation, a survey call, or a call from the bank.  (The last one Mahal can handle, that’s why I obediently handed over my ATM to her diba?  🙂 )

(But it could be a Nigerian prince who might inform me I just won in their lottery and just a small transfer fee away from facilitating the process.  I’m a sucker for these promos.  Woohoohoo!)


good day Mr Noel, your wife wants to take advantage of my one-day-only deal, unlimited data, brand new (toot*, brandname of phone that everyone just HAS to have) phone, for just an extra $55 a month.  Will you authorise your wife? (trick question.)

that sounds good, but may I speak to my wife please?

(almost instantly Mahal is on the line.)  Love, kunin na natin. (Toot**, name of super-aggressive telecom provider) na ako diba?  sumali ka na sa akin, shared data tayo, pero isang bayaran lang.  tapos dagdag yung cost ng phone mo sa akin, extra $55 lang, modelo pa,  walang talo eh. ( I can feel her smile, and an even bigger grin on the salesguy’s, hanging on the phone.)

Naturally, I need to slow down.  You can’t think clearly about these things when you’re jogging.

sigurado ka kaya natin Mahal?  aalis na yung flatmate natin, walang sasalo ng share nya.

OK lang yon, may papalit agad.  matatapos na rin yung hinhulugan ko, kaya bababa pa cash out natin.

hmmm.  despite the short time elapsed, I could see that some discussion and haggling had transpired.

Love nabasa ko sa internet na kapag may decision kang di ka pa sigurado, it’s always best to use one day to think about it.  Wala namang mawawala diba?  (using all the tricks in the book to delay the inevitable.)

Then, as always, comes the clincher.

Love, bibigyan ako (notice the “tayo” becomes ako) ng libreng tablet! Walang bayad yon!

(kaya nga libre diba?)

*****          *****          *****

Well, that settles it.  Sabi ko sa inyo, when the final round of bargaining starts, Mahal, and many others like her (the wives) simply won’t take no for an answer.  Spark (oops, nabanggit ko rin yung telecoms provider) knows consumers can’t resist freebies like FREE TABLETS (gosh, could you Precious Reader resist that?), on top of spread-out instalment periods, shared unlimited data, ano pa hahanapin mo?

Honestly, all Mahal was asking me to do was fill her very human need for affirmation.

And tell you what, kabayan / Precious Reader.  Remember the unequal nature of our relationship?  The unequalness is directly proportional to how much we want to please our partner, till it hurts. 🙂

That means, without the tablet, without the shared data, and without the affordable instalments, I would’ve said, you’re the boss Mahal.

There’s always the exception to the rule.

Thanks for reading!

PS. Free Spotify pa!

*Korean brand  that sometimes bursts into flames

**Spark, but I told you that already right? 🙂






outdoing herself anywhere she goes: bon voyage ConGen Arlene!


The Philippine Embassy’s Minister and Consul-General Arlene Gonzales-Macaisa, also known as Kabayan Arlene, with husband Allan.  Thanks for the pic guys!

RIGHT NOW, the image of our government, looking from the outside or in, is horribly bad.  I mean, really bad.  I’m no expert, but offhand, there is simply nothing good we can say at this time.  (Whether or not it’s deserved is something I leave to you Precious Reader.)

Except for the Philippine foreign service.

Owing either to exceptional good luck, or just the basic high standards set by tradition, training and recruitment, both New Zealand and its Pinoy migrant community have enjoyed, in flash and substance, quality from officials and staff of the Philippine Embassy.

I’ve mentioned this to you at least twice in the form of critically good reviews for our current ambassador, His Excellency Jesus Gary Domingo, but his Number Two Man (actually a woman) is every bit as good as he, in the person of Minister and Consul General Arlene Gonzales-Macaisa (Arlene na lang, please, I can almost hear her say).

