groundhog day for your OFW kabayan


they had time to pose for a team-building pic. Thanks and acknowledgment to taapworld.wikispaces.com!

Oh, dear.  I promised esposa hermosa I would finish it today, bundle it up and throw it into the dropbox at Immigration NZ tomorrow.  But it’s taking all of my energy to just sort the documents today.

I shouldn’t have too much problems with this, as I’ve been doing it, not counting the first time when I was a new hire, three times previous, applying for a work permit, now called a work visa, as a guest worker in the Land of the Long White Cloud, or New Zealand.

Unlike many of my kabayan (countrymen) who’ve gotten here under the Work-to-Residence policy stream, my right to work depends largely on whether the visa officer thinks there aren’t enough locals who can do the job and fill the position I currently occupy.  Failing that simple test, my status as a work visa-holder ceases to exist and I go home.

It’s as simple as that, every year.  Most years the case officer just follows the script, respects that procedure has been properly followed and ticks all the boxes in my favor.  Every now and then though, there is someone who is even more than a stickler for the letter of the law, who thinks that New Zealanders enjoy the first, second and last priority for jobs all and sundry, and that as it is, there are already too many migrant workers in Enzed (NZ).

this theoretical visa / case officer is correct on all counts, except for the following: the basic law sometimes bows to the reality that there is no one currently qualified to perform the work for which the permit/visa is being applied for; that the jobs are there for Kiwis and Maoris to take, but what if they’re not interested in particular jobs? and three, it is true that there seem to be a tad more foreign workers, maybe too much for comfort for the previous generation of New Zealanders, but if you take away all of us, who’ll be left to work?

Regardless of the wisdom of the strict officers, and how politically correct it is to allow migrant workers in a country that has unemployment problems up to here (point to neck), I’m just happy to avoid the above kind of bureaucrat, and to keep my nose clean and my application airtight.

By airtight I mean all documents updated, that I’ve done my part to improve my training and education, and that I enjoy the support and endorsement of my employer, which incidentally, I’ve done and I do.

I’ve kept on file my employment contract, which contains all the bells and whistles (anti-harrassment, opportunities for advancement, legal terms of work, etc etc) but also all the bail-out clauses in case the employer doesn’t like me anymore.  It’s pretty dated, because it’s deemed renewed if no one objects to it, and since I’ve signed it 2008 it’s been good as gold

I’ve passed at least one training module every year that consists of a written exam and optional quizzes spread throughout a five-month period, supported by the worldwide guild with branches in Australia and Europe, and I only need two more to be certifed in my trade.  I’ve kept copies of my passing certificates for the officer’s scrutiny.

Back home, I remembered to update my National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) clearance to prove my nose has been clean all of my adult life, or at least proves I’ve never been caught  😉

Experience has taught me to keep copies of unanswered job ads for my position in publications to show the case officer that no one is qualified, or even interested in my job.  It helps him/her a whole lot in deciding in my favor, in short to issue me a new work visa.

Once, my previous boss even went so far as to advertise in Work and Income NZ, a job placement agency staffed by the national government, for eight straight weeks just to show that the physical and technical aspects of the job attracted very few local applicants.  That year it was enough to clinch my precious work visa.

All the above, plus the crucial written endorsement from The Man that I’ve been a good little boy and that it would cost them more to lose me and train someone from scratch, I’m to compile, complete all the applications, and not the least, add the application fee, zip to the office in Wellington City, and dump the package onto their dropbox

I hope to be as lucky and blessed as I’ve been the last four years.

Thanks for reading !

