sweets for my sweets

IMG_0038[Note : Thank you so much George, Hazel, Kimmy and Hannah from Auckland for your outstanding and thoughtful generosity; your brother/brother-in-law, sister-in-law/tita, nephews/cousins, niece/cousin are all so grateful for your gifts (shown above) from Auckland all the way to Wellington!  Maraming maraming salamat po and please hug and kiss all our rellies back home in Manila!  Advance Maligayang Pasko to all our kabayan in New Zealand, the Philippines and the rest of the OFW and migrant world! ]

THE TOPIC/S of the day are our kabayan’s outstanding performances in this year’s beauty pageants, and the despicable act of a political scion having security guards arrested just for doing their job chillingly reminiscent of Martial Law days, but the urgency now tends to a more personal topic, and one hopefully that you can help me with.

You see, for the first time in years and years, I have a little barya set aside for gifts for my loved ones.   The usual austere mood and logistics dictate that I can only think of gifts for my immediate kin, but it is still a formidable task.  I have little excuse not to think of them, they have after all been so nice and thoughtful to me this year.

More than once I saw sentiments like this posted in social networks like Facebook (actually FB is the only network I’m on) : This year I decided to have a low profile Christmas, thinking of those who can’t even have a decent celebration in their own homes, those who are still in the painful process of recovering from recent tragedies….  I have no gifts nor cards to send to family and friends….for there are others who need them (or their equivalent ) more. But rest assured, you’re always in my thoughts and prayers… Happy holidays, everyone!

I felt something similar to the above, but I JUST HAVE to send a token of appreciation to the people mentioned, especially since I hadn’t done so for so long.  Mahal, who is my caregiver (I’m cranky and creaky when I’m tired and hungry, which is often), driver, cook, muse, lover and everything else in my life; Panganay, who reminds me of more adventurous and difficult times in the distant past; Ganda, who is the light of my life and remains as malambing as the time she was in diapers; and Bunso, whose energy and inspiration never fail to brighten my day.

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I have not had an ideal relationship with Panganay.  For a significant block of his pre-adolescence I was occupied with problems of my own, and ultimately he, among his siblings, bore the brunt of my neglect and immaturity. We have both made attempts (in varying intensities) to repair our relationship, but it hasn’t been an easy task.

It’s part of human nature to use Christmas and other happy occasions to improve our relationship, and as naively as an old-school father can get, I have taken the time to meet Panganay and his new girlfriend.  This time with one hand tightly clutching my pamasko and the other holding Mahal’s arm, I’m hoping that the holidays can help us form a bond that can only strengthen in time.

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Ganda has always been sweet and solicitous of her father, even in our leaner, bleaker days.  I remember coming home from NZ once, and she was so afraid I would leave the next day before she woke up, that she insisted on sleeping next to me and tightly clutching my hand until she fell asleep.  Needless to say, by the time she woke up, my hand was no longer there.

Ganda is fully adult now, mature for her age as she ever was, but she still worries for me like she did before.  Too tired, too wet, too hungry and now too old, she never ceases to show her concern and ask if I’m these things, and therefore she never ceases to amaze me.  Even when I ask her if I she needs extra funds for whatever, she almost always declines, and we can only show her some hospitality by treating her and hey boyfriend to a little lunch, dinner or merienda.

YES, her boyfriend, and they have been together for a year now.  Beyond the usual expectations and keeping my hopes up, he has been the perfect gentleman and has shown us every courtesy and concern that a Pinoy boyfriend can give.  THAT is enough for me for now, and obviously he is more than a Christmas gift for Ganda to treasure.

I have to think long and hard before giving Ganda a nice little gift, for not  only have I not given her much for some time now, she also truly deserves one, for all the reasons there can be.

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Bunso is, to put it bluntly, having the best time of his life in New Zealand.  His special circumstances would not allow him to fully enjoy himself back home, but now he has the freedom, friends and supportive family in his new home away from home, Wellington.  Along the way he has shown remarkable development in his attitude, personality and smarts.   He has truly come into his own.

I honestly don’t know what to give him for Christmas, because he is just starting to discover himself.  He has combined two incredible traits, and I don’t say this just because I’m his dad : he is unselfish, and he is thoughtful.  As a son, brother, friend and colleague, he is a gift to everyone.

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It’s hard to put into words what Mahal is to me, so I won’t even try : she is everything to me.  So much so that giving her a gift this gift-giving season is truly a challenge.  Fortunately, she has helped me : inasmuch as December is Christmas and our anniversary month AND her birthday, she has offered to allow me to consolidate all these gifts into one, as long as it’s special.

Can you help me think of a truly special gift for her?

Thanks for reading!

why does it hurt so much to lose? (or why the pinoy is lovingly pikon)

Team NZ and Team USA, tough competitors of the America's Cup

Team NZ and Team USA, tough competitors of the America’s Cup

[We’ve been through a particularly stressful time, and hope that if there’s at least one person out there who’s been waiting for us, you’ve been patient enough, and thanks for waiting.  Woohoo! ]

IT’S ALRIGHT to talk about it now, but I was in a sorry, sorry funk the first few days.  Towards the deafening anti-climax, you fought the good fight and hoped against hope, but deep down you knew the game was already lost .  It was verily a living nightmare that built upon itself, collapsed upon itself and both obliterated and extinguished my brightest hopes and laughed in my face when I dared to dream my fondest dream.  Now, multiply this very personal nightmare by about four million, and you begin to approximate an idea of what I’m talking about.

