“sorry i’m late” no more!


thanks and acknowledgment to canstockphoto.com!

thanks and acknowledgment to canstockphoto.com!

[ Note :  With permission to repost from publisher Didith Tayawa-Figuracion and editor Meia Lopez of  Kabayan newsmagazine, for and of the members of Wellington Filipino community.   Thanks again Didith and Meia, and sorry for not participating in the presswork! This blog also appears in issue no. 6, now out in Catholic parishes and Pinoy stores throughout Wellington.  Please catch other magnificent Kiwi-Pinoy human interest stories by clicking on this link, mabuhay po tayong lahat! ]

 

I HAVE been lucky enough to be invited four times to functions at either the Philippine Embassy in Wellington or at Ang Bahay, the official residence of the Philippine Ambassador to New Zealand.  These were four different events, with different kabayan in attendance, and diverse weather conditions and number of people attending.

 

The singular common denominator at the four shindigs?  Each event started on the dot, regardless of how many among the invited had arrived, with the Ambassador herself among the earliest attendees.  No Filipino Time observed here, obviously.
Parallel to their Government’s efforts, OFWs are doing their darnedest best to be exemplars not only of efficiency, honesty and cheer, but are also becoming quite reliable in punctuality, which as you know Filipinos are not always famous for.
According to research done by retiredinsamar.com (many thanks for the data!), Filipino time finds its origins in the colonial tradition requiring indios to attend parties only after all the Spanish masters and lords had been seated.  Accommodating or even feeding Pinoy guests was definitely not a priority, and over the next few decades this set-up solidified into the institution known as Filipino time.  In so many words, to be late was to be fashionable.
But the modern milieu abhors a vacuum, particularly where it is caused by waiting for someone who should be there, no matter how important that someone may be.  Life nowadays is divided into slices of neatly scheduled hours, minutes and seconds, all spent doing worthwhile endeavors.  Wilfully breaching these schedules shows a general disrespect for the time of everyone else, while believing that one is not bound by rules of courtesy followed by all others.
How many times have we heard overseas guests arrive at the appointed time in our beloved homeland, only to be made waiting for 10, 15 and upwards of 30 minutes by  our kabayan, who act like as if being late was the most natural thing in the world?  Or how events are held up by an embarrassing amount of time because of the guest of honor was fashionably late?
Ask a random number of expats or dayuhan married to Pinay wives and a strong majority will give you at least one anecdote concerning Filipino time.  When everyone else scorns the appointed time on the invitation, almost like the latter is an RSVP if you will be inexplicably early, you can expect almost no one to be there on time.  Pinoys are early in discount sales, opening day premieres and A-list concerts, but not to parties.  Sadly, if you want peple to attend your affair at a certain time, it is practical to schedule it an hour earlier.  Only in the Philippines.
But there might still be hope for us.  Remember all those events I mentioned at the Embassy ?  Because each started on time, each also ended promptly, with enough space for all of us to catch the late-edition news.  Filipino time won’t last forever, as long as we keep fighting.  Sugod, mga kapatid!

the last 36 of the last work week of summer


A pleasant surprise : "Noel : thank you for changing your hours and working O.T. (overtime) to get the retail (packer) up and running the last few weeks -Ben (obviously the supervisor)"  Awww..

A pleasant surprise : “Noel : thank you for changing your hours and working O.T. (overtime) to get the retail (packer) up and running. -Ben (obviously the supervisor) On top are two supermarket vouchers totalling $50. Awww..

THROUGHOUT HIS professional life, Dad was/is a deskbound, adding machine-holstered white-collar worker, but he was always blue-collar in attitude and approached work the way a wage-paid laborer did.  Day in and day out he answered the call, and only the most extreme reason could keep him from work.  Showing up everyday and on time shows you care for your job, he said in so many words.  It didn’t matter how high or low you were on the totem pole, if you were there ready and good to go, ready for your mission, then the boss looked good, and if the boss looked good, then oftener than not, things would look good for you.

It was just as well for me when I carried on with that work ethic in New Zealand where I now live and work, ’cause it seemed that in blue-collar Wellington, where the luck of the draw landed me, everyone who liked his job (and lots of those who didn’t) showed up for work every day that the Lord made (or bawat araw na ginawa ng Diyos, if you like), 15 minutes before the bell rang, and bright and cheery for work.

Bright and cheery also included being battle-ready for anything new on the menu, meaning if training or upskilling was available, you grabbed the offer, because usually that meant new machinery or new positions were emerging in the workplace.  On the record nothing would be taken against you if you refused, but the boss would remember the next time you needed a favor or when advancement was appearing, and likelier than not you wouldn’t be recommended.

So work ethic and “optional training” had combined to give me the position of backup operator on the brand-new packing machine.  Theoretically, as long as I was dependable and a third shift was needed, I was their man.  Unfortunately, theory turned into reality when one of the regular packers accepted a supervisor’s job in his hometown’s winery, an irresistible prospect for him, and because of staffing issues the packing machine quickly fell 200 man-hours behind based on a constantly increasing order schedule.

To truncate a potentially longish story, I was transferred from my regular department to packing, on a 10-hour 0500 to 1500 shift to make up for lost hours.  Before the end of the second day the site manager decided that even that wasn’t enough, and asked the packing supervisor to ask me if I could change from morning/afternoon shift to the graveyard shift.  Before even thinking, and undoubtedly because of Pinoy pakisama I just said “sure why not?”  After all, the week was almost over, and the overtime money couldn’t hurt.

Famous last words.

It's a different model, but this is what the packer looks like

It’s a different model, but this is what the packer looks like

Problem is, 12 hours during the night is a bit different from 12 hours during the day.  The lack of sunlight and daytime warmth makes the hours stretch endlessly, and the lack of human company stretches same even longer.  It helps that you keep going round and round a machine roughly 10 square meters in area, and constantly feed it paper bags, glue and plastic rolls for the bag bundler oven.  You also weigh product regularly and never stop monitoring the various conveyors, metal detector, bundle labeller and robot palletizer.

