the birthday that time forgot

pic collage : a labor of love by Mahal. :) thanks for everything!

pic collage : a labor of love by Mahal. ūüôā thanks for everything!

AFTER ALL, it’s a birthday blog, so it doesn’t need to make (that much) sense, does it? ¬†It’s just an excuse to say whatever I want, and if you don’t like it or aren’t entertained, well, birthday gift nyo na lang sa kin ang pagbasa, Precious Reader. (Just tolerate it as a birthday gift to me is the rough unGoogle Translate, Precious Read.)

I had anticipated either working for 10 hours in the dead of night, and/or getting a satisfying homemade dinner, very late in the night (or very early in the morning), on my birthday, because first, I asked for a birthday leave (which my employer graciously gives the celebrant) the day after, so as not to disrupt shift schedules (it would be complicated to find someone to fill in for my night shift), and to take advantage of a Friday leave translating into a long weekend.

No way goodwife Mahal would let me forget it was my birthday though, as she promised to cook up a sensational dinner for me whether or not I was up for it, I would either eat it 2 am after the shift ended or in the morning when I woke up.

As it turned out, a Wellington downpour unparalleled in the last 50 years intervened (it had to happen on my birthday right?), and for the first time in as long as I can remember, a work shift was canceled.  I was actually lucky because, being on a later shift, I was spared having to go to work in the daytime and facing the risk of the nearby stream washing out the bridge and cutting off commuters from the only road back home.

At the same time, Mahal came down with a stupefying allergy attack that all but stopped her from doing anything but going to work, it would be unkind of me to ask anything else of her especially since she’d been bringing me to and from work since the week started…

So as I said, I was prepared to work my behind off between 4 pm and 2 am and then have two or three beers with myself on a Thursday night, or at least have a late night dinner (also with myself), but not sit with myself the whole day with only the MagicSing videoke and Candy Crush to keep me company (Mahal also being at work, keeping regular hours).

*****     *****     *****

Not that I was complaining. ¬†As anyone with normal body temperature, not a vampire and not a werewolf (or aswang or manananggal) will tell you, night shift sucks. ¬†I’ll sleep at night any time. ¬†But here I was, doing nothing, unexpectedly, on a birthday. ¬†I also couldn’t take a walk or run, two of my favorite activities, because of the terrible weather.

I got dozens and dozens of Facebook greetings, thank you to all who bothered. ¬†I tinkered with my settings without supervision, so I ended up not allowing people to post on my page, I could’ve gotten a few more greetings but that’s all right. ¬†I got a missed call from Second Brother back home in the Philippines, too bad the phone was inside a bureau drawer. ¬†Also got SMS messages from Eldest Brother (also in Manila) and Fourth Brother in Auckland. ¬†Thank you brothers.

Late afternoon, I received phone calls and felicitations from the kids, the most emotional and heartwarming from Bunso, who still gives me the odd impression (caused by the similarity of our voices) that I’m talking to myself. ¬†Said that the good times were only beginning, and that we think so alike that we can never stop talking to each other and about each other. ¬†Thank you too, anakis.

The best part of having an altered work day that happened to be my birthday?  I slept normally that day, besides the love of my life, sharing her warmth and her company, which is more than any man could ask for.  After a few beers of course.

Thanks for all the kind thoughts, life has just begun!

sweets for my sweets

IMG_0038[Note : Thank you so much George, Hazel, Kimmy and Hannah from Auckland for your outstanding and thoughtful generosity; your brother/brother-in-law, sister-in-law/tita, nephews/cousins, niece/cousin are all so grateful for your gifts (shown above) from Auckland all the way to Wellington!  Maraming maraming salamat po and please hug and kiss all our rellies back home in Manila!  Advance Maligayang Pasko to all our kabayan in New Zealand, the Philippines and the rest of the OFW and migrant world! ]

THE TOPIC/S of the day are our kabayan’s outstanding performances in this year’s beauty pageants, and the despicable act of a political scion having security guards arrested just for doing their job chillingly reminiscent of Martial Law days, but the urgency now tends to a more personal topic, and one hopefully that you can help me with.

You see, for the first time in years and years, I have a little barya set aside for gifts for my loved ones.   The usual austere mood and logistics dictate that I can only think of gifts for my immediate kin, but it is still a formidable task.  I have little excuse not to think of them, they have after all been so nice and thoughtful to me this year.

More than once I saw sentiments like this posted in social networks like Facebook (actually FB is the only network I’m on) :¬†This year I decided to have a low profile Christmas, thinking of those who can’t even have a decent celebration in their own homes, those who are still in the painful process of recovering from recent tragedies…. ¬†I have no gifts nor cards to send to family and friends….for there are others who need them (or their equivalent ) more. But rest assured, you’re always in my thoughts and prayers…¬†Happy holidays, everyone!

