towards an unspoken code of flatmates and flatting


[ Note: To kabayan going home during Christmas, have fun, spread the wealth around, but please take care.  Cliche-ish, but it’s no longer the same Philippines you left.  Thanks for reading, and thank you for the video ABS-CBN! ]

PRIOR TO Mahal arriving and joining me here in NZ, I was a flatmate with kabayan two out of two years.  Then after Mahal and I went flat-hunting and finally settled on a flat (apartment) we liked, we found a flatmate, then a flatmate, then a flatmate.  It was initially out of necessity, then we realized that as long as the flatmate was reasonably easy to live with, we liked living with flatmates.

We did this, knowing the usual caveats when seeking out and getting accustomed to flatmates: DON’T be flatmates with your best friends (you will always disappoint each other).  DON’T be too close with flatmates.  DON’T generalize and expect behaviors from flatmates according to preconceived notions based on regions (for example, Ilokanos are frugal, Pampangos are boastful, etc).  We based our tendency to look for flatmates on economics,  but also because we knew that Pinoys, for all our faults, liked to help each other, especially Pinoy migrants in the initial stages of settling in New Zealand.  Paying it forward, kumbaga  (so to speak).

Without further ado, here are the do’s and don’t we have accumulated while living and co-existing with flatmates in New Zealand:

DO help with the chores around the house.  On paper, flatmates  only need to clean up after themselves and look after their own junk.  But in practice, it’s always common sense to put yourself in the shoes of the owner / landlord/ flat mate-in-charge, and do whatever is needed for the betterment of the flat. You needn’t go all out, just do a little vacuuming, sweep around the place or water the plants / feed the pet if there’s a garden or house pet. A little effort goes a long way.

DO be sensitive with special needs and situations of flatmates.  If a flatmate is on night shift at least once a month, the week/s he or she is on the graveyard shift, sleeping times are obviously inverted, meaning when you’re awake, they’re trying to rest, and when you’re sleeping, they’re up and about, or just about to come home.  That means we need to be a little quieter around the house, and realize that when we’re ready to be off to work, they’re trying to sleep…

A flatmate and his/her group conducting Bible study / prayer meetings Tuesday early evenings?  Just for that one night (in fact, just for a couple hours), vacating the living room to give them a little more privacy and focus in their godly activity shows not only that you respect their faith, but that you can accommodate people with as much tolerance as possible (as long as it’s not TOO much or abusive na ha, use your own good judgment).

DO be sensitive about shared facilities, particularly toilet and bathroom, kitchen, TV viewing and computers (if the latter is part of the rent).  In most flats, there is only one toilet, and one bathroom.  It shouldn’t take a genius to figure out that where there are between four to six users of such toilet, usage must be distributed equally and sensibly according to need and the different schedules of flatmates.

The need to understand and appreciate the complexity of this reality, the reality of shared use of toilet and bath, is nearly always underestimated and neglected, to the detriment of the flatmate relationship.  For one thing, the call of nature is something that can’t be ignored or delayed, and yet because we fear loss of face, we just can’t tell someone to get out of the toilet because we just HAVE TO let our bowels or bladders loose.  This dilemma and insensitivity on the part of the current toilet user, shallow though it may sound, may later escalate into major arguments that lead to flatmates parting ways.

Use of laptops and desktops are nowadays not so much an issue because of iPads, tablets, phablets and smartphones, but there are still flatting arrangements where the flat sharing fee includes use of a common computer, especially for messaging and emailing.  Which means, the time we get around to messaging and emailing our loved ones in the Philippines, assuming our flatmates are kabayan, are roughly the same.  So you take turns using prime time.

DO recognize that activities or habits that you may consider normal may not be so for other kabayan.  This is primarily why the classifieds and notices for flatmates specifically ask whether the owner/primary flatmate minds smokers, drinkers, socializers, etc.   Pinoys in my experience are generally more tolerant and circumspect about these things but it’s always good practice to ask.  Just ask yourself:  would  non-smokers mind tobacco smoke in the flat?  How much alcohol consumption is too much, and what is considered reasonable?  A good balance of tolerance and rulemaking, being aware of the sensitivities of your flatmates, and managing your own habits is key to being a good flatmate.

DO treat your flatmate/s as decently as you would your friend, relative or co-worker, as if you’d be flatmates forever.  Let’s be honest.  “Flatting,” or renting with flatmates, as it’s called in New Zealand, is at best a temporary arrangement, a relationship of convenience designed to fill gaps, scratch an itch, keep everyone happy until better things materialize.  But it’s not like, let’s just try to co-exist and after this, we’ll never see each other again.  It simply isn’t true.  While we may not be flatmates forever, flatting and being flatmates can be the foundation of a friendship that can last a lifetime.

This becomes possible when you do the simple thing and observe the golden rule.  Do unto your flatmates what you’d want them to do unto you.  Basic things like cleaning up after yourself, keeping quiet when you know flatmates are resting, staying out of the way when flatmates are entertaining visitors, and going out of your way to do household chores, are things that will create comments like, “that Noel?  yeah he was a pretty decent flatmate before he got married,” or “Noel for a flatmate?  we could do a lot worse!

Yeah, I wish I could get comments like those.  But you get the idea.  Be a good flatmate, and ultimately, you will get good flatmates.

You won’t see any of these rules, and you won’t find flatmates talking about it.  But here they are now.