What the eff are you talking about kabayan Noel?  I can hear you say.  I’m just  relating to you the humongous meltdown experienced by Team New Zealand after leading Team USA’s Oracle 8-2 (first to win nine races would’ve won) to last week lose what was painfully within reach, the America’s Cup.

In boat racing, the America’s Cup is like the NBA’s World Championship, Major League Baseball’s World Series, the four tennis majors and golf’s four majors melted into one.  It was a sublime, transcendent win for the Americans in what is almost undoubtedly the greatest comeback in all of sports.  But to the losers it was a tragedy that is hard to accept, much less live down.

It’s too painful to recount to you how Team NZ lost their mojo after racing through seven of the first eight races effortlessly as if they were destined to win.  It’s still inexplicable how after the Kiwis looked like they could do no wrong, suddenly smashed into windy conditions and made error after error.  It didn’t help that people were already talking about the huge economic impact to Auckland where the next America’s  Cup would be held, as soon as Team New Zealand won.

That was the key phrase.  As soon as.  Meaning, Team NZ hadn’t won yet.  And they haven’t, two weeks later.

I noticed that it wasn’t so much the fact that America won the America’s Cup (it is after all named after them) but the fact that New Zealand, my temporary adopted country, lost.  I realized that in many many occasions where I am an active partisan and an active spectator, almost like a stakeholder in the fortunes of my favored team, what hurts more than the other winning is my team’s losing.  The only thing I can’t stand more than NOT WINNING is LOSING.  I know each outcome is synonymous with the other, but it makes a world of difference if you take your partisanship seriously.  Particularly if the team you’re losing to is a worthy victor.  Crazy, right?  But more often than not, it makes sense.

When I was a high school student and a PBA fanatic more than a few years ago, I was usually in the minority whenever I rooted for my  beloved Toyota Tamaraws (which became the Toyota Super Corollas).  I didn’t mind my team being upset  occasionally by lesser teams like U-tex Wranglers or Royal Tru-Orange but whenever there was a matchup with arch-rival Crispa Redmanizers, I was all wound up not by the thought of thrashing the hated first five of Co, Fabiosa, Hubalde, Cezar and Guidaben but by being outcoached by the master tactician, Baby Dalupan.  It was not quite the ideal, but I was actually rooting for my team to not lose, instead of winning.

I found that I was not alone in my particular brand of not-losing-is-better-than-winning.  It was alright for my UP Fighting Maroons not to win, we were in fact never expected to challenge for the UAAP title year after year (except that golden moment in ’86 when Benjie Paras & Co. won it all).  As long as first, we didn’t end up the doormat, and two, we didn’t lost to particular teams like Ateneo (our neighbor in Diliman), UST (for some reason we hated them) and co-cellar dweller NU, who is not so weak now.

I notice that as long as we don’t lose to regional rivals Taiwan and Korea in basketball, no campaign is too miserable.  But most of all, it’s the fact that if ever we lose, we don’t want to lose badly, we don’t want to be embarrassed when we lose, and again, we don’t want to lose to certain teams that make losing a double-jeopardy thing.  You lose, and you lose to someone you dislike.

Did you ever notice that we Pinoys tend to excel in certain sports to the exclusion of a whole lot of others?  Remember the time when Pinoys were known to be great, the world over, in sports that began only with the letter “B”?  Of course it’s not true, but we certainly have a surplus of great billiards and basketball players that can compete among the world’s best, anytime and anyplace.  And I don’t need to tell you how we punch above our weight, literally, in nearly all boxing divisions save for the heaviest ones.  Reason?  We are physically talented in those sports.  Because we won’t stand a chance in many other events, we’d rather not compete.

It’s unfair, but I think that’s the reality.  For a country with athleticism and physical intensity such as ours, have you ever wondered why we’ve never won a gold medal in the Olympics?  It may be hare-brained for me to say so, but it’s probably because we have preconditioned ourselves into thinking we’ll never be world-class in sports where we traditionally don’t do well.  So there’s no concerted effort to develop our grassroots sports in those areas.  Kesa mapikon lang tayo at masaktan, huwag na lang.

One last anecdote.  We Pinoys are pikon (sore losers), although we don’t openly admit it.  (the Kiwis are the reverse; they are good losers but love their country too much to admit that other countries send better teams.)  The only time we admit we are pikon is when first, our numbers are so strong the other side can’t be pikon and fight back; and when, while being pikon, we can still make fun of ourselves.

And for it’s for this reason that Barangay Ginebra, eternal inhabitants of the PBA arena, will always exist.

thanks for reading!

why Julianne Alvarez is my favorite Kinoy*

Julianne still all smiles after gruelling practice on the green.

Julianne still all smiles after gruelling practice on the green.

[Note : Congrats to Didith Tayawa-Figuracion, Meia Lopez and the rest of the contributors of KABAYAN, the one and only Wellington Pinoy newsmagazine for their spectacularly outstanding Issue No. 3!  Please find the online version if you haven’t gotten your hard copy at  http://www.pinoystop.org/kabayan/, mabuhay ang lahing kayumanggi!  Maraming salamat  po to KABAYAN for allowing us to repost our contribution here, woohoo!]

TUCKED AWAY in a quiet, unassuming corner in one of Wellington’s quiet, unassuming suburbs lives one of New Zealand‘s most talented female golfers.  At the ridiculously young age of 17 she is number five on the New Zealand Order of Merit,** and would rank even higher if she played more tournaments.  And yes, she most definitely is a Filipina, the child of Pinoy parents Vergel and Monica Alvarez.

