the hardest adjustment for a migrant


[ Host Wellington and the Wellington Pinoy community welcome all kabayan participants and competitors of the Pistang Pilipino 2016 sa Wellington,  kudos to the organizers, officials, marshals and other volunteer staff.  Mabuhay kayong lahat! ]

NOPE, IT’S not communication or language.  Most Pinoys (an endearment Filipinos call themselves) treat English almost as a first language, having been taught the King’s English from nearly the very start of their lives.  In fact, I remember in Pinoy Mass (once a month, celebrated by a Filipino priest), the priest delivered his homily in (of course) perfect English, for the benefit of the non-Pinoy parishioners who insisted on attending Mass with kabayan.  After 10 minutes of a short discussion of the Sunday Gospel, he said, I now respectfully continue the sermon in Taglish, which everyone was expecting.  In both versions, Father Kabayan was outstanding (and uplifting), and considerate of  both English and Tagalog speakers.  So, adjustment to our host’s language is no biggie.

A little more complicated is the way people travel, both on the road and on the footpath (sidewalk or walkway ang tawag natin).  The New Zealand Road Code tells motorists to travel on the left side of the road, so when you cross the street (usually a two-way street), you look to the right first, then to the left when you’re in the middle of street.  It took me a while before i got used to that, and got me quite a lot of honks and four-letter words from drivers who never get used to Asian pedestrians like me.  It got a little worse when I started learning to drive, because I frequently reverted to the mindset of driving on the right side of the road, not very safe and definitely taking a little more adjustment than walking.  Still, as long as you keep focused on your walking / driving, and remember that you’re in New Zealand, not the Philippines, you should be OK.

And then there’s the work culture or culture of interaction, I can’t go any broader than that for fear of using too much space.  Kiwis or New Zealanders generally speak their mind, but are aware of the need to save face at all times, especially for Asians.  So they temper the sharpness of their tongues with subtle digs and lighthearted witticisms, sometimes using good-natured sarcasm, in short, very Pinoy, when you think of our sawikain (literary expression), salawikain (proverbs), parinig (hints) and other figures of speech that dull the kaanghangan (spicyness) of our criticisms.  Definitely, there are more similarities than differences when you compare social intercourse /s of Pinoys and Kiwis.  The key words are civility, pakisama (attitude of “getting along” with each other) and the golden rule (do unto others what you’d want them to do unto you).

Even better, as long as you let your work and your work attitude talk the talk and walk the walk, you can’t go wrong.  Kiwis may find you strange, different and awkward, but if you do your work right, work within the team concept and go the extra mile, you speak their language, and speak the universal language, the language of hard work spoken anywhere.

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

No, the biggest adjustment you have to make is accepting the realization that the next time you go back to the Philippines, it’s no longer to return to your home base but as an excursion to a place you used to live in, to visit friends, loved ones and family, only as an interruption of your regular life… as a migrant.

The biggest and most lifechanging adjustment you make is a shifting of allegiance from the country of your birth to the country of your future, to the country you will soon (if not already) call home.  Loyalty is on unstable, shifting ground, no more so than for the migrant.

You will never lose gratitude for the country that gave you existence, blood and identity, but your migrant life changes everyday, and your migrant life waits for no one.  Least of all, old memories and old attachments.

You can always go home, back to the Philippines, but with different eyes, different attitudes, and different perspectives.  That is as hard as any adjustment  you can make.

In a very real sense, you can never go home again.

Thanks and mabuhay everyone for reading!

 

 

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what new zealanders REALLY think of us pinoys


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[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!

 

perchance & happenstance: daig minsan ng swerte ang maagap at masipag


backgammon-precision-dice-saffron_primary

[  Wish there was a happy ending to this story.  I still continue to fight the good fight, solider on, and live every day as if it were my last.  But in the game of life, don’t we all?  ]

SHOW ME an overseas Pinoy worker (OFW), and I’ll show you a migrant-in-waiting.  Behind every successful migrant was once an aspiring OFW willing to try his luck anywhere he (or she) is wanted.

