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. ūüė¶

[ 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. ūüôā

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.

the persistent & recurring bilocation of the migrant mind

Paco Park, near where I grew up.

Paco Park, near where I grew up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ganda learns and earns ( and takes us to dinner )

I DON’T remember ever using the word here, but there has to be something momentous about an offspring receiving his/her first paycheque, and treating you to breakfast/lunch/ dinner (and maybe a little dessert), it’s so disorienting, because part of you still sees the small, innocent child in the newest member of the workforce, and yet so gratifying, because you know that no matter what happens next, nothing can ever take you away from your moment of pride and achievement, even though the milestone is not yours but your son’s/daughter’s.

Ganda had spent lots of anxious moments looking for a job, nervous situations surviving those final interviews, and finally gained a foot in the door towards holding down a first-ever job in NZ, and in all the time she never wavered in her resolve that, barely seconds after getting off the boat (figuratively) she could become a vital cog in the convalescing NZ engine of growth.

Notwithstanding, it was as a footsoldier in the hamburger-and-fries battalions of the fast food armies of which every member of society, First World, Second or Third, could be a stalwart. ¬†But because there were precious few jobs whose prospective applicants might multiplied by a factor of one hundred (i.e., three openings vied for by a potential 300 candidates), that priority in NZ ¬†was given to Kiwis and Maoris as a matter of political correctness, and lastly that Ganda’s credentials were limited to internships and on-the-job traineeships back home, actually landing a job so soon after getting here would be a challenge.

And true enough, the shortlists and breaks handed to our intrepid jobseeker were few and far between. ¬†Despite the fact that barkada, well-meaning friends and two sets of parents had already advised her that it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park, Ganda’s initial attempts at snaring a job were bound to end in disappointment. ¬†CV’s, applications and walk-in interviews were easy to hand out, fill in and conduct, but the reality was, for Ganda to expect anything out of these daily endeavors was shooting for the moon.

It was therefore going to be a ritual of handing out your bio-data in the hundreds, pounding the pavement and zooming in on anything that resembled a job referral in the adventure of finding a job.

a previous dinner with Panganay, Ganda and Bunso. This time dinner was on esposa hermosa ūüėČ

That she actually found a job within a month from obtaining her permanent resident status was a pleasant surprise for all of us, her circle of friends, and not the least Ganda herself. ¬†Granted it wasn’t in the rarefied executive offices of Wellington CBD, but she wasn’t dreaming. ¬†Better-paying and more career-oriented jobs would be there, but for now getting her feet wet and filling out her resume’ (experience-wise) was the most important thing.

We wanted to grant her wish of treating us to lunch last weekend, but at the same time we didn’t want her to splurge too much so soon after starting her new job. ¬†A compromise was reached : she would choose any place (that wasn’t too similar to her fast food employer) and we would shoulder half the bill.

Considering that it was a marvelous grilled chicken dinner, that we hadn’t seen Ganda (and sidekick Bunso¬†) since they started looking for jobs (for weeks and weeks), and the conversation and bonding were outstandingly feel-good, it was hands-down a world-class way to celebrate entering the workforce.

For one sweet meal it was a reversal of roles, the providee becoming the provider, and the younger generation embracing the role of host. ¬†It was also a very unsubtle way of reminding us that after a certain point in life, time begins to fly, and pass you by if you don’t hold on like your life depended on it.

Congrats Ganda, and thanks everyone for reading!

Yet another day for the rest of your life

Migration disrupts our comfort zones, but expands our horizons immeasureably ![ Note : To put it simply, not only I but the rest of Pinoys with families still Pinas-based are in danger of being overtaken by events. ]

Dear Ganda and Bunso :

SAYING RIDICULOUS things should be the least thing you would expect from a parent, but as you very well know, I could do worse.  Here it is:  In return for creating and watching over us, I think that God sometimes reserves the right to throw the proverbial monkey wrench into even the most carefully laid-out plans of Juan and Maria. (just fill in your names pls in place of those Pinoy generics).