I felt something similar to the above, but I JUST HAVE to send a token of appreciation to the people mentioned, especially since I hadn’t done so for so long. ¬†Mahal, who is my caregiver (I’m cranky and creaky when I’m tired and hungry, which is often), driver, cook, muse, lover and everything else in my life; Panganay, who reminds me of more adventurous and difficult times in the distant past; Ganda, who is the light of my life and remains as malambing as the time she was in diapers; and Bunso, whose energy and inspiration never fail to brighten my day.

***         ***         ***

I have not had an ideal relationship with Panganay. ¬†For a significant block of his pre-adolescence I was occupied with problems of my own, and ultimately he, among his siblings, bore the brunt of my neglect and immaturity. We have both made attempts (in varying intensities) to repair our relationship, but it hasn’t been an easy task.

It’s part of human nature to use Christmas and other happy occasions to improve our relationship, and as naively as an old-school father can get, I have taken the time to meet Panganay and his new girlfriend. ¬†This time with one hand tightly clutching my pamasko and the other holding Mahal’s arm, I’m hoping that the holidays can help us form a bond that can only strengthen in time.

***               ***               ***

Ganda has always been sweet and solicitous of her father, even in our leaner, bleaker days.  I remember coming home from NZ once, and she was so afraid I would leave the next day before she woke up, that she insisted on sleeping next to me and tightly clutching my hand until she fell asleep.  Needless to say, by the time she woke up, my hand was no longer there.

Ganda is fully adult now, mature for her age as she ever was, but she still worries for me like she did before. ¬†Too tired, too wet, too hungry and now too old, she never ceases to show her concern and ask if I’m these things, and therefore she never ceases to amaze me. ¬†Even when I ask her if I she needs extra funds for whatever, she almost always declines, and we can only show her some hospitality by treating her and hey boyfriend to a little lunch, dinner or merienda.

YES, her boyfriend, and they have been together for a year now.  Beyond the usual expectations and keeping my hopes up, he has been the perfect gentleman and has shown us every courtesy and concern that a Pinoy boyfriend can give.  THAT is enough for me for now, and obviously he is more than a Christmas gift for Ganda to treasure.

I have to think long and hard before giving Ganda a nice little gift, for not  only have I not given her much for some time now, she also truly deserves one, for all the reasons there can be.

***               ***               ***

Bunso is, to put it bluntly, having the best time of his life in New Zealand.  His special circumstances would not allow him to fully enjoy himself back home, but now he has the freedom, friends and supportive family in his new home away from home, Wellington.  Along the way he has shown remarkable development in his attitude, personality and smarts.   He has truly come into his own.

I honestly don’t know what to give him for Christmas, because he is just starting to discover himself. ¬†He has combined two incredible traits, and I don’t say this just because I’m his dad : he is unselfish, and he is thoughtful. ¬†As a son, brother, friend and colleague, he is a gift to everyone.

***               ***               ***

It’s hard to put into words what Mahal is to me, so I won’t even try : she is everything to me. ¬†So much so that giving her a gift this gift-giving season is truly a challenge. ¬†Fortunately, she has helped me : inasmuch as December is Christmas and our anniversary month AND her birthday, she has offered to allow me to consolidate all these gifts into one, as long as it’s special.

Can you help me think of a truly special gift for her?

Thanks for reading!

hi-definition bonding with kids is even cooler when they’re your own

It's Friday casual. As usual, I will hide from Mahal after posting this w/o her knowledge. ;)

It’s Friday casual. As usual, I will hide from Mahal after posting this w/o her knowledge. ūüėČ

[ Note : “high definition” : high resolution, greater detail often on a wide format of viewing. ¬†“Bonding” :¬†Establish a relationship with someone based on shared feelings, interests, or experiences. Thanks for reading this extra long post! ]

AN ETERNITY AGO, when there were more sons and daughters in my age group than mothers or fathers, I often bristled at the slightest impression that any parent of ¬†my contemporaries had a favorite (or worse, favorites) in their brood. ¬†Bad enough that the folks had to apportion their affection among multiple offspring, were they that awful that they couldn’t even distribute such affection equally?

Many years later, now to be exact, I know now this inequitable maldistribution of wealth to be an unfortunate but inevitable fact of life. ¬†Should you ask, it’s because the naive son has become a naive father (and quite possibly a naive lolo in the near future, need you ask again), and mainly because one, there is simply no way love and affection, spoils and favors can be dealt out in a perfectly symmetric way to sons and daughters. ¬†Two, in your brood there is always the one who seeks you out just a little more, appreciates you more and is a little more demanding of your time. ¬†The resulting surplus of communication and appreciation, despite what many parents deny, is what manifests itself as a show of favorite/s, the Joseph among the Twelve or maybe John the Beloved among the Apostles.