Mabuhay, Maligayang Pasko sa lahat!

a dambuhalang (giant) earthquake visits your kabayan’s night shift in Wellington


img_3847

Not me at my prettiest, but here I was cleaning  a packing bin just four days before the Big One.  Imagine if it had happened while I was cleaning the bin!  hu hu hu hu …

Dear guys :

JUST WANTED you to know, besides the fact that your kabayan (townmate, countryman) and family are safe, that just eight hours ago, I wasn’t so sure I would get out of this earthquake in one piece.  Hyperbole and exaggeration aside, I’ve gone through a few tremors in my life, but this was quite a strong one.  But as usual, I’m getting ahead of myself.

*****          *****          *****

Quarter to zero hour, that’s midnight, I was so looking forward (not!) to a week of night shifts, in unexpectedly chilly late spring weather, at work.  My focus was starting up the network of old machines struggling against wear and tear, lack of maintenance and startup crankiness (common to all old factories) in the middle of night, when everyone else was snoring in dreamland.

I was therefore lucky : the factory had responded well to my ministrations and a recent lubrication project, I was starting the shift with a low-end product, not too much stress quality-wise and production-wise and, against the odds, the ebbs and flows, air pressure, and different settings of the more temperamental machines were holding and under control.  Things were looking good.

Famous last words.  Just when I was settling down to do my chores (unshuttering the windows to cool the rapidly heating machines), across the main production area, where by pure chance a door was opened showing me the adjoining area where packing machines and pallets of finished product were situated, I saw a scene that was straight out of Poseidon Adventure (a 1970s disaster movie, for those under 40).

All the hanging halogen-strength lights were swaying 45 degrees left and right, and the pallets of product, each weighing roughly a ton and stacked four high, were doing the Gangnam Style strut and starting to fall on each other.  I swear Mom (if you’re reading this), never in my 51 years had I seen something like that.

The packer who did night shift, a katutubo (native) not in my department but of course my brother-in-arms, looked like he’d chugged a few cervezas, glugged a liter of milk, a tub of ice cream and then ridden a dozen roller coasters, was pale as the Balete Drive Lady: he was ready to bail out of the site, not even bothering to shut down his machines but alert enough to shout to me:  EARTHQUAKE!  JUST GET OUT!

Sound advice, in fact the best I heard that night.  No arguments from me…

[For the record, I remember two biggie earthquakes, the July 1990 one that killed a few thousand in Baguio and regions, and the Christchurch one five-odd years ago that killed thousands, among them 11 kabayan nurses.  None of them felt as strong as this one, mainly because I was much closer to the epicenter.]

*****          *****          *****

Two other guys were in the site, and as there were just four of us, a roll call was foolish:  my shift partner Jacob, ready to retire in two weeks (he is in fact past the retirement age, being 70 years and barya), his trainee, another katutubo, the nauseous packer guy, and yours truly.  We weren’t gonna wait for the obvious : aftershocks which on their own were scary and almost as strong as the original tremor, and even scarier, the potential tsunami, which brought to mind  the tidal waves which killed more than 10,000 in Japan half a decade ago.

But a modicum of protocol had to be followed, and we each called our respective supervisors.  The packing supervisor wasted no time : just pack up and get out of there, you’re less than a kilometer from the bloody sea, for jeez sake.  My ops supervisor was somewhat vague, so vague that my call went to voicemail.

So that’s that, I had no choice but to call the overall site manager.

She was in Auckland out of town, an hour away by plane, but I hadn’t known it yet.

Because she knew my number, this was her first sentence:

Noel?  Are you guys OK?

She already knew.  The earthquake was that bad.  The whole North Island was shaken (literally).

A few spouts popped out boss, Pallets fell on top of each other, one big machine off the moorings, but otherwise the site’s fine.

Never mind that, I mean, how are you guys?  everyone safe and accounted for?

We’re OK all of us Boss, hope you’re safe on your end.

Turn everything off and shut everything down, and get the eff out of there OK? We’ll talk tomorrow. Stay safe.

And that, my friends, is why Boss is our Site Manager.

*****          *****

Less than an hour later, the inevitable tsumani alert is called by the local government, and the natural thing to do is to literally, head for the hills.  Mahal my beloved,  our two flatmates and Your Loyal Kabayan spend two hours in a car on the road up to Wainuiomata, which is the highest point on a 20 kilometer radius.  Our instructions from the Civil Defense Office are simple.

Stay off beaches.  Stay out of the water.  Do NOT go sightseeing.  And share this information.

Simple enough, but we are on a hillside, because we ALSO want to get down asap.  And hillsides are also known for landslides.  And guess what?  We just had a 7.5 magnitude earthquake, just what you DON’T need for landslides.

As soon as the tsunami alert stops wailing, we head down.  We don’t even think of passing by McDo or Burger King, as the employees have undoubtedly up and left their stores.

We stay by the radio and don’t go to sleep until 5 am.

For all its imperfections, New Zealand is razor sharp and steroids strong on safety alertness.  Which is why, if even one life is lost from this latest earthquake, it will be regarded as a national tragedy.

