what lies beneath

THE VIDEO is grainy, the speech is garbled, and in their respective ways, the English of both speakers is heavily accented (Kiwi or New Zealander English on the one hand, and Pakistani English on the other).  But it might have been just as well, because if you pay full attention and fully comprehend what is happening exactly, it would have been painful to watch.

There is just so much racist abuse being hurled on the taxi driver in the four and a half minutes of the YouTube clip above that you would be forgiven for turning away and losing your appetite, if not your belief in the innate kindness of strangers.  If not for its shock value, there is no redeeming social value in disseminating such a clip.  I only share it because of a profound and abiding truth which I guess every migrant, not just Filipino, has learned in New Zealand.

Our temporary adopted country is probably one of the most (if not the most) politically correct and tolerant countries in the world.  Every effort is made on the institutional level to make us feel welcome here.  No effort is spared to make the most different looking and exotic sounding migrant assimilate to the values, customs and tradition here.  It’s true that New Zealand is primarily atheist and humanist (as opposed to religious) but it is tremendously altruistic and humanitarian in all its actions.

However, that racist rant and abuse you see above is what lurks beneath the surface of what many locals show their migrant neighbors and colleagues.  Yes, our hosts welcome our contribution and participation in their communities, they appreciate our enthusiastic efforts to help turn the wheels of economy, and they especially relish the fact that we replace the bedpans of their infirm and wash the bums of their elderly.

But there will always be a firewall we cannot breach, an inner circle we cannot break.  In areas like government and certain professions, we cannot expect to be welcome.

In the end, as it was in the beginning, we will to a certain extent always be outsiders.

In a way, it’s a good thing a racist episode like this came to light.  The speaker was drunk, he was incoherent (partially) and he wasn’t fully understood, but the filter through which he usually coursed his opinions was for that evening totally absent : he therefore spoke with complete candidness, spoke his mind, and said exactly what he thought was happening in his carefully structured world.

Listen carefully to what he says : he couldn’t conceive of what people like his driver for the night was doing in his country, in a country where he didn’t belong.  He called his driver a name reserved for the human male sexual organ, modified by an adjective describing his Muslim faith.   Lastly, he said (if I’m not mistaken) he would pay the seven-dollar fare if the driver would return to his own country.  Truly horrible.

Do you know what?  Even if he apologized less than 48 hours after, even if he was remorseful, and even if he accepted an invitation to visit the community Mosque to I assume explain himself, I am willing to bet my one week’s wages that he meant every word he said, despite his drunken state then.  And I don’t doubt for a moment that it is not an isolated situation.  True, what happened above is the exception and not the rule, but racism exists everywhere, even in politically correct and tolerant New Zealand.  That’s just the way it is.

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I wanted to tell you two other unrelated things that happened to me recently, but in a roundabout way they’re not that unrelated.

Bunso my son was recently pushed by a shopper he wanted to help while working his shift in a large supermarket chain.  Everyone was outraged by the situation, but when the matter reached management, the latter decided to sweep the matter under the rug.  Why?  the shopper had mental issues daw, and had been a loyal shopper for some time.    Regardless of the unbelievable excuses given, the one thing that stuck in Bunso’s craw was the fact that he was a very junior employee, and of course, that he wasn’t Kiwi.

I won’t even answer your question on what race the shopper belonged to.  By the way, Bunso by coincidence or otherwise is no longer working in the said supermarket.  He resigned as soon as he got accepted in Starbucks.  Congrats anak and woohoo!

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

And lastly, if there was any doubt  the only nation that Japan hates more than North Korea (or for that matter, South Korea) is Big Brother China, it was dispelled on yesterday’s international news page yesterday.  Japan pledged to the Philippines 10, countem TEN coast guard boats to assist the latter in its maritime intramurals with China.

Japan and China have had a long, long history of bad blood, stretching all the way to the Sino-Japanese War, Japanese War of Aggression,  the Nanking Massacre to today’s Diaoyu Islands brouhaha.  There is no simple solution to the Sino-Japanese conflict, it goes very deeply into the national psyches of each country.  Sad to say, it is just as much a racial issue, with Chinese and Japanese (ironically close genetic cousins) deeply mistrusting each other with inexplicable loathing.

The Philippines is actually just a pawn in this regional MMA battle between states.  Japan just wants to stick another needle in China’s side by giving us sticks and stones to throw at the Chinese Giant.  It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that we’re just being used by the Empire of the Sun in its mighty struggle against the Central Kingdom.

I just don’t know why I feel so good with those new Japanese boats on our side of the sea.

is it just me or r u no longer surprised when a kabayan gets a bullet, garrote or hot chair abroad?