In short, while the work is tedious and wears on your limbs, if you do your work, you almost never get sleepy.  The machine was notorious for kinks on any or all of its various innards, but because the catchup production was a high priority, the site manager actually gave me the round-the-clock assistance of the plant engineer, unheard of before she thought of doing it.

And all this, heading headfirst into the biting wind of autumn.  Summer was long gone and on annual leave.

***               ***               ***

The first night was the hardest, because jams on the conveyor were constantly holding up production.  The scale inside the packing machine needed at least one recalibration, and the metal detector was either too sensitive or not sensitive enough.  But as soon as the different machines settled in, production was smooth for the rest of the night.

This is what the robot palletizer looks like.  Ours has a cage around it, because you don't want to be ANYWHERE near it when it's working;  one hit and you're a goner. :(

This is what the robot palletizer looks like. Ours has a cage around it, because you don’t want to be ANYWHERE near it when it’s working; one hit and you’re a goner. 😦

The robot palletizer was another matter.  Bundled product coming into the final conveyor must be exactly in the same place every time, otherwise the bundles don’t get piled up correctly and the robot must be reset.  The robot palletizer is exactly what it sounds a metal arm that scoops up anything you want and depending on the pattern you program into it, piles up neat piles of bundles all night long.  The bundles can’t be too fat or too thin, the shrink-wrap plastic at just the right temperature so it won’t be too hard or too soft for the robot to pick it up neatly.

So as you can see, I had plenty of things to occupy me, and on pure adrenalin and healthy stress, I hardly even had the time to sit and have a cup of tea.  It was only my forklift guy and the engineer who reminded me to take the breaks before I realized it was the crack of dawn.

This went on for two more days, and the next week was a “regular” shift schedule of 10 hours, which I didn’t mind too much because I had the advantage of day shift.

Two weeks later, I realized how important the 24/7 shifts were when the supervisor sent me a thank you note (with the blessing of the site manager), and a $50 supermarket voucher.  Suddenly the cold and tedious nights of those shifts just became a distant memory.

Now, on to just another week of night shifts to finish…

Thanks for reading!

the longest trip home


Mahal and the first man in her life.

Mahal and the first man in her life.

[Note :   Sadly,  Mahal  never quite made it in time to say goodbye to her Papa on his deathbed.  Fortunately for many other kabayan overseas, they make it home in time to bid fond farewells before loved ones cross the Great Beyond.  I just thought about what would’ve happened had Mahal made it home. Thanks for all the kind wishes and the condolences, and thanks for reading! ]

AMONG ALL the overseas Filipino narratives, the rush home to visit a sick or dying relative is almost certainly the most compelling.  You begin with an internal contradiction :  the Pinoy’s instinctive need to provide for his/her family, versus the fond wish to stay close with parents and extended family, who traditionally are as much a part of immediate family as anything.  You continue with the constant conflict between wanting to come home and spend more time with kinsmen, and postponing annual trips in order to send a little more hard-earned cash home to help out with the leaking ceiling, an additional carabao or dried-up fishpen.

Alas, through the years the visits grow less and less, until you wonder where all the time went.  Suddenly, siblings begin to earnestly make more requests for you to come home, and the need for speed, speed to rejoin and reconnect with the olds, acquires a new urgency.  Money and financial support, while helpful still, isn’t that essential anymore.  Tatay and Nanay just want you to come home and enjoy more time with them, not while you can, but while they can.

Still it’s hard to comply with such requests, what with the uncertainties of working overseas, your employer’s rostering planned well in advance, the difficulty of bringing all the kids home with you, and an eye trained towards career advancement that includes a hundred-and-one percent dedication, extra  hours and extra shifts, the proverbial performance beyond the call of duty thing and all that.  How could the feeble voices and grainy images of Tatay and Nanay, albeit on Skype and Face Time, compete with that?

***                              ***                              ***

…Until the shock of the news comes, it’s still beyond belief.  Words like cancer and terminal are still avoided, but the message is clear.  You had better get home as soon as you can kapatid, every day is a blessing now.  Then it’s a series of ominous don’ts.

Don’t ask to speak with him because he gets tired easily. Don’t ask for details, because we will just start crying and the keyboard is wet enough. Don’t delay.

But still you cry, because you feel so helpless, thousands and thousands of kilometers away, unable to help your elders while you are in the midst of so much affluence, technology, and the detachment of a different culture. You want to literally teleport yourself from one hemisphere to another, project yourself astrally if you had the power, but in reality you are here and your loved ones are there, and until you fly home there is nothing you can do about it.

***                              ***                              ***

Leave must be applied for, special requests granted, goodbyes rushed and suitcases packed. You do everything quietly and efficiently, but all the while you are in a daze, thinking of what to say and how to say it, and behind all that thinking the guilt of never being able to make up for lost time bears heavily on your stressed, stressed conscience.

You rush home,  take the first taxi to the bus terminal, take whatever bus is there, take the tricycle, and walk the familiar footpath up the munting dampa, up the worn steps and on the wooden slats still burnished by coconut husks. The air is thick with liniment, the bedsheets need changing, and there are enough vials and drugs to fill an aisle of Mercury Drug, but everyone is happy to see you…

Tatay, Baby is here. (You have been an adult half your life, but everyone still calls you Baby.)

The figure in bed has seen better days, and to say that he is at Death’s door wouldn’t be an exaggeration.  He has one last battle to fight, and that is the battle to die with dignity.

He can no longer speak except in whispers, but his eyes are still bright. And those eyes are trained on you.

Thank you for coming home, Baby, his eyes seem to say.

That’s all. His eyes close shortly afterward, and they never open again.

Thanks for waiting for me, Tatay.

hitting an early highlight w/Mahal & anakis 1st week of 2014


Post-lunch contentment with Mahal & anakis wasn't complete without Bunso, who was working while we were sipping.  Thanks BF of Ganda for shooting the pic!

