the king is dead, long live the king!

LOOK WHO HAD US FOR LUNCH. Cabeza de Barangay de los Islas Filipinas and Secretary-General elect of FIRST Union, His Excellency Amb Gary Domingo and Kasamang Dennis Maga, just orienting us about the new Labour government. Mabuhay kayo!

[ Paunawa: in my five-plus years of blogging, I’m trying something new Precious Reader, albeit just for this post only. I’ll stop “journalistic pretense” or neutral discussion of the issues coinciding with the arrival of the new Labour Government in New Zealand, and tell it like it is, how these issues affect me personally. it’s one of the few perks of blogging, which is using an exclusively personal perspective, which is after all, how we live life, diba? ]

ESPECIALLY  IN countries with a parliamentary government, change can come in an instant. Call a snap election, regret it for the rest of your life. Just ask Theresa May of the United Kingdom. I’m not 100% sure, but Bill English could’ve taken his sweet time before announcing elections, although in hindsight, the writing was on the wall.

I confess I was one of those who were concerned about the ascension of Jacinda Ardern and the Labour party to power, with a little help from Winston Peters and his friends in the New Zealand First party. The only thing worse than a bad government is fear of the unknown; to what depths  a mismanaged economy will lead us, and the backlash against migrants and guest workers that  new government brings.

On the other side of the coin, there is a bukangliwayway  (sunrise) of new initiatives, new policies and ambitious plans to uplift the standard of living of people, renew the drive to preserve New Zealand’s 100% Pure brand, and other schemes that the previous government somehow lost sight of.

No matter what side of the fence you sit on, you can’t help but give the new custodians of government the chance to do well, even though, as human nature dictates, one resists change, embraces the old comfort zones, and is wary of efforts to change the old ways in favor of the new.

Please believe when I say this, Kabayan or Precious Reader because, even with my cozy comforts in New Zealand, I’m still caught between a rock and a hard place, the devil and the deep blue sea if you want. Sure I’m comfortable with a good job, a great environment and a very peaceful host country. But without getting into too much detail, I have no permanence, no long-term status, nothing I can call truly my own as a guest worker in New Zealand. So if there’s any change, and I say I’m wary about it, you might wanna give my words more weight than usual.

Courtesy of a kabayan who now has the ear of the Labour Party and has been working for both Pinoy OFW and resident workers in New Zealand long before the Labor-led coalition, he personally wanted to clear up a few of the concerns I aired in a previous blog (nakarating sa kanya, wow!):

Raising the minimum wage immediately, and up to $20 by 2020. I’m very lucky to be receiving a little more than the minimum wage of $15.25 an hour, especially since for a 1st World nation, it doesn’t leave much after the very basic necessities of food, clothing and shelter. One of the first priorities of the incoming Labor government is raising it towards the goal of the so-called living wage of $20. Many of our kabayan in the South Island are grateful to be working in New Zealand, but are not receiving much more than minimum, if at all.

This sounds partisan, but please don’t believe titans and apologists of big business when they say that kung tataasan nyo ang sahod hanggang di na namin kaya, magsasara na lang kami (If you’re gonna raise minimum wages to unreasonable levels, we might as well shut down the business). In the first place, there is always a balance between keeping your workers happy and keeping the business viable. Wages should always be a factor in maintaining your enterprise, no make that reasonable wages. I don’t want to use my example too much, but our employer negotiates with our site bargaining unit every two years, and encourages non-union members to join, all the better to keep moving forward across the board. It may sound harsh but it’s the reality: a business who can’t pay the legislated wage rate has no business to be in business (and keep using lame puns like this) 🙂

Maintaining realities and priorities in keeping migrant numbers where they are. You will start hearing this from the party in power now, and it makes sense: You can’t stick to a hard number when it comes to net migration. In the first place, it’s the economy, not legislation, that dictates the ultimate number when it comes to how many migrants are needed. Look at Dubai, Singapore and other countries that have readily admitted the migrant reality: a vibrant and growing economy cannot survive without migrant labor. That’s the simple truth. Overall, the two priorities of the incumbents will be tweaking the Skilled Migrant visa pathways (there are many under this general policy) so that only truly qualified migrants continue to come in, and reducing the Student Visa numbers, which admittedly is the area where abuse is rampant. There’s no other way to say that last sentence, nadadamay ang mga Pinoy dahil sa ginagawa ng ibang mga lahi sa student visa, with the cooperation and tolerance of educational institutions here.

Making it easier for those who are already here. I’ve used this phrase often, but I’ll use it again.  There are more than a few guest workers in NZ who have a reasonable expectation of deserving NZ permanent residency, and yet have “fallen between the cracks.” How so ? They are useful enough to be considered skilled, and yet not skilled enough to be considered for residency. They are skilled enough to be granted work visas, and yet aren’t paid enough to be considered for permanent residency. And so on and so forth. Their jobs have disappeared from the so-called long term and short term skills shortage lists, yet strangely enough, continue to be in the rosters of their employers for years and years.

This isn’t fair for them. Because of the Christchurch rebuild, Pinoys (and other migrants) have a chance to get out of their limbo and apply for residency, but shouldn’t this privilege be granted to all who deserve it, New Zealand-wide? Pinoys are highly valued, dependable and loyal workers who in many cases have worked for their bosses, faithfully consistently, and without fail. Labour has made the right noises in this direction, and this will give many kabayan all over New Zealand, this blogger included, a big sigh of relief.

