what new zealanders REALLY think of us pinoys


productsfromnz

[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!

 

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!

 

 

 

`bakit ka pa nag-regular kung pang casual lang ang oras mo?’


In the distant future, we will get the same sweet deal as Seth and James.  But don't hold your breath waiting.  In the meantime, zero-hour workers of the world, unite! :)

In the distant future, we will get the same sweet deal as Seth and James. But don’t hold your breath waiting. In the meantime, zero-hour workers of the world, unite! 🙂

BY the time I was in 3rd or 4th grade primary, Dad said I would find a lot of things interesting in his Quiapo printing shop, which was a sneaky way of getting me to work summers in the family enterprise.  Well, besides the 19th century minerva presses, the printer’s ink smell that permeated the whole site, and the endless folding, glueing and old-style embossing in the binding department, I also liked to watch my aunt type payroll forms in her giant Underwood typewriter.  My aunt, when she wasn’t bringing me with her shopping in Carriedo and Villalobos, was also the company accountant.

On Thursdays, I would look at her tally the time sheets and overtime logs and summarize it into one spreadsheet-like payroll record.  The supervisors were earning six pesos and hour, the rank-and-file around P4.  A special column was reserved for overtime pay, where the premium was 50 centavos over your regular rate.  Everyone, even Dad, was in this payroll summary, which seemed to me quite cool for my aunt, as she got to know what everyone was paid.

[ By the way, I didn’t know why she seemed to think I was invisible, as she didn’t allow anyone else to see what she was typing.  I guess kids really got away with a lot, until they started sprouting facial hair. 🙂 ]

No matter what your position was in the company, as long as you were on the regular roster, you got the same eight hours.  Everyone, from the Mainland Chinese pressmen who’d been in the shop since the Communists overran China in 1949, to the youngest kargadors and apprentices from my mom’s hometown in Masbate, were considered “regulars” because they were “regularly” rostered and received 48 hours a week,  and an additional 50 centavos an overtime hour over their regular rate, but that was enough to sweeten the deal.  The overtime was there often, and everyone took it.  Everyone was happy to take the overtime, but the 48 hours were basic; everyone expected it.  And got it.

*****     *****     *****

I was around 10 years old or thereabouts, but it didn’t take an adult to understand the fundamental agreement between hirer and hiree.  In return for skills and commitment to executing the will of the hirer, hiree is given cash for his efforts.  Because the basic hours of work ends on the eighth hour, anything over that is an imposition on the worker’s leisure and / or personal time.  So there’s a “premium” or extra value assigned to eight-hours-plus.  There may be fringe benefits or additional details to the agreement, but as far as everyone’s concerned,  the work, and the eight-hours comprise 95% of the deal.

*****     *****     *****

Nearly four decades have passed, and I’ve worked in two countries, and maybe in a dozen workplaces.  The deal hasnt’ changed.  Which is why, when some wise guys try to tinker with that basic agreement, and introduce bull-bleep like “giving workers 40 hours isn’t necessarily part of the contract of work” or “employees are actually independent contractors and there’s no employer-employee relationship in reality,” I just roll my eyes.

Amazingly, the potential for abuse in a regular work contract where hours aren’t guaranteed (or “zero-hours” contracts as they are also known), be it in New Zealand where I am now, or in the Philippines, is so obvious it should be plain to everybody, and yet until last week the clamor for change wasn’t taken seriously.

*****     *****     *****

I’ll give you just one example.  Daughter Ganda had been working in a popular hamburger chain here in Wellington for a few months (and had therefore assumed, correctly, that she enjoyed regular employee status) before she had an argument with her supervisor/manager.  Seems that she couldn’t make it to an emergency shift that her boss asked to her work in place of a sick co-worker.  Cool, the boss said, don’t worry about it (the sarcasm a little more than palpable), but don’t ask me for any extra shifts in the future.

He was good on his word, and then some.  Not only did he stop giving Ganda any extra shifts like he used to, he also gradually cut down her hours until Ganda worked no more than the typical casual or part-time worker.  All because she didn’t do the manager a favor when he needed it.  This, based on the reasoning that the manager stops being a good guy the moment you (Ganda) stop “being a team player.”  Sheeeeesh.

The tragedy not just to Ganda but to thousands of other workers like her (especially in the food service industry) was/is that the discriminatory action of managers like Ganda’s is perfectly reasonable and legal in light of the zero-hours contract that so many workers agree to, if they want to earn their bread.

At the risk of sounding repetitive :  What’s the incentive to aspiring to become a regular employee when there’s no assurance you’ll get regular hours?  In Taglish:  Bakit ka pa nag-regular kung pang casual pa rin ang oras mo?   Bakeeeet?