Post-lunch contentment with Mahal & anakis wasn’t complete without Bunso, who was working while we were sipping. Thanks BF of Ganda for shooting the pic!

NINETY MINUTES (at least) doing anything that’s not pure recreation, not pure rest or keeping close company with someone who isn’t your beloved, particularly on a non-working day, is hazardous to your mental health.  The only exception/s is/are (1) when it’s spent on a special day or holiday, on which thanksgiving and introspection is better spent in communion with other people, and (2) when (1) is spent with loved ones and/or family.

That is how Mahal and I convinced myself (Mahal needs to help me convince myself) despite previous postponements, to go all the way and spend a nice, all-extras-included New Year’s lunch with son Panganay and girlfriend (if any), daughter Ganda and boyfriend (if any), and younger son Bunso and partner (if any).

Which would’ve been great, had all of the aforementioned not had previous engagements, holiday shifts, basketball games, gym workouts and overtime work intervening.  In the end, we just settled on whoever was available for the Saturday post HNY lunch, which unfortunately didn’t include Panganay’s girlfriend (visiting a sick friend) and Bunso, who was at work.

Which didn’t bode well for Panganay and Ganda, who hadn’t exactly been on the same wavelength recently.  Panganay was having uncharacteristically the best of times with Bunso, who traditionally had always been on Ganda’s side, so Bunso would’ve smoothed any wrinkles between the two.

But it being a new beginning, and it being the first get-together for the year, we were all hoping for the best.

***                              ***                             ***

It turned out that we had nothing to fear.  Brother and sister both wanted to have a good time, and sister’s boyfriend, to be fair, wanted to get along with everybody.  The Beef Wellington and Heineken beer certainly didn’t hurt, although designated drivers could only drink a bottle at most.

We were all so happy that we didn’t mind Panganay bragging about his recent promotion, his anticipated work as an extra on Avatar 2 (to be filmed in NZ, largely expected as its producer had recently set up base in Wellington), and so much good luck that had come his way.  I figured, for him to appear (albeit as an extra) in a movie that had a good shot to be in the top 100 films of all time was as good as it got.  (Besides, to somehow balance it out, he also underwent a minor operation in 2013.) On New Year week, and with family around, we all had a right to feel happy with ourselves.

Ganda, after her migration seriously stalled her academics, had rounded up enough credentials and documents to get admitted to the nerdiest school in town, a bit out-of-character for her and therefore doubly impressive.  As if that weren’t enough, I couldn’t stop smiling with the news that her devoted (so far) Pinoy BF (yes, he’s Pinoy) not only approved of her going back to school but was actually going to help her with matriculation fees (??!!) New school, new boyfriend and new outlook in life, and I couldn’t help but be impressed with Ganda, who I thought was hapless enough to have inherited my happy-go-lucky attitude in life.  I couldn’t be more thrilled to be wrong.

All ready for the next batch of caffeine addicts, Bunso can produce a mocha latte, a caramel latte, a frapuccino & a coffee of the day in less than 7 mins, which is what he did for us. :) Proud dad moment!

All ready for the next batch of caffeine addicts, Bunso can produce a mocha latte, a caramel latte, a frapuccino & a coffee of the day in less than 7 mins, which is what he did for us. 🙂 Proud dad moment!

***                              ***                            ***

We still hadn’t given up on Bunso, who while working was only a half-dozen blocks away in his barista job.  Instead of hoping he would join us for his lunch break, we decided to surprise him at  Istarbak, have our post-lunch coffee there and sample his wares.

I almost got teary-eyed watching him in the first job he loved (he worked a previous job but didn’t like it), conjuring coffee creations for urban addicts who were eager to sample first-hand the talented techniques of the rookie Istarbak brewer.  I was almost certainly biased, but it seemed to me that as the cafe queue grew longer, Bunso worked faster and more dexterously, never sacrificing quality for quantity.  Of course, this included our lattes, frappucino and coffee of the day.  Seeing Bunso work for the first time,  we were one proud dad and stepmom that afternoon.

Considering that I had already experienced what would probably be one of the highlights of 2014 on only the fourth day (and first Saturday!) of the year, it was a good day.

Thanks Mahal for convincing me to gamble on those 90 minutes.  Practically risk-free!

Thanks for reading!

media noche compromises that make me feel somewhat better


Fireworks and firecrackers are a noisy staple during New Year's celebrations.  They also add to underground economic activity this time of the year.

Fireworks and firecrackers are a noisy staple during New Year’s celebrations. They also add to underground economic activity this time of the year. Thanks to pinayforeverythingpinoy.blogspot.com for the pic!

[ Note : Media noche is Tagalog for the New Year’s Eve dinner.  Thank you all for reading this blog, all the best for 2014! ]

CONSIDERING MY relatively advanced age (in relation to gifts I shouldn’t be expecting anymore), I got quite a haul from loved ones this year: wife Mahal gave me a junior Samsung mobile I didn’t anticipate but appreciate a lot (now I just have to figure out how to use it, heh heh) daughter Ganda and son Bunso were particularly thoughtful, and my grubby hands got some unexpected treats from cousins and friends, you know who you are.

I also received quite a few heartwarming and heartfelt greetings during the Christmas and New Year’s season, some from friends I hadn’t met in a while, and if you know how long I’ve been around, a while is quite a while.  Thank you, and you made my day.

My tummy was also more than a bit contented the whole silly season, as I ate more than my share more than a few times, what can I say but it is the season of celebration and congratulations all around, decadence and self-indulgence will be forgiven if only for a few gastronomic days.