 

First day at work, last day at work in Middle Earth


another day at the office…

[ Note : It’s a bit fuzzy, and it’s not very well defined, but there’s a straight line between the two people in these stories, the first on one end, the second on the other, and coincidentally, I’m somewhere in the middle, though my own destination isn’t that far away.  Thanks for all your prayers, kind thoughts and donations to Jerome and Lady Jalbuena, the latter well on her way to groundbreaking therapy. ]

I’M NOT allowed to say anything yet, lest I jinx her, but wait… is that what she said ???  OK, media embargo over, Ganda tried and tried, applied and applied, never lost heart and recently found her very first job here in NZ, finally joined the workforce after the jobsearch of a lifetime, for her of course.  She set her sights high but was realistic enough to accept whatever came her way first, played the numbers game by trying out for as many jobs as possible, one of those potential employers was bound to find some merit in her earnestly written CV, which boasted of NO NZ experience and one, countem one part-time, internship-like gig back home.  Keeping that in mind, it’s not so hard to realize that it was an uphill climb for Ganda in finding her first source of livelihood as an independent working girl.

Maybe it was just as well that Ganda was a babe in the woods when it came to finding a J-O-B, there wouldn’t have been anything to encourage her had she stepped back and taken a bird’s-eye view of the employment situation.  Not only did New Zealand suffer from the second highest quarterly unemployment rate in recent history, it also was hit badly by the mining slump in big brother Aussie, suffering job losses just as nastily as Australian miners and those depending on the mining industry.  So many people unemployed, underemployed and on the benefit, best not to tell young people like Ganda who during the low points and slow days of bagging the short-list job interview, keep their hopes high and chins up.

I hope if you ever meet Ganda just before she starts her first day on work that you don’t discourage her as well, fully knowing that employers like to squeeze every available minute of work out of the thirteen-plus dollars per hour minimum wage they give to their peons, that their breaks are strictly timed, and that the only idle time you often experience in first time jobs are just before you punch the bundy and after you punch out.  It’s best that you work the hard jobs when you’re young, inspired and hungry.  Because Ganda and her colleagues will never work harder for the rest of their lives.

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

I’ll never forget Davey.  When I walked into the mill the first time in my life to start my first day, he was the very first co-worker to smile at me.   He obviously didn’t know me and I probably looked as foreign to him as lanzones or rambutan, if he was aware of those fruits, but still he welcomed me to the workplace flashing his broadest, toothiest smile.  I appreciated that.

He was in his early 60s even then, but he was strong as an ox, easily able to lift 20-kg bags of flour hundreds of times a day, as it was his job to pack flour into paper bags, stack them up on pallets, as he had been doing for twenty odd years.  He liked to impress us with his tall tales when he was much younger, but mostly he loved his horse racing tips and schedules, and couldn’t stay away from the bars on payday.  We all liked Davey, and we understood that old bachelors like him needed their pasttimes.

But of course it was part of the agreement that you could bet as much of your wages and drink as much as you want, as long as you showed up on the job the next day.  He nearly always honored this gentleman’s agreement (actually one we honored with the Bossman if we wanted to keep our jobs), but sometimes he drank a bit too much, and a bit too early, even before his shift started.

He did this once too often, and one day Bossman said he went beyond the red line.  Even after two ownership changes, dozens of mill managers and thousands of paychecks, Davey shouldn’t have taken too lightly his final warning, because this time Bossman really meant it.  We all knew he had no choice, and strict rules from upstairs (meaning management across the ditch) had given Davey many previous chances before.  The sad part was that he was the longest-staying, one of the most well-liked and dependable workers around, and yet his weakness for firewater and a penchant for one too many extended hangovers doomed him to an early goodbye from our team at work.

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

Thinking about both Ganda and Davey on their first and last days of work gave me time to think about my own.  Work gives you food on the table, a roof over your head, respect for others, and gratitude from your family.  It defines your day, defines your attitude, and in many ways can define your destiny.  To those just starting out like Ganda, good luck and may you always be inspired to respect your job and the benefits you derive from it, and to lifers like me and Davey, may we always find the discipline and endurance to stay in our posts and give justice to the trust reposed in us by our employers.

Congrats again Ganda, we’re so proud of you, and good luck Davey!  Thanks for reading everyone!

belated happy birthday Evelyn Cheng !


IT WAS great to see you again at the 30th anniv reunion, after so many years, at least 20 if I’m not mistaken.

Esposa hermosa remarked how young-looking you all were, and you deserved special mention of course.

I told her what an achiever you were in elementary school, and how you continue to serve your high school contemporaries by being a batch officer.