Which is why Your Loyal Kabayan, as long as he is wanted, will work in New Zealand.

the hardest adjustment for a migrant


[ Host Wellington and the Wellington Pinoy community welcome all kabayan participants and competitors of the Pistang Pilipino 2016 sa Wellington,  kudos to the organizers, officials, marshals and other volunteer staff.  Mabuhay kayong lahat! ]

NOPE, IT’S not communication or language.  Most Pinoys (an endearment Filipinos call themselves) treat English almost as a first language, having been taught the King’s English from nearly the very start of their lives.  In fact, I remember in Pinoy Mass (once a month, celebrated by a Filipino priest), the priest delivered his homily in (of course) perfect English, for the benefit of the non-Pinoy parishioners who insisted on attending Mass with kabayan.  After 10 minutes of a short discussion of the Sunday Gospel, he said, I now respectfully continue the sermon in Taglish, which everyone was expecting.  In both versions, Father Kabayan was outstanding (and uplifting), and considerate of  both English and Tagalog speakers.  So, adjustment to our host’s language is no biggie.

A little more complicated is the way people travel, both on the road and on the footpath (sidewalk or walkway ang tawag natin).  The New Zealand Road Code tells motorists to travel on the left side of the road, so when you cross the street (usually a two-way street), you look to the right first, then to the left when you’re in the middle of street.  It took me a while before i got used to that, and got me quite a lot of honks and four-letter words from drivers who never get used to Asian pedestrians like me.  It got a little worse when I started learning to drive, because I frequently reverted to the mindset of driving on the right side of the road, not very safe and definitely taking a little more adjustment than walking.  Still, as long as you keep focused on your walking / driving, and remember that you’re in New Zealand, not the Philippines, you should be OK.

And then there’s the work culture or culture of interaction, I can’t go any broader than that for fear of using too much space.  Kiwis or New Zealanders generally speak their mind, but are aware of the need to save face at all times, especially for Asians.  So they temper the sharpness of their tongues with subtle digs and lighthearted witticisms, sometimes using good-natured sarcasm, in short, very Pinoy, when you think of our sawikain (literary expression), salawikain (proverbs), parinig (hints) and other figures of speech that dull the kaanghangan (spicyness) of our criticisms.  Definitely, there are more similarities than differences when you compare social intercourse /s of Pinoys and Kiwis.  The key words are civility, pakisama (attitude of “getting along” with each other) and the golden rule (do unto others what you’d want them to do unto you).

Even better, as long as you let your work and your work attitude talk the talk and walk the walk, you can’t go wrong.  Kiwis may find you strange, different and awkward, but if you do your work right, work within the team concept and go the extra mile, you speak their language, and speak the universal language, the language of hard work spoken anywhere.

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

No, the biggest adjustment you have to make is accepting the realization that the next time you go back to the Philippines, it’s no longer to return to your home base but as an excursion to a place you used to live in, to visit friends, loved ones and family, only as an interruption of your regular life… as a migrant.

The biggest and most lifechanging adjustment you make is a shifting of allegiance from the country of your birth to the country of your future, to the country you will soon (if not already) call home.  Loyalty is on unstable, shifting ground, no more so than for the migrant.

You will never lose gratitude for the country that gave you existence, blood and identity, but your migrant life changes everyday, and your migrant life waits for no one.  Least of all, old memories and old attachments.

You can always go home, back to the Philippines, but with different eyes, different attitudes, and different perspectives.  That is as hard as any adjustment  you can make.

In a very real sense, you can never go home again.

Thanks and mabuhay everyone for reading!

 

 

why walking (& even running) is better than standing for this middle-aged OFW


lower-back-pain-2

thanks and acknowledgment for the photo to spinecarechiropractic.com.au!

[ Prayers and concern for our brother and sister kabayan in Davao City and environs. ]

THE FIRST TIME i felt the pain was when I was carrying a moderately heavy load, a half-bag (sack or supot) of product, between 5-10 kg I think.

Aray, ouch, not a sharp twinge of traumatic impact pain but rather a dull bag! of discomfort, more like a heavy knock between my upper thigh and buttocks, classically where sciatic nerve pain occurs.  The pain wasn’t remarkable enough for me to cry out and complain the usual way I do (I’m a neurotic complainer), but it was enough for me to stop and take stock of the situation.

Now, that’s different.  I don’t remember anything like it before, although I’m used to fatigue, bumps and bruises and other pains associated with specific events.  This one happened out of nowhere, although at the time I had been performing a manual task.

The pain lessened somewhat after a break, one I took every two hours on this longish 12-hour night shift. (I’m assuming it was on nights because I do a night shift every other week now).  But as soon as I resumed regular work and chores, the nagging pain returned.

*****

The irony was (is), as long as I walked or even ran (except for the first few minutes, I always suffer a little stiffness coming from sitting or prone positions), I was fine.  The pain, which now alternated between dull throbs in my upper thigh-buttock area (left leg only) and pinpricks on the lower thighs to upper legs, was most prominent when I was stationary, a position I now logically avoided at all costs.

But as we workers, Pinoy,  OFW or otherwise, all know, work involves a thousand and one positions of the standing, sitting and mobile human body.  We are forever finding new combinations of  bodily activity to adjust to our multi-tasking, enhanced-activity, productivity-greedy jobs.  We stretch, crouch, squat, half-sit, half-stand, kneel, crawl all the time, every hour of the day, without a second thought.

All of which is murder, one killing blow at a time, to our lower backs.