So it shouldn’t be too much of a shock for me to tell you that whoever among Panganay, Ganda and Bunso communicate, share more of their time and show a little more concern more often is for that particular point in time my favorite. ¬†I’m too old now to worry about offending them, they all know that I love them as much as I love myself (which is a lot), but then and now whoever is closer to me is that, closer.

That evening it was Bunso, who on his own asked if he could have dinner with Mahal and me, which of course we obliged as we hadn’t seen him much since he got his first job, and then his second job at a superpopular cafe chain. ¬†Engaging with people is a natural skill with him, so we were so happy when he made the move.

Except that between this dinner and the last, I was unaware that Bunso had quickly grown from a laugh-a-minute, outspoken and gregarious individual into a brooding, intense and introspective 18-year old.  Sure he was still talkative, animated as life itself, and never shied away from controversy, if it meant defending the things he stood for.

But there was a seriousness with him, a loss of innocence that only a recent milestone of adult life could’ve made possible. ¬†Yes Mahal, Bunso had fallen in love. ¬†And was fortunate enough to have survived it.

In so many words he told us  that it was both an exhilarating and sobering experience, but that was it.  No other juicy tidbits.  We were privileged to have been part of his milestone, yet respected his privacy enough not to ask further.  It was all I could do to restrain myself from asking a million and one questions, for after all could you blame me for thinking that the baby, the youngest of the litter, was now nearly a full-grown man?

***   ***   ***   ***   ***

Beyond this, Bunso also told us something we hadn’t expected. ¬†Panganay, from whom we hadn’t heard for some time, was down with something, but couldn’t tell us what.

It was high time for me to give Panganay a long overdue call. ¬†Overdue mainly because he had been busy with his stuff, but also because the latter didn’t sound too much like he needed any presence other than friends and the current ladylove of his life, who I was also more than a little curious to see. ¬†Almost immediately after Bunso left the next day, I called.

Anak, kumusta ka na? ¬†Ano na’ng nangyayare sa buhay mo? ¬†I wanted to know all about his mystery ailment, but also wanted to give him the chance to open up first.

“Wala Pa, may nabugbog lang akong muscles and full bed rest ang recommend ng doc.”

I knew his condition was a tad more serious than he let on, so I probed a little further.

Kailangan mo raw ng medical procedure anak?

“Oo, pero nagiipon pa ako.” ¬†That last ¬†statement of independence melted me a little, so I tried a half-joke, half-expression of concern.

Kung barya na lang ang kulang anak, tawagan mo kami agad ni Tita H.  I think he knew we were half serious because Mahal reinforced the offer a minute later.

Now, on to more important matters.

May girlfriend ka na raw Anak? ¬†At superganda pa according to Bunso? ¬†At supersexy? ūüėČ

“Linoloko lang kayo ni Bunso” Panganay stammered, but more out of modesty than anything.

Anak, I semi-scolded him, kapag sinabing maganda ang syota mo, umoo ka na lang.  At kapag sinabing sexy ang GF mo, sabihin mo OO NGA.

We both had to laugh at that.

We couldn’t end the call without an offer to cook him and his new girlfriend an authentic, adobo and sinigang Pinoy dinner very soon. ¬†Hopefully, while he’s convalescing from his momentary setback.

The moments are few and far between, but when you reconnect with the younger generation, you feel a bit younger again, and the years of your youth come back for a while. ¬†It’s even better when the reconnection is with your own kids.

Before I forget, may I just add one more crazy piece of advice for you after reading this blog, from someone who has no business giving advice anyway : try bonding with your chikitings about things they care about, things they do and things that affect their everyday lives.  It just might work one of these days.

thanks for reading!

[ Postcript : Just in case you feel Ganda might be left out here, her boyfriend is an above average basketball player, so anytime I watch one of their Pinoy community league games, I can bond with them easily. ¬†So there. ūüôā ]

girls’ night out

THE ABOVE ad is 99% tongue-in-cheek, but it rings with a bit of truth.  Men like me are effectively handicapped and disadvantaged without our better halves, not because we are inherently useless and disabled, but because their efficiency and dexterity dooms us to a life of dependence and vestigial extremities (when it comes to cooking), not that we mind a lot.

I already had two left hands save for boiling water and boiling eggs before Mahal arrived in NZ, but it got worse because every time I tried to help her in the kitchen, she just rolled her eyes and said magsaing /maghugas ka na lang ng pinggan Mahal. ¬†That’s how awful I was.

So Saturday evening when she went on those very rare girls’night out, I was left with an embarrassment of riches : leftover sinigang, leftover tocino, leftover crab-flavored empanada-like pastries, day-old KFC, actually anything else I might like, as she asked me well in advance what I might want for dinner.

