what new zealanders REALLY think of us pinoys


[thanks and acknowledgment for the pic to productsfromnz.com! ]

SHAY MITCHELL of the world-famous TV hit Pretty Little Liars said it best, even if it was a little rude : when the half-Pinay was asked if her mom was a yaya (nanny or babysitter), she was reported by Cosmopolitan to have answered no eff-er, but even if she was, so what?  Do you know how hard it is to be one?  Being yayas, nurses and construction workers is just one of the multi-faceted dimensions of being a Filipino, and we do other things as well. But people all over the world have preconceived notions of us Pinoys, and it’s up to us to disabuse them of those notions.

As usual, I don’t claim to be an expert in what non-Pinoys think of us, but I DO have an advantage in that I’ve been living in New Zealand albeit as  a guest worker, and I do have encounters and interactions with New Zealanders regularly, but admittedly not as much as I’d like (I usually work in two-man shifts every other week).  Here is a short list of some of the things Kiwis observe about us, but of course the list is not exhaustive:

Pinoys are team players in the game of nation building and just want to do their bit while raising families and developing careers.  Sometime in the 1990s, New Zealand decided to meet the (then) labor deficiency challenge head-on and opened their doors to migration.  The result has been mixed, but Pinoy migrants have made New Zealand decision-makers look like geniuses.  Pinoys are productive members of the workforce, are not generally known to be troublemakers or criminal offenders, and you will hardly see any Pinoys unemployed or on the (employment or sickness) benefit.

These will be supported by statistics, but on personal experience, I can confidently tell you that no  Pinoy wants to be seen as idle by choice.  There’s always work to be had in New Zealand, as long as you’re not choosy.  And it’s part of the migrant way of thinking that, because you’ve been granted the privilege of living in a country, you do your part by pulling your weight, even if it’s doing jobs you don’t particularly fancy.  This way, you participate in the economy, at the very least pay taxes that run the engine of government, and don’t become a burden to your hosts.  Just common courtesy, actually.

Someone very close to me (please don’t ask me to identify him/her, as doing so would jeopardize my life 🙂 ) had just become a permanent resident a few years ago but had had a particularly difficult time finding a job that matched his/her skills.  When I half-joked that at the very least, being on the dole (unemployment benefit) would be an option, he/she indignantly retorted, I didn’t come to New Zealand to be an unemployment beneficiary or words to that effect.  I then realized, belatedly, that such an option, option though it was, would be unthinkable for me as well.

Among a diverse group of migrant workers, Pinoy workers respond best to specific instructions and orders rather than a general set of goals.  I’m not entirely sure why this is so, just guessing that Pinoys prefer as little room as possible for doubt in executing tasks and plans especially when in an environment they’re not used to.

But probably the better reason Pinoys do better under detailed directions, and so have the tendency, over other migrant nationalities, to ask for such level of detail, is the fact that most Pinoys as OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) speak fluent English, almost as a first language (after of course the native  Tagalog, Bisaya, Ilokano or other dialects ).  Having heard and spoken English most of their lives, they are eager to show their Kiwi employers the relative ease in assimilating into and adapting to their new work environment, compared to other, non-English speaking races.

And finally…

Kiwis think Pinoys try hard to get along with everyone not only to be part of the team but to be likable by everyone.  This is, not just easily explainable but also understandable not only if you’re a Pinoy but also if you’ve worked with anyone Pinoy, half-Pinoy or married to one.  It’s part of Pinoys to work as part of a team, and consider all members of the work team (weeeeeell, anyone who WANTS to be part of the team) to be part of the family.

It’s second nature for a Pinoy to look out for each other in the work team, to fill in or help out if someone needs a hand, so to speak.  It’s natural for Pinoys to consider the office, workplace or factory as like a second home, where the inhabitants are totally comfortable and treat all the co-inhabitants as family members.

The downside to this is that, if Pinoys can’t convince themselves to like certain members of the workplace, they believe that they can’t work well with the same unlikable workmates as well.  Which is also probably why, on the assumption that liking Pinoys will foster mutual likability, Pinoys try quite hard to make themselves liked at the workplace.

Do you agree?  These are based on specific experiences, quotes and anecdotes learned and earned here and there, so the above are highly subjective and easily proven (or disproven).  But if it can contribute,  even just a bit, to a better understanding of the lives Pinoy migrants have led in New Zealand, then it would have been worth it.  Just sayin’.

Mabuhay and thanks for reading!


why does it hurt so much to lose? (or why the pinoy is lovingly pikon)

Team NZ and Team USA, tough competitors of the America's Cup

Team NZ and Team USA, tough competitors of the America’s Cup

[We’ve been through a particularly stressful time, and hope that if there’s at least one person out there who’s been waiting for us, you’ve been patient enough, and thanks for waiting.  Woohoo! ]

IT’S ALRIGHT to talk about it now, but I was in a sorry, sorry funk the first few days.  Towards the deafening anti-climax, you fought the good fight and hoped against hope, but deep down you knew the game was already lost .  It was verily a living nightmare that built upon itself, collapsed upon itself and both obliterated and extinguished my brightest hopes and laughed in my face when I dared to dream my fondest dream.  Now, multiply this very personal nightmare by about four million, and you begin to approximate an idea of what I’m talking about.

What the eff are you talking about kabayan Noel?  I can hear you say.  I’m just  relating to you the humongous meltdown experienced by Team New Zealand after leading Team USA’s Oracle 8-2 (first to win nine races would’ve won) to last week lose what was painfully within reach, the America’s Cup.