It won't be as crude as this summary execution in Tibet, but the end result is the same : a bullet in the head for our kabayan,  unless our VP produces a miracle. :(

It won’t be as crude as this summary execution in Tibet, but the end result is the same : a bullet in the head for our kabayan, unless our VP produces a miracle. 😦

[ Laziness alert : Even less than the usual 5% of all the sentences here are backed up by research, statistics or catatonic Googling or use of other search engines.  If you want an entertaining read, please sample The Emperor’s Last Parade, the new e-book of my friend Fer Cao by clicking on this link, it’s a modern-day twist on a well-loved fairy tale.  Reviews very welcome, and by the way, the e-book is free until midnight today! ]

OO NA (yes I know) she’d been a drug mule 16 previous times, oo na her crime would’ve made life miserable for thousands and thousands of drug addicts (who would’ve gotten their fix elsewhere anyway) and oo na, she was literally sealing her doom by bringing a maleta-load (thirteen kilos!) of heroin to a country well known for executing more people annually than the rest of the world’s governments, combined.

And yet, I dare to raise an interesting conspiracy theory question : if the drug mule was not a Pinay kabayan but a Caucasian from the US, the UK or even Australia, would the conviction, the affirmation (of the “guilty” decision) and the dismissal of the appeal be as resoundingly in favor of keeping the Pinay’s appointment with the Grim Reaper?

As warned above, I would rather that you not rely on anything here as hard data or statistical reference.  But I’ve noticed that while at least four Filipinos have been executed in China after their death sentences were affirmed, none of around 28 death sentences in the last few years (imposed on Pinoys) have been reversed, or overturned.  I hope I’m wrong, and I hope for justice’s sake they really did courier the drugs, but are we a suki (or regular customer) for death row because (1) we don’t belong to the First World and (2) and we don’t possess any economic clout with the world’s largest economy?

[ And note that we’re not even gonna mention the current Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal brouhaha between us and China. ]

It’s pretty well-known in both criminology and legal discussions that the less legal assistance and representation you can afford, the greater the chance you will be convicted, whether you’re guilty or not, and relatedly, the greater the chance you will get the maximum penalty.  It’s unfair, but a fact of life.

I’m extending this to a state-to-state level : the smaller the state, and the smaller its economy, the greater the chance its nationals committing capital crimes will be executed.

How many times have you heard of our kabayan getting beheaded, garroted, shot not just in China but in Malaysia, Singapore and the Middle East as well?  More than just a few times this century I’ll bet, and I’m sure you can count on your one hand the times a kabayan was literally snatched from the jaws of death.  In fact (no names here) I can remember someone who did it, begged the head of state for a pardon on the condemned’s behalf, and later made it the pillar of his political campaign.  And you know what?  I don’t blame him.

On the other hand, how many times have you heard of US servicemen after committing rapes, pedophilia and other interesting crimes not just in the Philippines but all over the world being convicted, having their sentences commuted from death to life (or life to a lower sentence) then being sent home to serve their sentence ?  And of course, never to be heard from again?  Start counting. 🙂

I don’t condemn death-penalty nations from using the draconian laws as a deterrent and as an example for other future or potential offenders.  In fact, I know how vicious and destructive drug abuse is not just to the individual, but to their families and to communities as well.

It’s just that I fear that in many places a double standard exists and countries like the Philippines are on the losing end, because frankly, countries like China have little to lose if they apply the fullest extent of the law against criminals from small fry like ourselves.

If a high-profile offender from the US, Europe or big country gets into trouble abroad, every kind of legal assistance will be given him by his embassy, and the local authorities will 9 times out of ten treat him with kid gloves.  No matter what the crime is.

When one of our own gets caught overseas as a drug mule or sex crime, expect him at best to languish in prison while he gets the third degree and worst penalty, affirmed all the way to the host country’s supreme court.  At worst, he or she will mysteriously die in prison.

And why?  Take your pick :  no money, no honey.  Money talks. Or, your credit is good but we need cash.

We may be the nurses, construction workers, caregivers and IT engineers of the world, but no doubt about it,  we are the small fish in a big pond of big, fat fish.

Kawawa naman po tayo.

your census or your life

Bolivian census taker

Bolivian census taker

versatilebloggeraward11THE CENSUS is serious business in New Zealand, even more than it is in the Philippines.  At the top of the census form, the chief Government Statistician solemnly declares “census information is needed for planning vital public services such as education, health, housing and transport.  It is also used to help understand how our society changes over time.”

As if that wasn’t enough, the companion Guide Notes anticipates me asking awww do I really have to?  “Yes (the census is compulsory), filling in census forms is required by law.  Under the Statistics Act of 1975, everyone in NZ on census day must fill in a census form.  Wow, clear enough.