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

I have to give credit to the new Labour Government, specifically my kabayan source who so rapidly told me it’s not all doom and gloom under the new order. Thank you very much Ginoong Dennis Maga, Secretary General-elect of the FIRST Union, and an acknowledged champion for workers rights, not just Pinoys, but everyone who works an honest 8 hours a day in Aotearoa. Thanks too Your Excellency Ambassador Gary Domingo for gamely providing such a filling lunch in the process!  Mabuhay kayo!

And thanks kabayan and friends for reading!

`bakit ka pa nag-regular kung pang casual lang ang oras mo?’

In the distant future, we will get the same sweet deal as Seth and James.  But don't hold your breath waiting.  In the meantime, zero-hour workers of the world, unite! :)

In the distant future, we will get the same sweet deal as Seth and James. But don’t hold your breath waiting. In the meantime, zero-hour workers of the world, unite! 🙂

BY the time I was in 3rd or 4th grade primary, Dad said I would find a lot of things interesting in his Quiapo printing shop, which was a sneaky way of getting me to work summers in the family enterprise.  Well, besides the 19th century minerva presses, the printer’s ink smell that permeated the whole site, and the endless folding, glueing and old-style embossing in the binding department, I also liked to watch my aunt type payroll forms in her giant Underwood typewriter.  My aunt, when she wasn’t bringing me with her shopping in Carriedo and Villalobos, was also the company accountant.

On Thursdays, I would look at her tally the time sheets and overtime logs and summarize it into one spreadsheet-like payroll record.  The supervisors were earning six pesos and hour, the rank-and-file around P4.  A special column was reserved for overtime pay, where the premium was 50 centavos over your regular rate.  Everyone, even Dad, was in this payroll summary, which seemed to me quite cool for my aunt, as she got to know what everyone was paid.

[ By the way, I didn’t know why she seemed to think I was invisible, as she didn’t allow anyone else to see what she was typing.  I guess kids really got away with a lot, until they started sprouting facial hair. 🙂 ]

No matter what your position was in the company, as long as you were on the regular roster, you got the same eight hours.  Everyone, from the Mainland Chinese pressmen who’d been in the shop since the Communists overran China in 1949, to the youngest kargadors and apprentices from my mom’s hometown in Masbate, were considered “regulars” because they were “regularly” rostered and received 48 hours a week,  and an additional 50 centavos an overtime hour over their regular rate, but that was enough to sweeten the deal.  The overtime was there often, and everyone took it.  Everyone was happy to take the overtime, but the 48 hours were basic; everyone expected it.  And got it.

*****     *****     *****

I was around 10 years old or thereabouts, but it didn’t take an adult to understand the fundamental agreement between hirer and hiree.  In return for skills and commitment to executing the will of the hirer, hiree is given cash for his efforts.  Because the basic hours of work ends on the eighth hour, anything over that is an imposition on the worker’s leisure and / or personal time.  So there’s a “premium” or extra value assigned to eight-hours-plus.  There may be fringe benefits or additional details to the agreement, but as far as everyone’s concerned,  the work, and the eight-hours comprise 95% of the deal.

*****     *****     *****

Nearly four decades have passed, and I’ve worked in two countries, and maybe in a dozen workplaces.  The deal hasnt’ changed.  Which is why, when some wise guys try to tinker with that basic agreement, and introduce bull-bleep like “giving workers 40 hours isn’t necessarily part of the contract of work” or “employees are actually independent contractors and there’s no employer-employee relationship in reality,” I just roll my eyes.

Amazingly, the potential for abuse in a regular work contract where hours aren’t guaranteed (or “zero-hours” contracts as they are also known), be it in New Zealand where I am now, or in the Philippines, is so obvious it should be plain to everybody, and yet until last week the clamor for change wasn’t taken seriously.

*****     *****     *****

I’ll give you just one example.  Daughter Ganda had been working in a popular hamburger chain here in Wellington for a few months (and had therefore assumed, correctly, that she enjoyed regular employee status) before she had an argument with her supervisor/manager.  Seems that she couldn’t make it to an emergency shift that her boss asked to her work in place of a sick co-worker.  Cool, the boss said, don’t worry about it (the sarcasm a little more than palpable), but don’t ask me for any extra shifts in the future.

He was good on his word, and then some.  Not only did he stop giving Ganda any extra shifts like he used to, he also gradually cut down her hours until Ganda worked no more than the typical casual or part-time worker.  All because she didn’t do the manager a favor when he needed it.  This, based on the reasoning that the manager stops being a good guy the moment you (Ganda) stop “being a team player.”  Sheeeeesh.

The tragedy not just to Ganda but to thousands of other workers like her (especially in the food service industry) was/is that the discriminatory action of managers like Ganda’s is perfectly reasonable and legal in light of the zero-hours contract that so many workers agree to, if they want to earn their bread.

At the risk of sounding repetitive :  What’s the incentive to aspiring to become a regular employee when there’s no assurance you’ll get regular hours?  In Taglish:  Bakit ka pa nag-regular kung pang casual pa rin ang oras mo?   Bakeeeet?

*****     *****     *****

Last week was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  Restaurant Brands, which owns KFC, Pizza Hut, and Starbucks, has finally begun to realize what an unjust contract the zero-hours contract is, and has removed it from all their labor contracts.  The union that was once a lonely voice in the wilderness is now rightfully earning kudos (I think it’s First Union, which I happen to belong to 🙂 ) and hope that not only the rest of the food industry, but the whole of New Zealand employer-dom will follow suit.  It’s not a dream anymore.