No exaj, she has hit the ground running under previous boss Her Excellency Ambassador Virginia Benavidez, nailed the Mobile Consular Services Outreach gig all over New Zealand, has ably assisted Ambassador Gary in many liaisons with MFAT (the DFA’s counterpart) and the diplomatic corps in Wellington, and lent her organizational and managerial pizzazz to nearly everything our Embassy has been involved in, the four years she’s been here.

As long as you provide her the plan and vision, she is usually the person who gets down to brass tacks, the intricate and involving details needed to see a project through.  Her strong suits are research and preparation, but she is just as fine networking and negotiating our embassy’s way through swells and tides.

I was lucky enough to have a chat-cum-interview with ConGen Arlene for our KABAYANews summer 2017 issue before her tour of duty here in Wellington ends next month.  (Hopefully Precious Reader you’ll see it soon, please watch this space.) She will work out of the DFA’s home office for the next two years before another overseas adventure in… who knows where the globe stops spinning?

No doubt she will outdo herself anywhere she is posted.

Don’t worry ConGen, we’ll get you a copy of that summer issue wherever you are!  Mabuhay ka, kudos and salud, Kabayan Arlene and family, from all of us in the Pinoy community of New Zealand especially Wellington!

Thanks for reading!


3 NZ myths busted by this OFW

breathtaking view of Milford Sound on the west coast of NZ's South Island. thanks to

breathtaking view of Milford Sound on the west coast of NZ’s South Island. thanks to

I WILL never consider myself an expert on New Zealand, no matter how much time I’ve spent here.  However, I HAVE stayed here the better part of a decade, and I’ve seen and heard things enough to qualify me to tell you what is and what isn’t true about this remarkable country, called, variously, Aotearoa, The Land of the Long White Cloud, sometimes Middle Earth, and sometimes Godzone (God’s Own).

The following are a hodgepodge of personal experience (is there any other kind?), info collected in the course of work and moving around, a little travel, et cetera.  In other words, reader beware.

an actual (horror) movie poster poking fun at the "sheep" and dairy culture of New Zealand.

an actual (horror) movie poster poking fun at the “sheep” and dairy culture of New Zealand.

You see more sheep than people in new Zealand.  The actual urban legend is “there are more sheep than people in New Zealand” (and this is true) but the belief I think one is being led to foster is (intentionally or not), for every person you see here, there are a dozen chewing grass around him/her.

In fact, unless you go out of the major urban centers like Auckland Wellington or Christchurch (among others), you will hardly see any bovine activity, although of course, anywhere else in New Zealand it is a common sight.  Most remarkable on my few trips seeing sheep lamb and cows grazing on meadows, leas and hillsides were the “coats” or cold-resistant clothing worn by the more sensitive (and probably more valuable) cows in wintertime.

For the record, there are 4.6 million New Zealanders and 60 million sheep, which means my hosts the New Zealanders will probably never run out of wool.

Everyone is rich,  there’s plenty of work for everyone, and being poor is unheard of in First World New Zealand.  Going by the traditional GNP, per capita income, quality of life and life expectancy metrics, New Zealand is indeed, way up there on the global list of desirable nation-states.  But below the surface, there are inconsistencies.  Income inequality is alarming.  Both unemployment and underemployment figures are high for a First World country.  And poverty is more common than anyone can imagine.  (Sorry to say this about my hosts, NZ is still a great place to live in nevertheless.)

Like many other nations,  New Zealand has its share of problems.  But unlike many, New Zealand is doing something about it, recognizing among other things that migration is a key factor in national development.  Which is my way of thanking this country for letting migrant workers like me take part in its nation-building. 🙂

images-1New Zealand is very liberal in its migration policy, practically welcoming guest workers, seasonal workers and refugees with open arms.  While this was true maybe 20 years ago, ever since the recession of the 1990s, the mini-downturns of the naughties, culminating in the global economic crisis of 2008, New Zealand is no longer the migrant paradise that many would-be migrants thought it would be.