What we didn’t know was that you also migrated faraway lands, to Australia coincidentally (and so close to NZ) and now enjoy the best of the Philippines and Down Under by shuttling between your two homes.

So sorry for the late greeting, sorry too that we failed to make it to your birthday bash, regards to the family, and many happy returns !

All that is needed for evil to triumph . . .


[Note : with grateful acknowledgment to Mr Edmund Burke ]

THE NICE thing about keeping a blog is that it also serves as a sort-of diary, about your rants and raves, thoughtful and thoughtless musings.  You may or  may not be politically correct, socially conscious or morally upright at all times, and at the time you put pen to electronic paper, it’s not a deliberate thing, trying to be PC, a bleeding heart or a beacon in the moral wilderness, but things tend to be said, and remembered.

Like I said, I’ve always been more or less yacky chirpy and flighty, sometimes all of the above at the same time, and the end result is a blog posted, but I used to do it on our high school batch Yahoo!group page, and unfortunately my high school batchmates were unwilling sounding boards of whatever wacky thought-processes happened to clutter my neural paths and brain-cell boulevards.

But on one of those Yahoogroup blogs, I did note down that I was running around the block near Meadowbank, Auckland three years ago when a car sped past and the driver threw a tape cartridge at me, not intending to injure but certainly wanting to catch my Asian attention.  I picked up said tape cartridge, and it was an album of an unknown Taiwanese band.  Certainly no relevance to me, but the message was clear.  A little spittle of disrespect was hurled my way, no skin off my back, but quite unsettling, and almost surely from someone who didn’t like Asians in the neighborhood.  It didn’t matter that I wasn’t Taiwanese (although ethnically Taiwanese and Chinese are the same, and I’m part-Chinese), it was like a megaphone shouted in my face : just so you haven’t been made aware, you’re the visiting minority here, and don’t you forget it for one single minute.

Multiply the viciousness of that incident around a hundredfold, and you get an idea of what happened in Sydney Australia yesterday, and while it may be race-specific, the act I mean, it bodes forbidding consequences for all Asians and migrants like you and me.

I hope you either read the newsclip or viewed the YouTube clip above, or even better did both, but even if you didn’t, I can tell you that whether or not the alleged criminal youths originally intended it, the act degenerated into a hate crime, against Asians and more specifically Chinese as a group.

Equally if not more alarming were the “environmental” facts around the incident, of the Chinese being assaulted and robbed.  One of the youths remarked that the group should focus their criminal acts on the Chinese because “they (usually) have money,” and that no one came to help the Chinese man defend himself.

It’s very unfortunate, but the acts of a very few people in civil society, when it is directed against a specific racial / demographic group, tend to incite fear, defensiveness and retaliation as well as other emotional responses in the group of the member attacked, and the group of the instigators.  Ironically, both groups end up getting defensive.

First of all, it creates the general feeling that there is a concerted feeling of ill will against a specific race or racial group.  Whether or not this is true, the fact is those youths believed that certain groups of people, particularly the Chinese, are better targets for criminal activity, not the least because they (allegedly) tend to have more money on their persons.

Second, the unfortunate consequence of the Chinese man receiving no aid from anyone else on the train creates the spontaneous (on my part) impression that (1) the bystanders were too afraid for their own safety to intervene, (2) they didn’t care enough to help their co-passenger, or (3) they didn’t think the Chinese man, maybe because of his Chineseness, deserved any help.

If guesses (1) and (2) were true, the Sydney commuting public and Australians in general have a lot to think about.  If guess (3) turns out to be true, then all migrants in Australia, and maybe New Zealand, and come to think of it, the rest of the world, have a whole lot more to think about.

***               ***          ***

It’s become a jaded observation in one PC-uptight country that a child-rapist murderer might get early parole if he plays his cards right, but not someone who makes the mistake of hurling racist epithets in public and has the misfortune of having his racist deeds magnified in media.  In short, crimes against race sensitivity have become so odious that they have acquired a stigma above all other crimes, sometimes at the expense of commonsense, like the Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin case capturing national attention beyond imagination.