The day will come when the zero-hours contract will be a thing of the past, and workers like Ganda can’t wait.  Hopefully, that day will come soon.  In the meantime, don’t lose hope Ganda!

Thanks for reading!

pagod puyat & ginaw challenge d pinoy worker, but d appreciation is appreciated

I wasn't even around when the token of appreciation was given. huhuhu :(

I wasn’t even around when the token of appreciation was given. huhuhu 😦

[Note : sorry for the long title, and sincerest condolences to the family of Mimi and Jarvis Laurilla, your Tatay looks over you fondly and with love! ]

AS ALWAYS, I tip-tap the words almost as they come out of this addled and burned-out brain, with as little filtering as possible, it is a GP-blog after all.  To be as candid and as real as it gets is the raison d’etre for filling the blanks in this blog service, as important as recording things for my personal posterity and the therapy it affords Your Loyal Blogger.  (By the way, if ever you’re taken by the aesthetics and workings of this blog site, 99% of it is possible thanks to the WordPress creators, admins and staff, woohoohoo; I’m only responsible for the frail content, and everything’s for free, too, perfect for the Pinoy/Asian in those wanting to start their own blogs, it’s never too late! )

But I just want to tell you how tired I was after nearly two weeks of mostly 12-hour shifts, something I hadn’t experienced as far as I can remember five-plus years as a New Zealand worker.  Before anything else, it was the first time since forever that there was no down time almost throughout the shift.  Now, anyone who’s worked in a job knows that there are busy times and there are down times, no matter where or what you do.

Because there was extra volume coming out of the machines (they’re called dust-collectors) getting rid of the waste product that naturally gets extracted from the raw material, I had to transport the bins containing them to a receiving area some 50 meters away, roughly once every half-hour.  Multiply this by the number of hours in the shift, and you get the idea.

But that’s not all.  More tests, more checks, more adjustments to the water (an essential part of the substance before it’s transformed into the final usable commodity ), more cleaning, and just about more of everything that we usually do.  And over a longer period of time.

In addition, SuperBisor who I actually prefer working with over any other shift boss, was climbing up the corporate ladder and was now attending site meetings and production meetings, for only a few minutes at a time of course.  His level of vigilance would not allow the factory to go unmonitored even for a few minutes, so it was up to me to step up and pinch-hit for him, even though he was only meters away from the machinery.

I knew the intensity of the cold, springtime shifts were getting to me, because in usual hectic days, all I would need to stay alert and keep up with the pace was a glass of water to hydrate and grease my tubes.  It really does wonders to your system when you drink an extra glass of water whenever and wherever, I thought it was an internet fad, but it’s not.

The water was still helping, but only for a while.  A second trick I’m used to doing when my batteries are flat is getting a coffee/sugar rush, which is common sense for anyone at work.  Again, the rush was there, but it was a big letdown when it wore off, almost counterproductive.

Working a full revolution of the short hand round the clock (7 am – 7 pm) is OK when you’re a desk jockey, you can pace yourself, do stretches and take reasonable breaks.  It’s not quite the same when the factory is four levels, you go up and down the stairs roughly twice an hour, you go around machinery every now and then just to make sure there are no chokes and blockages, you measure 30-ton bins to update production boards, and generally combine the functions and activities of a cleaning person, security watchman, quality assurance person and amateur troubleshooter for the better part of 720 minutes, nearly every second of all those minutes.

I’m definitely not complaining especially since my boss and department head have both reposed a lot of trust and confidence in my modest ability (or lack of same), and particularly since there are so many unemployed here in New Zealand who would probably kill for an opportunity to prove themselves equal to the tasks required in my job.

It’s just that extra production demands on the site, key personnel on leave or unable to report to work, and long hours being unavoidable, all of us on staff were asked to go the extra mile for the company, who had been doing the same for us in terms of better working conditions, more communication with the bigwigs, and more concern in general for grunts like me.

First proof. Now I can tell you how intense it was for a former white-collar worker like me.  First,, towards the end of the shift, my myopia was getting more pronounced, almost like I needed new glasses.  I don’t know if this was just eyestrain or the general tiredness I was enduring, but as far as I can tell it never happened before.  It was both amusing and scary, and I had to wipe my spectacles to see if anything was wrong with them.

Second proof.  Second, the last hour of the last day of my workweek, I was beginning to feel like a zombie that you see in shows like Walking Dead.  I was getting light-headed, my limbs were turning to lead, and I just wanted to melt away.  Of course I couldn’t, because there were still chores to do, and my shift partner and I still had to turn over the site to our night shift counterparts, who actually had it worse : they were doing everything we were doing, except that instead of 7 am to 7 pm, they were doing it 7 pm to 7 am in the dead of night.

Third proof. And lastly, I got so tired nearly every day of the week that if you can believe it, I didn’t think of sex for at least 48 hours!  This indisputably was a world’s first and a world’s record for me since puberty, and that my friends was how tired I am.

The pic you see above is a small token of appreciation given by SuperBisor for the long hours I’ve done.  A lot of the fatigue, including the first and second proofs was dissolved not just by the treat itself but by the appreciation it symbolized.

Something I can’t ignore, and which I hope won’t be a problem next time we do long hours, is of course, the third proof.  Man doesn’t live by bread alone, and all that. 🙂

Thanks for the appreciation SuperBisor, and thanks everyone for reading!

y da pinoy & da new zealand boss r good 4 each other

Six of the seven Filipinos who work on Greg and Kelly Kirkwood's North Otago dairy farm are (from left) Neil Molina, Reis Pe, Eric George, Saldy Barroga, Roel Gonzales and Jeorge Barroga.Photo by Gerard O'Brien, thanks and acknowledgment to the Otago Daily Times!