In boat racing, the America’s Cup is like the NBA’s World Championship, Major League Baseball’s World Series, the four tennis majors and golf’s four majors melted into one.  It was a sublime, transcendent win for the Americans in what is almost undoubtedly the greatest comeback in all of sports.  But to the losers it was a tragedy that is hard to accept, much less live down.

It’s too painful to recount to you how Team NZ lost their mojo after racing through seven of the first eight races effortlessly as if they were destined to win.  It’s still inexplicable how after the Kiwis looked like they could do no wrong, suddenly smashed into windy conditions and made error after error.  It didn’t help that people were already talking about the huge economic impact to Auckland where the next America’s  Cup would be held, as soon as Team New Zealand won.

That was the key phrase.  As soon as.  Meaning, Team NZ hadn’t won yet.  And they haven’t, two weeks later.

I noticed that it wasn’t so much the fact that America won the America’s Cup (it is after all named after them) but the fact that New Zealand, my temporary adopted country, lost.  I realized that in many many occasions where I am an active partisan and an active spectator, almost like a stakeholder in the fortunes of my favored team, what hurts more than the other winning is my team’s losing.  The only thing I can’t stand more than NOT WINNING is LOSING.  I know each outcome is synonymous with the other, but it makes a world of difference if you take your partisanship seriously.  Particularly if the team you’re losing to is a worthy victor.  Crazy, right?  But more often than not, it makes sense.

When I was a high school student and a PBA fanatic more than a few years ago, I was usually in the minority whenever I rooted for my  beloved Toyota Tamaraws (which became the Toyota Super Corollas).  I didn’t mind my team being upset  occasionally by lesser teams like U-tex Wranglers or Royal Tru-Orange but whenever there was a matchup with arch-rival Crispa Redmanizers, I was all wound up not by the thought of thrashing the hated first five of Co, Fabiosa, Hubalde, Cezar and Guidaben but by being outcoached by the master tactician, Baby Dalupan.  It was not quite the ideal, but I was actually rooting for my team to not lose, instead of winning.

I found that I was not alone in my particular brand of not-losing-is-better-than-winning.  It was alright for my UP Fighting Maroons not to win, we were in fact never expected to challenge for the UAAP title year after year (except that golden moment in ’86 when Benjie Paras & Co. won it all).  As long as first, we didn’t end up the doormat, and two, we didn’t lost to particular teams like Ateneo (our neighbor in Diliman), UST (for some reason we hated them) and co-cellar dweller NU, who is not so weak now.

I notice that as long as we don’t lose to regional rivals Taiwan and Korea in basketball, no campaign is too miserable.  But most of all, it’s the fact that if ever we lose, we don’t want to lose badly, we don’t want to be embarrassed when we lose, and again, we don’t want to lose to certain teams that make losing a double-jeopardy thing.  You lose, and you lose to someone you dislike.

Did you ever notice that we Pinoys tend to excel in certain sports to the exclusion of a whole lot of others?  Remember the time when Pinoys were known to be great, the world over, in sports that began only with the letter “B”?  Of course it’s not true, but we certainly have a surplus of great billiards and basketball players that can compete among the world’s best, anytime and anyplace.  And I don’t need to tell you how we punch above our weight, literally, in nearly all boxing divisions save for the heaviest ones.  Reason?  We are physically talented in those sports.  Because we won’t stand a chance in many other events, we’d rather not compete.

It’s unfair, but I think that’s the reality.  For a country with athleticism and physical intensity such as ours, have you ever wondered why we’ve never won a gold medal in the Olympics?  It may be hare-brained for me to say so, but it’s probably because we have preconditioned ourselves into thinking we’ll never be world-class in sports where we traditionally don’t do well.  So there’s no concerted effort to develop our grassroots sports in those areas.  Kesa mapikon lang tayo at masaktan, huwag na lang.

One last anecdote.  We Pinoys are pikon (sore losers), although we don’t openly admit it.  (the Kiwis are the reverse; they are good losers but love their country too much to admit that other countries send better teams.)  The only time we admit we are pikon is when first, our numbers are so strong the other side can’t be pikon and fight back; and when, while being pikon, we can still make fun of ourselves.

And for it’s for this reason that Barangay Ginebra, eternal inhabitants of the PBA arena, will always exist.

thanks for reading!

friends as a migrant, friends for life


friends for life. (I know the pic has no connection to the story but it was too cute not to use) 🙂

A PLEASANT surprise in our accidental OFW/migrant adventure is the friendships gained not just by me, but by Mahal, who like the typical Pinay is initially reserved but ready to engage warmly before long.

I don’t feel like I’m blabbing to you about her friends because I won’t identify them by name, and I try to be general in my descriptions (wink, wink).

One of the first Kiwis (white New Zealanders of European descent) esposa was introduced to was a cleaning woman who needed a part-timer.  Hers was a carefree, happy-go-lucky youth but was now all-business and managing her own contracting company.  She was (is) very accommodating to my wife, who had been in NZ for only a few months, taught her the ropes, and was an endless source of practical knowledge on living in New Zealand.

At first, Mahal found it a bit difficult to listen and understand to all the Kiwi-isms and idioms like mucking around (wasting time), having a feed (eating), on the piss (drinking alcohol), and the singsong way Kiwis end all their sentences, but after a while and with all that practice, it became second nature to her.

In turn, Mahal also started telling Kiwi Cleaning Lady all about this erstwhile little-known country who looked a little like the Polynesians, a little like the Chinese, but were definitely more friendly, adaptable and hardworking.  Her part-time boss didn’t find the qualities hard to believe because Mahal was all these, friendly, adaptable and hardworking!