*****

I can’t blame anyone for my suspected sciatica (suspected cuz it hasn’t been confirmed, but the signs are pretty clear).  All my life, I’ve been abusing my body beyond reason, beyond repair.  I remember staying awake 48 hours, smoking used butt of cigarets, and drinking alcohol well beyond my limits.  But this was during my failed experiment with youth.  The rest of my working life, my abuse has mostly been walking too much, standing too long, and spending too many days (nights) on physically exhausting extended shifts.  My body is only responding to the wear-and-tear I’ve exposed it to.

I can still work normally, but I need to take regular breaks now, apply warm compresses to my back on those freezing Wellington nights, and use my days off for quality breaks.  As any middle-aged person in his/her right mind should be doing.

The most important things I can do now regarding my pinched-nerve situation are specific stretching exercises that seem to relieve the pain and tightness in the area, rest whenever I can, and STAYING AWAY from the stationary, standing position.

If I can remember to do these simple things, then for the rest of my so-called life, I’m good.  For now.

Thanks for reading and mabuhay!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

bakit di laging masama ang kaplastikan sa trabaho


plasticman

[ Hi there: I can’t apologize for the wry or pessimistic nature of the post; but I hope you’re not too put off by it Precious Reader.  Most of the time we celebrate the positive aspects of the Pinoy personality.  Just not this time.  Thanks and acknowledgment for the plasticman pic to cooltoyreview.com and  happy workweek ahead, everyone! ]

YOU KNOW it, I know it, we all know it.

“Kaplastikan” (the first and last time I’ll mark the word with quote marks, it is, after all used almost universally where Filipino is spoken) is as much a part of Pinoy existence as rice, videoke and halo-halo.  It is time to acknowledge it, at home, in the workplace and in public life, and to accept it for what is: something that all of us use, recognize and live with.

As a working definition, let me offer one: behavior or speech that is often insincere but more or less acceptable to the listener or person/s around, designed to avoid awkwardness, unnecessary disagreements or minor misunderstandings which do not affect the result of the current interaction “facilitated” by such plastic behavior (the adjective form of kaplastikan).

Frequently we all deride or disparage our countrymen or women kabayan of kaplastikan but the truth is, all of us, no exception (unless you’re a living saint or a hermit), behave with kaplastikan regularly, occasionally or once in a while, as the need arises.

We do this to smooth things over, to please or mollify our superiors, or because we need a favor or two from someone we’d rather not interact with.  No one can deny the utility of kaplastikan, where we (1) avoid making statements that, although true, would hurt or criticize the listener, (2) exaggerate the qualities of the listener in order to make him/ her feel better, (3) make white lies to avoid conflict between the speaker and the listener, or even third persons not around.

I won’t say these are personal experience/s (wink, wink), but here are a few specific workplace situations where, in my humble opinion, kaplastikan works :

Your co-worker doesn’t observe hygiene at a level you’re used to.  This is probably one of the most common instances where kaplastikan is observed.  Someone doesn’t brush or floss regularly, is very lax on deodorant, and shampoos the hair only during holidays.  You would love to tell that person even ONCE that he or she is exhibiting oppressive behavior making life difficult for everyone around them.

But you don’t.  Moreover, you pay compliments that are likely to distract, confuse or divert attention to the real problem of the co-worker’s lack (or total absence of ) hygiene.  Reasons?  You work with this person 8 or more hours a day, five days a week, and 50+ weeks a year.  Whatever satisfaction you might derive telling that person off,  you have to live with the consequences because you will continue to co-exist with that person, who has now realized you can’t stand his/her bad breath / body odor / hair odor.

So you (try to) focus on the positives and compliment that person on his/her cheerfulness, work attitude, and clean uniforms.  You have to, because the alternative would be to hurt the person’s feelings (even if your sense of smell has long been offended).  That is kaplastikan.

Listener doesn’t take criticism well and is in a position of authority over you.  Specifically, in a position to make life miserable for you, all because you mentioned that person’s lack of fashion sense.  That’s just a random example, but a similar trifle or minor detail is enough to wind up this type of person enough to put you in his/her crosshairs, just because you were a bit too candid for comfort.

The solution?  It’s a bit drastic, but never mention anything negative, and only mention something when it’s positive.  If it means being less than truthful, then you’re doing it in the spirit of self-preservation, which is after all one of the pillars of kaplastikan.

Obviously, this takes a lot of discipline, self-restraint and with some persons, denying what you see right in front of you.  But keep practicing and with time, it will become second nature to you.  Trust me, kaplastikan works with a lot of Pinoys.

when the evil avoided by kaplastikan is greater than being honest or sincere.  You admit to everyone present that you are dismayed by your colleague’s quality of work. But in the process alienate yourself from everyone.  You withhold your praise for your supervisor (and thus deny him/her the unanimous approval of his/her team he needs for full bonus / incentives), not the least because he/she doesn’t deserve it, but because you’re the only one who withholds, you’re a moving target for extra work and sh*tty shift hours.  What to do, what to do?

Simple lang yan, bro / sis.  DON’T be dismayed, DON’T withhold praise, in fact go the other way and tell everyone within earshot that your work mate is the best and praise your bisor to the high heavens.

Why? Because that is the way of the world, and that is how things get done.  You go plastic, and you prove yourself a team player.  Yung nga lang, truth is the first casualty.  But you know what?  In this case/s, there are things more important than truth.

Just a few specific situations, but you get my meaning, kabayan.  Kaplastikan goes a long way, sometimes nga lang at the expense of truth.  But everything balances out in the end.