At the risk of you thinking of me as irreverent or heretic, there must be a reason for all the things that go awry, sticky or haywire with the most stressful results, and that is that God doesn’t need a reason to make things go the way you hadn’t anticipated.

You fall in love, you marry, raise a family.  Does getting separated enter your mind at any time? It does as a rational possibility, but never as anything else. Buy a piece of land, build a house on it, and pour into it every ounce of energy, love, effort and beauty that you could conceive.  Does the possibility that an earthquake from a nearby fault line or a tsunami from the omniscient sea could swallow it up forever ever figure in your Plan B?  Umm, maybe as a nightmare buried away somewhere in your subconscious, but otherwise NOT.

Similarly, you grow up in the only country you’ve ever known, learn its whys and wherefores like the back of your hand, go to school, graduate, go to school again, choose a career you could possibly be passionate about, learn everything about it (the career), consider other potential careers, and finally decide on the one career that you fancy, then guess what?¬† Your mom says it’s time to uproot yourself, reinvent the way you perceive your future, and live in a country half a world away.

At first blush it doesn’t seem fair.¬† For Ganda, just when you’re almost at the end of your quest for a degree and ready to face the world.¬† For Bunso, just when you’ve gotten into the groove of being Cool Guy on Campus, with friends and cronies who do as you do and think like you think, with your passions, causes and places you gravitate to during free time, it seems almost inconceivable to tear your emotional¬†placenta away from this nurturing milieu.

You will probably not hear this often enough, but you have spent a remarkable three years away from both parents, have enjoyed a rather progressive education, and have done quite well for yourselves as 19 and 16 year olds go.

But there is simply no comparison when you juxtapose (pasensya na sa word) financial rewards, career potential and quality of life (not always in that order) indicators here¬†and there, in the Pearl of the Orient and the Land of the Long White Cloud.¬† Opportunities aren’t as bleak there, and things are not so rosy here, but the Philippines being the Philippines, and New Zealand being New Zealand, you probably know what I mean.

It can only get worse here as regards the processing of migration papers via the family policy stream.  In so many words, the gatekeepers will pile more and more requirements atop existing ones, some reasonable, and some not.  The simplistic image of the First World closing its heavy oak doors to malnourished children of Asia and Africa acquire more grays and hues in the real world.  New Zealand has to care for (1) an aging population, (2) unproductive fringes of its society (no one can deny that) and (3) unskilled appendages of its migrant communities.

Even as you agonize over the unfinished business you leave behind, and obsess over the alternatives to a moved-up migration schedule, you know in your heart that what your mother is doing is the prudent course of action.  Given all the uncertainty surrounding migrant policy, we can probably kiss goodbye to the days when children, siblings and parents of NZ permanent residents had vested or inalienable rights to come to New Zealand just because.  Nothing is permanent or certain anymore, and eventually you will concede (as you have probably already conceded) that nothing now is more important than sorting your status as permanent residents of the country that will adopt you sooner than later.

Just a few more pieces of well-worn advice that I hasten to add, from the same old fogie who changed your diapers, bathed you and waved goodbye as you boarded the school bus :

Keep in touch with friends, colleagues and contemporaries.¬† Just because you’re leaving doesn’t mean you’re leaving forever.¬† You may find yourself back in Inang Bayan sooner than you think, if circumstances and opportunities allow.¬† Which is like saying, never say never.

See as much of the Philippines as you can, cuz even though never say never is good, you never know when you’ll be coming back.¬† Now is as good a time as any to see sights and breathe the rarefied air of your homeland.

(and lastly…) Take time to thank people who’ve made life easier for you there, and Nana and Lolo are the obvious candidates, but there are so many others without whom the tranquility and ease of your young lives would’ve been disrupted.¬† Long after the small kindnesses have been forgotten by others, you should be there to pay it back, both to them and the people who will come after you.

Your last few months in the Philippines will surely be eventful.  It will undoubtedly be an experience that you will look back on fondly.  But beyond that, the rest of your lives await you on the other side.