Before you conjure images of untold riches and superhuman feats made popular by budding golf superstar Lydia Ko, already the number one amateur golfer in the world, for the most part Julianne Alvarez is an unaffected, low-key Year 13 student from one of Wellington’s respected Catholic schools.  Julianne would rather hang out with friends in the mall than discuss her achievements.  But she has just been too good and too competitive to bloom like a rose isolated in the woods.

Since she was five, Julie has always competed with golfers much older than her, says mom Monica, who credits husband Vergel as the initial influence in their daughter’s golfing life.

“I think she was around seven or eight, swinging her golf irons one Saturday when a trio of Manor Park (their golf club in Lower Hutt) ladies approached and asked if she could complete the foursome.”  It only took the slightest of prodding from her parents for Julianne to join the foursome for what would be the start of something big.

Less than 10 years later, Julianne has become one of the brightest hopes of New Zealand women’s golf and is a mainstay of Team Wellington in challenging Auckland and the other powerhouses in annual interprovincial competition.  Her potential is literally unlimited.

And so the inevitable question is asked : in a perfect world, would Julianne be willing to lend her vast talents to represent the Philippines for international glory?

Apparently the perfect situation must remain unreachable, because strict rules of the sport and citizenship challenges would make Julianne’s participation in the national team at best, a faint and remote possibility.

But as the shoe ad says, impossible is nothing, and never says never.  By combining native Pinoy competitiveness, innate talent and unswerving discipline, there is no limit to what Julianne Alvarez and her golf clubs can do.  Wherever she goes, her kabayan community will be looking on proudly!

Mabuhay Julianne and family!

*Kinoy, a contraction for Kiwi Pinoy, is a non-racial term for Filipinos who’ve either been born or have migrated to New Zealand

**The New Zealand Order of Merit in golf means a season-long player ranking in New Zealand Golf based on the highest to lowest points on the Order of Merit (OOM) calendar.  Points are allocated to tournaments dependent on the strength of the field and their ranking within the R & A points ranking system.



the persistent & recurring bilocation of the migrant mind

Paco Park, near where I grew up.

Paco Park, near where I grew up.

[ Note : Pardon me for the very senti post today, just that the wet days and windy nights reminded me of typhoons and monsoon seasons so many years ago, when we couldn’t wait for school to be cancelled so we could play all day.  Old houses, asphalt roads, faces resembling faces we hadn’t beheld for years all brought to this blogger the realization that you can take Noel out of Manila, but you can never take Manila out of Noel.  Thanks for reading! ]

IN A very real sense, my mind is frequently in two places and never sitting still.  This pertains to important as well as trivial things.  I bike home on empty streets and imagine the choked, bumper-to-bumper traffic on EDSA.  Mahal prepares dinner in the kitchenette and wonders how it would taste with local ingredients in relentless sunshine back home.  You read the community newspaper and wonder if tabloids in Manila are still as sensational.

We pick out flats to rent but subconsciously we transfer the same houses to tropical backdrops.  Visit malls with scores of window shoppers but daydream of rubbing shoulders with thousands in Robinsons and Megamall.  Nod and smile at strangers on deserted avenues and recall drowning in anonymity in Makati or Pasig City.

For kabayan who’ve arrived in their adopted lands early in life with parents, it might not be such an issue, but for migrants like me who’ve spent half their lives back home, the dilemma is quite real.  You shed the skin of a previous complacent life and jump into a totally unfamiliar new one, all in hopes of something as abstract as a better life overseas for you and family.  In the meantime, part of you will always remain at home.

St Jude Catholic School, where I went to primary and middle school.

St Jude Catholic School, where I went to primary and middle school. It looks a lot better now. 🙂

Part of the reason is that no matter how clean your cut is with your old milieu, there are things you can never truly leave behind.  The barangay you lived in will revisit you regularly in your dreams, the barkada you never stop saying goodbye to (though they themselves will ultimately leave your old haunts as well) will keep coming back, even if each reunion will make you more and more distant from them, and your old loves will keep giving you the familiar aches in your innermost parts especially when you return home.

Every now and then you see a place that reminds of you home, and it’s like opening a floodgate of memories that brings you back.  A block of old houses that resemble the old neighborhood, a corridor of mall stores (they all look similar anyway) that bring you back to your first or second date with a half-forgotten girlfriend, or a dish cooked exactly the same way you tasted it, comfort food that looks, tastes and smells the way it did when you were a teenager.  Sometimes a sliver of memory is all that it takes to bring you back, and you are transported again.  Like it always does every now and then.  So in some ways you are living your everyday life in New York, Vancouver, Sydney or Auckland, but in other, more mysterious ways it is like you never left.  You may find this extra-odd, but for me it’s like living in an MRT station for the purpose of being accessible to places you will frequent, but will never live in permanently.

A call center similar to the one where I used to work.

A call center similar to the one where I used to work. During the shift, it’s crazy-noisy! 😉

Another issue is guilt.  Just as often as not, you aborted a career midstream to bite the bullet and go for a less risky, albeit less paying job overseas.  The well-meaning persistence of relatives, the economic uncertainty and the bright lights of the First World were enough to break the camel’s back and stop you from the (apparent) nonsense of pursuing a middling profession that never seemed to take you over the hump.  Besides, when was family going to receive its rightful priority in the hierarchy of needs fulfillment?  All these questions would be answered decisively by just filing those papers, grab the first letter resembling a job offer and book that flight to the land of dollars, nose jobs and silicone boobs (sorry).