*****     *****     *****

Last week was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  Restaurant Brands, which owns KFC, Pizza Hut, and Starbucks, has finally begun to realize what an unjust contract the zero-hours contract is, and has removed it from all their labor contracts.  The union that was once a lonely voice in the wilderness is now rightfully earning kudos (I think it’s First Union, which I happen to belong to 🙂 ) and hope that not only the rest of the food industry, but the whole of New Zealand employer-dom will follow suit.  It’s not a dream anymore.

The day will come when the zero-hours contract will be a thing of the past, and workers like Ganda can’t wait.  Hopefully, that day will come soon.  In the meantime, don’t lose hope Ganda!

Thanks for reading!

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!

thinking of OFW & kabayan in less friendly or less christmasy places these holidays


[ Note : Maraming maraming salamat sa lahat ng inyong mga bati!  Please allow me to return the greetings soon!  Now, onward to the last few days of 2013! Thanks to Jollibee and YouTube for allowing me to repost!  Woohoohoo! ]

IT’S GREAT to be an OFW or migrant in (1) a country that knows how to treat its guest workers, and (2) a country that is (or used to be) Christian-oriented, because that usually means weary workers, including guest workers, have a Christmas break to look forward to.

But that’s in the ideal world. Often, you don’t choose the country you work in, it chooses you. And you would be quite fortunate to work in a country that is both (1) and (2) in the previous paragraph, because in reality it may only have (1). Sometimes, it has neither. And such absence you feel most acutely if one, you’re in specific situations, OR two, if it’s the festive season.

If you get pregnant in many parts of the Middle East to a man you aren’t married to, you are in very real danger of finding yourself in prison, having broken the laws of the Koran, which is often also the code of criminal statutes of the realm, as well as the latter’s holy book.

If your permit to work has expired, or worse, if you never legally applied for it in many parts of Europe, then not only your means of livelihood, but your right to liberty and travel will be imperilled, and you will be overstressed so as to affect your work (as if you weren’t already stressed in the first place).

If you are a nanny or caregiver in Hongkong, Taiwan or Singapore, God help you if something bad happens to your ward, whether it’s your fault or not. There have been too many examples of things gone awry and our yayas, helpers and sitters swinging helplessly on the wrong end of the dodgy scales of Justice those places, weighted of course against our OFW kabayan.

Back to the Middle East, unless you are willing to risk your work status and liberty, or you are totally confident in dodging the authorities, you never ever expose your Christian faith, or drink a drop of alcohol, two practices that would be entirely acceptable elsewhere but not for our working countrymen there, a place that ironically cannot function without our hard-working, stoic and forever-adapting Pinoy OFWs.

Though I’m still in the middle of my migrant journey in New Zealand, I’ve been quite lucky. My employer and managers are quite supportive of my employment, despite the fact that many locals and New Zealanders are unemployed. New Zealand’s respect for workers’ rights and interests is world-class, and workers who qualify are encouraged to seek permanent resident status.

I wish I could say the same for our kabayan in the rest of the working world. Our stalwart OFWs and migrants face a broad range of negatives from minor border inconveniences just because of the wrong skin color (it’s common to see our compatriots questioned beyond the usual how long are you staying in the First World?), to constant harrassment of Pinay OFWs often suspected of sidelining as prostitutes (is it our fault if we are slim and pretty?), to neurotic employers who refuse to release passports (believe it or not, holding our passports during our duration of employment is SOP), to oppressive labor and criminal laws that occasionally result in tragic consequences for the poor Filipino worker who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time (convenient scapegoat, holder of the proverbial empty bag and having our taciturn-ness equated to submissiveness are our usual roles).

And because we tend to avoid complaining, we’re often the last man (person) standing when no one else is left to volunteer for work that no one would rather do. Juan! Because I know you won’t refuse me, I hereby volunteer you for the one-man skeleton shift Christmas and New Year’s Day! Thank you in advance! How often have you seen, heard or read about this scenario? Often enough to know that our kabayan’s inevitable answer will be thank you for your trust in me, sir/mam. And thanks for the extra overtime… (don’t mention it, snicker snicker).

*** *** ***

If there were a giant, traditional and all-encompassing national noche buena (and throw in the New Year’s Eve dinner for good measure) the surefire consequence would be the well-loved and auspicious practice to simultaneously hold a family reunion, where every member is included, in spirit if not in person, from the matriarch/patriarch to the tiniest, most junior toddler in the family.

Anyone absent would be thought of fondly, remembered and prayed for, and of course the priority would be relatives abroad, in the farthest reaches of the world, working like it was any other regular working day, particularly in countries that don’t think too much of Christmas and the birthday of the Redeemer.

Our symbolic national noche buena behooves us to think of our working-class heroes and migrants abroad, not all of whom may have a happy Christmas, what with holiday shifts, adverse weather, extended hours and lonely / one-man working conditions sometimes befouling the holiday mood.