Sigh.  Below are the actual questions and, where appropriate and applicable, are my answers.  Some are serious, others, semi-serious, still others not at all.  I have to submit these midnight tomorrow, and I’m on evening shift, so I hope you’ll just go with the flow, maraming salamat po.

Question Number 3. Where do you usually live?

I usually live in a rented flat that takes a good chunk of my wages, but I could do a lot worse.  Including the bike ride and preparation, I actually spend 10 hours daily at work. Am not complaining ha… say, everything’s confidential right?

Question Number 7. Where did you live 5 years ago (may date provided pa), on 5 March 2008 ?

(Hmm, I don’t see the immediate relevance of this, but) on that date I was between work visas and clutching at straws, but luckily found a job and stayed here incidentally to be able to answer your census.  If you really wanna know, I was in Auckland and had no idea I would be moving to Wellington.  Looking back, it was a great move.  Nothing against AKL, especially the kabayan over there, but I’m all good with the quality of life here.

Question Number 9. Which country were you born in? (tick either NZ, Aussie, jolly ol’ England, China, People’s Republic of, as opposed to Chinatown, Chinese community in NZ, or Chinese communities everywhere else, India, South Africa, Samoa, Cook Islands, or other).

Neither.  I was born in the land of Manny Pacquiao, Jessica Sanchez, Menchu Sanchez, Charice Pempengco, Jabbawockeez, the homeland of a lot of nurses, caregivers, TelstraClear and Downer linemen here and that lady Prince Philip flirted with two weeks ago, Islas de los Pintados, Pearl of the Orient or more popularly known as the Philippines.  I’m surprised that as one of the top five ethnic migrant groups here, and probably the fastest growing group, you’re not listing down Pinoys as a choice in your questionnaire.  Sana next time Mr Statistician?

Question  number 19. Show all the people who live in the same household as you (I’m only including in the enumeration that might apply to me) :

my legal husband or wife / my opposite-sex legally registered civil union partner / my same-sex legally registered civil union partner / my opposite-sex partner or de facto boyfriend or girlfriend / my same-sex partner or de facto boyfriend or girlfriend (whew!)

I could’ve stopped and just ticked the first choice, but I do appreciate your attempts at being politically correct, tolerance and all that.  And you can be assured that, if I or anyone close to me were in a same-sex relationship in the same household, I would proudly declare it. 🙂

Question number 21 and 22.  Do you smoke cigarettes regularly (that is, 1 or more a day)? Have you ever been a regular smoker of one or more cigarettes a day?

Again, I don’t see the immediate relevance, but sure there are public health issues, so No I don’t, and yes I was.  But it was some time ago, and hopefully never again.

There were some more interesting questions, but this is all the time I’ve got, and hopefully I was able to ease some of your boredom.  Hope you had more fun than I did filling out your census form! 😉

Thanks for reading!



the couple who thinks of themselves least now need our help the most

IN THE unwritten code of bayanihan (neighborliness), the visitor is not just an honored guest, he is treated like a cherished member of the family.  It is common for hosts to offer the best room in the house, and it matters litle that such room is the master bedroom.  No comfort, as long as it is available, is too luxurious, no detail too small to be attended to.  Distant relations, friends of friends and townmates are all welcome; no one is turned away.  It sounds impractical in our hurly-burly workaday age, but some Filipinos as far away in New Zealand still practice this.

Such a couple is Jerome and Lady Jalbuena from Auckland, NZ and Lucena Quezon.  The short time I shared a flat with them at the City of Sails my first year as a migrant, theirs was a revolving door of guests, acquaintances and newbie migrants from the homeland.  They never hesitated to share their home with anyone, particularly those who needed temporary shelter desperately.

It was not unknown for them to take in more than one family at a time, especially when the request was urgent.  Jerome would often pick up the family at the airport himself, and Lady would share their modest warm clothing to children who were unaccustomed to the New Zealand biting cold.

It is therefore the saddest news to hear that this selfless couple is facing a challenge of sorts these days.  To ensure accuracy and the exact words of their Facebook page :

Lady Jalbuena, 35 years old was diagnosed with adreno-cortical carcinoma (cancer of the adrenal glands) three years ago. It is a rare form of cancer in that it occurs in approximately 1 in every 1 million of population. She has undergone surgery and all other relevant treatment since then. Now, her doctors have advised that, at this point, all they can offer is palliative care, i.e. keep her as comfortable as possible. Her husband, Jerome sought alternative treatments here in New Zealand but there is nothing available for her current condition. He found one that seems promising called New Generation Photo-Density therapy and so they are going to China to try this. Three cycles of treatment are needed so they will have to go to China 3 times for 2 weeks at a time.