Unfortunately, I have not even begun to think about New Year’s resolutions much less actually make them.  I like that stat I just googled now that 78% of NYRs (new year’s resolutions) end up on the boulevard of broken dreams; it not only makes me go beh buti nga (or nyah nyah nyah) at every do-gooder who thinks he/she can actually use  a date on the calendar (albeit a popular one) to reinvent himself/herself, not gonna happen bro/sis, but misery actually loves more miserable company.  🙂

***                              ***                              ***

Seriously, besides quitting smoking, which I didn’t even do as an NYR (a month before Christmas six years ago actually), I have never, that’s not-ever, committed to one that didn’t fall apart maybe a day or two after, and I actually think you are setting yourself up for failure and disappointment if, in a drunken haze, after making a total embarrassment of yourself and wallowing in lard and booze, you foist vague and unrealistic expectations on yourself just because you want to start the year right.  The blowback and considerable disfigurement to the ego is almost surely going to insulate one against making reasonable improvements in one’s life, whether or not it’s New Year’s Eve.

Filipinos believe serving at least 12 fruits with round or roundish shapes on the New Year's dinner table brings good luck the rest of the year.

Filipinos believe serving at least 12 fruits with round or roundish shapes on the New Year’s dinner table brings good luck the rest of the year. Thanks to hungrynez.com for the pic!

Instead, and before I stray too far again from my intended topic,  I want to, and with you Precious Reader as my witness, make New Year’s Compromises with myself, in view of the fact that I know I can still create a better Me the remainder of my lifetime, all the while acknowledging that my circumstances in life like age, health and physical limitations  inherent laziness will only allow me a certain level of success before harsh reality sets in.

Food.  My worse-kept secret, to anyone who’s known me and seen me eat, is that I’m a compulsive eater. I can try to exercise all I want, pretend to be a good boy when Mahal and I share a meal, but I probably eat three-plus full meals a day, and between four and six snacks all of my waking hours, and probably gorge on anything that I find remotely edible on the dinner and kitchen table (and elsewhere) on a particularly bad (good, if you’re me) day.  If you’re dieting or a fastidious eater, I’m not a pretty sight.  I’m not good to have around, period.

I picked up this distressing habit from way early in life, when eating as much as you can in preparation for the busy day ahead, and keeping your plate clean in preparation for a blemish-free spouse later in life were urban legends that were ingrained on us by the previous generation (and not just in our household, OK Mom? 🙂 ) to the detriment of our social niceties and general health.  As a result, anything that’s wasted by anyone I see dining I almost always view as an obligation to be saved for later, or worse, eaten on the spot.  No matter how much I miscalculate putting food on my plate, I am compelled by a self-imposed-compunction to place such contents of plate in my mouth, and I often do this without regard for my fullness or the risk of gagging.  I won’t go so far as to assume any others in my generation are like me, but I know it’s no longer acceptable this day and age.

But enough of that.  My compromise is that I accept that it’s quite difficult to change my eating habits (and I want to change), but I can only do it gradually.  So my practical solution, simplistic as it may be, is to eat smaller portions, and in view of the reality that I’m gonna eat again later.  Without going into more detail, I will have to try cutting into smaller bitefuls whatever it is I’m engrossed with (literally), fool myself using smaller plates, and moving to more healthful alternatives when I can’t control myself.  Ultimately I know it’s not the nutritive or satisfaction element that motivates my eating; it’s the action or motion of feeding myself that is so compellingly compulsive.  If I can deal with my most important compromise with myself, then the rest should be easy to follow…

Bow to middle age, but be considerate of Mahal’s youth.  Realistically ( I keep using that word and its variants) I can no longer stay out all night, carouse with friends or use mood-inducing chemicals to lubricate my sociable-ness, if there’s such a word.  The health and social consequences (esp the day after) are too disturbing for me to maintain such a lifestyle, and of course you know I’m exaggerating.  The excesses of pleasure and vice are cheques I wrote years before and my body is now struggling to encash, and the results aren’t good.  It takes longer and longer for me to recover from a late night, it takes more grief for my bumps and bruises to heal; and while I do my best to exercise regularly, it seems that a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips seems particularly applicable to me.

The irony is that Mahal at this point being a bit younger than me is still full of energy and enthusiasm for life, not that I blame her, for her muscles are still largely tauter, her skin is still tighter, and her body still processes more fluidly and efficiently, which is quite normal for a person her age.  If I don’t at least keep the pretense of keeping up with her and do the things she does with the approximate intensity, then ultimately she will look for others to do her activities with, and that does not bode well for me.

The compromise therefore is that I will need to be more disciplined in my hours of rest, my recreational activities and how I pace myself, and at the same time keep a reserve of energy available should Mahal decide to go on a brisk walk, do an afternoon of shopping, or host a barbecue for her Pinay friends.  All of these involve vim and vigor of a man half my years, and for a few hours at least, I should be pumped and primed.

opening doors windows and drawers is also done during New Year's Eve, to "allow" good luck to come in.  Thanks to squaring.net for the pic!

opening doors windows and drawers is also done during New Year’s Eve, to “allow” good luck to come in. Thanks to squaring.net for the pic!

Online time.  This is one compromise that I shouldn’t compromise on, because it takes the most out of me, time and energy-wise.  Literally, I spend too much time on online games, specifically Candy Crush Saga and Word Battle.  I could use the same time alternatively improving myself in all aspects of life, spend more time with family, and rest and recreation.  Instead I line up candies for scores and level-ups no one cares about, and vie for the longest and most esoteric-sounding words with strangers doing the same thing, vegetating on their beanbags.  Surely,  I have better things to do.

There, those are my New Year’s compromises that aren’t resolutions I will almost certainly break less than a week after, but which are things that hopefully will make my life more bearable, and ultimately worth living more.  Do you have any New Year’s compromises of your own?

Thanks for reading and happy 2014 to you and family!

thinking of OFW & kabayan in less friendly or less christmasy places these holidays


[ Note : Maraming maraming salamat sa lahat ng inyong mga bati!  Please allow me to return the greetings soon!  Now, onward to the last few days of 2013! Thanks to Jollibee and YouTube for allowing me to repost!  Woohoohoo! ]

IT’S GREAT to be an OFW or migrant in (1) a country that knows how to treat its guest workers, and (2) a country that is (or used to be) Christian-oriented, because that usually means weary workers, including guest workers, have a Christmas break to look forward to.