Lastly, her cleaning boss left an indelible mark on her, as the former insisted that she learn a few driving lessons from her everyday and even left her the wheel under supervision.  Before long, Mahal was already applying and sitting for her learners and now has a Restricted driving permit, all thanks to part-timing under her Kiwi friend.  Not a bad bargain don’t you think?

A second working relationship of Mahal’s I discovered was with a Christian Singaporean family  she cleaned house for weekly.

If you believe in stereotypes,  then this family’s for you : the husband and wife were both successful manager-types in their fields, specialists in number crunching.  All of their three sons were overachievers, evidenced by their being tops in their class in maths, accounting and languages.  Their house was typically understated Asian: smart without being ostentatious in the furnishings, and functional but not drab.

I sometimes helped Mahal clean their house and couldn’t help but be impressed by two things : the devotion to learning, the extra books and literature the kids pored over, and the division of labor from the most senior member (the dad) to the most junior (the youngest son) in mowing the lawn, laundry and even organizing their bible reading classes!  Almost too perfect to be true.

Their rooms were a bit disorganized at times and sometimes the kitchen was a bit dodgy, but beyond that, the house usually hardly needed cleaning, and that’s why Mahal loved keeping the latter spic and span for its owners, who likewise have kept Mahal as its trusted cleaner (even and especially during vacatios) for its owners for two years now.

The last friend Mahal has made is a bit of an oddity.  She is a Mainland Chinese who has been in NZ the last 10 years, has had three Kiwi husbands but in her manner and speech sounds and looks like she is the eternal migrant.  Not only has she kept her Chinese accent, but she literally translates idioms and phrases into English, and something inevitably gets lost in translation.  Because Mahal has had plenty of experience in awkward language encounters, this suits her fine.

The Chinese friend is one of her occasional colleagues at work, but they go so well together that the language barrier is more a novelty than anything else.  They are like hand in glove and know what each person’s functions are that they both wonder why they don’t work together more often, and in the near future they will probably do so.

Mahal recently found out that while Chinese Friend likes the work, it’s more optional than anything else.  She has a tidy nest egg and lives in her own house, and earns  a comfortable sum from shrewd investments both here and in her homeland.  Literally, she can quit her job anytime she wants, jump into her new Nissan Juke and race into the sunset.

She often asks Chinese Friend why she doesn’t work  or go into business for herself but the friend insists that money isn’t that important to her anymore.  After the rat race of working in bureaucratic Beijing, working in New Zealand is the idyll for semi-retirement, which is where she sees herself now, with her early pension and middle-aged husband.  Everything is fine for me, I don’t want anything to change, she says in her typically inscrutable English.

And those are Mahal’s Kiwi and migrant friends, who have made her life richer and more interesting.

Three shindigs, four families and a thousand smiles in the City of Sails

Auckland at night. thanks and acknowledgment for the photo to travel.usnews.com!

Auckland at night. thanks and acknowledgment for the photo to travel.usnews.com!

JUST AS important as the postcard sights, Michelin stars and travelogue accommodations of your vacation experience is the human factor.  How senti (or sentimental) your reunions were, how awesome a time you had reminiscing yesteryear with contemporaries, or how many tears of happiness shed with long-lost relatives brought back to life.  You may immerse yourself in the swankiest lodgings, admire the most breathtaking natural wonders, or savor the most decadent buffet, but who you meet and the stories you swap occupy a most prominent corner in your album of precious memories.

The people we met and spent time with during our short trip to Auckland (or the City of Sails, it sounds good for a title), fleeting as it was, made it doubly pleasing and trebly memorable.  It may have been the amount of time we spent apart, the remarkable anecdotes shared and recounted, or just the good company, but without them our modest little adventure would not have been the same.

the Ahorros of North Shore City : that's Arlene and Jun on one side, and their daughter Bea behind us on the other. We are all sitting like contented cows after a lunch of kare-kare and steamed blue cod. talap-talap!

the Ahorros of North Shore City : that’s Arlene and Jun on one side, and their daughter Bea behind us on the other. We are all sitting like contented cows after a lunch of kare-kare and steamed blue cod. talap-talap!

The day after we arrived, my old colleague Arlene Ahorro made sure we met her family and had lunch in their modest bungalow in North Shore just outside Auckland City.  The time Arlene and I worked together a few years ago was a special time for her; she was chasing permanent resident status on the Work-to-Residence policy stream, which is Immigration NZ‘s way of saying if you don’t find get a job offer that suits your qualifications within six months from the time you get off the boat, your goose is cooked and back home you go.  Arlene’s sticky situation was that she had a job offer, but it was from a company that was going under faster than the Titanic after it bumped Mr Iceberg.  She had to consolidate her status and wrap up her application soon, otherwise her dreams as a migrant were going to remain just that, dreams.

To make a long story short, she made it by the skin of her teeth, and as you can see on the pretty picture above, she was able to bring her family to the land of her dreams (son Byron is taking the pic).  They are by no means at the end of their rainbow, but they are getting there one day at a time, raising kids and building careers while enjoying each other’s love.

Oh, and I almost forgot, she sweetened the lunch invitation by preparing her world-class kare-kare and readying her kawali for a blue-cod (similar to lapu-lapu) dish that would have gotten rave reviews from any NZ Masterchef panel of judges.  After that, we had chocolate mousse and home-made capuccino, a concession to Western cuisine for dessert, at least.  Mabuhay kayo, Arlene and Jun Ahorro and family!