I love you always, kaawaan kayo lagi ng Diyos.


Why Dennis Sy is my favorite Fil-Chi-American

TO BE ABLE to say something profound enough about someone, it’s probably important to say that you’ve known him for some time. From early early on, we can’t say we were THAT close (hold two fingers together) with the subject of this discussion, but considering how long ago it was, and how much has come to pass since then, it’s probably close enough.
*** *** *** *** ***

Ten years before graduation, when we were still in short shorts / skirts and liberating our noses free from snot, high school batch 1982 of St Jude Catholic in Manila Philippines was a large, unwieldy bunch of around 250. It was understandably hard to see who would be great, who would be captains of industry and who would be giants of their respective professions. But though no one knew who would be great, you could see the rough silhouettes of who would acquire the aura of specialness around them.

One such aura holder was Dennis. We weren’t in the same section, but from afar it was not hard to witness, even with a bit of amusement, that this kid, with his quiet confidence, superior bearing and mini-swagger, was a BBOC (Big Boy On Campus), figuratively and literally. I didn’t even know his name, but I knew that he was SPECIAL. Little did I know how prophetic my intuition was gonna be.

Fast forward to golden high school years, and Dennis was almost certainly an alchemist with the Midas touch. His rich baritone and facility with the guitar was one of the signatures of the anticipated Mass choir. I can recall, when most of us could hardly carry a tune, him performing a Michael Johnson number in front of the school body, and strumming his guitar with ridiculous ease for good measure.

He was a multi-sport athlete who wore the school colors not just because he owned the skillz but also because he projected flash and flair, in nearly every sport he dabbled in. He had enough leadership smarts to be selected one of the senior officers in the ROTC corps. In hindsight, academics probably bored him, but he hit the books just hard enough to please Mom and Dad. You could tell that beyond all his extra-curricular accomplishments, there was a smart head between those impressive ears, as most of his spare comments were thoughtful and his insight, usually incisive.

Fast forward again, this time to university. Barely after graduation, and Dennis was setting his sights at a possible game changing career when he aced an extremely competitive admission exam given by an on-the-rise software company back home, an exam that sifted the top 1% from the ranks of the many, many exam candidates. This company paved the path to Dennis’s career in the IT industry, where he has distinguished himself and (he will probably admit) generated both financial and professional success as a citizen of the First World.

Along the way, he never forgot and has in fact nurtured his first and true love : creating and performing music that inspires and uplifts all who behold his musical talent. His band Chapter 2 is well-known in the New York tri-state area, and they have provided complementary talents to many visiting icons of music from the Philippines. He is never afraid to experiment with different musical genres and influences, but his most impressive instrument is his versatile voice that can interpret ballads, OPMs, mellow rock, R&B, jazz and even improvisational pieces that soothe the soul and amaze the senses.

As evidence of their depth, versatility and range, Dennis and Chapter 2 have been asked to perform in numerous venues and festivals, and have been honored by no less than the L.A. Music Awards in 2006.

Each time our countrymen and women back home are beset by tragedy, be it a typhoon, earthquake or similar calamity, Dennis and his crew are the first to come up with an event to raise awareness and funds to extend a helping hand, knowing fully well that the visibility of talent attracts attention easily.

Dennis is likewise never timid to use the transcendent tool of music and video to recognize and give testament to social change in the Philippines, whether it’s via the ballot box or peaceful protest.

Whether you judge him on a continuing life’s work, his many passions, or his solid friendships, Dennis is truly a man for all seasons.

As always, I strive to end a blog on a personal note. Twenty-three and a half years ago, when I stumbled into fatherhood as a young man unsure with what lay ahead the rest of his life, you visited me and my newborn as soon as you heard. I don’t know how you found out, who told you, or where I was. But somehow you found us, wished me well on my journey as family man, blessed my 12-hour old son, and went on your way. It’s been nearly a quarter of a century since then my friend, but that little kindness has not been forgotten. Then and now, you are and have always¬†been a great friend.