 

 

 

 

off morning shift till further notice


grumpy cat

[ Paunawa : Pasensya na to anyone I haven’t kept in touch with, I think in light of recent events (please see below), it’s more or less self-explanatory, hehehe, just my way of getting you to read further.  It’s been a glorious last few weeks here in Wellington NZ, thank God for a beautiful summer after an awesome January back home in the Philippines! ]

YOU AND I Precious Reader have, oftener than not, read enough internet articles, findings and correlations not to know that sleeping regular hours at the right time, meaning at nighttime, is part of healthy living.

You can burn the midnight oil for a time, turn your body clock inside out for a while, and sleep and wake like a vampire for only so long, but it’s not good for you.

There are many reasons for this, part of which is the hundred-thousand-year-old circadian rhythm that homo sapiens sapiens has established as part of normal living. There’s also the very basic bodily need for ultra-violet rays from sunshine, and then maybe not as essentially the rest that is best taken in darkness.

But there are exceptions.  People working in call centers (or business process outsourcing centers) get used to working in the dead of night and sleeping in brightest day.  Security guards are wide awake with the kuliglig and paniki and take breakfast at twilight.  And so on and so forth.  But if you’re like me, and I’m guessing you are, you start best at the crack of dawn and say beddy-bye just before the clock strikes twelve.

The (un)happy compromise is to work twilight shift.  You start later than most people, in fact when most people are already starting to leave work, and log out when some people are already snoring.  But this is better than working the graveyard shift, when there’s nobody awake except you and you try to sleep when the sun is scorching behind the drapes and curtains.

*****     *****     *****

I’ve always been a team player at work, especially since because of my migrant status locals and residents (if any are available) may potentially be given preference in job selection.   But rotating shifts (nights, mornings and twilight shifts before returning to nights, mornings, etc) has always been part of the deal, using the philosophy that everyone gets their turn at the dreaded night shift.

Unfortunately, one of the persons in our three-man rotation (the factory we operate needs to run 24 hours 5 days a week) is also our team leader, who needs extra training for planning our production schedules for the week, using the SAP software that no management team seems to be able to survive without, and other earth-shaking, indispensable management stuff.  Because the training can only be conducted during regular office hours, by default Your Loyal Kabayan and the other guy (by coincidence, also a migrant, albeit a former one) have drawn the short straws.  Between the two of us, we share the honor of doing twilight and night shifts for the next few months, or until our team leader finishes his team leader training, whichever comes last. 😦

Weytaminit, kapeng mainit.  Whatever happened to rotating shifts, the right to a morning shift every third week, and the company’s concern for too many night shifts not good for the health?  Well, in the name of production, keeping the conveyor (as in product conveyor) running, and keeping the customer happy, some things have to be sacrificed and fall by the wayside.  For the time being.  In the hierarchy of priorities, starting from the client’s requirements, to the employer’s requirements, to the worker’s requirements, which do you think are the easiest to compromise?

*****     *****     *****

So that’s the way it’s gonna be.  Never mind that I don’t get to watch prime time for a while (I’ll be sleeping till a half-hour before going to work).  Never mind that I won’t have time to do the nasty with Mahal for a while (I’ll either be too tired or too hyper to do so).  And never mind that I’ll have zero social life for a while (not that I’ve had much of  a social life).  When you’re on the bottom of the totem pole, especially when you’re a migrant, you don’t have much of a say on what you do, or how you do it.  For now, just be lucky you’re working where you’re working, that you’re working at all, and that, shift hours aside, you’re able to cope with the daily pressures and stresses.

For now.

Thanks for reading!

NBI clearance, bow


theviewingdeckdotcom

How it used to be BEFORE online applications.  (The queues move slightly faster now, thank you.)  thanks to theviewingdeck.com for the great pic!

NATIONAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION MAIN, TAFT AVENUE MANILA.

I hadn’t updated my prescription glasses, so from 15 meters, i could only read one word on the sign near the entrance :

ONLINE

from 10 meters, three words stood out :

PATALASTAS : ONLINE APPLICATION

Confusing, but curiouser and curiouser.

5 meters  (No wonder no one was paying attention) :

PATALASTAS : LIBRE PO ANG ONLINE APPLICATION SA NBI MISMO.

(Reminder : Online applications are free inside the NBI office itself.)

And the reason no one was paying attention to the half-hearted, weather-beaten sign?  Everyone around the NBI Clearance Center entrance was asking applicants : Online application? Online application?  Online application?

*****     *****

The only explanation I could come up with:  although online applications are encouraged and even strongly recommended for everyone wanting a National Bureau of Investigation clearance (for jobs, security clearances or anything that requires a certification that you haven’t been convicted of a crime), there are still people who don’t use the internet  and have no choice but to do it the old-fashioned way : go to a bureaucrat’s desk, submit a written application and wait for the precious piece of paper.

Enterprising people with laptops and PCs know this, and entice applicants into using them instead of going in, cutting in half the queueing time and, in effect, the waiting time for an NBI clearance, not knowing that in fact, the NBI, anticipating this, already has computer terminals and NBI employees waiting for this type of applicant, ready to help them apply online, for free.  Thus the sign above.

*****     *****

Although I counted around 800 to 1000 heads as I entered the applicants’ area, I wasn’t too worried.  I had already applied online in a different NBI branch, had my pic and fingerprints taken, and was just waiting for the hard copy of my clearance.