But there is a reason for this, because racial sensitivity and understanding underpins the relationships of whole communities in societies and in fact between societies and civilizations themselves.  Being a member of good standing in the community of nations requires a basic understanding and acceptance that all races and cultures need to live and co-exist alongside each other.

If something like this can happen in First World, cosmopolitan Sydney Australia, a bulwark of the multi-racial 21st century global village, it could happen anywhere.

And that, my friend, is not good for you and me.

Thanks for reading!

happy birthday Panganay !


Dear Panganay :

In many ways you have not changed much.   You still leave your room in the same chaotic state, especially when you leave for work or for your dance practice, clothes strewn about, bed unmade and the windows open. I know I specifically asked you to allow air in to get rid of your musky aura, but just the same I make clicking sounds at the cold autumn air coming in.  I shake my head and prepare a lecture for you, before remembering that my own room when I was your age was just as hopelessly disorganized.

I still bang on your door when you get carried away practicing your swag, ask you often what time you will be coming home (if at all) so I can leave the door unlocked, and remind myself not to eat too much lest you suffer a munchies attack and scrounge around the kitchen for leftovers.  Buti na lang Tita H always cooks enough for three.

Yes you haven’t changed much, except that you’re taller than me now.  Your hair remains curly just like your mother’s, your eyes as large as mine are small, and I see evidence that you try scores of outfits and combinations before you decide on one, right down to the specific hat and shoes.  I chuckle at that, because when I was your age, I was probably just as vain.

On other levels you and I have changed as well.  Our relationship is no longer one of provider and ward.  I badger you weekly for your contribution to rent, make wry comments about how you can have time to endlessly surf the internet and yet have none at all to vacuum the common areas in our flat, and remind you constantly to do your share in the kitchen and toilet cleaning.  You  pretend not to hear, and I pretend not to notice that you pretend not to hear.

But in the grand scheme of things those appear, and rightfully remain trivial and a source of funny memories when you are a bit older.  Soon I know you will be making your mark in things you care about, and if your legs carry your there, you will probably even find yourself in Australia, the US or elsewhere.  You have as many options as there are dance moves in your YouTube clips, which I privately view and smile at.

In short, I may not always say it, but every passing day I find more ways to be proud of you.  I love you always anak, thank you for being my son.  Kaawaan ka lagi ng Diyos.

Happy birthday Panganay !

Love always

Papa

Gauge nowhere near “F” & Golden City on the event horizon


[ Note fron Noel : As long as I’m already worrying about my immigration status and continued viability for NZ work, I might as well fret about how well I’m set up for late middle age, how I can cope when work is no longer an option and the alkansya’s run out, not a pleasant prospect I know.  Ironic given the depressing content but the blog is longer than the usual, pls bear with your accidental migrant kabayan, belated happy birtday to Teacher Aissa Apostol – Sta Maria,  belated happy birthday and congrats on passing her preliminary Australia CPA board exams, Ineng Montenegro Agustin and welcome to Wellington Atty Ronald “Samboy” Concepcion and Atty Nino Juan !  Lastly, the YouTube clip above symbolizes how fast time flies by, at least in this blogger’s life.  Take care everyone! ]

SOMEONE SMART, right now I forget who (almost everyone I know is smarter than me), once said that, depending on my lifestyle, tastes and tendency to get in and out of tight fixes, I need anywhere between 15 to 25 times my annual income for my proverbial nest egg, which as if you didn’t know is the fund on which I will depend in the years I’m put out to pasture.

So many caveats though : the nest egg itself is supposedly tax-free, but all the income you’ve earned or potentially earned to build it up ISN’T, so I can’t project reasonably if I’ll be sitting on my fat behind counting all the grain I’ve stored in my silos (figuratively of course, recalling Luke 12:13-21) or strumming on a banjo assisted by a dancing chimp (not unlike Dr Parnassus, after his Imaginarium was destroyed) and begging for my bread; it all depends on how much P-Noy (or his successors) has extracted from my pay envelope after all those years of hard labor 😦

Going back to the 15 to 25 rule, not only is it unrealistic, it also doesn’t take into account inflation and the dwindling purchasing power of the peso or whatever coin of the realm you happen to be toiling in.  Unless you are a super entrepreneur (like S.Jobs, God bless his soul) or an ahead-of-your-time visionary who can create markets for newfangled goods where none previously existed (also like S.Jobs), you are probably several zeroes short of your ideal pension goal.