Happy birthday Dennis !



Dodging the annual bullet

[ Note from Noel : Just fair warning to you precious reader, this rant & rave probably beats all others in self-centeredness and introspection; I might as well put in length and depressingly longwinded as added attractions, pasensya na po; congrats and good luck to the marathon ambitions of Atty Cristina Godinez, Efren and Vangie Gregorio and Richard Yao, happy birthdays to Susan Lao (4th Nov), Ramon Tan Jr (5th) and two of our favorite kabatch across the miles, Annette Sy (7th) and Joy Rosenbaum (10th). Woohoo! ]

When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.  You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt, I am the Lord your God. РLeviticus 19:33-34 ESV

IF I HAD my way I would run around the block everyday the Lord made (or bawa’t araw na ginawa ng Diyos sounds a little better). ¬†Wind, rain and hale, erratic work scheds and the inevitable laziness creep in sometimes inconveniently but, on the whole, running, besides the obvious fitness and aesthetic aspects (keeps my love handles at a certain size), lends structure to my ADHD life. ¬†I know that if I can’t decide between pigging out, reading, playing Tri-Peaks Solitaire or watching old DVDs, I can just lace up, trot around manicured lawns, wave at dogwalkers (and their dogs), gawk at babysitters (and their babies) and scoot away from aging motorists (and their death machines) and do something productive while marking the time.

[ By the way, it’s just a figurative block. ¬†Actually it’s around 15-20 minutes’ worth of running, more like 5 to 6 blocks + an entire high school grounds worth of perimeter; and if I want to extract at least three-quarter hour’s exercise I have to run the route twice and then some. ]

The last few weeks, I’ve needed the running a little more : it relieves a little of the stress while applying for a new Work Visa. ¬†Not reapplying, which implies some continuity of the old visa, or renewing, which recognizes the existence of the current one, but applying for a new visa, which is in our native Taglish back to zero or zero balance. ¬†Such is the nature of temporary residence in NZ, which should by rights be expected from a First World country, albeit one sorely affected by the 2008 subprime economic crisis and whose primary industries are sensitive to the movements of international debt markets and rates of exchange.

There’s been no exact date since I started applying, but definitely it’s around this time of the year. ¬†Fittingly, everything comes to life in Wellington: birds dogs and humans are warmer and therefore happier, days are longer, and nights are toastier. ¬†Barbecues are inevitable and ball games of every sort pop up everywhere. ¬†But I can never allow the general aroma of bliss (sort of like everything’s right in the world) to completely overwhelm me.

Roughly half of the 30,000-plus ethnic Filipinos in NZ came here on a “Work To Residence” Visa (WTR), meaning they met the requirements set by Immigration NZ, were invited to search for employment here that matched the set of skills they possessed, and promised permanent residence if they were successful in their search. Theoretically it sounds quite promising, but in practice… (I’m making kibit-balikat, waving my palms around and whispering Bahala na if you can see me now… better yet, click here for a personal account.)

The other half came here courtesy of various visas (Visit Visas, Student Visas, Working Holiday Visas, there are a few more) ,  and were somehow able to obtain Work Visas based on skills deemed crucial to the New Zealand economy.  Those skills are listed under the so-called Short-term Skills Shortage List and Long-term Skills Shortage List.

For better or for worse, I’m in the second class of workers. ¬†Yup, the visit visa was turned into a work visa, another work visa and yet another work visa. ¬†Yehey!

Not to be overly dramatic about it, but my blessing is also my curse.  I nearly gave up March 2008 on finding a job that would allow the (remote) possibility  of permanent residence before a referral by a kabayan ( Thanks Ross C! ) led me to being hired as a trainee miller, then as an assistant miller in Wellington.  But because the job was taken off both the short-term and long-term lists, I could never use the job as a springboard to staying in NZ permanently.  In short, I could choose to shoot for the moon and look for another job in the lists, or stick with the job that landed on my lap, and hope against hope to have luck on my side every time I needed to apply for a new Work Visa.