It’s not a hard and fast rule, but it’s much easier to migrate when you condition yourself to be an OFW first.  A host nation is much more welcoming to potential migrants who look for work first before attempting to become one of its citizens.  But one needs to be hyperalert, hypersensitive and hyperaware of all opportunities that lead to the OFW’s ultimate goal, which is to work in an ideal situation abroad…

…or, you could be lucky, and just be at the right place at the right time.

THE FIRST LUCKY BREAK.  It all started with a generous aunt, who brought a different set of nephews and nieces each time she went on a vacation overseas.  That particular year I was lucky enough to be taken along, and because she had a nephew there (my brother), she chose to visit New Zealand.

After we had seen the sights and enjoyed our reunions with relatives, my brother asked me, if ever he gave me the initial assistance (board & lodging, initial paperwork, etc), I would fancy finding work in New Zealand.  It wasn’t going to be a walk in the park.  But then, given that I didn’t exactly have the awesomest job back home, what did I have to lose?

*****          *****          *****

Inside and out, I don’t come across as a typical OFW.  I don’t have the marketable skills in the medical, construction and technology industries that are so desirable all over the world.  I’ve never been tech-savvy, I’ve got little to no aptitude in health care, and I definitely don’t possess the particular strength and skill that serves well in housebuilding occupations.

No coincidence, these are among the skills prioritized under the umbrella  Skilled Migrant pathway, on the premise that jobs that fuel the economy can’t be filled by locals alone and the backlog must be picked up by migrant labor.  These skills are listed, unsurprisingly, on what’s called a Long-Term and Short Term Skills Shortage List.

Nope, I didn’t have any of the skills on either list.  And that’s where my second lucky break came…

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THE SECOND.  Almost a year after my first work visa was issued, my luck was running out.  The company that hired me under that visa went out of business, and the position that I was hired for (something that I barely qualified for) no longer existed, so I of course had no more job.  I was back to square one, in fact one step backwards, because like I said above, I had already abandoned my last job in the Philippines (not that it was any great loss) and had already used up a lot of favors getting my first visa.

At the last moment, barely weeks before my only option would be returning home, one of my brothers acquaintances from church gave me a referral to an employment lead.

With the slimmest of hopes I snagged an interview with the site manager.  I would be trained from the ground up, with minimum wage but on a case-to-case basis (not based on general work visa policy), I had a chance at a visa.  Biting the bullet and kapit sa patalim, I took a leap of faith, and cursed the darkness…  (any more dramatic idioms, kabayan?)

*****           *****          *****

That was 2008, nearly eight years ago.  The good news is, I’m still here in New Zealand.  The bad ?  Well, there is no bad news.  Only a slight disappointment, in the sense that I’m still on a work visa.  But given all that I’ve been through, I’ve been very lucky.

I’ve trained as hard as I can in all aspects of my work, so that (surprise!) I’m now a qualified tradesman in my line of work.  But because it’s such a specific specialty, unless I go out of the country (again), my employment prospects are quite limited.

Oh yes, it’s true that I’ve been at the right place at the right time, picked my spots and played my cards right.  (What if my aunt brought another nephew or niece with her the year she vacationed in New Zealand?  What if I was introduced to my brother’s friend a week or two before or after the job opening surfaced?  And so on and so forth.)

But I also persevered, perhaps more than I thought I would.  Many, many times I thought I would give up.  A quarter of my job involves manual labor, another one-fourth  a little discipline,  plus a little pakisama. That adds another quarter.  Most of the time, it’s just showing up, and showing up on time.

It would sound arrogant if I didn’t admit that I’ve been blessed to find work as an unskilled tourist coming from the Philippines, to First World New Zealand.  But I would be less than candid if I didn’t say that sipag at tyaga has played a major part.