The flip side of course is seeing your colleagues taking the promotions you worked hard for,  receive the recognitions you deserved, knowing that the siblings in Manila are the ones who get to spend all the quality time with the olds, and knowing that those who never left home get to see all your contemporaries any time you want and have a blast any time they want, minus you of course, cuz you’re still toiling in a strange workplace far, far away from home.

In exchange, the air is a little purer, the water’s a little cleaner, you’re able to set aside a little more for your twilight years (which aren’t that far away anymore, hmm?) and maybe, just maybe you can get to finally do that trip you’ve been saving for…

A trip back home, so that you don’t have to divide your heart and mind all the time.

Three shindigs, four families and a thousand smiles in the City of Sails

Auckland at night. thanks and acknowledgment for the photo to travel.usnews.com!

Auckland at night. thanks and acknowledgment for the photo to travel.usnews.com!

JUST AS important as the postcard sights, Michelin stars and travelogue accommodations of your vacation experience is the human factor.  How senti (or sentimental) your reunions were, how awesome a time you had reminiscing yesteryear with contemporaries, or how many tears of happiness shed with long-lost relatives brought back to life.  You may immerse yourself in the swankiest lodgings, admire the most breathtaking natural wonders, or savor the most decadent buffet, but who you meet and the stories you swap occupy a most prominent corner in your album of precious memories.

The people we met and spent time with during our short trip to Auckland (or the City of Sails, it sounds good for a title), fleeting as it was, made it doubly pleasing and trebly memorable.  It may have been the amount of time we spent apart, the remarkable anecdotes shared and recounted, or just the good company, but without them our modest little adventure would not have been the same.

the Ahorros of North Shore City : that's Arlene and Jun on one side, and their daughter Bea behind us on the other. We are all sitting like contented cows after a lunch of kare-kare and steamed blue cod. talap-talap!

the Ahorros of North Shore City : that’s Arlene and Jun on one side, and their daughter Bea behind us on the other. We are all sitting like contented cows after a lunch of kare-kare and steamed blue cod. talap-talap!

The day after we arrived, my old colleague Arlene Ahorro made sure we met her family and had lunch in their modest bungalow in North Shore just outside Auckland City.  The time Arlene and I worked together a few years ago was a special time for her; she was chasing permanent resident status on the Work-to-Residence policy stream, which is Immigration NZ‘s way of saying if you don’t find get a job offer that suits your qualifications within six months from the time you get off the boat, your goose is cooked and back home you go.  Arlene’s sticky situation was that she had a job offer, but it was from a company that was going under faster than the Titanic after it bumped Mr Iceberg.  She had to consolidate her status and wrap up her application soon, otherwise her dreams as a migrant were going to remain just that, dreams.

To make a long story short, she made it by the skin of her teeth, and as you can see on the pretty picture above, she was able to bring her family to the land of her dreams (son Byron is taking the pic).  They are by no means at the end of their rainbow, but they are getting there one day at a time, raising kids and building careers while enjoying each other’s love.

Oh, and I almost forgot, she sweetened the lunch invitation by preparing her world-class kare-kare and readying her kawali for a blue-cod (similar to lapu-lapu) dish that would have gotten rave reviews from any NZ Masterchef panel of judges.  After that, we had chocolate mousse and home-made capuccino, a concession to Western cuisine for dessert, at least.  Mabuhay kayo, Arlene and Jun Ahorro and family!

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with kabayan Aline and Arlene and their Kiwi partners.  Beer optional. :)

with kabayan Aline and Arlene and their Kiwi partners. Beer optional. 🙂

One Kiwi (Peter) was a world-weary traveller who’d been all over Asia to find his fortune, and the other (Greg) was a world-class corporate communications specialist, and there was practically nothing in common with them, save perhaps their choice of partners, both choosing Filipinas from my country.

The latter two, Doc Arlene Gill and Aline Parrone were two kabayan I’d gotten to know at the Facebook page of my alumni in NZ, and they had varied, yet parallel paths compared to mine on our way to becoming migrants in this fair land.  We found it odd that we knew each other well online but had never beheld each other personally, so we sought to remedy that situation our second day in AKL.

Over Japanese pica-pica and udon , we discussed how New Zealanders continued to marvel at how much their country has evolved in the last few decades, not the least because of the migration invasion.  Thanks also to the union between Kiwis and Pinoys, we have meetings of the minds like the one between cultures and perspectives.  Thanks for the opportunity, Arlene, Aline and your hubbies!

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from left: Hazel, their daughter Kimy, Your Loyal Blogger, Mahal, Hannah and my brother George.  in front of us is what remains of a humongous dimsum / yumcha lunch :p

from left: Hazel, their daughter Kimy, your loyal blogger, Mahal, Hannah and my brother George. in front of us is what remains of a humongous dimsum / yumcha lunch :p

Our best experience was saved for last.  I would not have been able to obtain my first work visa in New Zealand without the assistance and generosity of my brother George and his wife Hazel.  They figuratively held my hand, taught me to walk and talk, and finally weaned me from my circle of friends and supporters by helping me find my first job in New Zealand.

Nearly five years from the time I left Auckland, I saw them as a family again (pictured above), and they have remained the same engaging, hard-working and conscientious team of husband and wife, always there for their two daughters.  The latter two have remained the same respectful, charming and intelligent pair of Kiwinoys I left, and I’m so lucky to be their uncle as well!  It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say they charmed the pants off Mahal, who couldn’t stop giggling with them throughout our entire lunch (and follow-up lunch the day after)!

We would’ve gained probably an extra bilbil and double chin if we didn’t leave Auckland at the time we did, as George and family fed us lunch, merienda, and brunch until we could not longer take another bite.  Such is the hospitality of family, and our brother made sure we would never forget this visit.  Thanks so much brother, and may we return the favor when your family visit us in Wellington!

