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 ultimate unmatchable Christmas person

happy times with Tita Lily :)

happy times with Tita Lily 🙂

[ Note : I’ve been dreaming about a certain person quite frequently the last few weeks, and I just realized why.  That person, my aunt Tita Lily, would’ve been celebrating her 90th birthday this month, and moreover was the ultimate Christmas person, practically the modern equivalent of Santa Claus in our cynical day and age.  I was not among her favorite nieces and nephews (for she had many — favorites and otherwise), but in my wishful thinking she knew my quirks and failings enough to be comfortable with me.  Please indulge me in this little reverie about a truly influential person in my life, Ms Lily B Yang ! ]

I WAS tens of thousands of kilometers away when probably the most influential person in my life (after my folks), as well as that of my family, Tita Lily, passed away this May.  For many of us in her family living or working overseas, a dark cloud of extreme sadness and guilt filled our hearts, as our Tita had sent three generations of her relatives to school, supported so many families who couldn’t make ends meet; and found jobs for dozens and dozens of us between jobs, out of jobs, or who just couldn’t get a break in the hustle-and-bustle world outside.  She helped us fill our dinner table, fulfill our dreams and keep our dignity intact; she never failed us in our moment of need.  When death knocked at her door, God was merciful in keeping her suffering short before taking her home.

But come December, it was like a flood of memories all so real came rushing back, so much so that it was like Tita Lily was among us again.  You see, Christmastime was one of her favorite times of the year, if not her most favorite.  It was the best time for her to make people happy, which, hands down, was her favorite activity of all.

She literally had a gift list of thousands upon thousands of giftees, a number that had grown through the years and years of friendships, relationships and even one-off encounters in my aunt’s life.  It didn’t matter if these were close bosom friends from way back, clients of the law firm where she worked and shopkeepers of her favorite stores, or the multitudinous members of her large family, including brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces, grand-nephews and grand nieces, and untold numbers of godchildren gained in baptisms, confirmations, first communions, weddings, holy orders, silver anniversaries and even golden anniversaries.

She would start filling out her lists early December and would continue sending gifts well after Christmas Day.  She could never countenance missing a name, or worse, a family, for she often gave to each member of a family as she enjoyed a personal relationship with two or even three generations in a family.

One year I would help her write out gift cards (an absolute essential in her gift protocol), her helper would help her wrap the gifts, and the driver would stand by to deliver the goodies post-haste.  Very soon we realized that she needed more than a staff of two or three and from then on, Tita Lily always prepared for the gift-giving season by having at least two nephews or nieces, two separate wrappers, and of course substitutes who would spell all of them while the gift preparations would extend well into the night.

She was particularly solicitous of people who would be alone and in want during the holidays, cognizant perhaps of her contemporaries who would sometimes be forgotten by the people they had taken care of in earlier decades.  Once she rang up an old officemate who she discovered had suffered a severely bruised hip and was immobilized and hungry for nearly 36 hours.  Not only did my aunt ask her driver to bring said officemate to the hospital, she also insisted that the latter spend Christmas with her, bandages and all.  That impromptu act of kindness was just one of many that Tita Lily did year-round, but which acquired a special sweetness at Christmas.

I could go on and on and on here, but truth to tell I’m already starting to cry.  My aunt was a one-in-a-million kind of person, and amazing as she was, Christmas brought even more out of her.  Everything I do, every kind thought I think and every good deed I do (if ever), I do in her name.  Tita Lily, you will live on in our hearts this Christmastime and forevermore!

Thanks for reading!

the first job for the rest of your life

don’t forget to dream!

[ Note : it’s been slow days and even slower nights for Bunso, whose sleepy eyes above are indicative of what for him must be an interminable wait to find a job.  With his permission, I’m posting below a letter I wrote him, hopefully to cheer him up.  Write to him some encouragement if you’ve some time as well, will you?  Thanks in advance and thanks for reading! ]

Dear Bunso :

YOU MUST have been on the front row when God was handing out smarts and wit because hands down, you’re one of the smartest kids I’ve ever encountered, among a group that includes your siblings, your contemporaries and many children I know.  You’re not the Mensa polymath type, but ever since you learned to string two coherent thoughts together, your head has been chockfull not just of facts and figures but of ideas bursting out of their megawatt bulbs just waiting for you to explain them to the rest of us.

It takes a lot to get you bored, as you can always get lost in your own world while deeply immersed in the many books you read.  I swell with pride to say this, but you are at ease with the spoken as well as the written word, a facility that is as rare as it is special.