But that’s in the ideal world. Often, you don’t choose the country you work in, it chooses you. And you would be quite fortunate to work in a country that is both (1) and (2) in the previous paragraph, because in reality it may only have (1). Sometimes, it has neither. And such absence you feel most acutely if one, you’re in specific situations, OR two, if it’s the festive season.

If you get pregnant in many parts of the Middle East to a man you aren’t married to, you are in very real danger of finding yourself in prison, having broken the laws of the Koran, which is often also the code of criminal statutes of the realm, as well as the latter’s holy book.

If your permit to work has expired, or worse, if you never legally applied for it in many parts of Europe, then not only your means of livelihood, but your right to liberty and travel will be imperilled, and you will be overstressed so as to affect your work (as if you weren’t already stressed in the first place).

If you are a nanny or caregiver in Hongkong, Taiwan or Singapore, God help you if something bad happens to your ward, whether it’s your fault or not. There have been too many examples of things gone awry and our yayas, helpers and sitters swinging helplessly on the wrong end of the dodgy scales of Justice those places, weighted of course against our OFW kabayan.

Back to the Middle East, unless you are willing to risk your work status and liberty, or you are totally confident in dodging the authorities, you never ever expose your Christian faith, or drink a drop of alcohol, two practices that would be entirely acceptable elsewhere but not for our working countrymen there, a place that ironically cannot function without our hard-working, stoic and forever-adapting Pinoy OFWs.

Though I’m still in the middle of my migrant journey in New Zealand, I’ve been quite lucky. My employer and managers are quite supportive of my employment, despite the fact that many locals and New Zealanders are unemployed. New Zealand’s respect for workers’ rights and interests is world-class, and workers who qualify are encouraged to seek permanent resident status.

I wish I could say the same for our kabayan in the rest of the working world. Our stalwart OFWs and migrants face a broad range of negatives from minor border inconveniences just because of the wrong skin color (it’s common to see our compatriots questioned beyond the usual how long are you staying in the First World?), to constant harrassment of Pinay OFWs often suspected of sidelining as prostitutes (is it our fault if we are slim and pretty?), to neurotic employers who refuse to release passports (believe it or not, holding our passports during our duration of employment is SOP), to oppressive labor and criminal laws that occasionally result in tragic consequences for the poor Filipino worker who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time (convenient scapegoat, holder of the proverbial empty bag and having our taciturn-ness equated to submissiveness are our usual roles).

And because we tend to avoid complaining, we’re often the last man (person) standing when no one else is left to volunteer for work that no one would rather do. Juan! Because I know you won’t refuse me, I hereby volunteer you for the one-man skeleton shift Christmas and New Year’s Day! Thank you in advance! How often have you seen, heard or read about this scenario? Often enough to know that our kabayan’s inevitable answer will be thank you for your trust in me, sir/mam. And thanks for the extra overtime… (don’t mention it, snicker snicker).

*** *** ***

If there were a giant, traditional and all-encompassing national noche buena (and throw in the New Year’s Eve dinner for good measure) the surefire consequence would be the well-loved and auspicious practice to simultaneously hold a family reunion, where every member is included, in spirit if not in person, from the matriarch/patriarch to the tiniest, most junior toddler in the family.

Anyone absent would be thought of fondly, remembered and prayed for, and of course the priority would be relatives abroad, in the farthest reaches of the world, working like it was any other regular working day, particularly in countries that don’t think too much of Christmas and the birthday of the Redeemer.

Our symbolic national noche buena behooves us to think of our working-class heroes and migrants abroad, not all of whom may have a happy Christmas, what with holiday shifts, adverse weather, extended hours and lonely / one-man working conditions sometimes befouling the holiday mood.

Surrounded by the laughter of loved ones, the glitter of gifts, and the buzz of vintage wine or San Miguel Beer, let’s spare a thought for the sacrifice of our kabayan, who must work like it’s a dreary Monday, who will work because there are no others available, and who love their work because it gives them sustenance, dignity, and a future for their families, not necessarily in that order.

Maligayang Pasko po sa inyong lahat!

signs that the apocalypse is upon us


[Note : thanks to Mr Mikey Bustos for this gem, too funny not to share.  Everything else is self-explanatory.  Congrats to both Ganda and Bunso for making it to the University of Victoria at Wellington ! Cringe alert : a bit of adult content below, forewarned is forearmed. 🙂 ]

I’M VERY sorry, paumanhin po to my countrymen and women, that rather misleading title above should’ve read signs that old age (or late middle age) is upon us, but since the two titles roughly approximate each other, I’ve decided to use it.  Just to prove to you that I’m still alive and kicking, still lurking around the neighborhood and still willing to share with you what I hope are interesting things that happen to me, I’m posting a blog despite it being a Friday afternoon, one of the sweetest and meatiest portions of the weekend and despite the fact that it’s prime time for Word Battle my new favorite game, when 8-player tournaments are there for the taking.

And because I’m such an impulsive and impetuous creature, I just want to tell you something that just happened to me in recent days but which has made me pause and realize that I’m well on my way to middle age-hood and almost on the brink of senior citizen-hood, not that I’m embracing it.  It’s just a fact of life that I need to acknowledge and what better way than to tell you Dear Reader about it?

Means, medians and averages.  It wasn’t long ago that in almost any gathering or random sampling of humanity, I would find myself in the lowest percentile of age groups, if not the youngest in the group.  It wasn’t too surprising, because to begin with I wasn’t that old and the people I found myself with were usually my superiors and seniors at work.

Slowly though, the tide has begun to change.  Co-parents, colleagues and contemporaries became juniors, younger workmates and finally friends of children and of Mahal, who I don’t need to tell you is more than a little younger than me.