So what was I doing in the main branch?  Unfortunately, because I had such a common name (both the first and last), quite a few people I shared my name with had committed quite-serious crimes, including robbery, fraud and serious physical injuries.

Because of this, my clearance issuance had to go through “quality control” before release, still no biggie, but delayed enough to after my departure date, vacationing OFW that I am.

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Before the “quality control” officer, I was warned to have my application receipt (proof of payment for the clearance), identification document, and airline ticket and produce them instantly.

What I didn’t realize was that there were dozens and dozens of people needing their clearances issued before their respective departure dates, just like me, and we were all cramped into a small 5 meter by 7 meter room.  The salary grade of the QC officer didn’t allow for any bigger.

To speed things up, said QC officer just asked all those present (including me) to place their scraps of paper on top of her desk, neatly and first-come-first-served.

All present (including of course, me) dutifully complied.

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Unfortunately, another person entered the room, added his own scraps of paper and surreptitiously placed these on top of those previously placed in front of QC officer.

I could be wrong, but this person looked like he knew what he was doing, reminding me of “facilitators” who for a small fee facilitate transactions in a typical government office.

Even before any of us could react, QC officer did it for us:

Hoy!  Nakikita mo bang andami nang nauna sa yo?  Kahit taga-rito ka, ilagay mo dapat mga papel mo sa ilalim, dahil huli kang dumating. Hmmp!

Loosely translated, the QC officer berated the “facilitator” for neglecting to follow the (paper) queue, implied that (at least that day)  she served whoever came first, and fellow NBI employees couldn’t expect any favors from her.

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Coincidentally, because of her fair play, my paper got her attention next.  She scrutinized my clearance payment receipt, my passport, and my ticket, didn’t even interview me, scrawled her initials on my paper, and asked me to return in two hours.

In the meantime, I went to McDo for a snack, and on a whim bought a small apple pie for Ms. Low Level But Very Fair Quality Control Officer.

Despite knowing that I was committing the crime of Indirect Bribery under the Revised Penal Code, I wanted to show her my appreciation, and undoubtedly the appreciation of all those persons in the room with me.  I sneaked said pie on her desk when no one was looking, and no one was the wiser.

I got my NBI clearance two hours later without incident, and left the NBI compound containing around 5,000 applicants that day.

Mabuhay po kayo, Ms QC officer!

 

 

 

 

 

the agony & ecstasy of a 21k back home


finisher shirt and medal[  Note : If ever the opportunity presented itself on vacay, I told myself that I would run at least a half-marathon.  Lo and behold, right before the start of my last week, a 21-kilometer race was scheduled, just beckoning me to join.  Here’s how it went, thanks for reading Precious Reader! ]

LONG BEFORE I saw the finish line but less than 2 km away, I was already feeling nauseous.  In fact, I was already feeling faint, and for the first time since I started running around two-and-a-half hours ago (although I didn’t know it then) I was beginning to entertain doubts about finishing this crazy endeavor called a half-marathon.

Only the simple fact that there were others around me who were doing the same thing, trying to survive the 21k, willing themselves to finish despite fatigue, nausea and general discomfort, the reality that I was practically the oldest guy in the bunch, and finally, pure pride and the fear of ridicule, kept me from dropping out, dropping dead and giving up.

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

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Obviously everyone around me was excited, despite the muggy night air, despite the horrible starting time (2:00 am!) and despite the grueling 21 kilometers of tedious running ahead of us.

I had a special thrill ahead of me: when I finished (IF I finished) I would’ve been able to say that I ran not just two marathons but two marathons in different countries, New Zealand and the Philippines.  Not even the hardiest, most experienced and most conditioned runners I knew could say that, I had the advantage of travel and being at the right place at the right time.

But now at the starting line, I wasn’t so sure of myself.  Unlike my first half-marathon in Wellington, I didn’t prepare religiously, I hadn’t watched the things I ate the last few weeks (sisig, crispy pata, lechon, lauriats like there was no tomorrow… you be the judge) and most importantly, my running buddy Bunso my younger son was back in New Zealand and unable to hold my hand from start to finish.

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First five kilometers, although the exhilaration of running with hundreds and hundreds of gigil runners was intoxicating, I had a bad feeling because that part of the race, you’re not supposed to feel anything, pure adrenaline, the scenario of being with runners loving what they do, and everyone cheering you on, it should be effortless.

That early, it wasn’t effortless for me, and a bunion on the right side of my right foot was beginning to pinch me.  My shoes were less than a perfect fit, and I hoped the discomfort wouldn’t be too much for me.

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The route was easy enough : Skyway on Filinvest City in Alabang, then Sucat, turning around just before Bicutan and back the same way.  Easy enough except that once you got your rhythm and maintained the spring in your step, you had to contend with boredom and the lack of interesting things to see both on the track and the general surroundings.

I knew even before the first quarter of the run that there were lots of people who would finish ahead of me, probably 75% of the runners.  Not only was I a slower-than-average runner, but I also needed to make sure that I had enough in the tank to finish the distance.

So I didn’t mind that there were dozens and dozens of runners passing me every few minute, but I also noticed that the superfast runners who started out like jackrabbits at the opening bell  were starting to slow down, probably because they’d started out too intensely.  It was a cliche, but it wasn’t a sprint but a marathon.