Unfortunately, not all the intellect, articulateness and value-addedness of a young migrant like you will be an assurance of being hired despite all the verve, earnestness and energy you’ve put into your job search.

You’ve tried every approach : distributed your CV, knocked on cold doors, tried all the want ads looking for qualifed hopefuls in any industry that seeks entry-level people who make up for their  green horns with the zest to learn and the dedication to go the extra mile.  So far you’ve not reaped results, but the day is young.

I probably won’t gain any additional respect by telling you, but it took me an excruciatingly long time to find a job in New Zealand, after my first job overseas fell to pieces in the recession.  Just to keep body and soul together, I became a nameless cipher in the underground economy, earned half the minimum wage from an Asian grocer (he knew I needed the job and made me work for every cent), whispered salamat to a Pinoy video store owner who gave me parttime work, all the while hoping against hope that I would find a real job before my visa ran out.

And I don’t need to remind you that it took Kuya nearly a year, fits of depression, and mind-numbing boredom before he landed his first job.  You might also want to take heart with Ganda’s efforts at networking, schmoozing and all-out marketing herself before she got hired.  Before too long, you will become a bundy-clock slave too.  Savor your idle moments for now.

Job referrals can come from the oddest places, but almost always, coming when you least expect it, a bit of information from a kabayan, being at the right place at the right time, and a nugget of good fortune coming from a prayer, can yet bring you the first job of your life.

It might not mean anything, but introductions and meaningless conversations with people you met from other Pinoys, friends of friends and acquaintances might suddenly open doors, lead to informal interviews that end up in situations that finish with, well would you be interested to work with us?  Unlikely, I know, but nothing to lose right?

Meantime, smell the crisp spring air, keep your ear close to the ground, and above all, enjoy yourself.  There are worse things than being 17, fit as a fiddle, and cute as you are.

I love you always


the last great pinoy addiction

our favorite food-trippers and their best friends… thanks to for the pic!

[ Please note that “great” in the following context refers to magnitude and extent of influence in my life, and not to other potentially positive attributes, as the word is often expected to project.  Condolences to the family of Sec Jesse Robredo and the Pinoy community of believers in public sector reform, congrats to Pres. Noynoy on his outstanding choice of Prof Ma Lourdes Sereno for Chief Justice of the Phil. Supreme Court, and awesome kudos to the NZ All-Blacks for their clinical dissection of the Wallabies last night to retain the Bledisloe Cup for a 10th straight year, sorry to my former news ed Mr Raul Zamuco, woohoohoo! ]

BECAUSE THE excuse of a busted bike gave me free rides from SuperBisor all week last week, I had more than the usual moments with my lonesome after exercise, and before chores and time with esposa hermosa.  I had in fact an epiphany while looking at my pathetic self in the mirror, realizing the following : (1) it was less than three years before I would hit the half-century mark, a milestone that just a few years ago I thought was positively ancient; (2) instead of shedding off unsightly balikbayan poundage since returning to the grind July, I had actually ADDED to it, and was now around 10 kilos above my normal fighting weight (which you don’t need to know by the way, just believe my shameful admission); and (3) my promise to myself to consume either oatmeal or cereal every morning, avoid the decadent Breakfast-Value-Meal-like breakfasts that gave me so much more cholesterol, transfat and lipid-rich slush in my plumbing had remained just that, a(n unfulfilled) promise.

Guess how I celebrated discovering this nugget of self-discovery?  I uncovered a tub of ice cream I hid in the furthest corner of the freezer, half a liter bottle of Regular Sprite (not diet or Sprite Zero) that nobody wanted, heated up one-plus servings of gooey lasagna that was part of my baon the next few days, microwaved leftovers of the last two days (rice, igado, kaldereta etc), brought out banana slices, apple slices and macadamia-corn-flakes cereal that I missed for breakfast (the only healthy part of this orgy) and demolished, ate it all.  Everything on the enumeration just gone by.

It’s no excuse, but my blood sugar was low, just missed both lunch and breakfast as I had to accommodate an overdue run around the block, I wanted to reward myself for the run, but I only realized the cringe-inducing and disgusting nature of my deed, as usual, after the last grain, crumb and drop had rolled down my throat.  Sa huli ang pagsisisi.

You’ve probably guessed that I’ve been guilty of these acts throughout most of my life.  I’m not only a binge eater, I pig out on midnight snacks.  I eat way too much sweets, I love salty chichirya, all the junk food that a person like me is supposed to avoid, and my only excuse is I deserve a little break every now and then.