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with kabayan Aline and Arlene and their Kiwi partners.  Beer optional. :)

with kabayan Aline and Arlene and their Kiwi partners. Beer optional. 🙂

One Kiwi (Peter) was a world-weary traveller who’d been all over Asia to find his fortune, and the other (Greg) was a world-class corporate communications specialist, and there was practically nothing in common with them, save perhaps their choice of partners, both choosing Filipinas from my country.

The latter two, Doc Arlene Gill and Aline Parrone were two kabayan I’d gotten to know at the Facebook page of my alumni in NZ, and they had varied, yet parallel paths compared to mine on our way to becoming migrants in this fair land.  We found it odd that we knew each other well online but had never beheld each other personally, so we sought to remedy that situation our second day in AKL.

Over Japanese pica-pica and udon , we discussed how New Zealanders continued to marvel at how much their country has evolved in the last few decades, not the least because of the migration invasion.  Thanks also to the union between Kiwis and Pinoys, we have meetings of the minds like the one between cultures and perspectives.  Thanks for the opportunity, Arlene, Aline and your hubbies!

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from left: Hazel, their daughter Kimy, Your Loyal Blogger, Mahal, Hannah and my brother George.  in front of us is what remains of a humongous dimsum / yumcha lunch :p

from left: Hazel, their daughter Kimy, your loyal blogger, Mahal, Hannah and my brother George. in front of us is what remains of a humongous dimsum / yumcha lunch :p

Our best experience was saved for last.  I would not have been able to obtain my first work visa in New Zealand without the assistance and generosity of my brother George and his wife Hazel.  They figuratively held my hand, taught me to walk and talk, and finally weaned me from my circle of friends and supporters by helping me find my first job in New Zealand.

Nearly five years from the time I left Auckland, I saw them as a family again (pictured above), and they have remained the same engaging, hard-working and conscientious team of husband and wife, always there for their two daughters.  The latter two have remained the same respectful, charming and intelligent pair of Kiwinoys I left, and I’m so lucky to be their uncle as well!  It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say they charmed the pants off Mahal, who couldn’t stop giggling with them throughout our entire lunch (and follow-up lunch the day after)!

We would’ve gained probably an extra bilbil and double chin if we didn’t leave Auckland at the time we did, as George and family fed us lunch, merienda, and brunch until we could not longer take another bite.  Such is the hospitality of family, and our brother made sure we would never forget this visit.  Thanks so much brother, and may we return the favor when your family visit us in Wellington!

Thanks for reading!


proud to be a pinoy tradesman

that's me right on the bottom, but still proud as anyone on the list. :)

that’s me right on the bottom, but still proud as anyone on the list. 🙂

JUST BEFORE and during the Easter weekend, two separate events made me proud to be a tradesman, defined as  a person who earns his living from manual skills like carpentry, masonry, baking, milling and plumbing.  The first was very personal to me, as you’ll read below, and the second should put a collective lump in the throat of any Pinoy worthy of his / her kayumanggi skin.

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The e-mail was posted without incident and even less fanfare, probably because people like me were hurrying to our posts or commuting home between shifts at the time.  But it was one of the more pleasant messages on the bulletin board that I’d read :

“The xxx service recognition program aims to recognise employees’ service milestones and reward their loyalty, contribution and commitment towards the business.  I (the Managing Director) would like to extend my congratulations to those who have received service awards in the last quarter :

“xxxNoel B (that’s me) : Wellington : 5 years of service in March 2013”

I hadn’t been keeping count, but I knew it was some time since I started with my employer.  It was doubly significant since it was the employer who had been keeping me in New Zealand, so I guess I should’ve been at least a little more vigilant in anticipating the milestone.

Moreover, I was on my last legs as a temporary migrant when I got the job, didn’t have an ideal background, and not only had to move halfway across the country, but I also had do shift work, get used to manual labor and do everything my superiors asked me to do.

But when the job is the only thing keeping you in the country, you try your best to do everything in the job description, and get on the boss’s good side, everytime, all the time.

I did a lot of this the last five years so often it actually became part of my routine, and in the process I learned a trade.  Five years from taking on the job in South Auckland, I’m in the unlikely position of being a service awardee, a gypsy journeyman who’s still learning something new everyday.  Thank you all my colleagues, thank you bisors, and thank you Mr Employer across the Tasman.

And Tuesday is the first day for the rest of my working life.

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here's a screen shot of the tv3 news segment, thanks to tv3.co.nz for allowing us to share!

here’s a screen shot of the tv3 news segment, thanks to tv3.co.nz for allowing us to share!

This is one of those cases where words don’t do justice, and so I just direct the Precious Reader to the video which for copyright reasons (actually I violate this a whole lot) I can’t post directly, but can still share indirectly.

Our karpentero kabayan good at kalikot and kutingting were sought out by Kiwi construction companies contracted for the Christchurch rebuilding project, and, up to the challenge, many many carpenters tried out for 20 jobs back home, and are now here to provide carpentry services for the duration to the project.  Well, you’ll see all about it in the vid.

The work conditions aren’t world-class, but our countrymen are comfortable, as the footage attests.  They are also provided Pinoy food (prepared by a kabayan co-worker with cooking talents) and adequate internet services to communicate with their families back home.  Best of all, their talents and skills are valued, and if ever projects are awarded anew, will be engaged again.

For now, we don’t know if this is the start of something big, but one thing for sure : the Pinoy tradesman is and has always been welcome in New Zealand.