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The soreness started even before we made a U-turn near Bicutan, and I found myself starting to avoid the glances of race marshals who were trained to keep their eyes peeled for the slightest sign of weakness or lack of resolve, early fatigue or worse, anyone experiencing shortness of breath, chest pains or cramps, all danger signs of something worse that could happen.

As long as the legs weren’t complaining, I was OK.  Soreness was expected, but as long as it could be endured till the last 5k, life was good.

Problem was, remember the bunion (kalyo) on my right foot?  The slight discomfort was beginning to grow into a worrying inconvenience, soon not only the shoe but the sock would chafe against the tenderizing skin.  I could run a certain way so that the impact was lessened, but doing so would affect my running gait, in effect I would tire more easily and seriously endanger my chance of finishing the race.  Problems, problems problems.

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All around me at the last 6k people were starting to slow down.  Some runners would let me pass them, then recover their strength and pass me right back, and slow down again.  I couldn’t adopt such a run-walk-run strategy because it would be a temptation to just taper off the rest of the way : I didn’t trust my stamina enough to rely on that.

By the two-hour mark, the night sky was giving way to pre-dawn light.  Early morning buses were blasting their horns right underneath the Skyway below us.  The air was so layered I could smell different parts of the air : carbon monoxide, exposed rubbish, and the dust particulates.  And of course, I could smell my own sweat.

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At Filinvest City, probably a kilometer before the finish line, every exposed part of my body was screaming : the lactic acid in my legs, the bunion in my right foot, my upper arms chafing against my torso, even my slippery spectacles pinching my temples.  Literally, naduduling na ako sa pagod at hilo.  Only the potential embarrassment of fainting kept me plodding on.

At the end it was anticlimactic : everyone was doing a slow jog now, and even then it took every last ounce of energy to force myself not to walk because jogging would give way to walking, and walking would give way to stopping.  Too dangerous, even then.

At the finish line, I gulped three cups of free electrolyte drinks, munched a free banana, slapped salonpas and pain-relieving gel, all provided by the sponsors, slurped arroz caldo and got my finisher’s medal.  The electrolyte drinks promptly gave me diarrhea, and as soon as I collected my wits, grabbed the first bus back to civilization.

And that, Precious Reader, was that!

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

(wag maging) dayuhan sa sariling bayan (don’t be a stranger in your homeland)


san carlos[it’s already too late for a last, senti blog for the year so instead i’ll move it forward and nail a first blog of the year, up to you na lang Precious Reader to like and hopefully appreciate the topic.  onwards 2016!  Thanks to philippinecities.com for the San Carlos City pic above!]

EARLY ON, I’d already given up learning goodwife Mahal’s Pangasinense dialect, not the least because it was markedly different from the Ilokano tongue of my contemporaries in university, but also because I didn’t want my in-laws to think I was trying too hard.  In my slanted opinion, the Pangalatoks sound somewhere between Ilokanos and Kapampangans (although the latter really take some getting used to if you’ve never heard them before).

How wrong I was to not try learning even a few phrases!  Tell you what, the Pangasinenses dearly love their language, just as they love everything about their province.  This, despite the fact that the province is divided into large groups of Pangasinenses, Ilokanos and Tagalogs.

The dialect is richly sprinkled with the schwa sound (roughly a combination of the short “a”, “e” and “u” sounds), kien is a particle I heard in almost every sentence, antotan and labut were words obviously with a lot of uses / meanings since they were used as often as we did “uh” and “naman” in Manila.

Where we stayed for New Year’s Eve was a city that was considered the heartland of Pangasinenses, and I saw close-up how Mahal’s people were : frugal, hardworking, and clever.  Of course, I’m being biased and opinionated, but in the sort time I was there, that’s what I saw.

Almost every house I saw had either areas set aside for the drying of palay, an open area set aside for carpentry work or woodwork, houses were always being rebuilt or remodeled, and believe you me, I hardly saw any idle menfolk around, of course it was the holidays where people were expected to be hung over, tongue in cheek. 🙂

The reality however was, everyone was just waiting for the national elections, and based on the public works posters practically shouting the names and mugs of the incumbents, not everyone was patient enough to wait.  Everywhere were not-so-subtle posters, pictures and greetings of personalities obviously seeking public office.  Even schools had posters of potential candidates surrounded by children, purportedly benefiting from the incipient education policies of these candidates.

Sa bagay, campaign period for the national elections is less than four months away.

All in all, I haven’t been around my homeland much, but I can tell that San Carlos City is one of the more progressive places I’ve seen.  I only hope that in their drive towards progress, the Pangasinenses don’t lose sight of themselves and their identity.  The fact that Mahal comes from here is just a bonus.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

the final shift before Christmas


china-factory-jpg

“in lieu of the usual 5-minute nap breaks, for December we have better coffee and more potent tea for you hardworking employees!  don’t forget the higher production targets this month, the kids can’t be disappointed!”

[The other titles that made it before final print were : Work, the migrant and the silly season and Noel Learns and Earns.  But this one won out in the end.  A blessed Christmas to all! ]

I FINISHED  my last shift 3.00 am Christmas Eve.  What I thought would be an easy coast to the finish line became an eight-hour ordeal, imposing the burden of my mistake on my colleagues, and finished only by the grace of God.  The only silver lining here was that I gained yet another hard-earned lesson, actually THREE lessons in the School of  Hard-knocks (or pasaway, in current Pinoy idiom).