Six of the seven Filipinos who work on Greg and Kelly Kirkwood’s North Otago dairy farm are (from left) Neil Molina, Reis Pe, Eric George, Saldy Barroga, Roel Gonzales and Jeorge Barroga. Photo by Gerard O’Brien, thanks and acknowledgment to the Otago Daily Times!

[ Note : this is based solely on my workingman’s experience in New Zealand, so I may be more right or more wrong than you, every experience is unique.  It goes without saying that if you’re looking for straight stats and research, I’m sorry to disappoint.  Please point out any glaring errors in my observations , I will be grateful for such. Sorry for the SMS-like title, I was running out of space.  Advance happy undas to all! ]

Ipakita mo ang tunay at kung sino ka
Mayron mang masama at maganda
Wala naman perpekto
Basta magpakatotoo oohh oohh
Gabay at pagmamahal ang hanap mo
Magbibigay ng halaga sa iyo
Nais mong ipakilala kung sino ka man talaga – Pinoy Ako by Orange and Lemons

INASMUCH AS this Monday is Labor Day in my temporary adopted country, I’d like to say a few things about how awesome it is to be working here in New Zealand.  Originally I was gonna rant and rave about how great it is to be a Pinoy in NZ, but that would be too general, too extensive, and too long for one blog, and besides my merienda is running out, after which I’m leaving the table and watching the news. 🙂

Originally also I was going to say why NZ is good for the pinoy worker, but I realized that the Pinoy is also a decent contributor to the Kiwi workforce, for reasons I’ll state below.  It’s ultimately a mutually beneficial thing, and I’m willing to bet a week’s wages that both sides want it to remain that way :

English, pakisama factor, and manners.  First, the obvious and threshold qualities.  In survey after survey, Pinoys are the best English speakers among skilled and working migrants, beating by far Chinese, South Asian, Southeast Asian and other demographics.  Not only are we facile in the universal language, but our English is more “neutrally” accented than those of other nationalities, and we take pains to understand and make ourselves understood.  Quite a few observers have said that Pinoys make extra efforts to “get along,” make pakisama, conform to the particular ways of doing things in a workplace, and are generally agreeable, sometimes to a fault.  Chalk it up to the traditional pakisama attitude instilled in us early in life, to respect our elders and acknowledge authority.  And even if we weren’t all of these, our tendency to adhere to good manners certainly goes a long way in being popular in the workplace.

Filipino Arthur Adlaon at work for Leighs Construction at Christchurch Hospital. The company has switched from using contractors to employing its own workers. Thanks and acknowledgment to!

Filipino Arthur Adlaon at work for Leighs Construction at Christchurch Hospital. The company has switched from using contractors to employing its own workers. Thanks and acknowledgment to!

Loyalty and hierarchy.  But just being papogi won’t cut it when each member of the work team is expected to be as committed and disciplined as the most reliable worker.  The Pinoy obrero recognizes this and is loyal to his employer, coming early and staying late as often as needed.  We are notorious for eating up overtime whenever it’s offered, anytime and anyplace.  In stark contrast, New Zealanders are known to flit from one job to another, and only the recent decade of economic recession stopped this famous Kiwi habit.  Most Pinoys also respect the chain of command and won’t rock the boat except in extreme circumstances.   Now what employer wouldn’t want a worker like that?

Versatile.  It’s good to specialize and sharpen your particular skills, but it’s equally desirable to know a little of this or that, help out in different departments as the need arises, and fill in the gaps and empty rosters during difficult times.  Many of our kabayan do not hesitate when asked to upskill or do lateral training for the good of the team, whether or not there are financial rewards involved.  This is because we know that the extra skill will serve us in good stead later when a vacancy opens up or when downsizing means one person must do the work of two.  We’ve learned to make do and improvise so many times , so it’s just a matter of reliving our adventurous years back home.  What’s so bad about being a Juan of all trades?

By the way, I did mention that as much as New Zealand takes the best of our uring manggagawa (working class heroes), it gives back just as much by being a labor-friendly country:

the work is hard but the rewards are great!

the work is hard but the rewards are great!

laws and compliance.  I haven’t seen the NZ counterpart of our Philippine Labor Code, but it must be a very thick book full of statutes designed to protect and promote the welfare of the worker, just like our Pinoy laws.  The big difference is that whereas our laws are honored more in the breach thanks to unscrupulous bosses and negligent labor law enforcement officials, NZ laws are strictly complied with; just the thought of litigation and harassment is enough for employers to follow the letter of the law.  Everything, from wages and compensation, to hours of work to health and safety standards are provided for in the law and written into the employment contract.  If there’s any doubt in the interpretation of the law or contract, it’s usually resolved in favor of the worker.

unions.  This is how gung ho some employers are when it comes to cooperating with unions in the workplace.  Our employer actually pays for our union dues and pays them directly, although the payment appears as an allowance in our pay envelope, for accounting purposes.  My guess is that they would prefer to deal with a cohesive bargaining unit that’s already aware of the nuances and intricacies of workplace bargaining.

loyalty.  when you think about it, loyalty between the parties in an employment deal may or may not favor the worker, after all, there are still good and bad eggs in the world of employers.  But loyalty always favors the employer, because it’s like he or she has a second owner or partner in the workplace who won’t leave him hanging.  And many NZ employers are aware of this, usually recognizing or acknowledging the loyal Pinoy worker.  Which is why utang na luob, very emotional but very effective, is a useful tool for both employer and employee here.