The only problem is now and then is too often, a little break has become too regular for me, and I simply can’t continue to eat with too much sugar and too much salt in my daily diet.  As it is, there’s already a proliferation of sodium and sugar in an average of six meals of the male Pinoy, daily rice intake itself is already the molecular equivalent of half a dozen teaspoons of sugar, with the only difference being that you can’t pig out on sugar cubes.  The way I’ve been brought up, the media and information culture I grew up in, and my predisposition to certain foods will almost surely consign me to hypertension, Type B diabetes, cardiovascular illness and a host of other related conditions before I reach the last two decades of my life expectancy.  And there’s no other way to put it : it has a lot to with my sugar and salt addiction.

thanks to donenrique.blogspot for the pic !

I won’t mention the deleterious effects of the said chemicals C12H22O11 and NaCl, because you all know it, it’s just that the intelligent part of our brain shuts down when confronted with gorgeous pastries, glistening french fries, caramel frapuccino, and colorful kakanin.  For thousands of years, the scarcity of food and our unending struggle with the elements has taught our bodies to evolve fat-retaining properties and sugar-containing systems, a self-defense mechanism gifted to us by God and nature.  Because of the plenitude of food afforded by science and the industrial revolution, we don’t need to keep extra food in our bodies anymore.  We don’t even need to hibernate anymore.  But because eating is always pleasurable, because we are by nature lazy and hate to exercise, and because the instinct of food business is to make us continuously addicted to its ever-changing products, fourteen percent (14%) of the world is now obese, one in three Americans are grossly fat, and one in five New Zealanders are unacceptably overweight.

self-explanatory. thanks to!

Now, being addicted to both sugar and sweet isn’t too bad for me; it is one of the few addictions that are socially acceptable in the modern world.  Even being obese is not so bad if you can bear the stares and snickers behind your back, witness the stats on fatness the previous sentence.  The only snag in the stitchwork in my personal case is that I’m on the brink of senior hood, when middle-age spread (or bilbil that won’t go away) takes a herculean effort to counteract, when the occupational hazards of eating everything in front of you ( I am to please ) begin to show up in the form of various diseases and when the cheques your body wrote during the wildness of your decadent youth are coming back to haunt you for encashment, with interest.

The bottom line is that like many of you similarly placed, the urgency of common sense and self-preservation has coerced me into giving up most of my addictions.  Tobacco was the easiest habit to pick up but the hardest to break.  Alcohol made for good conversation, but through the years you just realized that throwing up too often wasn’t that hard to give up.  And funny cigarets altered a lot of your ways of thinking but didn’t do you too many favors being perceived as a normal person, so that wasn’t too hard.

It’s eating and eating food that’s bad for you (but which tastes so good) that is the addiction nurtured by a lifetime of bad habits, and therefore takes the remaining portion of your life to undo and change.  That’s why, beyond all common sense, after eating food that could have fed three people, I’m looking forward to Chinese takeaway dinner  with the obligatory MSG, secondhand cooking oil and food coloring all around.

Thanks for reading !

pinoy pabaon better left at home

[Note: Between Good Friday and May 18th, would you believe that in my ultrasmall circle of friends and acquaintances no less than six (6) compatriots have reached Aotearoa shores?  Happy birthdays to dear friends Stephanie Chan-Lam (9th June) and Marivic Ching – Chua (6th June) ! ]

YOU’RE STRANGELY familiar with anecdotes like this.  You’re fresh off the boat, new in town looking for a place to crash, and hopefully Asians of the same persuasion to share some rice with.  Lo and behold, you find a few kabayan right there at the bus stop, who insist on taking you home, no sense wasting bus fare / per diem if you’re just passing through on your way to your new employer (hopefully), and you meet the clan.  Before you know it, you’re being interviewed : strict Catholic?  married?  separated?  Kids?  Last job back home?  Allergies?  Any criminal record that the NBI clearance didn’t quite cover?

Barely 20 minutes into your overnight stay, and you can’t wait to leave.  You hate to admit it, but you would gladly have paid hotel rates just to avoid the relentless intrusion on your life.  From a stranger, to a stranger no less. BUT, that’s Pinoy for you.

Sad but true.  Pinoys and Pinoy culture simply don’t embrace the concept of personal space among co-workers, contemporaries and townmates.  Why should countrymen randomly encountered be any different?  It’s not uncommon to ask people you hardly know the most intimate details of their private lives all in the name of small talk, animated discussion or comparing notes,  Which is all very good, except that I wouldn’t want to declare at dinner to a family of eight, excluding toddlers, and babies, my nocturnal habits (dodgy), sleep patterns (erratic), was I married in church (nosey aren’t we?) and how often do I do the nasty (lately, as often as we’re not both bone-tired, which is next to never 😉 ).