Diba, sometimes they mean the same thing?  Luck and good fortune.  Sipag at tyaga.  Sometimes we make our own luck.

Thanks for reading kabayan!

 

 

 

 

 

 

off morning shift till further notice


grumpy cat

[ Paunawa : Pasensya na to anyone I haven’t kept in touch with, I think in light of recent events (please see below), it’s more or less self-explanatory, hehehe, just my way of getting you to read further.  It’s been a glorious last few weeks here in Wellington NZ, thank God for a beautiful summer after an awesome January back home in the Philippines! ]

YOU AND I Precious Reader have, oftener than not, read enough internet articles, findings and correlations not to know that sleeping regular hours at the right time, meaning at nighttime, is part of healthy living.

You can burn the midnight oil for a time, turn your body clock inside out for a while, and sleep and wake like a vampire for only so long, but it’s not good for you.

There are many reasons for this, part of which is the hundred-thousand-year-old circadian rhythm that homo sapiens sapiens has established as part of normal living. There’s also the very basic bodily need for ultra-violet rays from sunshine, and then maybe not as essentially the rest that is best taken in darkness.

But there are exceptions.  People working in call centers (or business process outsourcing centers) get used to working in the dead of night and sleeping in brightest day.  Security guards are wide awake with the kuliglig and paniki and take breakfast at twilight.  And so on and so forth.  But if you’re like me, and I’m guessing you are, you start best at the crack of dawn and say beddy-bye just before the clock strikes twelve.

The (un)happy compromise is to work twilight shift.  You start later than most people, in fact when most people are already starting to leave work, and log out when some people are already snoring.  But this is better than working the graveyard shift, when there’s nobody awake except you and you try to sleep when the sun is scorching behind the drapes and curtains.

*****     *****     *****

I’ve always been a team player at work, especially since because of my migrant status locals and residents (if any are available) may potentially be given preference in job selection.   But rotating shifts (nights, mornings and twilight shifts before returning to nights, mornings, etc) has always been part of the deal, using the philosophy that everyone gets their turn at the dreaded night shift.

Unfortunately, one of the persons in our three-man rotation (the factory we operate needs to run 24 hours 5 days a week) is also our team leader, who needs extra training for planning our production schedules for the week, using the SAP software that no management team seems to be able to survive without, and other earth-shaking, indispensable management stuff.  Because the training can only be conducted during regular office hours, by default Your Loyal Kabayan and the other guy (by coincidence, also a migrant, albeit a former one) have drawn the short straws.  Between the two of us, we share the honor of doing twilight and night shifts for the next few months, or until our team leader finishes his team leader training, whichever comes last. 😦

Weytaminit, kapeng mainit.  Whatever happened to rotating shifts, the right to a morning shift every third week, and the company’s concern for too many night shifts not good for the health?  Well, in the name of production, keeping the conveyor (as in product conveyor) running, and keeping the customer happy, some things have to be sacrificed and fall by the wayside.  For the time being.  In the hierarchy of priorities, starting from the client’s requirements, to the employer’s requirements, to the worker’s requirements, which do you think are the easiest to compromise?

*****     *****     *****

So that’s the way it’s gonna be.  Never mind that I don’t get to watch prime time for a while (I’ll be sleeping till a half-hour before going to work).  Never mind that I won’t have time to do the nasty with Mahal for a while (I’ll either be too tired or too hyper to do so).  And never mind that I’ll have zero social life for a while (not that I’ve had much of  a social life).  When you’re on the bottom of the totem pole, especially when you’re a migrant, you don’t have much of a say on what you do, or how you do it.  For now, just be lucky you’re working where you’re working, that you’re working at all, and that, shift hours aside, you’re able to cope with the daily pressures and stresses.

For now.

Thanks for reading!

the final shift before Christmas


china-factory-jpg

“in lieu of the usual 5-minute nap breaks, for December we have better coffee and more potent tea for you hardworking employees!  don’t forget the higher production targets this month, the kids can’t be disappointed!”