Which was what I was doing now, and unlike previous years, I was more or less prepared to meet any uncertainty (but how do you know if they’re by nature uncertain, hmm?).

Proof that Kiwis weren’t interested in my job? ¬†I had newspaper, internet and Work and Income¬†ads, even internal circulars that advertised a vacancy for a milling career, promising humble wages but lots of responsibilities (not good attractions for the locals).

Evidence of stability and consistency in my employment?  I had been in the same position since 2008, , enrolled courses to be certified in my trade, and had taken Health and Safety and accessory courses to help me improve my performance.

Just to be on the safe side, I secured declarations from the employer that there simply wasn’t enough interest in the job among Kiwis and locals and not more was expected, now or in the near future.

Just two weeks before my Visa was to expire, the carefully laid plan for me to seamlessly weave between my old and (hopefully) new Visa hit a snag.  My NBI / police clearance was two years old, and I had to get a new one.

I moved heaven and earth to get a substitute document, but because I was cutting it close, every effort had to be nanoseconds fast, and I had to use multiple approaches. ¬†I requested the Ministry of Justice here to issue a document stating I had no criminal record, a process that inexplicably took 10 working days; I asked a big favor from a bro back home for a police clearance from their local PNP precinct, and I of course spun like a trumpo trying to renew my NBI clearance, which believe you me wasn’t easy with a window of less than two weeks.

All told, I was able to lodge my application with the deficiencies requested a week before Doomsday. ¬†Unlike previous years, TWO lives were dependent on such application, mine and that of esposa hermosa. ¬†Of course, another two academic careers back home (that of Ganda and Bunso) would also be drastically affected by a negative decision, so it’s only the most important decision of my life. ūüėČ For all the hospitable working environments so far that I have encountered here, political realities dictate that every effort is made to accommodate locals before foreign guest workers continue working here. ¬†I know how the game is played, especially during election season. ¬†But to be blunt about it, I don’t want to go home ; the work visa is my all-or-nothing ticket to stay, for now.

It’s the bullet I dodge, every year.

Thanks for reading !


OFW in Reverse

Toronto from CN tower just before the new year...

Image via Wikipedia

[ NOte from NOel : IRONY ALERT :  At least half of the things said here today are in the ironic sense or tongue-in-cheek, please react accordingly, though we are grateful still in advance for your attention, thanks! ]

 Dear kabatch, classmates, schoolmates, kabayan, Maroonmates, officemates, Huttmates and friends :

 AFTER NEARLY SIX YEARS of not sharing the same living space, Panganay and I recently became housemates rather abruptly, if not unceremoniously.  The last time I was with him I was still an angry 40-year old unable to come to terms with the unrealized dreams and failures that come with impending middle age. After what seemed like an eternity later, I have now accepted the realities of things I must live with, successes out of my reach coupled with worlds still conquerable.

Among these conquerables is a renewed relationship with the firstborn, although the lines defining the stereotype¬† of father + son are no longer distinct. Too much time has passed and too much faith lost, although lots of faith is there to be regained.¬† The arrangement is by no means permanent, as you might have already assumed.¬† Panganay’s outlook is too bohemian for him to stay in one place for more than a few idle moments in the hurly-burly schedule of twentysomethings, I myself am unsure as to how long I can stay in this Kiwi idyll of ferny glens and political correctness, given that my own immigration status is far from stable.

But for now we ( or at least one half of us for sure ) are happy to form an unlikely family, with of course wry-smiling esposa hermosa by my side.

Beyond the bonding, paternal / filial overcompensation and awkwardness in reestablishing familiarity, the congruences end.¬† Because of the basic disconnect in goals, methodology and values, it’s hard for either of us to see the wisdom in what the other does.