I’m probably exaggerating, but we Pinoys are first second and last, owing to our inquisitive and helpful nature a nosey lot and it’s this trait of ours that sometimes turns off the (personal) space conscious, anally private (sorry for the term) and guarded individuals, even among our very own kabarangay.  I’m happy to say despite my checkered past that I don’t count myself as onion-skinned, but just the same I’m sensitive to the noseyness among our brown brother (and sister) hood.

GOSSIPY.  And as you might’ve guessed, related to Negative Trait Number One is Trait Number Two, which is the penchant of Pinoys to gossip about fellow Pinoys, and the lower the level (vices, indiscretions and misfortunes), the juicier.  It wouldn’t be so deplorable if Philippine society weren’t so hypocritical, but there you go I said it, we spout platitudes about clean and honest government, but wink at the pork-barrel soliciting, electioneering and nepotistic congressman who donates funds for our multipurpose barangay and karaoke hall.  We support the cardinal who rails against womanizing but silently admire Enteng Kabisote on his 25th live-in partner.

Our social and professional circles, by chance or otherwise, are influenced by these double standards as accurately as art imitates life.  How can we not do as the Romans do when we as Romans watch, listen to and talk about our celebrated, most beautiful Romans in civilized conversations, and gossip about them at the gutter later?

It’s certainly no wonder then that as we take along our work habits of punctuality, improvisation, team spirit and all-around industriousness on our way to distant shores, the complementary personal habits of mañana, blind loyalty and idle gossip hook up for the free ride. We often tell ourselves that you can’t divorce one side of the Pinoy character from the other, that you have to take the good and the bad.

That may be so, but there’s nothing to stop us from improving ourselves and shifting our paradigm.  Yes, we can tweak the Pinoy stereotype, and yes we can change the way others see us.  If we take the effort to leave the peculiarly Pinoy bad habits that are particularly hard to break back home, even if it’s just once a day, then we just might, in our generation, begin to see a sea change in the only set of perceptions that will ever really matter to us, the perception of Pinoys by the rest of the planet.  Good luck and mabuhay to all of us in doing so kabayan!

Thanks for reading!

Taking apart MyCatholic consciousness

[Note : no accidental omission of the space between my and Catholic, it’s very personal and very attached, the personalness and the consciousness, very much like MySpace, MyPhone, etc. ]

IT SEEMS a bit ironic and awkward that I talk about this on Easter Sunday, right before Easter Mass and waiting for esposa hermosa to get ready.  I’m not one to pass judgment, especially on the faith of our forefathers, our fathers and our peers.  I respect the beliefs of others, in fact I attend Filipino Mass once a month and ordinary mass whenever I can, but I can’t for the life of me continue to believe that salvation and righteous living is the monopoly of a religious and demogogic elite, dispensing their services and teachings in gorgeous robes to its obedient faithful.

Because in an irreverent nutshell, that’s what Catholicism is.  Suspending your rational thought and substituting it with faith of a very specific sort in the hope that you will be rewarded in the afterlife.  I know that I’ve done more than raise eyebrows and elicit indignant outrage among some of you dear readers, after all we Pinoys aren’t known for being sagradong Katoliko (or even saradong Katoliko) for nothing.

As disclaimer, I’ve always believed in a Higher Being and a plane of existence other than the one we’re currently on, but something about my Catholic consciousness, the one I’ve been brought up in, conjures images of intolerance against other ways of thinking, resistance against modern and enlightened thought, and an affront to the coexistence of different and diverse philosophies for both this world and the next (assuming you believe in one).

Sorry for that mouthful.  I wouldn’t be surprised if I get struck down by lightning on this otherwise cloudless and sunblessed day.  If it helps any, I make a slight distinction between Catholic faith and Catholic consciousness, notice I said slight, but a distinction nonetheless.  I acknowledge and admit the faith-based value and traditions preserved in Catholic teachings and canons, it’s the consciousness imbedded for generations and in whole families that I’m taking note of :

That just as there’s a God to adore, there’s the Devil to pay – It’s no accident that an important pillar of cathechism is putting the fear of the devil, as well as the fear of God, in the psyche of each Catholic youth. I think this is a vestige of the Spanish tradition of emphasizing Divine retribution, in the form of fire and brimstone, as a focus of Catholic schools.  That red-skinned, goat-horned creature with the cloven hoofs and pitchfork you see on the bottom of the most famous triptych-like label in Philippine liquor, and that all-time scariest movie The Exorcist were the embodiment of all the bogeymen and skeletons of my childhood field of dreams, but it was damn (pun intended) effective.  In so many words, the priests, nuns and religion teachers were telling us it’s all very good if you follow the Ten Commandments and avoid the Seven Capital Sins, but can you conceive of an eternity in Hell if you did otherwise?  That was enough for me.