Surrounded by the laughter of loved ones, the glitter of gifts, and the buzz of vintage wine or San Miguel Beer, let’s spare a thought for the sacrifice of our kabayan, who must work like it’s a dreary Monday, who will work because there are no others available, and who love their work because it gives them sustenance, dignity, and a future for their families, not necessarily in that order.

Maligayang Pasko po sa inyong lahat!

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!

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!

honoring the custodians of our pinoy culture


a rousing Filipiniana dance interpreted by children of Pinoy migrants including 7-year old Ella Cabauatan.  Seen in the background are H.E. Ambassador Virginia Benavidez, Consul Arlene Gonzales-Macaisa and Emb Finance Officer Rosalyn Del Valle-Fajardo

a rousing Filipiniana dance interpreted by children of Pinoy migrants including 7-year old Ella Cabauatan. Seen in the background are H.E. Ambassador Virginia Benavidez, Consul Arlene Gonzales-Macaisa and Emb Finance Officer Rosalyn Del Valle-Fajardo

[ Note : Awesome kudos the participants at the Typhoon Haiyan Philippine Appeal Concert last Saturday , particularly Meia Lopez and the Wellington Filipino Community Choir; congrats to the Typhoon Haiyan fundraising efforts of the Society for Southeast Asian Communities led in part by Didith Tayawa-Figuracion! Legends all! ]

WE CAN’T remember who said it, but more than a few times we have heard that culture is the soul of a collective people.  Language, the arts and music are the most visible indicators, but anything that expresses the spirit of a tribe or group of people is part of a culture which history preserves and the community promotes.

Because of this reality, a conquering nation or race, many times in history, after the physical subjugation of its enemies, sought shortly afterwards to suppress the latter’s culture and language with impunity, usually for political and emotional ends but all the better to wipe out the remnants of future dissent from the vanquished.

The burning of books and execution of scholars by the Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang, and the infamous Nazi book burnings before World War II are just two extreme examples of suppression against culture.  In more recent times, prohibition against speaking the languages of natives in favor of the colonizers’ tongues are scenarios that strike closer to home.

Thankfully in our present day these things no longer happen.  In fact, even in host countries like New Zealand, migrant communities like ours from the Philippines are allowed and even encouraged to promote and preserve aspects of our Pinoy culture so that our youth may appreciate and continue what our forebears fought hard to preserve.

Basic things like the Filipino language, history and symbolisms behind the Philippine flag, the geography, ethnicities and various regions of the Philippine archipelago,  the national symbols, flowers, attire, tree, bird and others were taught to a group of Pinoy children and young adults a few months ago by a select group of Kiwi-Pinoy volunteer teachers, namely Aurea Weatherall, Zenaida Savill, Shirin Zonoobi, Josephine Garcia Jowett, Ruth Abenojar-Yee and Jun Samblaceno under the Filipino Language and Culture Enrichment Programme (FILCEP) sponsored by H.E. Ambassador Virginia H. Benavidez and her hardworking staff at the Philippine Embassy in New Zealand.

The ten-day programme was to focus on the more basic aspects of Filipino language and culture, but its success has prompted the Embassy to plan more sessions in the near future, particularly in civics and the performing arts.

Last November 13, it was the turn of our FILCEP volunteer teachers to be honored as the Embassy and the Pinoy community held its first FILCEP Fun and Educational Day at Ang Bahay, the official residence of the Philippine Ambassador to New Zealand.

After the singing of the Lupang Hinirang (the Philippine National Anthem) by Mia Abenojar Yee and Samantha Samaniego and the recitation of the Panunumpa sa Watawat by Paulo Raphael Obach, festivities were immediately commenced, with focus on Filipiniana.

Tinikling, the native Filipino dance was taught and performed, palitaw and halo-halo preparation was demonstrated and the results enjoyed, storytelling about alamat and other Pinoy legends, Jose Rizal’s poems and stories and puppet making was eagerly absorbed, and various native games like luksong lubid, sungka and hampas sa palayok were demonstrated to other youths.

The Filifest Dance Group led by Queens Service Medal awardee Anita Mansell, with their performances both educated and entertained everyone present, particularly the freestyle dance of Stephanie Jowett, the saxophone piece by Gino Tapia, a violin performance by Sam Non, and Panaglangin sung by Kiwi-Pinoy couple Hazel and Mark Fryer.  Other awesome performances were Kathy Lopez (Next in Line) and Jodie Marquez (Torete).

The children’s group Munting Tinig stole the show with their heartwarming rendition of Ang Pipit and Tutira Mai.

The Philippine Embassy hit two birds with one stone, sharpening the prongs of their cultural diplomacy thrust and partnering with the Pinoy migrant community in New Zealand with their FILCEP family day.  If the most basic aspects of our culture, like love for country, family values and a fundamental knowledge of Filipino history language and culture served to inspire the youths present, then FILCEP would have been a smashing success.