For one thing, Crazy Good Son ( one of my nicknames for him, although he’s not aware of it ) is in a state of flux.¬† An unexpected turn of events the last few years has gifted him with near-permanent resident status courtesy of his mom, and if God continues to smile on him and nothing goes awry, he will shortly become a citizen of the First World without so much as lifting a finger.

I am uncertain as to how conscious he is of his extreme good fortune, given the thousands of hopeful migrants ( not just Pinoys ) who gamble away life’s savings and the best years of their lives annually just for a chance to become permanent residents of NZ and Australia; that employment, career (and consequently income) opportunities improve probably about tenfold as one enters a job market with infinitely less competition and exponentially better work conditions; that the practically limitless possibilities to improve on one’s professional education all but assure him of a better life ahead; on a daily basis I would love to lecture him on his outrageous fortune, but his above-average intelligence tells him he has struck the job equivalent of marrying the provincial warlord’s daughter.

Instead, he spends much of his waiting time studying the odds, discovering exactly how to maximize his newfound luck with the least bit of effort (no surprises there) and qualifying his idleness from being “forced” (by the processing time of his documentation ) to being philosophical idleness, namely one “of choice.”

I remember one of our first conversations outside the Philippines when, aware of his considerable free time while waiting for the good news (of his Returning Resident’s Visa issuance, as the life-changing document is known ) I asked him if he wanted me to ask around for informal jobs/chores for him to perform, in case he needed something to do.

Nakakaawa naman ang mga unemployed Papa, ibigay mo na sa kanila.  Kanila na mga mowing and cleaning, he counterpunched, half in jest but obviously not that crazy about joining the workforce in such a manner.

Right away, also semi-jokingly ( but semi-seriously too ) I noted two things in his response :  His acute ( but rather misplaced ) concern for the unemployment situation here (at an all-time high) and his apparent ambivalence to doing menial jobs, which after all is work that is honorable in any society, no matter how sophisticated or stratified the latter.

Hindi naman po, and his combination of reasons were that it wouldn’t be a good look to take away jobs that should rightfully go to youth that grew up around the community, and that the dance crew he had joined was occupied with contests and busking for Christchurch earthquake victims.¬† Who could argue with that ? I mused, seeing your son so creative and concerned with helping the unlucky ?¬† So that was that, at least for a while.

I know what you’re thinking, ha?¬† Sign up for work anywhere and anytime you can find it, apply first before finding out if you’re qualified, never hurts to try, and as long as you¬† buy bread (or rice) with the wages, work is work is work.¬† All the above proverbs true not only for you, me and our fellow countrymen, but for every newcomer off-the-boat, giddy to try his luck in the land of Promise.

As it was not my place to judge and in light of the abovementioned modified relationship vis-a-vis Senior and Junior, I held my tongue.  Besides, his YouTube posts looked so cool, he might even be on the short list for Talentadong Pinoy, if ever there was a Kiwi version.  Who was I to rain on his parade?

**     **     **     **     **

Before long, my busybodying daddy instincts got the better of me once more.

You know, you could actually test the waters by just making initial inquiries about jobs you might like, without actually tipping your hand, just look at ALL those I.T. vacancies posted by all those ATTRACTIVE-sounding companies with their flashy logos and sexy compensation packages I said, broaching the topic over his favorite sinigang na hipon one night¬† after work, a not-too-subtle nudge directing him toward an early-bird job hunt…

Was I naive or something?  his eyebrows countered asap, although his retort was respectful enough.  Una pong tatanungin nila Are you a permament resident, di naman ako pwedeng magsinungaling, maaalala nila sagot ko kahit sa initial interview, naisip ko na po yon he he, and again, that was that.

**     **     **     **     **

I don’t have to tell you though that I’ve heard of countless Pinoys who’ve gone straight from the airport to pounding the CBD pavement (jetlag notwithstanding), bringing crisp CVs from home and ready to swipe away an earnest job interview, and a prospective job at that, from any faint-hearted, or hesitant Kiwi having second thoughts about a precious job candidacy.¬† THIS was the attitude I thought that Panganay needed to arm himself with, weeks away from joining the rat race for a Jay-Oh-Bee.