Ten Commandments, Seven Capital Sins, mortal and venial sins – And talking about God’s laws, it wasn’t just the Bible that guided you but Church-made laws that might’ve made sense a century ago (and even then it was stretching it), but definitely not today.  I remember a school Missal we had that contained as part of its supplement, a checklist for act/s that fell afoul of the various rules and regulations of the Catholic Church.  For example : Under the Capital Sin Lust , there were the following guidelines : (1) Do I look at impure pictures?  (check.)  (2)  Do I laugh at impure jokes? (check.)  (3)  Do I think impure thoughts?  (check.) And the awkwardest , (4) Do I do impure acts? (Well… )  If ever anyone got to take a peek at all those check marks in that missal, boy would it make me blush.  But you get what I mean, right?  It’s almost as if Nature designed  your body to go one way, and the Church is designed to make your body go another way.  There’s even a term for it, Catholic guilt, which has controlled the hearts and minds of Catholic men and women long after they’ve graduated from Catholic school, and which has gone a long way towards fomenting and nurturing a million-and-one dysfunctions that we may or may not, eventually, overcome.

[ I just had to add this, but if memory serves, you could receive the sacraments if you committed a venial sin, but not if you committed a mortal sin, right?  But a number of venials added up to be equivalent to a mortal ??  We’re supposed to keep track of both quality and quantity?  Sorry to nitpick, but hmm… ]

Standing fast against the march of modernity, gender equality, and homosexuality.  I’ve nothing against the institution of marriage, which is the cornerstone of the family and society maybe one hundred years ago, but today?  And especially when spouses have fallen out of love and are no longer the same persons they are when they married?  It has to coexist with common sense and compassion, but it seems these concepts do not always converge with Catholic teaching.  Bonds of marriage are supposed to remain strong until and after death.  Now, how messed up is that?  Women in the priesthood?  Ladies have just as much right to administer God’s sacraments and provide leadership to His flock, and have done so in other churches, but not over St Peter‘s and his successors, the so-called Holy Mother Church (how ironic is that?)  And I’m not trying to be controversial or politically correct, one way or another, but I’ve never heard of salvation being the exclusive province of heterosexuals and straight men and women.  I’m not gonna elaborate, but these and other jurassic ideas were very much part of the program when I was in high school.

Infallibility, power to forgive sins, and other Harry Potter-like wonders.  But the thing that continues to amaze me most is that people still believe that someone can be free from the human trait of making mistakes which is essentially what the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI enjoys whenever he issues his papal encyclicals.  I admire the man, I believe he has done a lot of good for the Catholic church, but really, imposing on millions of believers the doctrine that a chosen leader is incapable of making mistakes reminds me of the time people were tortured for what they believed, or didn’t believe.  On the whole, it probably does more harm than good.  And that is no mistake.

Believe it or not, these were considered, pardon the pun, basic Gospel truths in our schools, and they are still taught today.  I believe in God and the goodness of man, and that we continue to exist after our earthly selves wither away.  But my consciousness has in part been shaped by a Catholic teaching that molded those basic beliefs to suit their worldly interests, their referring of course to the Catholic Church.  Whether or not you agree with me, and especially if you disagree with me, I don’t mind, but I will always defend your right to do so.  That’s something you might not have enjoyed from your Church elders a few hundred years ago.

Thanks for reading, and I do mean it when I say Maligayang Pasko ng Pagkabuhay, Happy Easter !


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.


We have not forgotten

TAKING AWAY a beloved member from any family under violent and sudden circumstances is always traumatic.  It becomes even more painful when multiple members are taken away from us.  Which is why it was so cruel and unfair when exactly a year ago today, 11 cherished members of the Pinoy family were abruptly removed from our circle, their bright hopes and dreams dashed to pieces by the February 22nd Christchurch earthquake.

It is not for us to question the hows and whys of God‘s will.  Much more so when our 11 kabayan who perished were part of the greater number of 185 from different countries of the world that fateful day.  No less than New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, who was among the first to condole with the shell-shocked families of the lost ones that day, observed that it was undoubtedly “New Zealand’s darkest day.”