Her dabarkads parried my iuwi nyo sya nang maaga (come home early) with bukas nang maaga namin sya iuuwe (OK, early tomorrow morning)¬†ūüė¶ I took this half-seriously, as they were going to seriously celebrate a much-deserved furlough from their kids (every one of Mahal’s posse has at least a kid; one has three.)

I had so much to do, I didn’t know where to start. ¬†Finish A Game of Thrones so I could start with A Clash of Kings; rearrange my Batman action figure collection; run around the block where we just moved in to check out the sights; take a nap so as to catch the NBA rerun on the Maori channel, the list didn’t end.

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

Before the last minute of the first hour past Mahal’s departure time, I already missed her. ¬†We hardly shared any quiet time anymore, especially the last month. ¬†Combine me switching to a new department, our moving house, and erratic work skeds, and although we share a roof, a bed and soap/shampoo, I saw and heard next to nothing, nothing that was worth seeing and hearing, from esposa hermosa. ¬†She prepared my baon, did the laundry, woke me up and lullabied me to sleep, but we hadn’t exchanged innermost thoughts or fondest dreams lately.

The sad part was I didn’t realize this till I was totally alone, staring at a bland CSI show and listening to white noise for the last 30 minutes. ¬†You can be alone without being lonely, but try telling that to newly divorced spouses, widowers and househusbands who haven’t seen their wives for some time. ¬†Just the sound of her voice, her puttering around, and her constant attention to you makes it all worthwhile.

She promised she’d be home midnight, but she deserves a little more down time with her girls. ¬†No one knows it better than Your Loyal Blogger.

Have a good time Mahal.  And come home tired, but happy.

how mahal got her groove in the land of 2nd chances

a foot in the door... the work visa, formerly known as a work permit :)

a foot in the door… the work visa, formerly known as a work permit ūüôā

IN MANY ways, as you’ve doubtless heard from kabayan communities all over, migrating to a new land is like Life’s second chance. ¬†Lifelong frustrations, broken dreams and failed professions are all swept aside as the prospect of new careers, golden incomes and even a rejuvenated lovelife are all made possible, sometimes at the same time, when one succeeds in carving out a migrant life in the so-called (generically designated) land of milk and honey.

I’m not ungrateful, but after six years here I continue to define myself as an accidental migrant, firstly because my migrant adventure in New Zealand started just as my tourist’s itinerary expired. ¬†More than a few times in this space I’ve had occasion to mention that a generous aunt brought me and a few other relatives to visit my brother in Auckland back in 2007, and during such jaunt my Kinoy bro suggested that, as long as I didn’t have any pressing business back home, I might want to stay behind after the tour group left and try my luck applying for a work permit.

To make a long story short, I got lucky once, twice and yet again. ¬†Because of a “trade” (vocational job) that I picked up, I was able to obtain work permits (now known as work visas) with a supportive employer despite a depressed job market. ¬†I’ve been able to accumulate training and career development that has allowed me to consolidate the modest gains I’ve made as a guest worker.

A second reason I’m an accidental migrant is the nature of my visa: because of my limitations, I don’t have the necessary credentials to realistically see myself as a successful candidate for permanent resident status, so that I’ve been riding the migrant wave on a one-year work visa, which is like being given an amazing car that can bring you anywhere you want (and which runs on ultracheap fuel) but which breaks down one year to the day you’re given such car. ¬†To continue getting around, you need another amazing car, that will (you guessed it) break down in yet another year. ¬†My stay in NZ is contingent on my job, which is in turn dependent on my continued enjoyment of work visa-status. ¬†Because the visa officer every time I apply after every year is someone new, nothing is ever assured.

As you might have guessed, none of this mattered to Mahal, from whom I had been apart for the better part of three years, me coming home only on Christmases and my folks’ 50th wedding anniversary. ¬†Her patience was wearing thin, and not even the fleetingness of a work permit / visa would keep her from joining me in NZ.

The trick was, we had to prove our relationship, as we weren’t married at the time. ¬†Immigration NZ (the counterpart of our Philippine Bureau of Immigration and Deportation) takes a very dim view on ersatz couples who use their “relationship” as a means of getting into the country, as the exercise understandably smacks of fraud and an attempt to abuse the system. ¬†Despite this, thousands upon thousands of applicants use the partnership policy stream to obtain visas into the country.

Just to show you how determined she was, she did the following for the first time: (1) fill up immigration forms invented by probably one of the most meticulous and detail conscious agencies around; (2) submit to stressful interviews from officers keen to know every detail about her life; (3) revisit every place she lived in to compile documentary evidence that she was a law-abiding, upstanding and productive member of the community.