To be brutally self-effacingly honest about it, I wouldn’t be in such an destitute state if I had listened to mi padres and pursued a respectable profession (like a bro), avoided marrying early and prioritized career advancement instead (like another bro), or hadn’t wasted time chasing windmills and grown a stable business (again, like yet another bro 🙂 )

It gets worse.  Pair the 15-25 mentality with the rule of 72, which tells you (roughly) in how many years, in peso or dollar terms, the cost of certain goods or services will double.  For example, if the current inflation rate is 8%, divide 72 by 8 (giving you a 9, last time I checked), and this means in 9 years or so, if you need P30,000 a month to survive, that amount, to buy the same basket of goods and services needs to be P60,000.  Pardon the simplistic thinking, but whatever figure you need to survive on, don’t forget to adjust it for inflation and reckoning how many years away you are from retirement.  We can start crying now.

For someone like me, whose worldly wealth consists of the coins jingling in my pocket, my sense of catastrophe is on a fundamental disconnect with cold reality, so that it seems almost comical at this late stage to start planting seeds.  But I’ve got to start somewhere.  I don’t even want to think of asking for an assist from Crazy Good Son, Ganda or Bunso in the near future, as they are just starting out and don’t deserve to reap the harvest of my indolence and lack of foresight.

Clearly, the only alternative is to work till the day I die, if health and a future free from accidents is my fate.  Whether my kabayan and co-travellers in life share my sentiments,  I don’t know for sure.

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

The photo that launched a thousand discussions. Kudos to the mom for her resilience !

What I do know for sure is that not all Pinoys think we shouldn’t involve our kids post-retirement.  A picture appearing on the local paper’s World section, published a month ago, earned me some pogi points among my co-workers. ( I don’t have the pic right now, but if it appears above then I found it in time. )  Evidently a Tondo couple produced all of 22 kids in their happy reunion  (17 of which survived childbirth) and were all living in the same one-bedroom dwelling, not counting spouses and kids of married children.  Quite a few of my colleagues couldn’t believe it, and a kind-hearted fellow even wanted to take in one or two of the children.

I told them that large families were often the norm back home although this brood was large even for our elastic standards.  Later in the day at home I told Kuya Flatmate how sympathetic the natives were to the kabayan family of about 30 living cheek-to-cheek in what was most likely a 25 to 30 square meter shanty.

Unexpectedly he turned the issue on its head.  Diba dapat hangaaan ang swerte ng magasawang yan he opined, leaving me with a dumbfounded huh?

Syang tunay.  Kung kahit kalahati lang jan sa magkakapatid ay magiging propesyonal , diba tiba-tiba naman ang mga magulang sa tulong at suporta?

Oo nga naman I conceded.

And so that returns us to the option I initially eschewed, soliciting help and support from my soon-to-be income generating progeny, not for the entirety of my needs mind you, but only little things like Mini Coopers, junkets overseas, Nike Shox or Kindles.

I don’t know if, creature comforts aside, my senior citizen ego can handle that.  Sunrise, sunset…

Thanks for reading !

Noel

From Megamall 2 Downtown Wellington : Mahal’s 1st full-time gig


Clothes, accessories and things that make a girl prettier. It won't really be work for her.