***               ***               ***

One of my first jobs working in NZ was for an Indian in a small grocery, also known as a dairy.  He gave me half the minimum wage, and made me work for every cent.  I didn’t know any better and was actually grateful for the work.

I didn’t realize then that I was being exploited, but after that, I never had a bad experience in any other work in New Zealand.  I’ve had good bosses, good managers, and good colleagues.  Above all, I’ve had good mates.  Thanks to all my bosses, my employers, and thanks New Zealand!

the nature of the beast called Candy Crush Saga

it's completely free... before you're hooked.

it’s completely free… before you’re hooked.

WELL, IT’S no big secret but I’ll say it anyway.  The only bigger passion of Facebook now than tracking its stock market share price and accumulating advertising revenue is push, push, pushing its Facebook games and the crown jewel of  the showroom is, of course, Candy Crush Saga (CCS).  You can’t argue with 45.6 million monthly users, with apps on Facebook on PC and laptops, iPhones, iPads and Androids.  In Hongkong, where the game is mindbendingly popular, it’s estimated that one in seven inhabitants are players.  Can you imagine that?

...and it only takes a few minutes to turn you into a Candy Crush Saga addict. :(

…and it only takes a few minutes to turn you into a Candy Crush Saga addict. 😦

I’m embarrassed to say that nearly every free moment of my time is consumed by the black hole that is Candy Crush, it absorbs not only all light and energy but emotions and focus as well.  Any time of the day or night, as long as a moment can be spared, I give it to that accursed game that is, dare I say it? NEUROTICALLY ADDICTIVE.

Now I know why so many people are online in Facebook, yet you don’t hear a peep out of them.  They say an average Facebook person has 400 friends.  You can bet your bottom peso that if you’re Pinoy or Kiwi, at least half of those are CCS players, and at least half of their time online is spent on the game, if not more.

yeah, right.

yeah, right.

It’s not a difficult game to learn to play.  In fact, a seven-year old could easily start playing and enjoying it, because the objective of the game creators and administrators is simply to draw in as many players as it possibly can, without qualification and without exception.    It only takes a moment to step back and realize that, more than selling our personal data to marketing and direct sales companies, using face-recognition technology on all our pictures for national security purposes, and amassing enough advertising earnings to become the most powerful company on Earth, it’s capturing the hearts and minds of each internet using country via Candy Crush Saga that is the prime directive of Mark Z and Friends.  There is no limit on what the game can do.

The game starts out free; anyone can access the game and get hooked.  After a few “levels” or challenges you reach new scenarios where the rules of the game become progressively harder.  Along the way, you are encouraged to ask for help finishing levels from friends who are also CCS players.  The subtext here is that if you want regular access to help, then you should be prepared to “invite” Facebook friends to start playing the game.  This is why the average Facebook user gets annoying invites almost daily from people who otherwise wouldn’t give him or her the time of day.

Still can’t get enough help from your friends?  This is where the paradigm shifts.  For a few cents (from your credit card of course) you can purchase special virtual “tools” that help you surmount obstacles, finish challenges and complete levels that would otherwise take you longer.  Hours of repetitive play become minutes, minutes of finger-numbing techniques get accomplished in seconds.  The precious eye-hand coordination required to succeed in CCS become superfluous, assuming of course you’re willing to shell out online cash everytime you’re stuck in a level.

It looks harmless, innocuous and wholesome, mainly because of all those multi-colored candy, the whistles and string-quartet minibytes of sounds that accompany every action you perform and the congratulatory vignettes of concertos every time you finish a level.  Additionally, your feats (with your permission) are also broadcast long and loud all over your personal FB network, whether your friends care or not.

But it is the same appeal to the senses that FB has so craftily employed to hook you in deeper and deeper.  The same bells and whistles of color, sound and reward-for-achievement that Facebook uses remind me of slot machines and one-armed bandits that are scientifically tweaked to tap into your subconscious and use every neural trick to unlock doors in your inner child, inner addict and inner hedonist.  By the time you’re aware, you’re already locked in.  It’s done so subtly, so gradually and so slowly that very few realize that there’s actually an effort to do so.

Just yesterday, I spent probably an hour on CCS, the time flew by before I even changed from my work clothes.  I did a few chores after that, watched the news while playing, set the game aside during dinner (raising eyebrows from Mahal who also plays) went back to it before calling it a day and thought and dreamt about it before waking up to (guess what) maybe a half-hour of the game.  See how bad it is?

[ By the way, in case I forgot to tell you, you can buy anything that you see on the Candy Crush Saga screen.  You can buy tools, you can buy lives, you can buy extra time to finish a level, you could probably even buy a date with the Candy Crush game creator to pick his brain for trick and tips on how to finish levels sooner. But I’m not that desperate.  Yet. ]

And even if you don’t give in to weakness and continue relying on your hourly fix of five free “lives”, Facebook has every imaginable kind of advertising to bombard you with while playing, tailored to your race, gender, location and even age, not to mention your Facebook interests (learned through your Personal Information section).  Sure you enjoy yourself, but I’m sorry to say at what price?  Figuratively you’ve compromised yourself, and you’ve sold and resold your soul to both Candy Crush Saga and Facebook many, many times over.