Kia ora and mabuhay Kiwis, Pinoys and Kinoys!

when see hear & speak no evil won’t do : confronting nega press on phils

34513ACCEPTING ALL the opprobrium that I expect will be flung at Your Loyal Blogger kabayan, I admit that I’m as non-partisan as non-partisan gets.  Despite matriculating at the so-called bastion of student activism (true only during the early Marcos years) and apprenticing under the school paper, I hold no strong worldview and just want to live out the rest of my years earning my bread, enjoying sparklingly entertaining books, living long enough to see my grandchildren and playing Tri-Peaks Solitaire.  And maybe filling in the blanks in this DIY and user-friendly blogsite.

But like many non-partisans out there (whether or not you admit it) I love my country, and still feel a lump in my throat when a countryman/woman does well in the sports / cultural / scientific fields and chafe at the worn points when any of us Pinoys, individually or collectively, fall into shame or disrepute.  Within our circle and among ourselves it might not hurt so much, we after all know each other cheek by jowl and can’t deny our warts and moles.

To strangers and outsiders though, it stings through and through, knowing that other peoples and races know of our faults and inner rots.  It hurts even more when, seeing but not understanding, they only see the results of our complicated cultures, hierarchies and histories.  Like any other tribe, Pinoys are the product of their assimilations, subjugations and contradictions.  Can we explain why we are Catholic, modern, pro-American, anti-American, Islam, autonomous, secessionist, protectionist, populist, elitist (and sometimes a combination of some, most or all of the above), and never seem to be able to decide what we are?

Most of all, we are onion-skinned (I know I am), when we hear of negative press about the Philippines overseas :

How do we explain this in one paragraph?  Muslim rebels engaging in the kidnap-for- ransom industry can do as they please because they are the proxies of military, police and political officials in the South.  The warriors of Islam are actually slaves of the almighty dollar, who know only too well that dangling a sword over captives from the First World is the surest way of earning foreign exchange, without forgetting of course that their  bemedalled, khaki-clad and high-handed masters claim their share first…

Vernon Gardiner in a Catanduanes detention center.  thanks to tv3news.co.nz for the pic!

Vernon Gardiner in a Catanduanes detention center. thanks to tv3news.co.nz for the pic!

This will take a little more than a paragraph, but still I will try.  Because many of our statutes are remnants of an era where civil and criminal laws had the same purpose, specifically the protection of the propertied and the landed, we often punished the commission of crimes against property as severely as those of crimes against persons.  One of these is fraud or deception, which to this day is punishment-wise on a level with attempted homicide and serious physical injuries.  Another special crime is illegal recruitment, probably because so many Filipinos want to go abroad to earn money.

The result?  A visitor unfortunate enough to be caught committing both those two crimes will probably rot in jail for the rest of his life, like the Kiwi pictured above.  It’s so hard to explain that it’s not just the NZ$5,000 owing to the Pinoy duped but the fact that through sweet enticements and trickery, such an amount changed hands, that caused the New Zealander to languish behind rusty bars, but the law is the law.  That, and the fact that just returning the money will effectively restore the status quo.  It’s that bizarrely simple.

[our friends overseas might also want to remember that the amount is about half a year’s pay for many of our kabayan back home, not that we’re nitpicking but it does make a bit of a difference for a family of six or seven struggling to make ends meet. ]

Surreal, inexplicable, upside-down bizzaro-type situations like the above two happen everyday in the Philippines, yet Pinoys like myself blush and grope for words when the rest of the world finds out about them.  What to do, what to do?  At this moment I’m not sure, but one thing I do know.  Instead of aping (pun intended) those three chimps covering their eyes, ears and mouths, we would do better to confront, verify and spin these facts, and indeed show them our true (Pinoy) face, nunal, kulugo, and balat, moles, warts and all.

Thanks for reading!

proud of our repost, proud of our kabayan

success! we found the pic for our repost. The orig caption: "FILIPINO farm workers Dennis Debuyan, left, and Dexter Marayo at work on a dairy farm in Southland. $14 an hour instead of a day has its attractions. Mabuhay kabayan Dennis and Dexter!

success! we found the pic for our repost. The orig caption: “FILIPINO farm workers Dennis Debuyan, left, and Dexter Marayo at work on a dairy farm in Southland. $14 an hour instead of a day has its attractions. Mabuhay kabayan Dennis and Dexter! thanks and acknowledgment to Waikato Times, Dominion Post and stuff.co.nz for the awesome pic!

SORRY TO belabor the obvious, but when you’re a migrant worker (like me) working far away from home (like me), seeing your countrymen/women given star billing in the local newspaper is definitely not an everyday occurrence.

This however was exactly what greeted us during morning tea last Friday, when on the business page we saw the main picture and banner headline bearing familiar faces and an encouraging headline, Dairy farms turn to migrants.

Strangely enough, we were recently just thinking that our brother Pinoys down south (on the South Island) weren’t getting enough kudos for the contribution they were making to building up the Pinoy‘s reputation in NZ (thanks to their solid contribution to the agricultural economy), when the story comes out in the Dominion Post.  Of course, part of the reason Pinoys are able to do this is because our hospitable hosts let them and are honest enough to admit it needs manpower help from outside.

Before we get too far ahead of ouselves, the Post story, in so many words, makes us extra proud of the Pinoy community in New Zealand, that hardworking compatriots not just in Auckland Wellington and Christchurch are quietly helping Kiwis and Maoris, but also deep in the farming heartland, tending to grazing cattle and sheep, milking cows and nursing lambs.  In short, doing everything traditional Kiwi farmers do, except that many New Zealanders, more inclined to cross the Tasman strait for jobs in Australia, are no longer willing to do those same jobs.

You and I can’t overestimate what keeping farms staffed means for New Zealand.  Think of all those Anchor Milk, Anchor Butter and Bing Loyzaga ads and Birch Tree commercials in the 1970s 1980s and 1990s.  Where did all that dairy product come from, and where does it continue to be made?  That’s right, here in Middle Earth, and kayumanggi hands churning all that butter and squeezing those teats will no longer be an unusual sight.