[The other titles that made it before final print were : Work, the migrant and the silly season and Noel Learns and Earns.  But this one won out in the end.  A blessed Christmas to all! ]

I FINISHED  my last shift 3.00 am Christmas Eve.  What I thought would be an easy coast to the finish line became an eight-hour ordeal, imposing the burden of my mistake on my colleagues, and finished only by the grace of God.  The only silver lining here was that I gained yet another hard-earned lesson, actually THREE lessons in the School of  Hard-knocks (or pasaway, in current Pinoy idiom).

*****     *****     *****

It started when I saw the rosters posted for the week ending on Christmas Eve.  For a change, I was to work night shift, my first as a shift supervisor.  Such a term is actually a glorified way of saying you’re the senior between yourself and your shift partner, the only other person in the building.  And that if any sh*t happens during your shift, that’s right, it’s all on YOU.  For that, and an extra dollar an hour, you get to be called shift supervisor.

I should be one to complain.  I had been trained to be shift supervisor because there was no one else who was willing and able to be trained, because no one else was available, and because quite frankly, no one else was willing to do shift work.

*****      *****     *****

And besides, the job was one of the things keeping me in this country, which for the last seven years had been good to me and wife Mahal.  So what if every third week I worked night shift?  It was a job for mine to take, no one else wanted it as badly as I did, and there wasn’t much for me to do if the job didn’t exist.

The problem was, I didn’t have the confidence to do night shift, because night shift essentially meant running the entire factory alone, without the team leader holding your hand for troubleshooting, no plant engineers to fix spouts, conveyors and airlines in a jiffy, and nobody else (except your shift assistant) to help you.  Turning out 4 tons of product from 6 tons of raw material every hour, processing them through two dozen pieces of machinery, monitoring the same as well as the final product through a tedious sked of tests and checks, was something I’d never done at night, but the team leader told me in so many words, if I wasn’t ready now, I’d never be ready.

The only way to motivate myself was, telling myself Noel, this is what you’ve been trained for.  Physically, mentally and emotionally, you CAN’T be more ready.  So that’s how I started Sunday night.

*****     *****     *****

Except that things actually turned out peaches and cream.  The machines, old as they were, behaved like good little schoolkids and did what they were asked.  The product didn’t turn out awry and was up to spec.  And I had a great time.

Until Wednesday night.

*****     *****     *****

Ironically, it started with a teeny-tiny mistake concerning a procedure that I’d done dozens of times before without a hitch.  It involved shutting down an airseal / airlock a few seconds between changing product silos.  On. And off.  And on again.  That’s it.

Because it was already my last shift of the week, and because the first two hours went by swimmingly, my mind shifted into cruise control, and literally entered holiday mode.  The slight inconvenience of changing silos barely crossed my mind, and I was already thinking of the next steps after temporarily switching off  said airseal / airlock.

Except that I didn’t turn said machine on again.  That was when all hell broke loose.

*****     *****     *****

First, the product weigher through which all the final product passed through overflowed.  Despite the glaring mess, I missed THAT as a sign of  a bigger mess, which was the control sifter upstairs that was also overflowing.  Finally, one of the main airways through which the final product flowed before entering the main conveyor backed up and choked, forcing me into the last resort of shutting down the entire system altogether.

All in all, it took us at least an hour to clear around 50 bags of product, call the plant engineer (on call) and rouse him from sleep (twice) to clear the airways;  for my partner and me to clean up the rolls that treated the raw material so that they would start properly, and do general housecleaning to get rid of the mess I created.

*****     *****     *****

Through this, I expected my assistant, a 68-year old Samoan migrant who’d been in New Zealand the last 30 years, to at least frown, be sarcastic or complain about making his life miserable on our last shift before Christmas.