The place that offered Mahal her first full-time job. Medyo malayo lang. McDo above is a bonus. 😉

[ Pssst… if you read this and are a friend or acquaintance of the subject of this particular blog, don’t tell her OK?  🙂  Belated happy birthdays to dear friend and Blitz-mate Dodie deGuzman – Gutierrez, and kabatch Danny Lua and Michael Tan, now let’s cross our fingers for the All Blacks ! ]

IT”S BEEN a whirlwind 18 months for esposa hermosa, time almost seems to have flown by (forgive the trite hyperbole), but how else would you have described it if in said span of time you experienced your first international flight, settled in her first foreign home, worked in a first-ever foreign job, gotten married, a first in almost everything in fact, and had she not paused in her spinning-top daily sked to take stock of what she’s done so far, wouldn’t even have realized the enormity of what she’s done.  Still it’s worthwhile to celebrate a milestone here and there, and probably as good a milestone as any is her first offer of a fulltime job.

To put it in context, NZ is currently suffering one of its worst unemployment situations in recent memory, hovering between 6 to 10 percent the last eight quarters, and superskilled and ably skilled Pinoy compatriots have endured the Sisyphean dilemma of choosing between vacancies that require unrealistic qualifications and accepting job offers that are several notches below professional and educational credentials.

Perhaps it was just as well that E.H. wasn’t aware of these realities, because she was prepared to accept the first gig that came her way.  I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising that anything involving fashion, cosmetology or the various arts dedicated to prettifying the fairer sex would be close to heart, she is after all a typical Pinay who loves looking and feeling confident, and what better way than to make herself look beautiful?

Nope, Gwen S wasn't their client, but this type of nail art was available in her first gig.

That’s how she got her first job as a nail technician, needing only skills that she’d been familiar with since her teens.  But because the idea of pre-set, template-style nail designs didn’t catch on, after a few months it became obvious to her that she needed more income and the only way to do this was either get a second gig or work more hours from her present job.  Since the second alternative wasn’t about to come soon, she sharpened her eyes for a vacancy.

It hadn’t occurred to her that her skills and confidence level were good enough for a full-time job, and when I mentioned the tantalizing prospect to her, she merely shrugged her shoulders que sera sera-style and said kung uukol bubukol.

An unlikely gig prospect revealed itself : somebody had been looking for a no-nonsense, energetic and preferably Asian worker to fill shifts at the neighborhood mall’s biggest sushi bar.

Why no-nonsense?  There was no time for banter, clockwatching or long breaks, as the sushi bar was a pagoda of activity (a little pun there) from opening to closing,  Kiwis having found out the little secret of the Japanese : sushi rolls are an inexpensive, nutrition and energy filled lunch takeaway ideal for every sort of meal away from home.  And the famously tasty wasabe and soy sauce combination certainly didn’t hurt.

Why energetic?  Well, in the nature of non-stop, New York minute type of jobs, there was an excess of activity involved, and if you were the brooding, deliberate kind of worker, you probably wouldn’t last long in the job.

From sunup to sundown, the sushi rolls flew off the counters...

Why Asian?  The answer, as Mahal beheld the Pinoy, Korean and Chinese (but curiously, non-Japanese) roster, simply lay in image.  Just as staffers without olive skin wouldn’t be a good fit for Indian restos, anyone who didn’t remotely look like someone from the Land of the Rising Sun didn’t lend much authenticity to the product.  I know it’s a subjective comment (like all my other comments) but that’s how I rationalized it.  So E.H. familiarized herself with the sushi rolling pad, the giant rice cooker and the bento bar, and joined the ranks of sushi soldiers while serving the hungry but taste-conscious Kiwi workforce Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends.

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

The most recent job offer as you might think appealed to her womanly inclinations almost instantly.  Retail selling of fashionable Clothes, bags and accessories.  Would you know any Pinay who wouldn’t be attracted to such a job?  Nope, she answered, and she was certainly no exception, as she marveled at her good fortune.  All it would take was more than a passing interest in the merchandise, to be a quick study in the pricing and size definition of the brand, and an eye for whether the item of sale looked good on the potential buyer.  Could Mahal nail the requirements?

Hello? and raised eyebrow were all I got from her.

Given the pamasahe, the long-term consequences, and job stability issues, Mahal is as of now still deliberating between her present job, which she loves, and her new job offer, which she suspects she will enjoy.  Whatever she decides, all I know is that she has already gone far beyond the first few steps she made on the Wellington tarmac,  just a year-and-a-half ago.  Congrats, Mahal !