Just this morning, I shuddered to realize that in a first aid course I needed to attend, I was no less than the elder statesman in the class of 13.  There were one or two fortysomethings but I could tell that I was considerably older than them. Two or three were in their 30s and all the rest were in their roaring twenties, or (yikes) younger.  There was even a pair of teen-agers who were starting work early.  I’m not sure if they were aware of this unappealing fact, but I’m not deluding myself, I was the only one raising my hand to speak and when the course was over, I was almost surely the only one who thanked the trainor for her effort.  Old school, indeed.

Sleeping in.  I’ve also recently realized that because of force of habit, because of the dire consequences of tardiness at work, and maybe because I’ve heard that as you age, you need progressively less hours of sleep, it’s been harder and harder for me to sleep in, or wake up late on weekends and off days.  I used to be a master at doing it, sleeping as much as I pleased, 10, 12, 14 hours or even straight through breakfast lunch and afternoon merienda.  I knew I had slept through time zones when there were two People’s Journal editions to read through (or Abante and Abante Tonite, if that’s your pleasure) and my stomach growled how badly it missed 2+ meals.  But when you’re young and burn both ends of the candle, sleep is nearly as important as sustenance.

Not these days though.  The uncertainties of old age and preparing prescription money for all those aches and pains of your twilight years make the wages of every working day necessary, and the reality is you need both rest and nutrition.  Besides, like I said earlier, I can no longer sleep too long, as I either need to wake up for work, or the long years of strictly scheduled work weeks have crept into the weekends.  Whatever day of the calendar, I can’t stay in bed after half-past seven.  Nor can I stay awake much after midnight.  It’s a body clock that I fear will stay with me till the day I retire, but hopefully not much longer.

Is woohoo still a woohoo?  I can’t recall the last time this happened.  Recently, a night that Mahal and I set aside for a woohoo (daughter Ganda’s word for doing the nasty, taken from the video game The Sims), said event was suddenly postponed, as Mahal begged off for fatigue reasons.  I sulked and made tampo, but deep down ( I didn’t want to tell her) that I was actually just as, if not more tired than she was.  Not wanting to appear relieved, I actually insisted that we keep the schedule, but at the last moment conceded that her precious rest was a greater priority.

Which was just as well, because I still wasn’t ready to admit to myself that rest could ever be more important than sex.  The day I pass up a woohoo for a bit of shuteye is the day I start getting old, and that unwavering self-belief, I hope, stays till my dying day. 🙂

Thanks for reading!

Quittable 2013 : a Pinoy’s random thoughts on smoking



[Note : Not proud of it but it’s the proper thing to say : I sincerely apologize to both Ms Didith Tayawa-Figuracion (publisher) and Ms Meia Lopez (editor) for letting them down the latest issue of the Wellington Pinoy newsmagazine Kabayan, I offer no excuses and humbly ask for forgiveness.  Hope that in time you can forgive me.  It’s been a great week for the anakis:  Panganay‘s hard work as a world-class Wellington film extra has paid off so well that one or even more of his scenes might actually end up (one as a villager, another as an orc) in part 2 of The Hobbit trilogy (premiering in 2 weeks!), Ganda‘s dream of rebooting her aborted tertiary studies has been given hope by the University of Victoria here, and Bunso is fast becoming one of the more accomplished baristas on Wellington’s Golden Mile!  Our fatherly heart is understandably bursting with pride, thanks in advance for the kudos!  By the by, I do a blog like this once a year on the anniversary of my quitsmoking date, and inasmuch as one of my anakis is a smoker, if this can reach that particular offspring, this post will have been well worth the effort, woohoohoo!  Thanks to Nathan P and the Curtis family for the Bryan Curtis video above! ]

More deaths are caused each year by tobacco use than by all deaths from human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides, and murders combined… Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. – US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention

IS ANYONE still not familiar with the saying Do as I say, not as I do?  Well, anyone who has kids, younger siblings and younger relatives especially in the Philippines will know that this particular bit of wisdom rings so true with regard to one of the greatest health and social evils known to Man, tobacco smoking.

If I received fifty centavos for everytime I heard my folks and elders saying masama ang manigarilyo, huwag tutunan magbisyo (smoking is bad, don’t start a vice), I would have probably retired before 40 and sipping pinacoladas by now.  But because life must be lived through stupidity as well as wisdom, it wouldn’t surprise you too much to know that the more my parents sought to prevent me from trying things, the more I wanted to try them.  Go figure.

But if you were a 7 or 8 year old like me (then) and looked around you, wouldn’t you have done the same?  Dad himself was then a chain smoker, unable to perform his daily functions without a smoke (2+ packs) and both starting and ending the day with a ciggie.  My two older brothers, who were naturally my first role models, were stealing smokes in the backyard and sticks from Dad’s packs in their early teens.  It seemed that for all the opprobrium attached to smoking and blowing that smoke in people’s faces, it was, behind everyone’s backs, the cool thing to do.  All the cool people were doing it, you could see it on ads and on TV, and the “bad boys” and “naughty girls”, don’t you deny it, were doing it!  So for me, while the angel on my right shoulder kept tsk tsking whenever I stared at smokers, the horny dude with a pitchfork on my left just snickered mwahahaha Noel, it’s just a matter of time before you start puffing away.

And light up I did, after high school at around 18 although the first crowd I hung out with in college were exclusive school geeks like me and never even tried smoking.  Unfortunately the next crowd all lit up before and after classes, and even tolerant professors allowed smoking in class.  So it quickly became a way of life for me, in permissive, bohemian Diliman, where even cannabis smoking wasn’t that unusual, as long as you knew where to smoke it, and believe me, in campus, there were lots of places to suck on those funny cigarets.

Even Dad’s short bout with a lung infection mid 1970s didn’t deter me, or my two elder brothers who were already moderate to heavy smokers.  All-too-expectedly, since I was young, fit and healthy, it necessarily followed that I’m bulletproof, and nothing, not even all the health and mortality statistics, my hacking cough, black sputum-congested throat in the morning and that repulsive dragon breath would make me stop, for another 24 years.  By then Dad made a complete turnaround, became a strict anti-tobacco reformist, much to our chagrin.  Everything even remotely connected to smoking, ashtrays, the slightest smell or hint of tobacco smoke, was all but banished, for good reason, from our household.