What we can do is to make sense of the motive force that brought those 11 of our kayumanggi brothers and sisters to their appointment with eternity that day, the spirit behind their actions, and the dreams that live on despite their passing.

Without a doubt, our kabayan, who were practically all nurses who had finished hurdling their government licensure exams and had a year or two of practice under their belts, were in New Zealand to try their luck as medical practitioners in the potential-laden NZ environment.  It wasn’t so much the financial remuneration that attracted most of them, although the compensation was handsome; it was more likely the futures of the families they would bring there as permanent residents, once their status as permanent residents were sorted.

And the best way to start doing this was to pass an orientation course being taught at the CTV building in Christchurch CBD.  No one could’ve known that the earthquake that would visit that day and the weakened structure of the building from a previous tremor would combine to cut short lives just beginning, careers most promising.

**                    **                    **                    **               **

In Christchurch today, each of their names, among the 185, were called in a roll of honor by rescuers and firemen, the heroes of that day.  Two minutes of silence were observed in their memory, by a New Zealand that remembered those left us too soon.

Lalaine Agatep.  Mary Louise Ann Amantillo.  Emmabelle Anoba.  Valquin Bensurto.  Ivy Jane Cabunilas.  John Kristoffer Chua.  Jewel Francisco.  Jessie-Lloyd Redoble and Ezra Mae Medalle. Rhea Mae Sumalpong.  Erica Avir Reyes Nora.

**               **              **               **               **

The purpose of this little note is not to assign blame, nor to make others feel guilty for whatever part they played in the events of 22nd February 2011.  Life goes on in Christchurch, in New Zealand, even in the Philippines around the lives of those primarily affected by the earthquake of one year ago.

It’s not the easiest thing to do, especially from their loved ones, but if from the seeming senseless tragedy of the loss of lives we can draw both lessons and inspiration from their demise, then their sacrifice will not have been in vain.

The entire Filipino community in New Zealand, as well as all our kabayan back home, salute the Christchurch 11 for lives well lived.  Mabuhay kayong lahat !

Dorian Gray in your own barrio (village)

[ Note : This is a dated video, but the subject is simply a remarkable individual, and quite appropriate for my rant today.  Thanks for reading ! Happy birthday to kabatch Mr Dennis Sy, please continue to inspire us with your musical talent ! ]

MANY MANY YEARS ago, on Mom’s island hometown somewhere between Albay and Masbate, on its far end in a then-sleepy fishing village called San Pascual, our hosts brought me and my bros to a 101-year old senyorita sipping steaming coffee in the middle of the day.  I’m not sure if she had quit smoking by then, but she looked like she was having a nicotine fit, maybe for some Bataan Matamis or Champion Menthols, or maybe it was just my imagination.

Boys, magmano kayo kay Mamay,  your great-grandmother. ( Loosely translated, we were asked to kiss her hand, a beloved Filipino tradition showing respect for elders. )

Before we could appreciate the uniqueness of the moment, realizing that in this soporific hut-by-the-sea were a motley crew representing four generations, we were peppering Mamay with enthusiastic yet respectful questions.

Ilang taon na po kayoIsa’t – kalahati (a good natured joke at her expense, being that she was around 101 and a half years young).  Naabutan nyo po ba ang panahon ng Kastila?  Panahon po ni Rizal at ni Aguinaldo (funny, but she was the one making po to us).  Ilan po lahat ng apo nyo?  Di ko na po alam, kilala ko lang mga dumadalaw sa akin (a reminder no doubt for her scores of great-grandkids to visit her more often).

The day was short and the small outrigger needed at least a few hours to return us to the township, and so we bade goodbye to Mamay, in what would be the first and last time we would ever see her before she joined our Creator.  I don’t recall how old she was when she died, but till that point she had lived a considerable length of life on Earth, and there was certainly no shame in breaking the century mark, for any of God‘s creatures.

In fact, I don’t remember enjoying a personal encounter with anyone over 100 then and now, back home and in my temporary adopted land.  I hear a lot about centenarians here, and it could be due to the healthier environment, the cleaner living, but there certainly are a lot of lolos and lolas who’ve conquered Father Time in both Metro Manila and the provinces as well.  In any case, when you’ve reached triple digits, it’s a life well lived, regardless of the country code.

Whether you believe beating the odds is a result of luck, spartan living, good genes, perfect nutrition, superhuman maintenance, a combination of the above or all of the above, the massive jungle of the longevity mystery, of how and why some people reach a ripe old age while others don’t, has just been cleared a few hundred hectares of foliage.