They need to do this quickly before her condition deteriorates and she is unable to travel or become not fit enough for the treatment. They are scheduled to go on their first trip on Thursday, 6 September. Although they now have funds for the first cycle, there is still the 2 cycles that need to be funded.
This young family, with two primary school-aged girls (Juliana 9 and Leila 7), is facing considerable costs. I hope you can find it in your heart to help them in their desperate bid to prolong the life of their mother. Any help will be greatly appreciated. ( thanks to Beck Destura Garcia for allowing us to repost! )

If there’s anyone who deserves your help, no one deserves it more than this couple.  Please visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/159880294135836/permalink/159894087467790/ for additional details.

Thanks for reading and let’s all offer a prayer for Jerome and Lady !

spontaneous & naive pinoy observations on London 2012

WE’RE  A Pinoy with Chinese roots, and it’s no surprise that we love Chinese takeaway, appreciate various aspects of Chinese culture, and applaud performances and feats where not only Chinese but Asians outdo and outperform opponents in the global stage. (By the way, you don’t need to be Chinese to appreciate Chinese takeaway 🙂 )

What we don’t appreciate is the fact that the Chinese side don’t take in a sportsmanlike manner the disqualifications and decisions made against it during the 2012 Olympics.

Call us naive, but given the expert, superhuman and very professional way the Brits have administered the London Olympics, the gazillion-and-one details that needed to be attended to, and the ultra-scientific and fair way rules have been enforced, there was simply no way that a sinister and concerted effort was made to make the Chinese fail or look bad, as was implied by sources identified with China.

And really, given what the Chinese sports establishment is prepared to make their youths and athletes endure, almost certainly describable in other countries as torture and unacceptable at the very least, the former should be the last to claim innocence and clean hands when the issue of underhandedness at the highest levels of sports competition is discussed.

Secondly, after watching (albeit sketchily) London 2012, with a heavy emphasis on the closing ceremonies, there is little doubt in our mind that a country like the Philippines can host an event of Olympic magnitude.

It would take probably half a generation to prepare, the country’s defense budget for around five years, but it’s not impossible.  The facts are smaller countries with less populations than the Philippines have successfully staged the Olympics, the investment amount required is formidable but attainable, and the can-do spirit and hospitable attitude of Pinoys are raw but powerful assets that will go a long way towards the fulfillment of a goal like hosting the Olympics.

The rewards expectedly are enormous.  In two weeks, Great Britain has shed its image of a lethargic former world power clinging to past glories.  It has by itself rejuvenated its national economy, and the positive effects will be felt for at least the present generation.

It’s a distant, pie-in-the-sky goal, but certainly a worthy one for a country as humbly placed as ours.

Thanks for reading !

myPinoy view : the eternal enigma of the complex conquistador chinese character

Philippine flag planted on Scarborough Shoal

Philippine flag planted on Scarborough Shoal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

SURPRISE QUIZ QUESTION :  What do (1) an Asian migrant, (2) the Philippine government, (3) the Chinese government, and (4) the Scarborough Shoal have in common?

Answer : absolutely nothing, other than the fact that (1) is a loyal subject of (2), had grandparents that came from (3), and is in a few moments going to tell whoever has the time to listen what he feels about (4) and the potential for a big airport-scuffle-like confrontation that is right now festering.

Before I connect subject to predicate, please let me first explain.  Like many labors of love, blogging is one enterprise that will never make me rich, no matter if I squeeze blood out of the keyboard for your precious readership. There are fringe benefits, though.  I don’t need to do any of the following : research except the barest Googling; no such thing as a blogger’s code of ethics (although commonsense is encouraged), diplomacy or even the need to make perfect sense.  Half the time I just need to make an opinion, think out loud and see if you agree with me.  If you do that’s great, if not, well the comments section always has room for one more. 🙂

Which is just a roundabout way for me to try to make some sense out of PROC‘s behavior on that very small islet west of Zambales, on literally a piece of rock that has no value whatsover save for the fact that it may be sitting on trillions and trillions of buckets of fossil fuel and/or natural gas deposits, quite a lot of Santacruzan procession generators or Chinese lantern batteries that would light up, don’t you think?

I was born a Pinoy, will very likely die a Pinoy, but at least two out of my four grandparents were very Chinese, and so my salakot and cheongsam, while not a fashion statement, go very well with my mestizo psyche.  I grew up straddling two cultures, loving one and appreciating the other, and understand (and remain befuddled by) a bit of both.  The occasion calls for shedding a little penlight on the seemingly uncivil and bullying behavior of our Chinese cousins, and here it is :

the Great Wall mentality.  Anytime you can claim to have the eighth man made wonder of the world, boast of a former empire that stretched across multiple continents, and be a recent over-the-top host of the modern Olympics, you have a right to hold your head high in the international community of nations, trust me.  And this is exactly what China is doing, and hoping that because of its stature as a once and future superpower, everyone takes notice in a positive way.  Any map will show you that at least three countries (the Philippines, Vietnam, and Taiwan ) enjoy at least an equal right to the Scarborough Shoal with that of the Already Awakened Giant but, in the latter’s version of distorted reality, it doesn’t matter.  Centuries before, everything on the Indochinese peninsula and all archipelagoes eastward were what we now call satellite states that regularly paid tribute to the current Son of Heaven, the sitting Emperor.