The only reason I actually have time to do this is I’m stumped on a level (Level 65) and I’ve run out of lives.  I need to wait for a helpful FB friend or friends to bail me out, or replenish my lives before embarking on yet another mindless hourlong session of CCS.

If you haven’t yet been convinced that there is a sinister directive of world domination behind this game, let me tell you this : Candy Crush Saga was invented a year plus ago, but there is as yet no one who has finished completing all the levels.  This because levels are still being created, currently at around 300+ levels, and there is no end on the horizon.  They have not yet finished creating the game.

Facebook aims to hook more and more players, until it reaches YOU.  Forewarned is forearmed.

Thanks for reading!

why independence day 2013 worked for me, thanks to our embassy in Wellington

FLAG RAISING at "Ang Bahay", the Phil. Ambassador's official residence.  Singing Lupang Hinirang in early winter cold is not an everyday experience.  Thanks to the Embassy Facebook page for the picture!

FLAG RAISING at “Ang Bahay”, the Phil. Ambassador’s official residence. Singing Lupang Hinirang in early winter cold is not an everyday experience. Thanks to the Embassy Facebook page for the picture!

IT PROBABLY wouldn’t surprise you to know that I’ve never been a fan of government-organized holiday commemorations (live or on TV).  Too many memories of giant Martial Law parades and bombastic speeches by da Apo; predictable and formulaic fill-in-the-blanks declamations sounding too much like the Independence Day address of our current president, which by the way is the typical performance that doesn’t always work  (sorry for the bluntness).  And while I’m at it, Araw ng Kagitingan and National Heroes Day, for me, asserts a more forceful narrative towards national consciousness than 12 June, 113 years ago.  The 1898 Proclamation was nice, but it didn’t stop colonial powers from shopping us around, running our country to the ground, and using us as pawns in the chess game of Cold War brinksmanship.

Which is why it was more than a pleasant surprise for me to not only enjoy, as a willing participant, the recent Araw ng Kalayaan celebrations organized by the Philippine Embassy in New Zealand.  It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say I was inspired, and actually stood proud of both ourselves as Filipinos and the people who represent us away from the Inang Bayan.

I actually had a ringside ticket to the celebrations, as I was invited to march as color guard prior to the symbolic flag raising ceremony traditional to our Independence Day event.  My gouty limbs, the frosty morning and a queasy stomach brought about by an unwise decision to munch stale sweets should’ve been enough to decline the honor, but I had already said yes a week before, and as you very well know, a Pinoy is only as good as his word 🙂 besides, the Pinoy-themed buffet and taho smoothie promised by the event never failed to make my day.

Apologies for the opportunistic picture above, but it captured something that I don’t do often, and in retrospect is something not many people are invited to do.  In a land far away from home, you celebrate your country’s birthday in the most solemn way possible, and help raise your national flag along with your President’s highest official representative among the family of nations.

But it didn’t end there.  The speeches I heard grasped at various themes, but the recurring theme seemed to be our new found economic freedom, brought about by a confluence of factors not the least of which was the faithful persistent homecoming of OFW and balikbayan remittances as well as the remitters themselves.  This obviously hit close to home to this overseas worker and the kabayan around him, that day of Pinoy freedom at the embassy.

The Ambassador touched on simple gestures to perpetuate the Filipino dream of livelihoods and prosperity.  Keep bringing money home.  Send a kid/s to school.  Give three kabayan seed money for a business.  Support a well-loved Philippine institution, the PGH (Philippine General Hospital), for example.

Most of these things we were already doing, she said, but moving out of the comfort zone of family and giving others a real chance in life was the growing challenge for us outside the Motherland.

As we said earlier, it’s not often that we get to beat our breast as Pinoys, but I’m happy to say that the 12th of June last Wednesday was one of those occasions.  And again you might not always believe it, we have our government, represented by the irrepressible Ambassador Gee Benavidez and her do-everything staff to thank for that.  If I had the time, I would go around town with a T-shirt saying Proud to Be Pinoy for the rest of the day.

Especially after afritada, pancit canton, pan de sal, pan de coco and taho with sago for brunch.  Promise remembered, wish granted.

Thanks again kabayan, Ambassador and friends!  Maligayang Araw ng Kalayaan, mabuhay!

sad but true : this shabby airport is my own

where the adventures of all OFWs start :(

where the adventures of all OFWs start 😦

HOPING AGAINST hope and against great odds that things improve, I’m going to do something unpopular and say something that I think many of my countrymen (and countrywomen) have felt for some time now : our airport sucks.

I use an unequivocal term (sucks, rhymes with an even worse term that we need not use in polite conversation) that leaves little room for doubt.  In almost every which way our airport is inferior to others in our region, and especially in light of the fact that very near our NAIA 2 are two world-class airports (as in, tops in the whole wide world) that in relative terms just make us look worse.

Notice that I don’t try to disown or distance myself from this sad situation :  Manila International is mine as a Pinoy who was born and bred here, and will always call the Philippines my home.  Not migration, nor assimilation, nor time, nor distance will stop me from calling the Ninoy Aquino International Airport my home base.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t change the immutable fact that, again, said airport sucks.

I’m afraid it doesn’t get any better from here : there are so many ways to pan the place, from its threadbare carpets, its old, old, washrooms, to its inefficient air-conditioning.  But because the boarding time call is nigh, and I’m about to lose internet time, I’m just going to focus on two areas.