[ Additionally, besides the repost here, there is another interesting article about Pinoys in New Zealand farming that you might enjoy, posted in our very own Filipino Migrant News published in Auckland (by Sheila Mariano not far from where we live) and where the Pinoy community is MASSIVE. 🙂 ]

Unless you have microscopic vision, you won’t be able to read the story from the clipping above (although proverbially the pic tells a thousand words), likewise I’m not 100% certain if the report is carried in the online version.  I’m happy to thank and acknowledge both Mr Jason Krupp, Fairfax News NZ (and of course the Dominion Post) for the sterling story and marvelous pic, respectively.  Although some of you in my town have already seen and digested it, what I’m trying to say is I’m reproducing the story below, with grateful attribution to the copyright owners, no commercial gain intended :

“The stereotype of a Pakeha (European New Zealander) farmer may soon be on the way out, as dairy operators fill their ranks with foreign employees to make for the low level of interest in milk production jobs shown by Kiwi jobseekers.

“Agri-lobby Federated Farmers estimates that about a fifth of all dairy workers hail from overseas.

“That means the person responsible for getting a pint of milk out of a cow and on your breakfast table is likely to hail from the Philippines, Sri Lanka, India, or even as far afield as Colombia.

“And it is an arrangement that suits many in the industry.

Willy Leferink, the chariman of Federated Farmer’s Dairy Industry Group, said New Zealand — much like many other developed countries — was in the grips of a structural shift whereby young people were more likely to take up studies in more glamorous fields than farming despite its importance to the economy.

“He said that has been exacerbated by the rapid growth of the dairy industry in New Zealand, but an overall lack of interest in working long days in rural conditions were also an issue.

“`We need foreign workers because without them we would be devastated.’ Leferink said.

“The upside for farmers is that they gain staff with skills, as the New Zealand Immigration Service only issue visas to people with appropriate agri qualifications.

“They’re also getting the benefit of experience, with many foreign workers, particularly from the Philippines (underscoring YLBnoel’s), having worked in foreign markets.

“A South Waikato farmer, who asked not to be named, said staff with Saudi experience were particularly sought after as they were familiar with working on huge operations using modern machinery and world-class standards.

“He said efforts by Work and Income (the government funded employment and recruitment agency) to place unemployed people with farmers seldom yielded results due to a lack of dairy-specific skills, while foreigners came trained and enthusiastic (again, underscoring mine).

“Bruce Porteous, who works for farm recruitment firm Immigration Placements, said New Zealand was an appealing place to work for foreigners as the immigration laws paved the way for permanent resident.

“Data from Statistics New Zealand backs this.  In the year ended November 2012, almost 200 people from the Philippines became permanent residents, up 8.7 per cent on the same period a year ago.  Similar net migration gains were seen from Argentina and the Czech Republic.

“Additionally, there was the pull of “earning $14 an hour as opposed to $14 per day,” he said.

Leferink said he’d like to see more done at a school level to steer young people towards careers in the dairy industry.”

Res ipsa loquitur. Mabuhay ang Pinoy!

our accent marks us as migrants but also affirms our sense of self

versatilebloggeraward11[ Note : A little more opinionated, a little more candid, and a little less diplomatic this fair day for blogging.  Just spewing extemporaneous thoughts with little regard for the consequences, spoiler alert : the text suffers from ADHD and is incontrovertibly scatterbrained. Thanks for your time! ]

IN MY ultra-simplistic zero-sum yin-or-yang world, that recent royal-morning-sickness- aussie-DJ-prank tragedy can be ultimately reduced into : greed for information on one hand, and a sad lack of accent awareness, on the other.

Behind the naughty anything-for-a-laugh antics of those DJs who successfully attempted to access the Duchess of Canterbury’s sick ward, the whole world was waiting for news, any news about either the newest heir to the world’s most popular monarchy (rulers of the United Kingdoms of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Crown Dependencies and the remnants of the British Empire, on which the sun supposedly never set) or the Duchess’s early-pregnancy discomfort .  Preferably, news of the former, but the latter would do anytime.

Straining credulity on the other side is the willingness of someone tending to an ultra privacy-sensitive patient to believe that her grandmother would make a personal call, identifying herself without the layers and layers of protocol expected , and lastly sound the way she sounded, more like an audio caricature of herself (“this is the Queen, you know!”).

Yes, the DJs involved were trying to nail a stunt, pull a fast one on stressed, distracted health workers, but they were also shooting for the moon, outscoop everyone in merry old England from Way Down Under, and squeeze from the proverbial stone golden driblets of information and enhance their dubious status as semi-media outlets in the sea of TV, radio and print pseudo-journalists.

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But the story would not be complete without a naive, albeit efficient medical worker quietly doing her job, day in and day out, but completely unaware of what a British national, much less a reigning monarch would sound.

Would you believe that if I was a 48-hour a week rotating shift worker (regularly alternating from days to nights), confining nearly all my professional and social contacts to people of my race, and spending almost all my free time with family, I would, despite living in a country completely alien to my culture for a decade, not know much about anything besides my native language and culture?  Of course you would.

Particularly among low-income migrant workers, Asians tend to be parochial in outlook and habit, keeping among themselves.  In enclaves of migrants all over North America, Europe and Australasia, everything that reminds them of home is preserved and affirmed, and language is certainly no exception.  Would it be a big surprise that migrants here retain the tongue and accent they have brought from their native lands?