So that by the time a decision had been made regarding her visa application as my partner, just the stress of having gone through the process was drama enough.  But as you might expect, all the trials and tribulations of waiting, waiting and waiting by Mahal to join me in my life as an accidental migrant, upon arrival of that blue-and-white sticker, became worth it.

And just to make the event more memorable, a few days after Mahal arrived in NZ for the first time, a freak tornado visited the town where we lived. ¬†Here’s how it looked:

Since then, Mahal has adjusted to accidental migrant life just as well, if not better than I have, and has incidentally made my life here so much more colorful, meaningful and fulfilling.  She is exceedingly grateful for my helping her get here, little knowing that it is I who have been all the richer.  (Or maybe she does?)

This is why on the third anniversary of her first work permit / visa in NZ, it is worth remembering.  Thanks for joining me here mi amor!

Happy Valentines‘ Day to all!

Thanks for reading!

Mahal’s birthday handa reminds everyone of home

Mahal with part of her handa.  Poor babe ;)

Mahal with part of her handa. Poor babe ūüėČ

I KNOW I have no right to complain, I did the least work actually.

All around me, for 36 hours people were cooking, preparing yummies and presenting the same buffet style, chilling drinks and readying ingredients for food that had to be cooked just before the guests arrived.  Earlier, a colleague came in and set up a very professional-looking gazebo, which unfortunately was ruined by gale-force winds.

Even the guests got into the act, a lot of whom brought either their own specialties, desserts and of course cakes for the celebrant.

By now you’ve probably guessed that the event of which I speak is an impromptu birthday party of Mahal, impromptu because it was recently canceled and brought back to life, because we (actually she) also wanted to celebrate another year in NZ for both of us, her way of thanking everyone who made our life here a little easier, and who made us forget that we were away from the homeland, away from previous lives, and away from family.

It was a mini-reunion for me, because when I first arrived in Wellington I nearly forgot that I had three cousins and their families waiting to welcome me.  Each of them had gotten an early foot in the migration door and had already obtained permanent resident status, and thus had high hopes for Mahal and me, despite the fact that our credentials under the Skilled Migrant Policy streams had yet to pass muster so far.

There were also colleagues from Mahal’s workplace, the sushi bar, a few provincemates that she discovered at the mall (as you know, Filipinos are very regionalistic) and a few people who helped us in our unexpected journey of migration.

And as anyone will tell you, the DNA strands of a Pinoy gathering are dual : the unique food, and where available, the karaoke / videoke singing, which fortunately for us, thanks to the visitors were plentiful and enjoyable.

just one of the many dishes served. Mahal and her little helpers were both lucky and great in planning!

just one of the many dishes served. Mahal and her little helpers were both lucky and great in planning!

Sisig from a Kapampangan caterer who was also a friend, lechon de leche from a specialist Chinese Pinoy, lumpiang shanghai from our workhorse flatmates, dinuguan from our Johnsonville kinsmen, and many other dishes that not only reminded everybody of home but coaxed us to revisit the old country soon.

During and after the gastronomic olympics, we never ran out of wannabe Pinoy Idol and X-Factor candidates, singing everything from OPM favorites to Seventies, Eighties and Nineties classics. ¬†Too many great songs, too many videoke superstars to mention, but it’s safe to say that nearly one out of two guests held the mike at least once.

The party and the gathering was for Mahal, who was definitely overwhelmed, but it seemed we were celebrating everything Filipino, thanking God in our best Pinoy way for a safe, blessed and illuminating 2012, and bonding among the people who mattered : fellow migrants with whom we shared culture, history and hopes for a better Philippines in 2013.

Mahal with well-wishers, including H.E. Ambassador Virginia H. Benavidez

Mahal with well-wishers, including H.E. Ambassador Virginia H. Benavidez

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This blog wouldn’t be complete without a special mention about a guest who very graciously accepted our invitation, and true to her word made it to our munting dampa. ¬†It wasn’t so much honoring our little gathering that made everyone present feel special, but the fact that her very presence made it crystal clear that she was never too busy or occupied not to accept a kabayan’s invitation. ¬†She carried herself like any other guest, bringing a cake for the celebrant, taking the time to get to know everyone present, and even obliging a request by singing Wonderful Tonight on the videoke. ¬†She blended in, and yet by being herself, distinguished herself as the special person that she truly is.

Thank you for attending Mahal’s birthday party, Ambassador Benavidez. ¬†You did a great job making her feel special, and in doing so you honored every one of us. ¬†New Zealand’s Pinoy community is grateful and you do our country proud !

Thanks for reading !

PS. Thank you so much Romy Loverez for the gazebo, Tom and Ining Agustin for the dinuguan, pictures, and macaroons, Cliff and Marj Magno for the pictures and banana cake and salads, Rey and Malou Manahan for the lumpiang shanghai, Ricky and Maya Montenegro for the baked macaroni, Jess and Nena Pelayo for the latik/biko, Ramil and Marie Garcia for the chicken empanada, please remind us if we have omitted anyone !