First, why are the airport’s facilities focused on making sure the OFW, especially those on their way back to the salt mines, has paid the OWWA levy?  There is an added layer of checkpoints/booths just to make sure such fee has been paid.  OFWs are not allowed to board unless they have paid such fee, and their receipts verified and/or cleared.

A good amount of space in the airport, right next to the airline check-in counters, is devoted to last-minute payments of OFWs who might have forgotten to pay their fees.  It’s declared by successive administrations that in recognition of the OFW’s nation-building contributions, travel tax is waived, but wouldn’t it sound more sincere if the OWWA imposition was likewise taken off our hardworking kabayan’s back?

Secondly, in almost every corner of many airports across the East Asian semi-continent, you see various conveniences thoughtfully laid out for the traveller.  Shops that peddle items that you might’ve forgotten and urgently need, lounges, even shower rooms and changing rooms for your baby.

Instead of copying this trend, our airport seems to be going backward.  Even the most basic toilet services are being neglected in both quantity and quality.  Not only are there not enough facilities, the existing ones look quite old and shabby.  Think broken tiles and toilet seats that have seen better days.  No soap, and yes Virginia, no toilet paper.

So sorry to nitpick, but instead of basic comforts for our poor OFWs, tourists and business travellers, the airport authority would rather invest on : a cigar shop, simcard booths  and a smoker’s room.  There are lounges, yes, but I would bet my last pirated DVD that this is exclusively for business class and first class elites.

And I know I promised only two complaints, but something really sticks down the back of my throat : the check-in counter of the airline we travelled on (no fault of the airline itself; the latter is actually one of the better carriers around) was identified only via a temporary looking banner or trapal behind their counters.  Very amateurish, no permanent signage and quite unbelievable for a national airport.

Just one more moan and groan : did you know that past the immigration checkers but well-within the duty free area, there is not one single money-changer / bank outlet for the multitudes who might want to change pesos into other money and vice-versa?  Truly deplorable.  You need to go out back into the check-in area and look for one of only two bank branches where the staff sleepily change your money, at uncompetitive rates by the way.  Sheesh.

It’s hard to exaggerate the decrepitude of your very own airport when, sorry to say, it certainly looks like they don’t even try.  Remember, this is the premier airport / tourism facility of a country riding high on a world-class tourism campaign.

I’m not looking for explanations or even replies from public relations or corporate communications experts of either our airport or the national government of my country.  In fact, I am quite aware that my observations will be construed as unduly negative, unpatriotic or even contrary to efforts to develop our image abroad.

I just want our airport to make travel easier, be more user-friendly, change the mindset of the jaded jetsetter, and prove to all OFWs that their taxes are channeled to projects that affect them directly.  Giving NAIA a long-overdue makeover will do all of the above.

And it needs to be done yesterday.

Thanks for reading!

reblog from Pinoy Stop : Tao po, Ramil & Marie Garcia and kids of Lower Hutt Wellington

the Dayrit-Garcias.  From left: Maxine, Ramil, Marie, Alex, Danielle and Kirsten.  Landmark not included :)

the Dayrit-Garcias. From left: Maxine, Ramil, Marie, Alex, Danielle and Kirsten. Landmark not included 🙂

[ Note from YLB : thank you, thank you, thank you Didith Tayawa-Figuracion, Meia Lopez and the rest of the editorial staff of Pinoy Stop, a tentatively-named Pinoy newsmag in the Wellington region (in its maiden issue) for allowing me to repost a story I did for them.  The section is tentatively entitled Tao Po, where Pinoy families allow me to visit them and ask them about migrant life in Wellington.  Salamat rin kay Ramil, Marie and kids for graciously allowing us into their lovely home ! Thanks for reading! ]

     UNLIKE MANY Pinoy migrant couples embarking on the New Zealand magical mystery tour, Lower Hutt couple Ramil and Marie Garcia knew exactly what they were getting.
     This couple, who already had three daughters (Kirsten, Alex and Maxine) when they landed in Wellington in 2001 and added one more to their brood (Danielle) eight years ago, chose New Zealand over Australia for the more relaxed pace of life and lifestyle, access to benefits like health insurance and social security, a standard of living that allows decent shelter and car ownership, and fresh food, cleaner air and a comfortable retirement.
     Obviously, not in that order.
     But coming here, Marie noticed and experienced something different in health care, particularly in obstetrics.  While quality maternal and neonatal care in the Philippines is costly, Marie is thankful it is free for residents and citizens here. Another point of difference is the emphasis on the natural and avoidance of too much anaesthesia here which is something many Pinay mothers need to get used to.  Marie knows what she’s talking about, having given birth to three kids back home and one here.
     If it’s a toss-up between native land and adopted land for the wife, the husband is almost completely sold on New Zealand.  The laid back life, clean and green environment, honest government, anything and everything ticks all the boxes for him.
     Ramil and Marie are able to supervise their children every day, go hiking on a nearby hillside trail most weekends, visit Marie’s parents and two sisters (and families) anytime they want (the majority of Marie’s siblings migrated to NZ soon after the Garcias) and just as important, enjoy quality time with each other nearly twenty-four seven.  Needless to say, almost none of these would be possible on a regular basis in the Philippines.
     Icing on the cake is their recent acquisition of the home of their dreams, functional for their six-person family but quite easy on the eyes as well.

     New Zealand has been everything this Pinoy couple has asked for, and more.  So far, they have been able to raise their children in a clean and healthy environment, put them through quality schools under the New Zealand educational system, have both acquired fulfilling jobs that, though not the ones that would have earned them the income of a lifetime, have given them the chance to live the life many would be envious of back home. 