In the first place, New Zealand always needs skilled workers, professionals and service providers like any other advanced, industrialized nation, to take care of its young, sick and aged population.  The problem is, the supply of workers from all over the world (including the Philippines) is nearly limitless, and therefore New Zealand is either forced to raise its standards for migrant workers seeking entry, postpone or reduce its migrant entry quotas, or stop allowing migrants entry into New Zealand altogether.

Suppose you had a farm, and needed maybe 200 workers to harvest your products and load them into transport.  You sent out the word, and almost instantly, 20,000 workers rush to your farm, seeking work, any kind of work, and demanding that you process them immediately.  What to do?

This is the problem New Zealand is facing, from applicants all over the world, but mainly from China, India, Southeast Asia, and South Asia.  The toothpaste is out of the tube, and can’t be returned.   This is why drastic measures are now being put in place to make sure people are now being made aware that sure, New Zealand still welcomes skilled migrants, but only in very specific situations, skills and numbers.

Hope this clears up a few misconceptions we’ve nurtured about New Zealand, certainly still a  great destination for many of us, and still the land of great promise.

Thanks for reading!





thoughts on the last working day of the year

Businessman Sitting Top Cliff Rock Mountain

[ Note : Sorry if we haven’t been getting together too often Precious Reader.  But beyond my quit-smoking post on Nov most years, this is the blog that I try not to forget, the count-your-blessings post.  Thanks for the pic, and thanks everyone for reading! ]

WE ALWAYS work in pairs, but halfway in, my shift partner had to go home early.  So I finished my last 2016 shift alone, although there were packers on the other end of the work site.

Surprise, surprise, everything worked out well just there and then.  Everything clicked, and product was churned out ton after ton, like it was the most natural thing in the world.  More important, it went straight to packing, nothing saved, nothing wasted, probably straight into a waiting truck into bakeries, restos and supermarkets.  It was THAT urgent.

Of course there was the shift partner (gone hours ago) who helped me set up the machines and raw material, the veteran who warned me of specific issues and situations to avoid, and of course the packers who checked in on me in the production area every now and then, but in the end, after half a shift of working alone, I turned out 31 tons of product.  Working on my own.

It was then when I felt, for all the trouble, training, dramas, stresses and sore legs, arms and unending fatigue, that I liked my job.  In fact, I liked my situation, and in sum, I liked my life.

I’m not being boastful, exemplary or trying to make this a teachable moment.  One person’s survival is another person’s perfect situation.  Perfect situation being :  you have a decent job, you have a little money saved in the bank, you are in reasonably good health, and you live in a country that respects human life, liberty and property.  Not a bad-looking list, especially using the eyes of someone in Africa (almost anywhere in Africa), or someone in the Middle East (almost anyone or anywhere in the Middle East) or someone in Syria (anyone, anywhere in Syria.  Except for that guy making it miserable for everyone else).

Decent Job.  It’s not a dream job, but I get paid better than minimum wage.  In New Zealand, that means you have money for the basics, and a little left over.  The job involves a little physical labor, and moving about, but so what?  It keeps me fit, and being fit at my age is a definite bonus.  To work my job, I need to be fit, and working allows me to continue being fit.  So it’s a gift that keeps giving.

Money saved.  This is where it gets tricky.  While the going is good, money coming in, and the sun is shining, you just don’t see the urgent need to save and put aside blessings now for blessings in the future.  BUT, believe me when I say this, this is important, you won’t be earning the same amount of money all the time, and all through life, your earnings may or may not go up, but your needs will never go down.

Just to be able to save a little money, by choice, is a pure luxury for me.  And that’s what I’m doing now.  A bit late, but better than never.

Good health.  This is my ace in my sleeve.  My last physical, said my doc who felt me in places too awkward to mention in a general patronage blog, said I was, for my age, job and stress levels, in very good health.  Meaning, my numbers were good, tests looked good, and the remainder of my life, against all odds, looked promising.

Promisingly good.

Let’s all count our blessings, happy new 2017, and Mabuhay!