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It would then not be a big leap to assume that, not being much aware of what one needs to know beyond work and necessities, the subtle differences of accent between various English speakers would just be so much detail that matters little in the grand scheme of things.

Despite having a brother who had been in New Zealand the last 15 years when I arrived in Auckland in 2007, I had almost no idea of what a Kiwi accent was like.  There were no stereotypes in media to which I could refer, unlike icons of Austrian accents (Ahnuld Tuhminaytuh), American accents (Al Pacino or Clint Eastwood), French accents (Inspector Clouseau or Gerard Depardieu) or British accents (James Bond and his various incarnations), although I knew that there was a passing resemblance between Kiwi and British brogues.

Not just vowels and intonation, but also common words that had added, modified or even completely different meanings.  flat for apartment, torch for flashlight, rubbish for garbage, tins for cans, jumpers for jackets, and so on.

More insanely, I had not only the Kiwi accent to contend with, but other migrant accents as well.  Indian accents, Chinese accents, even Korean and Vietnamese accents.  And if I thought that being of Chinese descent would help me, I was mistaken : the Northern Chinese and Cantonese accents were markedly different from the Fukienese (Fujianese) Chinese accent I was accustomed to at home.

The only way I was going to entrench myself as a migrant, in a babel of tongues and accents, was to expose myself and not be intimidated by the different ways people from myriad races express themselves.

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And if that meant exposing them to my Pinoy accent, inflection and idioms, so be it.

The very fact that Pinoy call centers and business process outsourcing is now one of the mighty powerhouses of the Filipino economy serves notice that, Pinoy accent and all, we are understood at the very least and appreciated by the English speakers of the world.  It’s not so much that we have a way of speaking as the fact that we are understood by the way we speak.  Because of and in spite of, take your pick.

[ distracting thought : If you  talk the way you talk by the way, make yourself understood, and make your life easier, why make life hard and change your accent?  I DO concede though that a good part of our Filipino brothers and sisters speak with a very strong Pinoy accent, a little adjustment might be in order, but no biggie. 🙂 ]

Returning to the main kwento.  Conclusion : If you limit interaction among the people you were born with, you will have minimal understanding of the various accents that surround you, despite their physical presence in your adopted world.  Conversely, immerse yourself in the mixture of accents (and speakers) you hear around you and you will be conversant among strangers, friends with people you’ve never met before.

Even a passing awareness of how different races of people sound leads to better anticipation of what and how they are communicating, and ultimately to better understanding of these people, whether they are hosts or fellow migrants.

Consequently, we end up with a more profound appreciation of ourselves, as distinct yet interacting actors in the global village.

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It’s so sad that a life had to be wasted in that episode of the Duchess and her morning sickness leading to Aussie DJs and their prank call, but we can’t deny the resulting lesson that many of our daily problems between people all over the world might be solved with a little more understanding, a little less concern with privacy, and a little less deceit.

Regardless of the accent.

Thanks for reading !

who are the people in your neighborhood, in your neighborhood, in your neigh-bor-hood?

JUST THOUGHT you might want to know about our neighbors here in NZ, in a summarized sort of way.  The average neighbor here is a couple, married, Asian / Kiwi, with kids, and low-income to low middle-income level, and usually friendly.  But because it’s an average, it really doesn’t tell you anything much, unless we make a little sense out of the averages.

Before anything else, let me tell you that in a street known for quiet, well-manicured stately homes owned by high middle-income European New Zealanders (known more popularly as Kiwis), we live in an exception, an 11-unit block of houses owned by a retired couple living out-of-town.  Until very recently, the demographic majority was Asian couples living with multiple children, but a few transitions changed that, but as usual I’m getting ahead of myself.

We’ve been here over 18 months, and for the first 75% of that time it was the same set of tenants throughout, two Chinese families, two Indian, two Filipinos and the rest Kiwis.  It would be natural for us to be friendlier to the Asians but this wasn’t always the case.  The single moms (who were both Kiwi) had sons who were quite visible on the expansive, child-friendly lawns, so we got to be familiar (but not that friendly) with the moms as well.  The single Kiwi guy next door to us owned a cat who always welcomed Ganda whenever she visited us, so it was unlikely that we didn’t get to know the owner as well (Ganda is a cat person).  The Indians always smile whenever we met near the parking area, and of course the other Pinoy family (with four kids) became our buddies almost immediately, exchanging cooked meals with us and inviting each other to impromptu salu-salo at least once a month, or maybe borrow from each other odds and ends like cooking ingredients, bike pumps, or tools.

But it’s not always ideal and picture-perfectness in our neighborhood.  Once Mahal received a hand-written note on her windshield that said : Please use common-sense.  Park properly.  We didn’t know if the note meant that Mahal had parked on the note-writer’s spot (all the parking spots are free-for-all) or that the parking angle was awry, and I considered asking the possible sources of the note how we could, indeed, park with greater common sense.  Mahal, confirming what I was thinking, opined that it would be nearly impossible not to be misinterpreted, since (1) no one probably would admit it, since it was an anonymous note, and (2) the direct approach would, at least in this case, not be appreciated.

Then there was the single mom who sometimes left her small child for hours and hours in the playing area, seemingly without bothering to check if her son was hungry or cold.  Long after other children were already inside and having dinners, this child was still playing by himself on the trampoline.  I knew this was a sensitive topic, actually intervening in a home’s parental care, and in fact I found out that other mothers in the compound had made observations similar to mine.  It didn’t help that the child looked frail and neglected (although it could just be my opinion, colored by the situation) and that mom wasn’t at all friendly to other neighbors, least of all to other mothers who discouraged their children from getting too close with the child.