Thanks for reading!


dodging awkward situations with your pinay wife / gf / partner



[ Maraming maraming salamat Arlene and Jun Ahorro, Arlene Gill and Aline Parrone and George and Hazel Bautista for their supreme kindness and hospitality during our trip to Auckland, may we return the favor someday soon! ]

WE DON’T guarantee 100% success; in our fallible imperfect world, nothing does.  But having had the benefit of experience, knowing our Pinay sisterhood since we were very young (and that was quite a few summers ago), we believe we are eminently qualified to help you,  precious reader, from as my audacious title suggests, dodging potentially awkward situations with your Pinay loved one.

The fundamental disconnect between cultures and values, the yawning divide between races and religions (or lack of same) and the clash between generations and familial priorities are some of  the sources of friction between Pinays and their significant others, who would otherwise be genuinely and sincerely in love, but it could be anything, as little as a momentary or wayward glance to an innocent phrase or comment that could open the proverbial can of worms.

First awkward situation.  While you are in the company of Pinay loved one, you encounter a pretty lady.  Do you (a) strike up a conversation, attract her attention and hope your Pinay loved one doesn’t notice, (b) be friendly in a guarded manner, but only if the hot lady is herself friendly first (although that’s highly unlikely), or (c) ignore her completely.  If the answer isn’t obvious, I’ll tell you what I’d do.

This was what happened: on our way to Auckland to catch the Ogie Alcasid concert, a very rare appearance by a world-class Filipino performer in this part of the world by the way, and on the discount flight to the City of Sails, I found myself seated next to a very attractive Kiwi woman.  From my peripheral view, she was slim, smartly dressed and didn’t seem to have any companion.  Of course, to my left was Mahal, who was ready to raise an eyebrow and flash a pout of disapproval if I so much as turned my head and display my famous Pinoy charm on said Attractive Kiwi Woman.

The flight was sixty-five minutes long, Mahal fell asleep somewhere between Wellington and Auckland and there was little reading matter to occupy my wandering mind, save for the usual glossy airline/travel mag that wasn’t exactly in the John Grisham or Stephen King neighborhood.  Did I talk to or even attempt to look at Ms Attractive Kiwi Woman?

The short answer is no. 😉

Common sense, a desire to not stoke any embers of  the time my conscience was less than virtuous and my eye was a little more than wandering, and the recognition that I was much better off letting sleeping dogs lie, were compelling reasons for my course of action, despite the fact that outside Mahal, encountering pretty young women and sitting this close to them was about as often as seeing more than a handful of stars as well as the moon on a clear Manila night, the odds of which is the equivalent to slim to none.

Which brings me to my valuable lesson : whenever you are with the love of your life, specifically your Pinay love, and you meet at close quarters a female topping 8 out of 10 on the hotness scale, ignore said female.  Pretend that she doesn’t exist and devote even more attention than usual on your beloved.  Whether or not she notices, it’s a win-win.  If she does, well you get a good-little-boy pat on the back.  If she doesn’t, well all you lost was the chance to admire a fine young thing while testing your steely resistance to temptation; you can always ogle the next nice-looking lady the next time, of course this means the next time you’re not with your Pinay Lady.

even more awkward!

even more awkward!

Second situation.  You are the judge-by-default when your Pinay love selects dresses and stuff for her party / night out.  She asks you in succession does this dress highlight my assets, de-emphasize my less flattering parts and in general, make me look prettier?  The good news is the answer is easy, the dress does none of those things.  The bad news is she’s right there’s waiting for an answer in a New York minute.  What to do?  Do you (a) tell her all is good, yes yes yes and she looks like a supermodel; (b) bite the bullet and tell her the dress doesn’t do anything for her, she looks 10 years older in that awful dress and please donate it to the needy or anyone else who’ll want it, or (c) tell her exactly how the dress might have been good for her, had she had the right skin color, height and vital statistics?  Remember, there’s no middle ground and you can’t give her a safe, wishy-washy opinion.

You want her to look at her best but at the same time you don’t want to hurt her feelings and ruin her day.  The problem with Pinays is they take their appearance very seriously and believe that, though they already look good on their own and are as beautiful as any other race on the planet, they have to trounce the competition and must claim their birthright of being the most desirable women on Earth.

I’m not sure if my answer fits into the category of (a), (b) or (c), but I would tell my Pinay love that whatever she wears is immaterial to me, because she is the only beautiful woman in my life, and ultimately the opinion of others does not count.  Of course in reality this answer will not be the one she is looking for, but this is one case where what you think isn’t as important as how the other person feels, and believe me, dear reader, how your Pinay love feels is very important.

Thanks for reading!

proud to be a pinoy tradesman

that's me right on the bottom, but still proud as anyone on the list. :)

that’s me right on the bottom, but still proud as anyone on the list. 🙂

JUST BEFORE and during the Easter weekend, two separate events made me proud to be a tradesman, defined as  a person who earns his living from manual skills like carpentry, masonry, baking, milling and plumbing.  The first was very personal to me, as you’ll read below, and the second should put a collective lump in the throat of any Pinoy worthy of his / her kayumanggi skin.