Going M.A.D. ( Mahal Appreciation Day)

Ganda's only vice is the need to look gorgeous each time she steps out the door! :)

Ganda’s only vice is the need to look gorgeous each time she steps out the door! ūüôā

versatilebloggeraward11TODAY,¬†THE 26th it’s all about Mahal.* ¬†Let’s call it Mahal Appreciation Day (MAD) for brevity. ¬†All gifts to be exchanged bundled up, more gifts wrapped for people unmet during Christmas Day, laundry done and food prepared for later tonight, then off to the mall we go!

It’s but fitting that we celebrate MAD in the mall. ¬†The mall is where I met Mahal, the mall is where she worked, both at home and now in New Zealand, the mall is close to our flat and the mall is where so many of our kabayan congregate, it’s like a second home for us.

Mahal spends a bit more time getting ready, agonizing over two outfits, concedes that my suggestion about a third outfit appears more sensible, then goes right back to her two original choices. ¬†Sigh. ¬†It’s all good.

After 10 minutes of travel (the mini-traffic jam takes longer than just walking to the mall), 10 minutes of finding a suitable parking spot (we don’t want sudden rain to ruin her summer outfit) and five minutes of walking between the parking lot and the mall proper, she remembers that the most important reason for the trip (exchange the present I gave her for another, sexier one) we forgot to bring and is gathering dust on the dresser back home. ¬†Since a parking spot here, once we give it up, will be next to impossible to find, would I be a dear and walk home (much faster) and retrieve the forgotten item ?

No worries Mahal. ¬†As I said, today’s all about you.

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We decide to snack a little before continuing MAD (which started out with a pedicure/ manicure instead of the foot spa she misses back home, the gift exchange and buying odds and ends for a very short gift list), and because of the impossibly packed food court, we end up sharing a table with an Indian couple and a Arab couple.  Given the famous NZ demographic diversity in urban centers, nothing surprising.

What did raise my eyebrows and elicit internal double-takes was the devil in the details : the Arabic couple was eating chicken, the Hindu couple was eating pork, and we were, of course, eating beef.  We were all within garlic-breath distance of each other, meaning we could all see, smell and hear what each other was eating.

We all smile at each other.  There is after all no need to be uncivil to heathen and unbelievers, but inwardly I think each of us present are quite awkward and uncomfortable, to say the least.  Us Pinoys have the least awkward time, granted.

The day ends, after more shopping, a shared coffee (due to strength and volume, one medium mocha latte is enough for the two of us), a little more pampering for Mahal (it is her birthday after all), and a surprise visit from Ganda and Bunso, with a dinner treat from the celebrant.  Mahal typically wants everyone to be happy, even on her special day, and she gives us a memorable dinner.

I know you already know why it’s important for me to set aside Mahal Appreciation Day, but I’m saying it anyway for the record : for the person who cooks for you, wakes you up in the morning, drives you to work if it’s windy and rainy, tucks you in at night, does your laundry, fixes snacks for you, and picks out the clothes to make you look half-presentable, hangs on to your every word, shows you how much she loves you and otherwise makes you wonder how you ever did without her, showing her one day a year that she is at the very least appreciated is, literally, the least you could do for her.

I love you so much Mahal, thanks for being in my life, and you complete me! :’)

*not her real name. ūüôā

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farewell faithful servant !

an almost exact replica (except that ours was a dull gray) of our faithful servant, now gone ūüė¶

A FUNNY thing happened on the way to the end of twilight shift Tuesday night, somewhere between dinner break and  9 pm teatime (merienda to us back home).  It seems that Mahal on her own, using tenacity and a bit of luck, bought herself at an excellent price, a new car.

And when the words excellent and price are used together in a single phrase by a Pinoy of the full or half blood, you know what I mean, low or value-for-money or simply cheap.

But that’s just scratching the surface of this little tale.¬† Awkwardly, I admit that Mahal, though arriving in NZ no less than three-and-a-half years after I did, has overtaken me in almost every major step of migrant life.

She has mastered right-hand driving in record time (one year after arrival), albeit with a little help from her boss; held two regular part-time jobs without too much fuss and has learned to use TradeMe with such facility that I can hardly believe she’s just started to use it.

TradeMe is similar to the internet auction site eBay, except that it’s hugely popular among New Zealanders, who use it for every major purchase that isn’t brand new, with about 60% of the entire NZ population using the site and around 70,000 on TradeMe during peak hours, astounding statistics for a country of relatively small size (4.2 million).