Once the science is streamlined, even infants can be tested if they will live healthily until and after the age of 100, according to a recent article.  Newest inroads in gene mapping have made it possible for tests to reveal if you and I possess genetic characteristics shared by those who continue to live high-quality lives long after their contemporaries have died.

We can only do so much to stay healthy and avoid tempting Fate, especially with the stress and slow-death poisons of modern living, but certain people seem to stay both durable and healthy despite the said realities.  On the other hand, most of us need to contend with not just the worrying shelf life of our vital organs, but not knowing also if the rest of our bodies will start deteriorating after an unknown deadline.

And that’s just it ; at some undetermined point in our lives it’s an immutable, unassailable truth that our bodies start breaking down, and the best we can do is to one, avoid the major illnesses which science has not conquered, and two, stay fit, nimble and supple to sustain the quality of life with which we are accustomed.

Conversely, there are a few people who have avoided cancer, hypertension, diabetes and cirrhosis, mostly lifestyle diseases that ravage the system and eat us up from inside.  These same people unsurprisingly are paragons of fitness, who outrun, outstretch and outlast people half their age, and continue reaching milestones like marathons, three-day hikes and endurance events.  Supervised by medical advisers, of course.

I would love to be one of these fortunate few who keep bounding out of bed every morning ready to seize the day, conquer the mountain or cross the Rubicon, but I don’t know if it’s in my DNA to be a SuperLolo, leaving all my contemporaries to eat my dust.  (Sorry for the uncharitable mental image, I think I’m getting carried away 😦 )  But wouldn’t it be great not only to leap past the mid 21st century, but also to enjoy all your bodily functions at the height of your mental and physical powers while doing so?

Like Mamay, I would live to see all my grandkids and great-grandkids, see how well (or not-so-well) they turn out, compare notes with other SuperLolos and SuperLolas, and use the considerable wealth of my experience in dispensing unsolicited advice.  Every little bit will help.

I would be able to enjoy the momentous strides of Science begun during the previous century against disease, pestilence, poverty, pollution.  Because Man would no longer be distracted from basic struggles to acquire food, shelter and protection against the elements, naked aggression to compete for scarce resources would die a natural death, and humans would be allowed higher pursuits.

Of course these are just pie-in-the-sky assumptions I’m making.  And of course I would want my longevity to be a pleasant experience, otherwise it would be just as well if I clocked out like everybody else.

It’s just that living past your time is but part of the natural instinct to want to correct past mistakes, give vent to career frustrations, and live out childhood dreams.   We keep forgetting that in life, nine times in ten you only get to do the important things ONCE, and most of us never get a second shot.

It’s true I met the closest thing to a Dorian Gray that 1970’s summer afternoon in San Pascual when I kissed Mamay’s hand.  But looking back, I know deep in my heart that she would’ve gladly exchanged her 101-and-a-half years for the satisfaction of knowing that she did everything right.

Thanks for reading !


Death Be Not Proud : Bits & Pieces on the Christchurch 11


Christchurch Cathedral before the earthquake.

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

FOR THIS accidental migrant, there are two caveats or bewares that come attached to every blog, especially one that we create.

The first concerns the basic delusion of all bloggers, that he or she nurtures some pretensions to eloquence and all its rewards. This is dependent on any and all communications of approval or praise from readers who accidentally or otherwise have set aside precious time to read such blog/s.

Well, we confess that we are not immune to this vanity, and therefore each and every offering you read (by force or otherwise) from us carries such a caveat. What we write below is a notable exception however, as we let out as little of ourselves as possible, letting the words speak for themselves.

You see, although we know not a single person out of the Christchurch 11, those who gave up their lives in the pursuit of the Pinoy OFW dream, we feel a certain kinship with them.

One or more of them might have brushed our shoulder in a visit to Wellington, for all we know, or may have attended a chance Filipino Mass in the NZ capital early this year before proceeding southward. To be sure, we’ve never met them personally, or even met friends of friends before or after the tragedy, but at the back of our mind we always wondered, what were they like, and was there anything for us to get to know them a little better?

With advance apologies to their families for taking the initiative ( if one could call it that ) to do this, we thought it would be a half-decent idea for the Pinoy community in NZ and elsewhere, the nursing profession (especially those working away from home) and everyone else in our extended family of lahing kayumanggi to get to know a little more of our compatriots and kabayan as they go home to God.