Left unsaid, in all my second-guessing about his jobsearch aversion, was the lack of hunger : he wasn’t, like me ( or millions of other job hopefuls ), a family man desperate for a family income, he wasn’t shouldering a rent budget with equally desperate job candidates, had no debts to pay, and no one to send money home to.¬† There was no pressure on him to find work urgently.¬† In short, he wasn’t the typical new OFW.¬† It wasn’t his fault, but he was undermotivated to prove himself as one of the planet’s pre-eminent heat-seeking missiles when it came to work, the Pinoy OFW.

Oh for sure he had it in him to find a great job, having better-than-average smarts, the requisite social skills, more than capable of selling the concept of here I am and this is what I can do, hiring me is the best idea you’ll come up with this week and maybe next.

But (deep sigh) until he woke up from his OMG-I’ve-actually-gotten-here reverie, he wasn’t going to be challenged, mentally or physically, anytime soon.

**     **     **     **     **

What I’d suspected, that he was in no real hurry to join the workforce (except on his own narrow terms), came into sharp relief a few days ago, when I told him that a friend mentioned that a gig might be available cleaning dishes and disinfecting lavatories.

He bristled at the idea of performing such tasks, asking if he could instead wait on tables or just take orders, and mentioned in passing that he preferred cafes over eating places, because the dishes would be easier to clean.

Look anak, you have to start somewhere, and you could use it as an immersion experience, seeing how it is to work without actually being formally engaged.¬† And wouldn’t you like to feel how it is to work for money you’re spending?¬† I told him, careful not to offend and using such as a teachable moment.

What he answered was, to say the least, a rude awakening for me.

Hindi ako nag-aral Pa para gawin yung job na ganyan, kahit naman siguro ikaw na nakatapos ng pag-aaral pagiisipan nyo nang mabuti bago tanggapin ang kahit na anong work.  Di po ako namimili (pero ganun na nga diba?) pero maghahanap muna ako ng iba.

And with that, I realized how wide the chasm was between his job attitudes and mine.

**     **     **     **     **

In seaching for a way to end this cautionary tale, a DVD I saw, Wall Street¬† the sequel came to mind.¬† The aging but still debonair Michael Douglas tells Shia LeBouf in a subway scene that the most important asset these days is not businesses, land or property, but time.¬† Anyone who has the luxury of time can do whatever he/she wants, and the convenience of doubling back to correct one’s mistakes.

In my humble view, the greatest asset that not just Panganay but many people of his age group possess is time, although I hope he does not, in his quest to achieve job perfection, squander too much of his precious asset.

Thanks for reading !


Random Pinoy Snapshots as Shaped by the News Cycle

Apologies for the size, the "shot" that shook the world.

[ Warning : Please excuse the sporadic sarcasm, clumsy irony, annoying non sequiturs, disjointed premises, squeaky illogic and other pearls of wisdom here and there; these are not reflective of the serious purpose of the total effort. Well, maybe half the time only. Thanks for reading ! ]

Dear kabatch, schoolmates, brods, officemates, kabayan and friends :

AFTER the feel-good, fuzzy and senti lovefests, resolutions of self-improvement and parties galore ; the overflow of thanksgiving, gratitude and sharing that only the holidays make possible, it’s back to the sniping, griping, nitpicking and fussing that human nature is all about, distractions beloved by many, Your Loyal Kabayan definitely being no exception.

No doubt, I’m grateful for finding my place in the sun, for the love I’ve found, the kids who’ve made me look like a parenting genius (when in fact they’ve done admirably well without me), and the rellys who’ve always been there for me, but in the oddest places I’ve always found occasion to spot the difference, finger the weak link, and point out what’s wrong with the picture, PC (political correctness), CW (conventional wisdom) and race sensitivity be damned.