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The e-mail was posted without incident and even less fanfare, probably because people like me were hurrying to our posts or commuting home between shifts at the time.  But it was one of the more pleasant messages on the bulletin board that I’d read :

“The xxx service recognition program aims to recognise employees’ service milestones and reward their loyalty, contribution and commitment towards the business.  I (the Managing Director) would like to extend my congratulations to those who have received service awards in the last quarter :

“xxxNoel B (that’s me) : Wellington : 5 years of service in March 2013”

I hadn’t been keeping count, but I knew it was some time since I started with my employer.  It was doubly significant since it was the employer who had been keeping me in New Zealand, so I guess I should’ve been at least a little more vigilant in anticipating the milestone.

Moreover, I was on my last legs as a temporary migrant when I got the job, didn’t have an ideal background, and not only had to move halfway across the country, but I also had do shift work, get used to manual labor and do everything my superiors asked me to do.

But when the job is the only thing keeping you in the country, you try your best to do everything in the job description, and get on the boss’s good side, everytime, all the time.

I did a lot of this the last five years so often it actually became part of my routine, and in the process I learned a trade.  Five years from taking on the job in South Auckland, I’m in the unlikely position of being a service awardee, a gypsy journeyman who’s still learning something new everyday.  Thank you all my colleagues, thank you bisors, and thank you Mr Employer across the Tasman.

And Tuesday is the first day for the rest of my working life.

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here's a screen shot of the tv3 news segment, thanks to tv3.co.nz for allowing us to share!

here’s a screen shot of the tv3 news segment, thanks to tv3.co.nz for allowing us to share!

This is one of those cases where words don’t do justice, and so I just direct the Precious Reader to the video which for copyright reasons (actually I violate this a whole lot) I can’t post directly, but can still share indirectly.

Our karpentero kabayan good at kalikot and kutingting were sought out by Kiwi construction companies contracted for the Christchurch rebuilding project, and, up to the challenge, many many carpenters tried out for 20 jobs back home, and are now here to provide carpentry services for the duration to the project.  Well, you’ll see all about it in the vid.

The work conditions aren’t world-class, but our countrymen are comfortable, as the footage attests.  They are also provided Pinoy food (prepared by a kabayan co-worker with cooking talents) and adequate internet services to communicate with their families back home.  Best of all, their talents and skills are valued, and if ever projects are awarded anew, will be engaged again.

For now, we don’t know if this is the start of something big, but one thing for sure : the Pinoy tradesman is and has always been welcome in New Zealand.

Kia ora and mabuhay Kiwis, Pinoys and Kinoys!

si indianero jones at ang paghahanap ng mahiwagang flat (indianero jones and the quest for the elusive flat)

with a little help from TradeMe and the Salvation Army store, Mahal was able to assemble our new living room.  In the foreground is an unfinished TV stand.

with a little help from TradeMe and the Salvation Army store, Mahal was able to assemble our new living room. In the foreground is an unfinished TV stand.

MAHAL AND I have spent the past three weeks applying for, being selected and moving into a new flat.  Hope you don’t mind if I share with you what we’ve been through.  (It’s also my way of telling you why I haven’t been yap-yap-yapping as much recently. 🙂 )

Please DON’T be offended if, first of all, the prospective or potential landlord/landlady categorizes or profiles aspiring tenants like us, especially migrant Pinoys, according to number of children, number of pets (if any), and whether or not we smoke (I quit six years ago) or drink (very moderately naman).  I’m not sure how it goes in Auckland, but those are some of the very first things asked by landlords/landladies when you apply to rent a flat in windy Wellington.

Frankly, he (or she; for brevity i’ll just use the masculine noun and pronoun if you don’t mind) could do a lot worse.

I wish I photocopied the questionnaire, but one landlord actually asked if both Mahal and I were gainfully employed, how much we earned, how many credit cards we had and whether or not we had criminal records.

The fellow, who turned out to be a friendly sort and shortlisted us to be his tenants, said he had previous problems with tenants and now went to the extent of checking the premises periodically for traces of methamphetamine, cannabis and other dangerous drugs not just for consumption but for production.  Turned out that removing all traces of the dratted substances from one of his co-landlord’s properties after the latter had been used as a P-lab (or shabu lab, for us in the Philippines) cost many more thousands of dollars than if they had just screened tenants more judiciously.  Such that being a bit anal in his tenant applications didn’t seem so outrageous anymore.

And I wish I could be as outraged about landlords‘ overkill re kids, pets and smoke, but it’s just a generous helping of commonsense when selecting who will be stewards of your rental investment, which is a favorite source of retirement income for many prudent New Zealanders.  Each additional child means additional pressure on the facilities in terms of wear and tear, risk of damage and maintenance cost to the flat.  Having pets often means lots of hair, scratches and tolerated additional use to just about every corner of the house.  This doesn’t bode well for picture perfectness and pristine-ness of the apartment, but a lot of Kiwis and Maoris are petlovers, what can you do?  And I don’t have to tell you about how nicotine and tobacco smoke leave ugly stains on the walls, especially over time.

There is a finite number of desirable flats near workplaces in our city, and the skilled workforce is constantly growing.  This means it’s a lessor’s market, and because queues for flats form immediately as soon as they are offered, landlords have the luxury of picking from the very best of the bunch.

Mahal and I have no kids, no pets, and neither of us smoke.  But that didn’t mean we were automatically going to be ideal and prime candidates for the choice flats we applied for.  In fact, I don’t think we even made it as a finalist for any of the first few flats we expressed interest in, and the guy I told you about above was just being polite.  To be fair, his flat had central heating, used a sophisticated energy-conscious sunlight absorbing heat-and-light system, had new wallpaper, tiling and carpeting installed wall-to-wall.  I’m sure more than a dozen candidates submitted applications and he would’ve had a hard time just whittling down the list to superperfect, handsome and beautiful shortlisters.  Deep sigh. 😦

Eventually our persistence paid off though.  We found someone who appreciated our (as yet) childless, pet-less and tobaccoless status, liked that we ticked all the boxes on his checklist, and approved our flat application after a cursory interview.