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     For the observant ones out there, did anyone notice that among their goals and dreams, not a single one mentioned saving a bunch of dollars, bringing it home and having the holiday of their lives?
     It’s not a typo.  Both Ramil and Marie, like you me and most other Pinoys, love an extra bit of money and enjoying the fruits of their labor.  It’s just not a big deal for them, and raising their daughters properly, enjoying their lives together and keeping fit and healthy are what count most.  After that, maybe a trip back home every now and then to visit Ramil’s relatives might be in order.
     As you might guess, that’s the only thing on the other side of the scale that Ramil misses, not hard to imagine since most of Marie’s sisters and both her folks are already here.
     Yun lang ang nakakamiss, sa aming lahat ako lang ang nandito.  Silang lahat (ng kapamilya) nasa Quezon province, Ramil says with a little lump in his throat.  The consolation is he sees his brothers, sisters and parents in each of the faces of his daughters.
     And when you do see the smiling faces of his daughters, the cozy facade of their bungalow, their two-car garage and the cork board full of school athletic and extra-curricular activities, even the sleek but modest entertainment center side-by-side with their wicker/rattan lounge set, what more could you ask?
     Just a loving spouse, family close by, and everything else to remind you that home is in the heart.  Kudos and maraming salamat po, Ramil, Marie and kids!

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 for allowing us to share!

here’s a screen shot of the tv3 news segment, thanks to 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!

into each life some rain must fall

satellite images showing the onward march of debilitating New Zealand drought this year.

satellite images showing the onward march of debilitating New Zealand drought this year.

WORST DROUGHT in 70 years declared the paper here in Welly.  You can’t get any more eloquent than that.  The Philippines may have its problems, it may be a daily overdose of drama back home and more than half of us live below the poverty line, but few problems are more urgent and gamechanging than the consequences of weather extremes, and this definitely qualifies as one here.

I have three memories associated with the extremes of weather, the most recent of which was when it rained for two days straight and then some some ten years ago, cutting off first our subdivision, and then our little group of houses from the rest of the subdivision, which was already cut off from the rest of the world.  What little provisions we had at home were all but used up, and we relied on radio news to find out when we would rejoin the world.

"thank you master, I will guard your house for life." :)

“thank you master, I will guard your house for life.” 🙂 thanks and acknowledgment to!

When we were brave enough to venture out after a maya returned with an anahaw leaf :), we saw cars floating in miniature ponds, swollen streams and streets that were rendered impassable because the latter were even lower than the already-low main street of our subdivision.  Our row of houses was fortunate enough to be sitting on the higher areas, but many others were not so lucky.  Furniture, appliances and everything of value sitting on ground floors were damaged beyond repair, and this among many was the harvest of one of the more brutal storms that decade.

Another strong weather-related memory was an unlucky combination of a suffocatingly hot summer and the power crisis somewhere between the late Cory Aquino and early FVR years.  It was so hot you couldn’t even move, and unmercifully there was no power during much of the day for either electric fans or if you could afford it, air conditioners (we couldn’t).  It became fashionable and quite practical to purchase backup generators for the home and industrial ones for businesses, hospitals and the malls.  The only good thing I remember about that time was the 50% discount on ice cream; practically given away by blackout-conscious shopowners who didn’t want an inventory of melted sundaes and popsicles messing up their freezers.

it happened again in the Central Luzon-Metro Manil area July 2010, thanks and acknowledgment to!

it happened again in the Central Luzon-Metro Manil area July 2010, thanks and acknowledgment to!

Two things I actually welcomed during that water-starved and blackout-weakened summer were (1) going to work where the offices were at least air-conditioned before the power outage was scheduled, and (2) the monsoon rains which brought a welcome relief from the blistering, exhausting and sweltering heat of the dry, dry summer which incidentally I always identify with Semana Santa where either you meditate in the city or vacation in the beaches.

The last memory is that of our very own drought back home (a year or two before Y2K), where literally the ground turned to dust and every breeze threatened to mutate into a sandstorm, the soil cried out for moisture and leaves turned orange, yellow and finally into brown, months before harvest time.  I don’t think anyone would say I’m exaggerating, but it was a good ten months before anyone saw a drop of rain that year, and considering that the Philippines receives so much rain on an average year, the drought must have been catastrophic for agriculture, not to mention industries and manufacturing that need agricultural products as well.

Here in our part of New Zealand, it will take a good number of years to recover from the drought, and the dairy, beef and lamb and downstream industries have been all but written out of medium term planning until they have been properly resuscitated, rehabilitated and nurtured back to life after literally drying out from the drought.

Because the Wellington region (as opposed to Wellington City) is relatively compact and everything, including water consumption is easily measurable and desperate times call for desperate measures, government, media and every usyusero has understandably become OC over the issue.  I overheard my favorite deejay broadcast optimistically that due largely in part to the total effort, weekly consumption has gone down from 128 million liters to 120 million, truly mindboggling both in the amount saved and the dedication to monitoring the figures. (imagine the time spent counting those liters!)

Daily radio broadcasts here remind us that all outdoor activity requiring water, washing of cars, etc. have been banned until further notice.  Only the most crucial water needs like bathing, cooking and drinking are allowed now, and for good reason : for Wellington region, water has been free to household consumers for the longest time, and everyone wants it to remain that way, most of all Asian migrants like Your Loyal Blogger.

Thanks for reading and Happy Easter to all!