Among many pet peeves, I take issue with the way isolated, one-off (one-shot deal in Taglish) and quirky news items involving Pinoys get played up in the 24 hour international news cycle. In my humble view, this happens for a pair of reasons : (1) media supernovas like Manny P and Charice keep Pinoys visible on the media radar, and the trickle-down effect stokes the public’s hunger for similar news, (2) news editors in both print and electronic media are constantly on the lookout for sensationalist, crimes of passion, wacky and unique news events, and if these happen to involve exotic Asians either living in the First World or traditionally First-World environs, so much the better.

The first source of my histrionics is the iconic killer caught on camera picture that made it to the international newspage/s of many dailies all over the world — that of the assassinated councillor (alderman) unwittingly capturing the image of his slayer just moments before his death.

For newsworthiness (come on, a photo of a killer taken by his victim just before the act? A more compelling CSI-like storyline couldn’t be conceived), sheer audacity (well the killer probably didn’t intend to be literally in the spotlight, twas probably the doomed councillor’s instinct, but would you take a pic of someone about to shoot you?), “social commentary” value (what does it say about a society that can’t even leave in peace a man to take pics of his own family on New Year‘s Eve?) . . .

rarity (a shot like this comes along about as often as the planets aligning, but a cameraman actually shot Tiger Woods in a very similar situation, albeit a golf ball, instead of a bullet was the wayward missile), and last but not the least, shock value (have you ever seen pointblank, staring at the camera, the face of someone about to kill you without hesitation?), has the young year seen anything like this so far and so soon?

I think I’ve made my point, but the equally nagging issue now is : how in the world do you ever deny in the face of a picture like this, that our country isn’t filled with hired killer whackos who occasionally get caught in family pictures during New Year’s Eve festivities?

** ** **

Second news item thankfully has no picture, but is no less, in fact is more disturbing : a fetus found in an Abu Dhabi – Manila flight with the implications quite obvious : (1) that the author of the act spent some time in the UAE before going home to the Islands of Smiles and (2) such unwanted child was the product of something that happened THERE (UAE) and had to be hidden from someone/s HERE (the Philippines., our symbolic location).

But no matter. It’s not like you need hints and metaphors to fully discern the latitude and longitude of a news item such as this. Is the baby Arab, Filipino or none of the above? Which country has jurisdiction over the matter? If a crime was committed, and the guilty is/are caught, where will sentence be served?

While the brightest legal minds ponder over these questions, how does this affect how the rest of the world views the most probable doer of the deed, and I’ll give you a clue : three letters, starts with “O” and ends with “W”.

Now Pinoys and Pinays are as a general rule royally screwed ( no pun intended ) as indentured servants in many parts of the Middle East; we know it’s part of the deal. But we sometimes get shafted twice over, i.e., our masters use both our skills AND our bodies, plus there’s the peripheral issue of having to deal with the consequences, such as unwanted pregnancies, adultery prosecutions and even sexually transmitted diseases.

But try explaining that to the casual reader of Dead Fetus Found in MLA Bound UAE Plane and we begin to realize just how difficult it is to explain ourselves to almost everybody abroad (except perhaps Mainland Chinese, North Koreans, Burmese and Iranians, who’re probably crazier than us, no offense intended to everybody). That we’re normal people who just want to earn our bread, breathe fresh air and live in God’s world.

The saddest part is that, this plot has taken place before, and most likely will happen again and again.

** ** **

There are many other random snapshots of Pinoys / Pinays that find their way into the news of the world : seamen swallowed by the sea, domestics throttled, raped or hurled over the azotea by their foreign masters, nurses, nannies and caregivers overworked or underpaid by their employers, or construction workers tied to one-sided contracts but unable to leave the eternal desert till their passports are released from the company safe.

Unfortunately, the 24 hour news cycle has time only for the earthshaking, the dramatic, the magnificent, the unique, and the eye-catching. And interest in news items in the previous paragraph die a natural death, even before the afternoon edition.

The unvarnished and unfettered truth is that the Pinoy dream of prosperity and peace, despite our valiant efforts, remains an elusive goal.

Thanks for reading !