She found the car that she wanted at the price that suited her (now our) budget, bid for it smartly and ferociously (allegedly till the last minute) of bidding, even experiencing a memorable sidelight of her first successful bid in the form of a “sore loser” bidder who complained that the bidding deadline was (illegally) extended beyond such deadline.¬† Obviously the complainer was already contemplating ownership at the price he/she bid before the final bid.¬† The new car was in our eyes everything she wanted : newer, hopefully less problematic , and admittedly more pleasing to the eye which was plain to see from the moment we collected it from the car yard.

Lost in the moment was the realization that we were very very soon (in fact, moments after taking possession of the new car) going to say goodbye via trade-in to our 1991 Nissan Pulsar who had served us without complaint for the past two years.

The model year would be memorable in itself for me, just a year earlier than daughter Ganda’s birth year and the year Pinatubo turned Luzon upside down, unforgettable¬† in that it brought Mahal and myself to all those garage sales, deserted beaches, trips where we got lost several times before we found our destination, the hundreds of short drives to the grocery, mall and meetings with friends, relatives and acquaintances…

The windy, hailstormy and rainy Mondays that scuttled any hopes of using the bike to work, taken care of with a grunt and vrrooom by our stoic and always smiling Pulsar the Gray, the times we moved furniture and stuff by jamming all sorts of things into four corners of the ever-accommodating beast of burden, and the unintended (but welcome) benefit of keeping the cold out while we escaped from an unexpectedly overcast walkabout day.

For sure, we would enjoy new, fantastic adventures with our new companion but for now our happy memories will be dominated by the car that we shared two years of our lives with, Pulsar the Gray.  May your new masters appreciate you as much as we did, lovely beast!

Thanks for reading!

Splicing thought-strands on home, coming home and homecomings

[ Note : no promise of coherent thoughts here kabayan, and as proof we even invented a new word, thought-strands.  Belated happy birthday to a new kabayan friend, Mr Patrick Pardo ! Thanks and acknowledgment to buhayUK for his YouTube vid !  Lastly, every member of the Pinoy community in NZ, please take a peek at this article that might have far-reaching consequences on kamag-anak who need to follow us to NZ , maraming salamat po! ]

THE FUNNY thing is while lots of things and places look prettier abroad, everything acquires more meaning back home.  Why, for one thing, the work you do feeds more people, sends more students to school, and builds better houses than if you had stayed home.

I sometimes wondered in younger days how relatives and friends were able to stay, as OFWs and aspiring migrants, interminable and agonizing years away from their loved ones.  It was because they spent so much virtual time and online (and now Skype) time while away, and because they spent so much quality time together once they were reunited, if only for brief moments (in relative terms).

On balance, a career cultivated before strangers and strange lands may be daunting, but the patience of acquiring new technology and world-class skills is quite compensating.  There is also the small comfort that because life is easier in temperate climes, you age more gracefully and are better able to help your countrymen, assuming you return, once you have made your fortune elsewhere.

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I like to poke fun at Kiwis I’ve made friends with and perhaps you have as well, who save up religiously¬†for months and months at a time, live frugally without fail, only to use all their funds for a trip abroad.¬† It’s a fairly well-known rite of passage among university grads to leave eveything behind, soak up the scenery, live as a local in a chosen venue (usually UK, Europe or less often, the Americas) and along the way, use up every red cent (or singkong duling) that they own before heading back home.¬† It’s endearingly called doing your O.E. or overseas experience, and your odyssey of youth or coming of age is not, cannot, would not be complete without the O.E.

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I hate to break it to you kabayan but in a roundabout way, many migrant Pinoys are guilty of doing the same thing every two years or so (more frequently for the newbies), there is a crying need, almost like salmon spawning upriver, to return to the Motherland or Inang Bayan.¬† To renew ties with family, update registration, taxes¬†or documentation of precious property, revisit old haunts or rekindle fond moments, what have you, but there’s always a good reason to go home.

It would have to be a cold-hearted wretch who never looked back wistfully on what might have been and all the grand dreams of resettling as well as helping less fortunate countrymen who didn’t have the same opportunity.

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But as always, reality has a way of intefering with one’s fondest dream; we hurl ourselves on the conveyor belt of¬†work and gravitate towards our comfort zones, and before we know it years pass.¬† If not for the constant badgering of parents and friends to find time and come back every now and then, we would be stangers in our own land.¬† But as they say, you can take Noel out of Manila, but you can’t take Manila out of Noel.

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The last time I was home was December 2009.¬† Shortly after, esposa hermosa¬†followed and I haven’t found the time or budget to repatriate.¬† Two years and three months doesn’t seem like a very long time to non-migrants but to me it already feels like an eternity.¬† Each time I go home, boulevards are wider, children are smarter, malls are larger.¬† On the other hand, people are poorer, hopes are more fragile and dreams seem more distant.¬† What to do?¬† I’m almost tempted to believe in the cynic’s injunction : each time you leave, burn that last memory of home in your mind, for you can never go home again.