After I got married, when the stress of family, work and sedentary living creeped in, smoking became an inevitable crutch and my one reliable friend.  All the rationalizations were there : I need it to deal with all the stressors in life; I don’t have any other vices; can’t I have just one outlet for my hard work?  and all other nonsense that ultimately wilted against the fact that I had burned out struggling alveoli and was slowly strangling the remaining healthy lung cells I had.

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

It wasn’t any epiphany that allowed me to confront and slay my tobacco smoking, fire-breathing dragon in 2007, despite the fact that  I was a wheezing, overweight and pasty-faced Pinoy attempting to stay in New Zealand.

It was rather a combination of several reasons that made me to decide to just stop cold turkey : the $11 to $12 cost per 20-pack of cigs was something I could ill afford; my sister-in-law wasn’t saying it out loud, but she didn’t approve of smoking in their house, where I was staying until I could rent a flat of my own; and at 42, I thought that the time was right to stop smoking, after nearly a quarter century of playing Russian roulette with my lungs.

Literally, however, you need just one reason to quit smoking : to continue living, and continue living a healthy life, at that.

Because of Divine Assistance, exercise that helped keep the withdrawal jitters away, and the cold realization that an early death would prevent me from seeing my children grow up with families of their own, I have kept away from, and have in fact been tobacco free for the last six years, the sixth anniversary falling last 17th November.

I would be less than completely truthful if I didn’t admit to you, kabayan and friends, that I’m not completely free from smoking, mentally that is.  Not a day goes by without me thinking of smoking.  Every time I see a person or persons smoke, I imagine smoking myself, especially after a full meal, when imbibing alcohol, and all those other activities you associate with smoking.

The reason for this is that there is a cocktail of powerful drugs released in every hit of tobacco smoke that goes directly into your bloodstream from your lungs and straight into your brain.  These drugs cause your brain to produce dopamine, which is closely associated with the body’s pleasureable feelings and sensations.  There is no denying it : six years after quitting, I still can’t deny that smoking gave me pleasure.  It’s just the health and social costs that has made me stop.  THAT’s how powerful smoking is.

There is no magic formula to quitting smoking.  The two pieces of advice from this lucky quitter : seek professional help if you can’t stop cold turkey, and better to not start at all.  It’s that simple.

Please spare a thought to quitting today.  Too many people have died, or are now dying from smoking for you not to.

Thanks for reading!

honoring the custodians of our pinoy culture


a rousing Filipiniana dance interpreted by children of Pinoy migrants including 7-year old Ella Cabauatan.  Seen in the background are H.E. Ambassador Virginia Benavidez, Consul Arlene Gonzales-Macaisa and Emb Finance Officer Rosalyn Del Valle-Fajardo

a rousing Filipiniana dance interpreted by children of Pinoy migrants including 7-year old Ella Cabauatan. Seen in the background are H.E. Ambassador Virginia Benavidez, Consul Arlene Gonzales-Macaisa and Emb Finance Officer Rosalyn Del Valle-Fajardo

[ Note : Awesome kudos the participants at the Typhoon Haiyan Philippine Appeal Concert last Saturday , particularly Meia Lopez and the Wellington Filipino Community Choir; congrats to the Typhoon Haiyan fundraising efforts of the Society for Southeast Asian Communities led in part by Didith Tayawa-Figuracion! Legends all! ]

WE CAN’T remember who said it, but more than a few times we have heard that culture is the soul of a collective people.  Language, the arts and music are the most visible indicators, but anything that expresses the spirit of a tribe or group of people is part of a culture which history preserves and the community promotes.

Because of this reality, a conquering nation or race, many times in history, after the physical subjugation of its enemies, sought shortly afterwards to suppress the latter’s culture and language with impunity, usually for political and emotional ends but all the better to wipe out the remnants of future dissent from the vanquished.

The burning of books and execution of scholars by the Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang, and the infamous Nazi book burnings before World War II are just two extreme examples of suppression against culture.  In more recent times, prohibition against speaking the languages of natives in favor of the colonizers’ tongues are scenarios that strike closer to home.

Thankfully in our present day these things no longer happen.  In fact, even in host countries like New Zealand, migrant communities like ours from the Philippines are allowed and even encouraged to promote and preserve aspects of our Pinoy culture so that our youth may appreciate and continue what our forebears fought hard to preserve.

Basic things like the Filipino language, history and symbolisms behind the Philippine flag, the geography, ethnicities and various regions of the Philippine archipelago,  the national symbols, flowers, attire, tree, bird and others were taught to a group of Pinoy children and young adults a few months ago by a select group of Kiwi-Pinoy volunteer teachers, namely Aurea Weatherall, Zenaida Savill, Shirin Zonoobi, Josephine Garcia Jowett, Ruth Abenojar-Yee and Jun Samblaceno under the Filipino Language and Culture Enrichment Programme (FILCEP) sponsored by H.E. Ambassador Virginia H. Benavidez and her hardworking staff at the Philippine Embassy in New Zealand.

The ten-day programme was to focus on the more basic aspects of Filipino language and culture, but its success has prompted the Embassy to plan more sessions in the near future, particularly in civics and the performing arts.

Last November 13, it was the turn of our FILCEP volunteer teachers to be honored as the Embassy and the Pinoy community held its first FILCEP Fun and Educational Day at Ang Bahay, the official residence of the Philippine Ambassador to New Zealand.

After the singing of the Lupang Hinirang (the Philippine National Anthem) by Mia Abenojar Yee and Samantha Samaniego and the recitation of the Panunumpa sa Watawat by Paulo Raphael Obach, festivities were immediately commenced, with focus on Filipiniana.