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It started when I saw the rosters posted for the week ending on Christmas Eve.  For a change, I was to work night shift, my first as a shift supervisor.  Such a term is actually a glorified way of saying you’re the senior between yourself and your shift partner, the only other person in the building.  And that if any sh*t happens during your shift, that’s right, it’s all on YOU.  For that, and an extra dollar an hour, you get to be called shift supervisor.

I should be one to complain.  I had been trained to be shift supervisor because there was no one else who was willing and able to be trained, because no one else was available, and because quite frankly, no one else was willing to do shift work.

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And besides, the job was one of the things keeping me in this country, which for the last seven years had been good to me and wife Mahal.  So what if every third week I worked night shift?  It was a job for mine to take, no one else wanted it as badly as I did, and there wasn’t much for me to do if the job didn’t exist.

The problem was, I didn’t have the confidence to do night shift, because night shift essentially meant running the entire factory alone, without the team leader holding your hand for troubleshooting, no plant engineers to fix spouts, conveyors and airlines in a jiffy, and nobody else (except your shift assistant) to help you.  Turning out 4 tons of product from 6 tons of raw material every hour, processing them through two dozen pieces of machinery, monitoring the same as well as the final product through a tedious sked of tests and checks, was something I’d never done at night, but the team leader told me in so many words, if I wasn’t ready now, I’d never be ready.

The only way to motivate myself was, telling myself Noel, this is what you’ve been trained for.  Physically, mentally and emotionally, you CAN’T be more ready.  So that’s how I started Sunday night.

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Except that things actually turned out peaches and cream.  The machines, old as they were, behaved like good little schoolkids and did what they were asked.  The product didn’t turn out awry and was up to spec.  And I had a great time.

Until Wednesday night.

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Ironically, it started with a teeny-tiny mistake concerning a procedure that I’d done dozens of times before without a hitch.  It involved shutting down an airseal / airlock a few seconds between changing product silos.  On. And off.  And on again.  That’s it.

Because it was already my last shift of the week, and because the first two hours went by swimmingly, my mind shifted into cruise control, and literally entered holiday mode.  The slight inconvenience of changing silos barely crossed my mind, and I was already thinking of the next steps after temporarily switching off  said airseal / airlock.

Except that I didn’t turn said machine on again.  That was when all hell broke loose.

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First, the product weigher through which all the final product passed through overflowed.  Despite the glaring mess, I missed THAT as a sign of  a bigger mess, which was the control sifter upstairs that was also overflowing.  Finally, one of the main airways through which the final product flowed before entering the main conveyor backed up and choked, forcing me into the last resort of shutting down the entire system altogether.

All in all, it took us at least an hour to clear around 50 bags of product, call the plant engineer (on call) and rouse him from sleep (twice) to clear the airways;  for my partner and me to clean up the rolls that treated the raw material so that they would start properly, and do general housecleaning to get rid of the mess I created.

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Through this, I expected my assistant, a 68-year old Samoan migrant who’d been in New Zealand the last 30 years, to at least frown, be sarcastic or complain about making his life miserable on our last shift before Christmas.

But he never said a word, despite the fact that we put in work the equivalent of the last few days put together.  I was beside myself with embarrassment, but the work had to be done.

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The lessons I told you that I learned?

First, that every work day, from the start of the week to the end of Friday, should be treated the same.  The level of energy, focus and intensity should be consistent and unwavering.  Otherwise, you’ll get lost in your own daydreams and get into trouble.

Second?  I hate to admit it, but in holiday mode, I was losing sight of the most important thing in my life after love and family, and that of course was/is my job.  It feeds me, shelters me, clothes me, keeps me warm, and allows me to stay in my host country.  What could be more important to me now?

So what if it was the week before Christmas?  Many others were also working the same sked, and it wasn’t even Christmas Day yet, which of course was a holiday naman.  In fact, many people in certain industries would be working through the holidays, knowing fully well it’s the nature of the job.

I’d be denying reality if I denied that many people in New Zealand, and even more in the Philippines, would give an arm and a leg (figuratively) to be in my shoes.  Someone quite close to me is in an industry that pays him more than double anything I could ever earn here, and yet he is jobless.  During the holidays.  That’s quite hard.  And makes me more appreciative of my work.

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And last?  It concerns my Samoan co-worker, in the last couple of years before he retires (actually he’s past retirement age), but still doing his bit to help the team.  I expected him to be short-tempered, resentful, or even walk out of the situation I created.  But seeing his mature, resilient and even cheerful disposition, I realized that not even his “seniorness”, his slowed-down body, and the adverse nature of night shift could change his basic nature:  after more than three decades, he was still mightily grateful that New Zealand had given him a chance to better his life, undoubtedly allowing him to make lives better for his extended family in Samoa (very much like the Philippines).

In case it isn’t that obvious, the lesson here, for me, is never lose sight of the big picture, and always be grateful.  (The sidelight is, don’t sweat the details.)

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After things got to normal, I hugged Joshua (not his real name) spontaneously, and uttered one of the few phrases I knew  in Samoan : Faa fetai Joshua, thank you for being there for me.  For us.  Joshua just smiled his stoic, Samoan smile.

A lot of lessons for the last shift before Christmas.

Thanks for reading Precious Reader,spare a thought for those working through the holidays, and stay safe this Christmas!