Trite as it may sound, but it wasn’t called the South China Sea (as it is now) for nothing.  Centuries later, owing to its military and economic might, China is at home in its Conquest of Empire mode as it is with spring rolls and chive dumplings, laying claim to everything it beholds and beyond, including the Spratleys, Scarborough Shoal and the neighborhood takeaway that’s sold out of noodles every Friday night.

Persecution complex.  If you can believe it, while China views itself as both an ancient and modern empire wielding power and influence far beyond its borders, it also views itself incredibly as a whipping boy / punching bag by other global empires, superpowers and pretenders to the throne.  There is some historical basis for this.  After the Opium War forced China to sign the first of what it called the Unequal Treaties, China’s coastal cities were carved up between the power players of the day, as part of the price it paid for daring to stand up to the that era’s Coalition of the Willing.  At odd times in the 20th century, China has sided with despots of genocidal regimes, totalitarian dynasties and even extremist Islamic governments all because it perceives itself to be a long-suffering victim of Western opportunism and capitalist oppression, self-serving jargon barely tolerated by only the most desperate fringe groups outside China.  All this, despite the latter being one of the greatest beneficiaries of so-called Western decadence (Chinese manufacturing serves the First World, first and foremost) and again, despite the latter holding perhaps the largest reserves of US dollar-denominated Treasury bonds on Earth. 

How does this link up to Scarborough Shoal?  Simply put, despite the odious perception of itself as a regional bully, China simply justifies its actions as payback for all the bullying it received in the past, not the least from the Philippines’ most powerful patron on the other side of the pond.  Not all the joint war games, saber rattling and diplomatic tongue-lashing will deter PROC from its divine directive to secure East Asian hegemony as the emergent Beast of the East.

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Years and years ago in primary school, our classrooms were often divided into pro-Taiwan, pro-Communist China, and the neutral camps.  The first group came from families of those loyal to President Chiang Kai-Shek and the Taiwanese republic he founded, which swore to reclaim the Chinese mainland but never did.  The second group came from families who believed that China’s destiny as a future superpower would not come about unless it walked the Communist path or righteousness.  And of course there were students like us who neither knew nor cared how things were actually gonna turn out.

The only common ground all three groups shared that at some not-too-distant point in the future, we somehow knew that China would evolve into a force to contend with, and its potential to do anything it wanted as a monolithic force of nature was limitless.  None of us realized how accurate this foreknowledge was going to be.

And if you will forgive a terribly simplistic view of why China recklessly throws its weight around, we are reminded of a classmate who asked us if we knew why a dog licked its private parts?  Answer : Because it can.  Replace dog with the Middle Kingdom and lick its private parts (actually balls is the operative word) with take what it wants and it’s a cool nugget of wisdom, actually.

Thanks for reading !

Xcuz faulty memory, but we 4get b4 remembering

Image of a Western Digital 250Gb SATA Hard Dri...

Image via Wikipedia

[Note from Noel : from all the way below Down Under to near the Roof  of the World, advance b-day greetings to a most charismatic leader in SJCS batch 82, excellent basketball varsitarian, and  friend to all, Mr Andy Lim !  PS: If Mr Criss Angel’s skills as above shown are real, then he has no need for regular memory the way we folks do!]

UNLESS we’re trying to speed up an order at a takeaway or people above a certain age we encounter will be cheered up by even a few familiar sounding words from the motherland, we don’t even try to speak Chinese anymore, it’s simply too laborious now and we elicit too many snickers (not the sweet-and-nutty kind) nowadays.

Although we understand what is heard and spoken a good part of the time by Mainlanders (sometimes called Communist Chinese), Taiwanese and various Overseas Chinese from Southeast Asia, and we even get the general idea when we see headlines on either of the two Chinese community newspapers here, our much-vaunted first-rate Chinese language tuition is now a fainter-than-faint shadow of its high school self.

At various times I’ve been either encouraged and discouraged to butt in whenever I hear the language I learned from childhood to puberty, but mostly I get awkward looks and the impression that I sound like a person who just materialized out of a bad Sammo Hung movie.