But he never said a word, despite the fact that we put in work the equivalent of the last few days put together.  I was beside myself with embarrassment, but the work had to be done.

*****     *****     *****

The lessons I told you that I learned?

First, that every work day, from the start of the week to the end of Friday, should be treated the same.  The level of energy, focus and intensity should be consistent and unwavering.  Otherwise, you’ll get lost in your own daydreams and get into trouble.

Second?  I hate to admit it, but in holiday mode, I was losing sight of the most important thing in my life after love and family, and that of course was/is my job.  It feeds me, shelters me, clothes me, keeps me warm, and allows me to stay in my host country.  What could be more important to me now?

So what if it was the week before Christmas?  Many others were also working the same sked, and it wasn’t even Christmas Day yet, which of course was a holiday naman.  In fact, many people in certain industries would be working through the holidays, knowing fully well it’s the nature of the job.

I’d be denying reality if I denied that many people in New Zealand, and even more in the Philippines, would give an arm and a leg (figuratively) to be in my shoes.  Someone quite close to me is in an industry that pays him more than double anything I could ever earn here, and yet he is jobless.  During the holidays.  That’s quite hard.  And makes me more appreciative of my work.

*****     *****     *****

And last?  It concerns my Samoan co-worker, in the last couple of years before he retires (actually he’s past retirement age), but still doing his bit to help the team.  I expected him to be short-tempered, resentful, or even walk out of the situation I created.  But seeing his mature, resilient and even cheerful disposition, I realized that not even his “seniorness”, his slowed-down body, and the adverse nature of night shift could change his basic nature:  after more than three decades, he was still mightily grateful that New Zealand had given him a chance to better his life, undoubtedly allowing him to make lives better for his extended family in Samoa (very much like the Philippines).

In case it isn’t that obvious, the lesson here, for me, is never lose sight of the big picture, and always be grateful.  (The sidelight is, don’t sweat the details.)

*****     *****     *****

After things got to normal, I hugged Joshua (not his real name) spontaneously, and uttered one of the few phrases I knew  in Samoan : Faa fetai Joshua, thank you for being there for me.  For us.  Joshua just smiled his stoic, Samoan smile.

A lot of lessons for the last shift before Christmas.

Thanks for reading Precious Reader,spare a thought for those working through the holidays, and stay safe this Christmas!

 

 

 

the last 36 of the last work week of summer


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Famous last words.

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

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

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

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

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

***               ***               ***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***                              ***                             ***

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

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

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

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

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

***                              ***                            ***

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

signs that the apocalypse is upon us


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

Quittable 2013 : a Pinoy’s random thoughts on smoking



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

pagod puyat & ginaw challenge d pinoy worker, but d appreciation is appreciated


I wasn't even around when the token of appreciation was given. huhuhu :(

I wasn’t even around when the token of appreciation was given. huhuhu 😦

[Note : sorry for the long title, and sincerest condolences to the family of Mimi and Jarvis Laurilla, your Tatay looks over you fondly and with love! ]

AS ALWAYS, I tip-tap the words almost as they come out of this addled and burned-out brain, with as little filtering as possible, it is a GP-blog after all.  To be as candid and as real as it gets is the raison d’etre for filling the blanks in this blog service, as important as recording things for my personal posterity and the therapy it affords Your Loyal Blogger.  (By the way, if ever you’re taken by the aesthetics and workings of this blog site, 99% of it is possible thanks to the WordPress creators, admins and staff, woohoohoo; I’m only responsible for the frail content, and everything’s for free, too, perfect for the Pinoy/Asian in those wanting to start their own blogs, it’s never too late! )

But I just want to tell you how tired I was after nearly two weeks of mostly 12-hour shifts, something I hadn’t experienced as far as I can remember five-plus years as a New Zealand worker.  Before anything else, it was the first time since forever that there was no down time almost throughout the shift.  Now, anyone who’s worked in a job knows that there are busy times and there are down times, no matter where or what you do.