Not sure if it was just me, but one of the least friendly neighbors was a blended Kiwi-Chinese couple three doors down.   The Chinese in me (I’m part-Chinese) naturally wanted to reach out, and I always make an effort to be personable to Kiwis, but neither of them even made an effort to connect, with either our flat, those of other Asians, or even with most of the Kiwi neighbors.  This, despite the fact that their daughter/stepdaughter was a regular playmate of the Kiwi and Pinoy kids, even the one in the previous paragraph.  It was almost like, since they considered themselves neither Asian nor New Zealander, they felt no affinity for both groups.  A bit unfair as an observation, but again, that’s just me.

But on the whole our small community has reaffirmed our faith in the common goodness of neighbors who don’t need to know each other well to be decent to each other.  The proverb good fences make good neighbors (though there are no actual fences around here) comes to mind; no neighbor (besides the Pinoy family of course) is what I would consider anything more than nodding acquaintances to us; that doesn’t stop me from helping them move furniture or big purchases between the car and the door (and hopefully vice-versa); and Mahal always takes the time to deliver a Pinoy dish to new neighbors just to make them feel welcome.

For sure, the kaldereta and afritada might hit their taste buds a bit strangely, particularly when Mahal is in a spicy mood, but it nevertheless signals that as Pinoy neighbors go, you’ll never get a raw deal.

Thanks for reading!

the mall is where the (pinoy) heart is

KIWIS LOVE their weekend barbies (barbeques), Polynesian islanders love to fish for paua and kawhais, assorted Asians love to do a wide range of things (cooking, eating and playing mahjongg) that involve communal activity, but if you want to see what Filipinos generally do on their free time, just do what I do : go to the nearest mall.

Research is not my strong area (one of my weakest, actually) and my ADHD always leads my interviews to a dozen off-the-Google-Map detours (just ask Ambassador Virgie) so I only have my own sensory tools and natural noseyness when forming my shaky judgments, but I think I stand on solid ground when I say that Pinoys possess a preternatural affinity for malls.  Ever since the days of Harrison Plaza and Makati Commercial Center, Filipinos have turned to malls like ducks to water, frogs to swamps and tuna to their spawning grounds. I think it’s the unique mix of commercial chaos, anonymity among multitudes and food court orgy, combined with the current mood of the mallgoer, that create the mall experience.  Gamechanging trends in the mall industry made possible by Henry Sy and the SM Group provided us Pinoys with the Mall Generation.  Could any of us born after Martial Law imagine our childhood, puberty and young adulthood without Megamall, SM North City and all those other malls of our lives?

Sorry to digress.  I just meant to say that a lot of Pinoy migrants, me included, have brought this mall consciousness (of relating almost every aspect of social life to mallgoing) to our new and adopted lands, regardless of whether or not malls abroad are more beautiful, more glittering and more inviting.  (They’re not.)  We do it almost subconsciously, connect almost everything we do to the mall.  Would it not just be the next step, if the opportunity presented itself, to associate job prospects with the mall?

This is what happened to esposa hermosa, but I’m getting ahead of myself.  The mall supermarket, fairly-sized and competing with two others in the area outside the mall, is staffed by two Pinoys.  One of them is Ate Emma, a cashier, who came with one of the earliest waves of migrants in the late 1980s or early 1990s.  I don’t want to be presumptuous, but I’m guessing her Kiwi husband was a former pen-pal who exchanged correspondence, visited the Islands (and her) on a whim, and came back to New Zealand with a Pinay bride.  But of course, my interaction with her is limited to checkout banter, smiles and short-but-sweet phrases like kumusta na magsisimba ka ba and sobrang lamig ng winter sana uminit sa spring no?  the other pinoy is the duty manager James, an Ogie Alcasid lookalike that I often see attending to the self-checkout machines that require supervisor approvals for alcohol purchases.  He gives me a friendly wave and returns to his duties.

Almost every other ladies wear and accessories store is staffed by Asians, and I’m pretty sure at least half of them are Pinays, this type of merchandise attract the female of our kind, who are usually already experts in the art of making and keeping themselves beautiful and trendy in most of their outfits, not easy when you consider the downsized Asian budget.

But the real proof that Pinoys are creatures of the mall are on the walkways, the Warehouse store, the foodcourts, everywhere else.  In singles, in pairs, in families, even in groups of barkadas, they literally fill up the place.  You know other Asians, Islanders, Kiwis and tourists, and you definitely know if they are Pinoys, the familiar chatter, the in-between features of Asians, South Europeans and our very own ethnic minorities.  They are in their element, each Pinoy diving into their favorite store, hanging out with friends, or just chillin’, hope you don’t mind if I use that youngster word.

One more thing.  The foodcourt cleaning staff is filled with Pinays who do their work proudly, picking up in nanoseconds any stray tray, plate or cutlery that is no longer needed, returning the non-disposable stuff to the respective kiosks / stalls, and generally making themselves available to the dining public, especially the kabayan.

Did I say I was getting ahead of myself earlier?  Oh yes I did.  Esposa worked most of her professional life in a mall, so it was natural for her to look for a job in a mall, taking the first availble job in Westfield’s most popular sushi place.  Very fortunately for her (and me, by osmosis) the employer was above average, it’s been (and continues to be) a good gig, the hours are friendly, and the patrons even more so, save for the occasional flakey customer demanding what he/she feels is original wasabe.

In sum, we buy necessities and derive livelihood from a mall, it’s close to our flat, and we see lots and lots of Pinoys in it, almost any day of the week.  Life is good.

Thanks for reading!