They’re almost self-evident, but I have to give you a very brief summary of what I’ve picked up:  (1) Keep an ideal flat in mind, but don’t be too choosy.  You won’t get the first flat you apply for, almost surely.  (2) It’s probably better to deal with a rental agency than a landlord direct, as it helps both sides.  (3) When you’ve been approved as tenant and before starting to move, sell or give away as much stuff as you can before actually moving, it saves a lot of grief and stress.

And finally, amass as many cardboard boxes (preferably the corrugated ones) as you can, be prepared to throw away stuff you won’t need anymore in your new home, hire a skip bin just before moving, and get as much help as you can.  Congrats on your new flat!

bringing the Philippine Embassy to your bakuran

The Philippine Embassy mobile consular team with volunteers of the Pinoy community in Rotorua, NZ.  From left : Atty Levy Ang-Strang, Mrs Lourdes Spijkerbosch, Mrs Gloria Avena, Mrs Ofelia Coralde, Ms Susana So, Atty Giovanni E Palec, Ms Marjorie Luxford, Ambassador Virginia H Benavidez, Mrs Tania Short, Consul General Marcos A.S. Punsalang, Ms Cherry Andrews, Ms Mary Bel Garcia, Mr Larry Reyes, Mrs Josefina Emberga and Mrs Alexis LewGor

[ Note : We don’t always engage in hyperbole, but our Embassy has been an overachieving team that has exceeded even the most generous expectations. Kudos to Her Excellency Ambassador Virginia H Benavidez and her dedicated, workaholic team at the Embassy! ]

THE NUMBERS say it all : 4,895 e-passport applicants, 1,242 overseas absentee voting registrants, 220 notarial documentation, 143 National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) clearances, 165 reports of birth and marriage and 18 dual citizenship.

Exceeding even the most optimistic goals, the past 14 months have seen our Philippine Embassy reaching unprecedented heights in delivering more effective and efficient services to Pinoy communities throughout New Zealand and countries in Polynesia under its jurisdiction through its groundbreaking mobile consular outreach missions.

Bannered The Philippine Embassy in New Zealand: Serving with a Smile, Going the Extra Mile and Reaching Beyond Our Grasp, direct and onsite consular missions started upon the arrival of Ambassador Virginia H. Benavidez  in September 2011.  Since then, the outreach missions have been a game changer in concretely manifesting our government’s priority concern for kabayan OFWs‘ welfare, protection and interests.

To date, our Embassy has conducted no less than eighteen (18) mobile consular missions, bringing unquantifiable benefit to 6,680 Filipinos in key cities in the North and South Islands in New Zealand and in Tonga, Fiji, Samoa and Cook Islands.  We don’t mind saying that not many in the diplomatic community can lay claim to such a gold standard of pro-active performance. 🙂

Just to give you an idea of how busy the previous calendar year was for our Embassy, its  mobile consular team reached out to Pinoys in Christchurch and Auckland in January; Rotorua and Fiji in April; Auckland in May; Dunedin in August; Cook Islands, Whangarei and back to Auckland in September (in fairness, over half of the NZ Pinoy community are based in AKL); the Independent State of Samoa in November and Christchurch again in December.

But even in 2011, mobile consular services started for the first time in Hamilton in October; Ashburton, Invercargill and Auckland in November and Auckland and Tonga in December.

Significantly, in all of the cities visited by the Philippine Embassy, meetings and coordination were made with the respective Filipino community organizations and groups, namely, the Waikato Filipino Association in Hamilton, Filipino Dairy Workers of New Zealand, Incorporated in Ashburton, the Southland Filipino Community Club in Invercargill, Good Shepherd’s Church and the Garcia Law office in Auckland, Association of Filipinos in Tonga, the Alpha Phi Omega Aotearoa, Philippine Culture and Sports and Christchurch Migrants Centre Trust in Christchurch, the Philippine Club of Rotorua, Inc. and the Bay of Plenty Philippine Friendship Society in Rotorua, Filipino Association led by Honorary Consul Dr. Virgilio De Asa in Fiji, Dunedin Philippine Club, Inc., Filipino Community in Cook Islands, Whangarei Filipino Society, Inc. and the Filipino Community in Samoa.

“Their warm hospitality, invaluable support and exemplary cooperation have contributed immensely to a highly successful, productive and meaningful stay and service of the Embassy’s mobile consular team in the various cities in New Zealand and in Tonga, Fiji, Cook Islands and Samoa. Indeed, they are shining examples of the vital partnership between the Philippine Embassy and the Filipino communities in carrying out our God-given mission for our beloved country and people,” says Ambassador Benavidez.

Wherever Ambassador Benavidez and the Embassy team provided services throughout NZ and some cities in the Pacific, the Filipino community unfailingly and profusely communicated deep gratitude to the Philippine Government through the Philippine Embassy for the crucial and sought after consular services at their doorstep as it saved them a considerable amount of money, time, day off and resources, considering that it is often costly, inconvenient and difficult for them to travel to the Embassy’s physical site in Wellington.

Mixing business with pleasure, Ambassador Benavidez was also able to touch base with kabayan and thank them for their invaluable support and continuing cooperation, updated them on the positive economic and other developments back home, focusing on the reform agenda and good governance programs of Pres. Benigno S. Aquino III.