Any lingering doubts I may have had about any illusions as a credible Chinese speaker came when I tried to engage esposa hermosa‘s (EH) colleague (from Shanghai) at the sushi bar where she works : Is there a great question mark in your stomach, comrade?  I confidently asked her after a long shift.

She answered my embarrassingly silly question (I meant to ask if she was hungry) with two more questions :  D’you know yo Mandarrrin is worse than my English, heeheehee and anyone told you that nobody uses “comrade” anymore, friend ? which made me blush  harder than a crimson Chinese lantern. :”)

After work, EH asked me what the joke was all about, and when I answered there was none, she said there must have been, as her Chinese workmate and countrymen had a great laugh for quite a while.  That was the end of Chinese-speaking Noel.

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The sad, ironic part is like many extensive chunks of knowledge we acquire and then forget, the bytes and voluminous details are no longer there, but we are vaguely aware of the length, breadth, value and even beauty of the data we have lost.  Stroke for stroke, word for word, and as idioms, syntax and proverbs go, Chinese is probably one of the most efficient (not to mention beautiful) languages in the world, but of course you can only take my word for it, as I am aware of only two other tongues.  And I don’t know, after spending more than four years half an ocean away from home, how much Tagalog I’ll retain after a few more years.

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I find that whether because of preconditioned mental fatigue (brought about by its physical counterpart), preconditioned loss of focus, or just plain loss of interest, I can no longer finish watching a complete game of NBA basketball.  I still enjoy favorite players and teams, the drama of the playoffs, and seeing favorite crybabies topple over their unrealistic egoes and promises.  But to watch one-and-a-half hours of ten millionaires passing a ball around every 24 seconds before dumping it to their superstar for the requisite jump shot / lay-up / ho-hum slam dunk over an 82-game season no longer pumps adrenaline into my system as it did in my teens and 20s.

Worse of all, somewhere before halftime or even between one-fourth to one-third of the game, I have actually forgotten the combatant teams, who’s winning or even who’s playing superior basketball.  Because the product itself hardly provides entertainment or even interest that it used to, it takes lots of energy to even update myself on constant changes like scores, lead changes and game time remaining.

Because interest and focus and memory reserves are all intertwined and interdependent, we realize that our minds need the equivalent of an external hard drive, otherwise we prioritize our pursuits and passions, into merely what we need to remember, for survival.  At least, that’s what the empirical sum of my experience tells me.

It’s absolutely heretical to our culture of multi-tasking, multi-media markets and multi-media caressing our five senses, but if we can only focus on one song, or one article, or one website (for the most part) or one channel / program per second of our lives, where is the satiety point or satiety level before we scream that thousand-channel cable TV, ultra high speed internet, internet TV or 4G technology is more than we can handle?

If every bit of information is accessible and available at our fingertips, is anything worth remembering anymore?

Thanks for reading!


To Be And Not (Just) To Be Chinese

Botanical garden, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Mi...

Image via Wikipedia

BACK HOME in the Philippines a few years ago, whenever my kids and I encountered figurines of the Three Gods of Prosperity, a smiling Buddha with all his children, or a ceramic Confucius bust, my children would tease me by saying the figurines were relatives of mine, in reference to my Chinese ancestry.  Good naturedly I would play along, uttering a Chinese phrase or making kung fu style gestures, but I have never denied or played down my Chineseness.


My recent and current experience as a migrant in the First World seems to recall my personal belief : Looking at the various small takeaways oriented towards Chinese and people of Chinese ancestry (but likewise enjoyed by the locals) here in Wellington, the “Chinese pride” exhibited during Lunar New Year parade, Mooncake Festival and other events held by the Chinese community, and many families’ insistence on the young generation learning motherland dialects, one would think that migrants from China have never left home.  But the so-called mainland is not the only origin of various aspects of Chinese culture and all things Chinese.


Let me explain. The Vietnamese cafe that shows off its muffins, cream pies, eclairs and fruit tarts are, based on common sense, run by skillful bakers from Saigon, but when you listen to their chatter and exchange pleasantries, you realize that their Vietnamese is peppered with “ah-ya” and familiar sounding expressions.  Yes, they are as much Chinese as they are Vietnamese, and the accent, banners of Chinese calligraphy displayed and the fact that you make yourself understood with a few rudimentary Cantonese phrases are proof enough.


The Malaysian / Singaporean family of accountants whose modest house I help clean on Fridays stores in their kitchen sesame oil, oyster sauce, Hoisin sauce and other unmistakeable elements of Chinese cuisine, and use in their medicine cabinets white flower ointment, traditional “peipakwa” cough syrup that I couldn’t avoid smiling after seeing.  When I happened to ask while making small talk with them, I had to ask you’re not Chinese are you?  They proudly explain that the peculiarities of their culture allow them to distinctly retain both the Malaysian and Chinese aspects of their identity, and true enough, I was impressed see English and Chinese sections of their mini-libraries, complete with children’s versions of the Analects, the Eight Immortals and the Monkey King, all thousand-year old relics as old as the Great Wall but still read by schoolchildren today.