Tinikling, the native Filipino dance was taught and performed, palitaw and halo-halo preparation was demonstrated and the results enjoyed, storytelling about alamat and other Pinoy legends, Jose Rizal’s poems and stories and puppet making was eagerly absorbed, and various native games like luksong lubid, sungka and hampas sa palayok were demonstrated to other youths.

The Filifest Dance Group led by Queens Service Medal awardee Anita Mansell, with their performances both educated and entertained everyone present, particularly the freestyle dance of Stephanie Jowett, the saxophone piece by Gino Tapia, a violin performance by Sam Non, and Panaglangin sung by Kiwi-Pinoy couple Hazel and Mark Fryer.  Other awesome performances were Kathy Lopez (Next in Line) and Jodie Marquez (Torete).

The children’s group Munting Tinig stole the show with their heartwarming rendition of Ang Pipit and Tutira Mai.

The Philippine Embassy hit two birds with one stone, sharpening the prongs of their cultural diplomacy thrust and partnering with the Pinoy migrant community in New Zealand with their FILCEP family day.  If the most basic aspects of our culture, like love for country, family values and a fundamental knowledge of Filipino history language and culture served to inspire the youths present, then FILCEP would have been a smashing success.

Mabuhay po tayong lahat!

 

three things that drive foreigners crazy bout us pinoys


[Note : if there’s one thing I’ve learned the past two weeks, it’s that fatigue and blogging don’t go along well.  thanks very much tugang Aline Parrone for the video above, Waray-waray is a popular folk tune that originated in Tacloban and the rest of Eastern Visayas region.  Waray is also the common term for the ethnic group in the region.  Let’s continue praying for both the living and the dead there.  thanks Kevin Ayson for the video below! Mabuhay po! ]

I HAVE excellent sources for this blog post’s research : word-of-mouth, urban legend, and tall tales.  Seriously, tidbits and morsels of anecdotes here and there are probably the only thing/s I can share with you, given that everything else is already on the internet, that I’m relatively so isolated from both homeland, family and friends, and finally that my life and schedule are governed by my hours at work (not that I’m complaining).

But you and I have seen on the world stage how the international community has reacted to the death and destruction left by Typhoon Haiyan : an outpouring of love and generosity, in both aid and effort, from nearly every country on the face of God’s Earth.  You and I know the reason/s for this.  the unshakeable spirit of humanity and the fact that this was probably the strongest storm (on record) to ever hit land.

Last but not least, I have to believe that the groundswell of altruism also has to do with the fact that Pinoys are so visible on the world stage, whether as skilled workers or tradesmen, artists, performers and athletes, or what have you.  We can count ourselves as one of the most charming, visible and engaging people on earth, and that’s not just because I’m a Pinoy.  You can see it everywhere.

But like anyone else, we’re not perfect.  Here are some things our foreign brothers and sisters (foreigner is actually a rude term, when I am in NZ the word is never used on me, it’s always guest or visitor) find simply inexplicable about us, given the general positivity we generate :

we smell and look like roses, but live in generally dirty surroundings.  This is one of the most hurtful comments I’ve heard, but it’s true.  A Scottish prosthetics specialist I know told me once, how can you observe such good hygiene, yet live next to a dead, polluted river?  How can you dress so immaculately, yet walk casually among rubbish and filth?  At first I took offense, but I realized that it was true.  We do pay scant regard to how our rubbish and waste are collected.  We do see our countrymen spit and urinate everywhere.  And yes, we do live in an environment of dead rivers, streams and lakes, for so long now that it looks like it hardly matters to us.  (And does it, really?),

It looks like an incongruity because Filipinos in general are so clean and neat in their appearance, we bathe and take showers like water was running out tomorrow, and use perfume and colognes liberally, no matter what our station in life is.  If we showed half the concern we do on ourselves as we do our environment, how different it might be for the health of our  environment.

we are politically correct when it comes to recognizing women, but not among the poorest of our poor.  Ahead of the US and some older democracies we have had our first lady president, Supreme Court chief justice and senior lawmakers, we honor and lionize our beauty queens for leadership roles, and give prominence to the role of women and society.  All very good.  But we don’t bat an eyelash when our kababaihan are forced by poverty and hardship to prostitute themselves at home and abroad, turn our heads away to the willing (and unwilling) exploitation of our women on the internet, and shrug our collective shoulders when Pinay workers get a raw deal abroad.

We pay lip service and say the right things when it comes to recognizing our countrywomen, but accept it as a fact of life when women are objectified and become victims of white slavery wherever criminals and unscrupulous governments take advantage of our women.  It’s almost become a curse.  Our Filipinas are among the most beautiful in the world, defer to male elders and menfolk by force of tradition, and are taught early in life that it’s better to be seen and not heard.  Because of these perceived virtues, our sisters are preyed upon by those who earn blood money in the flesh trade.  And you know what they say : all that is necessary for evil to triumph, is for good men to do nothing.  I can just hear commonsense asking: Is there a shortage of good men in the Philippines?

Groundhog day.  we experience a dozen plus typhoons every year, a dozen plus major and minor earthquakes in the same period, and a couple of volcanic eruptions every now and then.  But we still scramble to save lives, property and reduce suffering everytime the wrath of God comes in various shapes and forms.  It’s like a foreigner saying, you know what’s gonna happen, you know what it’s gonna do when it happens, and you know what to do to avoid it, so why don’t you do it???

Granted what happened in the Visayas region was beyond the anticipation of even the most prudent government effort, but given our experience with such similar and parallel events, I can’t help but wonder if more lives couldn’t be saved.  It is so much water under the bridge, sumalangit nawa ang mga kaluluwa ng ating mga kabayan, but if Haiyan doesn’t change the way we face disasters and relief efforts, I guess nothing will.

As mentioned earlier, this is all a simplistic compilation on how people overseas see us.  Whether or not it helps, it’s just food for thought.

Mabuhay ang Pilipinas, and thanks for reading!