Ambassador Benavidez likewise enjoined them to participate in  the overseas absentee voting process (OAV) and dual citizenship acquisition, briefed them on the urgency of setting up a disaster preparedness and emergency response plan in coordination with local authorities and agencies and conveyed the deep appreciation and recognition of New Zealand’s government and people for their skills, talents, work ethic  and ability to integrate themselves well with our communities New Zealand-wide.

Our Ambassador also took advantage of the missions and the Embassy team’s presence in each city by calling on Mayors, Members of Parliament, officers of the Migrant Centres, Multicultural Councils and Ethnic Affairs Offices to broaden networking, exchange insights and information about the Philippines and personally receive Pinoy feedback and views about the situation as well as contributions of the Filipino communities.  Whenever possible, she also met with local chambers of commerce, businessmen, companies and relevant agencies and institutions to promote greater trade, investment, business, tourism and people to people ties between the Philippines, New Zealand and the Pacific Island countries under our Embassy’s jurisdiction.

But our Ambassador and her loyal team are not complacent.  To ensure that thousands more of our countrymen are reached by the mobile consular services, the Philippine Embassy is set to revisit Taupo, Queenstown, Auckland, Rotorua and other parts of the North and South Islands in 2013.

Announcements on the dates, venue and other relevant details about the mobile consular services are posted at the Embassy’s website at wwww.philembassy.org.nz and facebook. Inquiries can also be made through the Philippine Embassy at telephone numbers (+644) 8903741/3742/3744 or email address embassy@wellington-pe.co.nz.

Programs like these, unlikely as they are, shift previous paradigms of a distant, unreachable and indifferent government, and ultimately as the record shows we have the new generation of officials like Ambassador Benavidez to thank.  More power to you Ma’m, and mabuhay ang lahing Pinoy!

how mahal got her groove in the land of 2nd chances

a foot in the door... the work visa, formerly known as a work permit :)

a foot in the door… the work visa, formerly known as a work permit 🙂

IN MANY ways, as you’ve doubtless heard from kabayan communities all over, migrating to a new land is like Life’s second chance.  Lifelong frustrations, broken dreams and failed professions are all swept aside as the prospect of new careers, golden incomes and even a rejuvenated lovelife are all made possible, sometimes at the same time, when one succeeds in carving out a migrant life in the so-called (generically designated) land of milk and honey.

I’m not ungrateful, but after six years here I continue to define myself as an accidental migrant, firstly because my migrant adventure in New Zealand started just as my tourist’s itinerary expired.  More than a few times in this space I’ve had occasion to mention that a generous aunt brought me and a few other relatives to visit my brother in Auckland back in 2007, and during such jaunt my Kinoy bro suggested that, as long as I didn’t have any pressing business back home, I might want to stay behind after the tour group left and try my luck applying for a work permit.

To make a long story short, I got lucky once, twice and yet again.  Because of a “trade” (vocational job) that I picked up, I was able to obtain work permits (now known as work visas) with a supportive employer despite a depressed job market.  I’ve been able to accumulate training and career development that has allowed me to consolidate the modest gains I’ve made as a guest worker.

A second reason I’m an accidental migrant is the nature of my visa: because of my limitations, I don’t have the necessary credentials to realistically see myself as a successful candidate for permanent resident status, so that I’ve been riding the migrant wave on a one-year work visa, which is like being given an amazing car that can bring you anywhere you want (and which runs on ultracheap fuel) but which breaks down one year to the day you’re given such car.  To continue getting around, you need another amazing car, that will (you guessed it) break down in yet another year.  My stay in NZ is contingent on my job, which is in turn dependent on my continued enjoyment of work visa-status.  Because the visa officer every time I apply after every year is someone new, nothing is ever assured.

As you might have guessed, none of this mattered to Mahal, from whom I had been apart for the better part of three years, me coming home only on Christmases and my folks’ 50th wedding anniversary.  Her patience was wearing thin, and not even the fleetingness of a work permit / visa would keep her from joining me in NZ.

The trick was, we had to prove our relationship, as we weren’t married at the time.  Immigration NZ (the counterpart of our Philippine Bureau of Immigration and Deportation) takes a very dim view on ersatz couples who use their “relationship” as a means of getting into the country, as the exercise understandably smacks of fraud and an attempt to abuse the system.  Despite this, thousands upon thousands of applicants use the partnership policy stream to obtain visas into the country.

Just to show you how determined she was, she did the following for the first time: (1) fill up immigration forms invented by probably one of the most meticulous and detail conscious agencies around; (2) submit to stressful interviews from officers keen to know every detail about her life; (3) revisit every place she lived in to compile documentary evidence that she was a law-abiding, upstanding and productive member of the community.

So that by the time a decision had been made regarding her visa application as my partner, just the stress of having gone through the process was drama enough.  But as you might expect, all the trials and tribulations of waiting, waiting and waiting by Mahal to join me in my life as an accidental migrant, upon arrival of that blue-and-white sticker, became worth it.

And just to make the event more memorable, a few days after Mahal arrived in NZ for the first time, a freak tornado visited the town where we lived.  Here’s how it looked:

Since then, Mahal has adjusted to accidental migrant life just as well, if not better than I have, and has incidentally made my life here so much more colorful, meaningful and fulfilling.  She is exceedingly grateful for my helping her get here, little knowing that it is I who have been all the richer.  (Or maybe she does?)

This is why on the third anniversary of her first work permit / visa in NZ, it is worth remembering.  Thanks for joining me here mi amor!

Happy Valentines‘ Day to all!

Thanks for reading!