Further down Main Avenue, the Thai eatery run by a former exchange student and his young wife fold their hands, smile “sawasdee kra” and proudly serve spicy Thai noodles and spring rolls (which look suspiciously like Chinese noodles and Shanghai rolls) but the magazines to read while waiting for your takeaway order and the piped-in music all come from Taiwan, which as you know is that part of China that embraced democracy half a century earlier than Big Brother PROC. Shouldn’t you have Thai mags and CDs instead, I joke?


The proprietress pointed out to me that although they are Thais by birth and allegiance, their ethnicity, tastes and affinities are slanted towards the Chinese community in Bangkok, which has retained a strong Chinese flavor despite being loyal Thai subjects for countless generations.  One can be both Thai and Chinese at the same time, odd as it seems and contradictory as it may sound.


Not at all I said, telling her about Chinoys back home, the Malaysians and Singaporeans I met, and many other multicultural families I have encountered in my short but eventful stay in Auckland and Wellington.  More than that, it’s almost like the initial experience of living with more than one culture in Southeast Asia prepares one for speedy adjustment to another culture in a country like New Zealand.  Oftentimes there are built-in advantages.  Multicultural schools are by nature very competitive and stress academic excellence; bilingualism or triligualism is encouraged; English is the preferred medium of instruction, and children are brought up learning that a better life in other countries awaits.


For sure there are other cultures proud of their identities and nationalism will always be desirable to migrants and non-migrants alike, but a strong thread runs in many Asian migrant families to  the First World, and to varying degrees it is never losing sight of being part of the great yellow race that gave us the compass, silk and gunpowder.

Lolo NOel vs Tatay NOel : Why Lolo Will Win

Grandchildren with their Grandparents

Image by Rockin Robin via Flickr

 [ NOte from NOel : They’re nowhere near that stage, and we want them to enjoy their young adulthood / disposable income stage, but just the thought of seeing Panganay, Ganda and Bunso produce 3rd generation NOelitos or NOelitas is enough to get a rise out of us each time we surrender to the temptation of such thoughts. We wondered why we were so confident of being a better grandpa, and came up with these reasons. Please include in your prayers not only the 3 OFWs executed in China but also those imprisoned in Thailand, Malaysia and the Middle East. Thanks for reading! ]

Lots of room for improvement – Let’s face it, we went through the motions, gave it the old college try, but on the whole, we were less than mediocre at fatherhood. We paced the obligatory pacing area at DR, bought the cigars and drew up the ninongs/ninangs list, excitedly showed off the neonates at the nursery ( newborns were still kept from the moms until they were ready to be brought home ), but from there everything went downhill.

We won’t be remembered by the suplings for educating, providing and inspiring, which traditionally are the pillars of examplary daddyhood, and coupled by our absenteeism and constant cutting of corners, we left much to be desired. On the bright side, we made so many mistakes we’ve got practically a library of what-not-to-do and what-to-avoid tips ( still sore from pounding our head to keep from repeating such ), which we’ll only be too glad to impart and pass on to the apo’s, captive audience that they are.

Selfish reasons – You want to see the kids be good parents, or at least be better than you ever were. For that, you’ll do everything in your power to help them to raise their kids right, and of course there’s the additional incentive of having great grandchildren (not great-grandchildren, haha). If only for that reason, we’ll be there for the kids’ parties, doc’s appointments, soccer / basketball games, and summer vacations. If ever they need extra advice, an extra hug ( or even extra baon ), you can count on us to be there, as sure as our own folks were there for Panganay, Ganda and Bunso.

Patience, tenacity and conviction – To our mind, these are the cardinal qualities needed by a doting Lolo, and for some reason we feel we will own them. To be sure, we’ve never known ourselves to be a patient parent, and for sure you won’t hear that description from our progeny, and deservedly so. Many times, our short fuse, frustrated sighs and dismal E.Q. generated tampo, dour moods and a disproportionate amount of grief far beyond the flash of irritation we gave vent to.

But over the years, we learned that extra patience, biting your lip, counting to 10, and exhaling were all useful devices in dealing with someone in their own learning years, learning to crawl / walk / text / dribble (substitute the memorable activity your descendant was trying to learn with your help) and moreover, they were extra grateful for it.