Noel

No Christmas on Christmas Island


35 Vietnamese refugees wait to be taken aboard...

Image via Wikipedia

Dear batchmates, schoolmates, brods, officemates, kabayan and friends :
 
15TH DECEMBER – Particularly during the Christmas season, it’s like rubbing rock salt over fresh wounds : you escape with nothing but your life, by the skin of your calcium-deficient teeth, from racial genocide in Iraq ( as a Kurd ) or intra-religious strife in Iran and Afghanistan ( as a non-fundamentalist Muslim ). 
 
You temporarily gain a reprieve in a halfway inn, sometimes called a refugee processing / detention center, but it’s more or less a dreary, shapeless limbo, with days of waiting stretching to months or years, and a temporary host nation indifferent at best and hostile at worst.
 
You desperately  grab at straws by availing of the services of persons best described as the scum of the earth, human smugglers that provide the crudest of sea transport, wooden outriggers with the smallest of motors and the barest of flooring. 
 
After braving violent churling swells of inhospitable waters between Indonesia and Australia, you somehow manage to elude the vigilant eyes of the Royal Australian Coast Guard, only to meet a cruel end at the jagged limestone cliffs of the Christmas Island shore: not only is your puny vessel shattered, but you and the rest of your co-travelers meet your end at these vicious and unyielding rocks, rendering futile all your previous sacrifices and sufferings.
 
Facts are scant and the list of names of the departed will probably never be official, but the story is crystal clear : people who seek better lives without the protection of lawful travel and the aegis of governments that watch over its citizens are risking life and limb for very uncertain rewards.
 
The true tragedy lies in the realization that those who perished earlier this week were the lucky ones, those who were able to leave the persecution, whether religious, racial or economic, of their homelands. 
 
For every Iraqi on that boat, there were probably hundreds more who endured state sponsored discrimination, first from Saddam Hussein‘s regime, then the US invasion supported adminstration that followed. 
 
For every Afghan that boarded that doomed vessel, hundreds fell prey to the fanatical fundamentalism of the Taliban. 
 
And Iranians who sought refuge from the seas either escaped the deadly Shiite-Sunni rivalry in their own country or the sporadic border warfare with Iraq as well.
 
Filipinos lead lives far from ideal at home, but we don’t suffer from a dysfunctional culture that allows people from one part of the country to decimate kababayan from another part; and we’re not burdened by intramurals from neighboring countries that cause injury and death to our citizens; and finally, we have religious leaders that don’t always lead by good sense and example, but they don’t ask us to conduct holy wars and massacres in the name of God.
 
For in our humble view, that is the root cause of all forced migration : lack or total absence of respect for human rights, the right to a decent living, the right to practice your own religion / beliefs, the right to form and raise a family, and most of all , the right to life itself. 
 
It beggars belief that in this day and age, we have states, governments and regimes that build vast armies, wage wars across oceans, monopolize trade agreements and hold as hostage whole continents and economies and yet cannot understand the basic concept of life on our Lonely Planet : that respect for human rights is respect for humanity itself.
 
Two weeks ago was Human Rights Week, last week brought us the Christmas Island tragedy, but this week, and every week thereafter, might as well be NOel’s Count My Blessings Week forever
 
I’m not a permanent resident (yet), but I got to a First World country LEGALLY and SAFELY. 
 
I don’t have the PERFECT job, but I get to earn decent wages, and I even get to send home money as well.  That’s infinitely more than any forced migrant can ask for. 
 
I’m not always treated as a first-class citizen (and I don’t always ask to be welcomed with open arms), but at least I’m not persecuted for my race, color or beliefs, and my stay doesn’t hang on a thread. 
 
I may not have reached the life others dream about, but it’s loads better than the life of tens of thousands of other migrants on frail boats, strange shores and uncertain horizons.
 
If you’re not busy today, please whisper a short prayer for the Christmas Island refugees, and join me in gratefully thanking God for the lives given us abroad or at home.
 
Thanks for reading, Maligayang Pasko po sa ating lahat  !
 
NOel