Mabuhay po tayong lahat!

 

three things that drive foreigners crazy bout us pinoys


[Note : if there’s one thing I’ve learned the past two weeks, it’s that fatigue and blogging don’t go along well.  thanks very much tugang Aline Parrone for the video above, Waray-waray is a popular folk tune that originated in Tacloban and the rest of Eastern Visayas region.  Waray is also the common term for the ethnic group in the region.  Let’s continue praying for both the living and the dead there.  thanks Kevin Ayson for the video below! Mabuhay po! ]

I HAVE excellent sources for this blog post’s research : word-of-mouth, urban legend, and tall tales.  Seriously, tidbits and morsels of anecdotes here and there are probably the only thing/s I can share with you, given that everything else is already on the internet, that I’m relatively so isolated from both homeland, family and friends, and finally that my life and schedule are governed by my hours at work (not that I’m complaining).

But you and I have seen on the world stage how the international community has reacted to the death and destruction left by Typhoon Haiyan : an outpouring of love and generosity, in both aid and effort, from nearly every country on the face of God’s Earth.  You and I know the reason/s for this.  the unshakeable spirit of humanity and the fact that this was probably the strongest storm (on record) to ever hit land.

Last but not least, I have to believe that the groundswell of altruism also has to do with the fact that Pinoys are so visible on the world stage, whether as skilled workers or tradesmen, artists, performers and athletes, or what have you.  We can count ourselves as one of the most charming, visible and engaging people on earth, and that’s not just because I’m a Pinoy.  You can see it everywhere.

But like anyone else, we’re not perfect.  Here are some things our foreign brothers and sisters (foreigner is actually a rude term, when I am in NZ the word is never used on me, it’s always guest or visitor) find simply inexplicable about us, given the general positivity we generate :

we smell and look like roses, but live in generally dirty surroundings.  This is one of the most hurtful comments I’ve heard, but it’s true.  A Scottish prosthetics specialist I know told me once, how can you observe such good hygiene, yet live next to a dead, polluted river?  How can you dress so immaculately, yet walk casually among rubbish and filth?  At first I took offense, but I realized that it was true.  We do pay scant regard to how our rubbish and waste are collected.  We do see our countrymen spit and urinate everywhere.  And yes, we do live in an environment of dead rivers, streams and lakes, for so long now that it looks like it hardly matters to us.  (And does it, really?),

It looks like an incongruity because Filipinos in general are so clean and neat in their appearance, we bathe and take showers like water was running out tomorrow, and use perfume and colognes liberally, no matter what our station in life is.  If we showed half the concern we do on ourselves as we do our environment, how different it might be for the health of our  environment.

we are politically correct when it comes to recognizing women, but not among the poorest of our poor.  Ahead of the US and some older democracies we have had our first lady president, Supreme Court chief justice and senior lawmakers, we honor and lionize our beauty queens for leadership roles, and give prominence to the role of women and society.  All very good.  But we don’t bat an eyelash when our kababaihan are forced by poverty and hardship to prostitute themselves at home and abroad, turn our heads away to the willing (and unwilling) exploitation of our women on the internet, and shrug our collective shoulders when Pinay workers get a raw deal abroad.

We pay lip service and say the right things when it comes to recognizing our countrywomen, but accept it as a fact of life when women are objectified and become victims of white slavery wherever criminals and unscrupulous governments take advantage of our women.  It’s almost become a curse.  Our Filipinas are among the most beautiful in the world, defer to male elders and menfolk by force of tradition, and are taught early in life that it’s better to be seen and not heard.  Because of these perceived virtues, our sisters are preyed upon by those who earn blood money in the flesh trade.  And you know what they say : all that is necessary for evil to triumph, is for good men to do nothing.  I can just hear commonsense asking: Is there a shortage of good men in the Philippines?

Groundhog day.  we experience a dozen plus typhoons every year, a dozen plus major and minor earthquakes in the same period, and a couple of volcanic eruptions every now and then.  But we still scramble to save lives, property and reduce suffering everytime the wrath of God comes in various shapes and forms.  It’s like a foreigner saying, you know what’s gonna happen, you know what it’s gonna do when it happens, and you know what to do to avoid it, so why don’t you do it???

Granted what happened in the Visayas region was beyond the anticipation of even the most prudent government effort, but given our experience with such similar and parallel events, I can’t help but wonder if more lives couldn’t be saved.  It is so much water under the bridge, sumalangit nawa ang mga kaluluwa ng ating mga kabayan, but if Haiyan doesn’t change the way we face disasters and relief efforts, I guess nothing will.

As mentioned earlier, this is all a simplistic compilation on how people overseas see us.  Whether or not it helps, it’s just food for thought.

Mabuhay ang Pilipinas, and 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!