If ever anyone is offended by anything here, or if the information is spotty or inaccurate, we offer our humble apologies. For the record, the Christchurch 11 were victims of the 22nd February 2011 Christchurch NZ earthquake that according to Prime Minister John Key was among “the darkest day(s) in New Zealand’s history”, at least nine of the 11 were nurses ( we’re not sure about the other two ) and most of them were taking an English language course preparatory or to improve their chances of practicing nursing in New Zealand :

Lalaine Agatep is a 38-year old nurse. A newspaper report from her family was datelined Tuguegarao, Cagayan so it must be safe to presume that she is from the north. A dramatic photo of her sister Leila Garcia and brother-in-law was published in the front page of the Wellington’s Dominion Post a few days after the earthquake.

Mary Louise Anne Amantillo hails from Iloilo and her mother refused to give up on her long after rescue efforts gave way to recovery operations. She was supposed to keep an internet chat appointment with her mom that fateful day, but instead sent an SMS text message the morning of the 22nd, saying simply, “Mom, I’m trapped.” She graduated high school from Angelicum School Iloilo in 2004. She is a 23-year old nurse.

Emmabelle Anoba was born and raised in Minglanilla, Cebu, and her last location was at the third floor of the CTV Bldg, attending classes conducted by King’s Education, a language school. She is a nurse.

Valquin Bensurto listened to Paramore, Oasis, Matisyahu, Snow Patrol and Owl City, liked Cow & Chicken, Detroit Rock City, Gran Torino, South Park and Pranked, and although we can’t confirm it 100%, was a nurse and came from Iloilo.

Ivy Jane Cabunilas’s passage from Earth was confirmed in a report from The Freeman last 8th March, so we are assuming (guardedly) that she is from the Cebu region. She is a practicing nurse.

John Kristoffer Chua passed the Philippine Nursing Board examinations 2009, is 23 years old and grew up in Lapu-lapu City.

Jewel Francisco was the last of the 11 confirmed to have perished in the earthquake (last Friday), was 26 years old. We can’t confirm if she was a nurse.

Jessie-Lloyd Redoble and Ezra Mae Medalle were the star-crossed sweethearts who staked out their careers and future in New Zealand, and who ultimately became linked in eternity. Nurses both, a little more is known about Jessie-Lloyd, who was an alumnus of Andres Bonifacio College of Dipolog City, Zamboanga del Norte, and passed the nursing licensure examinations of 2008.

Rhea Mae Sumalpong, a 25-year old nurse, graduated from Cebu’s Southwestern Univesity in 2007 and Univesity of San Jose Recoletos in 2002, came from a family of medical professionals and created one of the most beautiful and heartwarming Multiply sites we ever beheld. She came from Naga, Cebu.

We reserve the last place for Erica Avir Reyes Nora, who composed a light-hearted but in hindsight quite poignant sketch of herself in her Facebook page, which appears below. She grew up in Malabon and attended Arellano and Our Lady of Fatima Universities. We reproduce the self-sketch as well as the “font” she has created :

“I’m eRICAh jUzt kOl mE kAng frOm NEw zEaLaNd (hAha) / yOu cAn caLl ME aLcohoLiC bUt i caLL iT a dArn goOd tiMe hAha / cOnfiDenCe iZ waT MAkEs mE sExy /   i dOn’t cAre if u dOn’t Lyk Me eVeryOne dAt mAttErS aLrEadY apprOvEs  / tHe LiTtLe thIngsS mAkE mE LaUgh, iT’s nOt HArd tO pLeAse Me…

I’m a fReE spiRiT / I’m strOng aNd dEterminEd  / i loVE tO loOk aT tHe stArs /  i’M jUst a gUrL, anD dAts aLL i WaNna BE  /  i’M nOt a pErFecT girL. mY HAir dOesn’t aLwaYs stAY in pLACe and i spiLL thinGs a LoT /                   i’M pReTty cLuMSy aND suMtiMez i HAve a brOken HEart…

my fRnDz aND i sumtiMez fiGht aND MAyBE sUmdAyS nOthiNg gOes riGht bUt whEn i thiNk abOut iT aND TAke a stEp BAck / i RemEmBEr hOw amAzing LifE tRuLy is / aNd tHat MAybE jUst MAybE i LikE bEinG UNPERFECT. ”

** ** ** **

We reiterate that you may have had more information than we had; if there are any omissions and inaccuracies here, we apologize in advance in the name of human error.

Earlier we mentioned two caveats in the imperfect art of blogging. The second, we almost forgot to add, is that there exists the peril of getting too involved, of writing or using oneself as an instrument of communication in too personal a manner.

Given the subject matter and the general sentiment among all of us, this is a risk we are willing to assume this time.

To our Christchurch kabayan who left us, God bless you all, good night but not farewell.

Mabuhay tayong lahat !