Tenacity, cuz 99 out of a hundred situations, kids need only the extra effort, extra step and extra move to get them over the hump of unfamiliarity with whatever they’re learning. the extra ingredient to do it? Love and enough concern to make sure that they can start doing things on their own. Not a moment sooner too, as we certainly need the break 🙂

Conviction, because you know after years and years of experience, hard knocks and muscle memory that by being a darn good lolo, you are doing the right thing. And no temporary distraction, middle age crisis or carnal pleasure can convince you otherwise.

** ** **

And if after everything, you still needed incentive to become the best ever “winning” Lolo / Lola there is, you only have to dwell on the thought that mega celebrities like Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan and ( sorry to put you in their company ) President Noynoy will in their lifetimes never be able ( or won’t be allowed ) to become card-carrying grandparents the way you are on your way to be. I know the last one’s a weird thought, but let’s count our blessings, be grateful for each day given us, and thank God if the opportunity to see our future apo’s is a realistic one.

Thanks for reading, and mano po Lola and Lola !








Similarities Always Better Than Differences

Southeast asia

Image via Wikipedia

THERE ARE probably many more, but one of the unintended consequences of migration is discovering perceptions of other races and cultures, and how others view your own.

Among the more popular and sometimes surprising we have picked up : Cambodians are excellent bakers of bread, pastries and related goodies; Taiwanese are remarkable in picking gadgets apart, studying how they work, and inventing more efficient models of the same (popularizing the term reverse engineering); both Malaysians and Indonesians are world-beaters in badminton, and, rivalling our own homegrown talent, Indian expertise in both information technology ( IT ) and call center operations is well-known the world over.

We’re fortunate enough to have spent our childhood years straddling both Filipino and Chinese cultures, so our face glowed with pride twice over when a Kiwi co-traveller told us that reviewing personal experience, Pinoys and Chinese adapted with greatest ease to a foreign culture, specifically his own.

It was his way of telling us that, at the workplace, in his neighborhood, in church or on the national scene, almost to a man (and woman) these people were the easiest to get along with, and vice-versa.

We avoided making comparisons among Caucasians across borders and continents, because firstly, it is like apples, oranges and bananas. The chasm is simply too great, and you cannot compare for example, Englishmen, French and Russians, just as Australians and Kiwis may look similar on the surface, but are as different as night from day. Natural distrust, historical slights inflicted on one another, and contrasting attitudes rooted in religion and ideology are just some of the reasons.

(This being our naive view, apologies if we may have offended anyone for the previous paragraph.)

Which posed the inevitable question, at least in our distracted train of thought. Among Southeast Asians and similar cultures (Polynesians, South Asians), is the tendency to look for similarities greater than the instinct to spot differences with those not of your own kind?

Pinoys within our own small circle seem to reinforce this urban legend. A flatmate observed that Samoans, Tongans and Fijians love cooking various dishes in coconut milk, and of course we Pinoys can relate to this on so many levels, witness our ginataang tambakol, Bicol express, kakanin, to name just a few orig (or so we thought) recipes.

Spanning the South China Sea : respect for elders, filial piety and involving the family in almost every aspect of life is likewise a hallmark of the Yellow Race, and again, whether we see them as Chinese from the Mainland, Overseas Chinese from different Mini-Dragons of Asia, or local Kiwi-Chinese that are as homegrown as NZ milk and butter, the basic aspects of Chinese character remain the same.

It’s probably a long shot, but various cultures that have been influenced by elements of Confucian philosophy as early as 2000 years ago, notably obedience to the state, respect for authority, and according the highest honor to education and educators, still find elements of the same today, in Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indochinese traditions, and across Southeast Asia.

Inevitably, the so-called stereotypes of certain nationalities surface when we try to look for similarities rather than differences with our Asian brothers (and sisters). It’s almost as if we identify with the latter only for as long as the characterstics are positive, and distance ourselves from any comparisons as soon as the negatives become evident.

No names here, but our unfortunate combination of imbibing alcoholic beverages and the occasional crime of passion committed in the name of such, are shared by many other races particularly in the South Pacific.

 Frugality pursued to excess by the entrepreneurially inclined among some of our East Asian brethren, borrowed by other races,  has become such a basic part of our psyche as to be parodied and satirized by many who seek to disparage the otherwise unassailable business ethic of the cultures concerned.

Finally, Filipinos like to single out our former colonizers whenever the subject of our legendary indolence is brought up, but in truth almost all lands and nationalities close to the equator have their special way of dealing with the oppressive climate, while preserving productivity and harnessing energies under the tropical sun.

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

It may be a long time coming, but the moment we discard the blinders of petty prejudice, transcend our long-held stereotypes, and banish the bitterness of history is the same time we begin to see the rainbow of races for what they truly are : fellow creatures of God who like us share universal goals of attaining happiness, preserving freedom and living with love.

In our humble view, this is one of the highest blessings that a migrant may enjoy.

Thanks for reading!