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Just one more cautionary tale from my bayong.¬† A couple I know, soon after they obtained the all-important permanent resident status here in NZ said that they owed it to themselves to see the sights and know everything they could about their adopted land, which is what they did,¬† majority of their first few years here.¬† After being able to say been there done that, they went on a European and Holy Land tour, and then after that, couldn’t resist the discounted pleasure cruise around Southeast Asia.¬† The years stretched into a decade and before long nearly 20 years had passed.

Isn’t it about time na magbalikbayan tayo Mahal said Missus.¬† Indeed, agreed Lakay, and off they went, landing in NAIA for the first time since the incumbent’s Mom was herself president (and before the airport was named after Dad).¬† Lo and behold, their contemporaries were long gone, either passed away or themselves in other lands.¬† Their relatives were nowhere to be found as they failed to update their contacts and were hardly facile with FB.¬† The beloved haunts of yesteryear were replaced with unfamiliar edifices, malls and condominiums that had little or no connection, neither in feelings nor in history, with them.

They had become strangers in their own land.

This is an extreme example and odds are, you won’t let this happen to you kabayan.¬† But you never know.¬† Never forget it, but be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.

Welcome 2 Barangay Pitong Gatang mate !

Loosely translated means no humans allowed ūüôā

Dear mate :

So you’ve finally made the big plunge.¬† Good on you, good luck and welcome to the club !

I say welcome because like you, I also have a Pinay wife.¬† I know it’s different cuz I can almost hear you say, you’re Pinoy too bro but it’s the same banana through and through my friend.¬† We may have been born and raised worlds apart, have different tastes and ways to amuse ourselves but in the end, we’re spending our lives with¬†the same species of lovable, irrepressible, category-defying and and life-changing human, the Pinay wife.¬† We are bonded forever.

Just thought that having spent a little more time than you have with these Pinay indefinables, I’d share with you the little aphorisms and insights I’ve learned not just about married life, but about Pinoy married life as well.

You marry me, you marry my family.¬† Oddly enough, this is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, as a lightheared commentary on how close extended families are in the Philippines.¬† But it’s true in practice just as it is in theory.¬† Especially in families who’ve gone through hard times, the problems and challenges facing any of its members are assumed by the rest of the family, or better yet, as a whole.¬† Career choices, financial issues, milestone events like weddings and migrations, etc are all deliberated upon by families in general assembly, even though ultimate decisions are left to the person concerned.¬† So don’t be surprised if you see your wife consult and be consulted on anything from how to match sofas and curtains to which school is best for her nephew or niece.¬† Another way to say it is ang problema ng isa ay problema ng lahat.¬† It’s obvious, but the load is lightened when it is borne by all.

No such thing as privacy.¬† This sounds a bit like an exaggeration, but when you marry into a Pinoy clan, expect to know and be known by everyone else down to the last uncomfortable detail.¬† Even more scrutiny is on you since you’re from a different culture, but that’s obvious right?¬† Every fact is fair game, no subject is sacred, no topics are taboo.¬† You would be well-advised to use discretion during those weekend family dinners where everyone is present and everything under the sun is discussed; all it takes is one careless comment, or a joke about something personal between you and your Mahal.¬† You can expect not only repartee and commentary from unsolicited advisers, but a thousand-and-one discussions beyond earshot on ganito pala si sis at kanyang mister and raised eyebrows and double meanings passed around.¬† It’s mostly in good fun, at your expense of course.¬† Sorry for that.

Emphasis on the extended.¬† Don’t be surprised when you see in gatherings third cousins removed from previous marriages, godchildren had from baptisms and confirmations years and years ago, or in-laws off-the-boat from the provinces.¬† Don’t be too surprised as well when you see both branches of the family of your loved ones gathered together, whether or not they barely tolerate each other’s company and come from regions of the country known to dislike the other’s famous character flaws.¬† When it’s a family gathering, there’s no such thing as by invitation only, everyone who’s related whether by blood, affinity or by accident will show up, if only for the free food and drink, but usually for the company as well.¬† You also realize of course that being a visitor from White Man’s Land, you’re the main attraction? ūüėČ

These are just samplings of what you’re about to encounter as an official member of the Pinoy version of Cosa Nostra, and it will only get better (or worse).¬† By now, you will have learned to accept every aspect of being half-Kiwi, half-Pinoy, and reading these probably just confirms your best hopes (or worst fears).¬† Just think how¬†broad your in-laws’ smiles will be¬†when you and your Mahal have little Kinoys of your own to show off!

Haere mai, welcome and maligayang pagdating!