Because there was extra volume coming out of the machines (they’re called dust-collectors) getting rid of the waste product that naturally gets extracted from the raw material, I had to transport the bins containing them to a receiving area some 50 meters away, roughly once every half-hour.  Multiply this by the number of hours in the shift, and you get the idea.

But that’s not all.  More tests, more checks, more adjustments to the water (an essential part of the substance before it’s transformed into the final usable commodity ), more cleaning, and just about more of everything that we usually do.  And over a longer period of time.

In addition, SuperBisor who I actually prefer working with over any other shift boss, was climbing up the corporate ladder and was now attending site meetings and production meetings, for only a few minutes at a time of course.  His level of vigilance would not allow the factory to go unmonitored even for a few minutes, so it was up to me to step up and pinch-hit for him, even though he was only meters away from the machinery.

I knew the intensity of the cold, springtime shifts were getting to me, because in usual hectic days, all I would need to stay alert and keep up with the pace was a glass of water to hydrate and grease my tubes.  It really does wonders to your system when you drink an extra glass of water whenever and wherever, I thought it was an internet fad, but it’s not.

The water was still helping, but only for a while.  A second trick I’m used to doing when my batteries are flat is getting a coffee/sugar rush, which is common sense for anyone at work.  Again, the rush was there, but it was a big letdown when it wore off, almost counterproductive.

Working a full revolution of the short hand round the clock (7 am – 7 pm) is OK when you’re a desk jockey, you can pace yourself, do stretches and take reasonable breaks.  It’s not quite the same when the factory is four levels, you go up and down the stairs roughly twice an hour, you go around machinery every now and then just to make sure there are no chokes and blockages, you measure 30-ton bins to update production boards, and generally combine the functions and activities of a cleaning person, security watchman, quality assurance person and amateur troubleshooter for the better part of 720 minutes, nearly every second of all those minutes.

I’m definitely not complaining especially since my boss and department head have both reposed a lot of trust and confidence in my modest ability (or lack of same), and particularly since there are so many unemployed here in New Zealand who would probably kill for an opportunity to prove themselves equal to the tasks required in my job.

It’s just that extra production demands on the site, key personnel on leave or unable to report to work, and long hours being unavoidable, all of us on staff were asked to go the extra mile for the company, who had been doing the same for us in terms of better working conditions, more communication with the bigwigs, and more concern in general for grunts like me.

First proof. Now I can tell you how intense it was for a former white-collar worker like me.  First,, towards the end of the shift, my myopia was getting more pronounced, almost like I needed new glasses.  I don’t know if this was just eyestrain or the general tiredness I was enduring, but as far as I can tell it never happened before.  It was both amusing and scary, and I had to wipe my spectacles to see if anything was wrong with them.

Second proof.  Second, the last hour of the last day of my workweek, I was beginning to feel like a zombie that you see in shows like Walking Dead.  I was getting light-headed, my limbs were turning to lead, and I just wanted to melt away.  Of course I couldn’t, because there were still chores to do, and my shift partner and I still had to turn over the site to our night shift counterparts, who actually had it worse : they were doing everything we were doing, except that instead of 7 am to 7 pm, they were doing it 7 pm to 7 am in the dead of night.

Third proof. And lastly, I got so tired nearly every day of the week that if you can believe it, I didn’t think of sex for at least 48 hours!  This indisputably was a world’s first and a world’s record for me since puberty, and that my friends was how tired I am.

The pic you see above is a small token of appreciation given by SuperBisor for the long hours I’ve done.  A lot of the fatigue, including the first and second proofs was dissolved not just by the treat itself but by the appreciation it symbolized.

Something I can’t ignore, and which I hope won’t be a problem next time we do long hours, is of course, the third proof.  Man doesn’t live by bread alone, and all that. 🙂

Thanks for the appreciation SuperBisor, and thanks everyone for reading!