the dirty little secret of many pinoy communities


[ Thank you and acknowledgment to YouTube poster Maypagasa for use of the video! ]

BEFORE ANY FURTHER, may I qualify that statement above, which I’ll expand into the rest of the blog, kabayan?

On the whole, and in general, Filipinos are kind, decent and caring people, who get along with anybody and everybody everywhere all over the world, with their own kind but especially among people of other races and nationalities. So much so that bukod tangi, in prosperous cities, countries, or regions where professionals, tradesmen and workers from all nations accumulate, Filipinos are popular, well-known and requested either as co-workers, colleagues or employees.

Our very own Ambassador to New Zealand His Excellency Jesus Gary Domingo likened us to “a thousand suns” that cannot shine in unison but on their own, without other Filipinos around, in order to be fully appreciated.

The “dirty little secret” refers to the lack of unity or organization among Filipinos in some if not most migrant and overseas communities, sometimes to the point of being a disadvantage to the kabayan in these communities who need it the most.

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To be sure, there will always be Pinoy orgs, clubs, interest groups anywhere abroad. Put two or three of our countrymen (women) together and you can be sure there will be talk of registering that group, for tax, financial assistance or any advantage whatsoever.

A recently departed embassy official told me that in one of her deployments in the developed world, there were 500,000 ethnic Filipinos either born in the Philippines or of Filipino descent.  Out of this massive number, there were about 5000 Filipino organizations, all of them legal entities, that their embassy dealt with regularly. So you can imagine the logistical work needed to get all of the orgs (not to mention their members!) on the same page, especially when a big project was in the works.

But that’s just one example, one situation. Imagine all over the world, Filipino communities active in their own productive lives, wanting to do the right thing for themselves and others, but not being all that effective as a group, whether strictly as Filipinos or with others. You can hazard a few intelligent guesses for this, but I’ll enumerate them for you kabayan:

Specific interest groups, usually driven by one or two personalities. You know the type. A natural leader, usually driven in his or her desire to do good, being the driving force and providing nearly all the energy behind an organization. The others are there just for the ride, the free lunches and maybe there’s something in it for them. I hate to sound jaded and pessimist, but that’s the way it goes, business organizations or otherwise. Remember Pareto’s rule, where 20% of the group does 80% of the work? That applies to most Pinoy clubs, groups or organizations.

Now what happens is a lot of groups like these ultimately burn themselves out, with a tragically short shelf life. Either the leader himself or herself gets tired, because of the failure to see that from the very start it should’ve been a team effort, or the other members (usually part of the leadership) see that the group agenda is driven by one person only. And why not? because that one person does all the work  🙂

In many cases also, Pinoy groups are founded on the common denominator/s of religion, business goals or objectives (seeking funding or deals as a single entity), or in preparation for a Pinoy-themed event (a sports fest, a cultural event, what have you). Have you ever heard of a Pinoy group formed for the general welfare of Pinoys in that community? I mean, an organization or pangkat formed for Pinoys, purely for fostering the interest of Pinoys in general? Tell me about it if you have, because I for sure haven’t.

Intramurals and intrigues. Now because in almost every Pinoy group, leadership and authority is centered in one or two individuals, power tends to stay there and perpetuate itself. Whatever the good intentions or lofty goals of the organization, as the latter evolves, membership increases and, most importantly, dinero starts to materialize, it becomes serious business (literally). It’s no longer a mom-and -pop affair : talk of allowances, per diem during meetings and how to allocate funding becomes an intensely debated topic or topics. Where before members would volunteer their services and expertise for free, now a little appreciation (of course, in the form of a little cash) becomes part of the discussion. Grumblings start to surface about how certain group policies are forgotten, how personalities get in the way, and how some members can no longer work with each other, on issues that have nothing to do with the group itself.

Before long, splinter groups emerge, the group shatters into pieces, and chaos reigns. If you think this kind of thing happens back home in the Philippines, think again kabayan, because I’ve heard it happen in Pinoy clubs all over the world, in infinite situations and countless reincarnations. Only the lyrics change, but the song remains the same throughout.

Politics. Just that one dirty word will tell you how brittle all organizations are in and out of the Philippines, no matter how pure and well-meaning the motives at the start. I refer not just to political parties but to how politically motivated intentions start to infect the friendships and united efforts of the Pinoy clubs and in the end, twist and mangle the original mission statement so much that the founders end up entirely losing sight of what they set out to do.

It doesn’t matter if one particular party or group is in the right or if another is totally in the wrong. Most of Filipino politics is personality-driven anyway, with party membership and principles a meaningless device to be used at one’s convenience. When political affiliation based on the party or personality in power (back in the homeland) starts to influence the life of the Pinoy org, then you can kiss it goodbye. It can no longer function healthily, and before long people will start to leave. That’s the reality, and it will never change. The tragedy is, politically motivated Pinoys in and out of the organizations or clubs think they are doing what is best for the group, and end up destroying it. Tsk tsk tsk, sayang lang.

Kabayan please don’t think I refer in particular to one Pinoy community or another, specially in my adopted country. As far as I know, this phenonenon persists everywhere there are Pinoys, across the seven seas. So if we are proud of our good points as Filipinos, we should also strive to do better, as regards our shortcomings.

Key words there. Strive to do better. There’s always room for improvement.

Thanks for reading, Mabuhay po tayong lahat!

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

 

 

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!

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!

repost courtesy of Bunso : “The Elusive First Job (in NZ)”


woohoo!

woohoo!

[Note : Actually, this was the second job my son Bunso successfully applied for, but this was the first time he actually liked the job. 🙂  So he was gracious enough to write about it after a local Pinoy newsmagazine in Wellington invited him to do so.  I liked it so much (his story) that I am reposting it below, with permission of course from both the publisher and the author.  You may access Bunso’s online version as well by clicking on the link in this paragraph.  Thanks again Didith Tayawa Figuracion and Meia Lopez of Kabayan Magazine in Wellington, and anak for your generosity! ]

KNOWING YOURSELF is one thing but describing yourself is another.  On finding a job, one of the most important things to remember is to put your best foot forward.  You have to present yourself as the best candidate for whatever job you’re applying for without sounding arrogant or too proud.

It took a while to get my first job but finally, after sending in numerous CVs (both physical and online), my efforts have paid off.  When I finally landed a job, I was ecstatic!  (I honestly can’t put my feelings into words.  But it was comparable to how I felt when I passed the entrance exam for the university I wanted to attend back home in the Philippines.  I felt really happy and blessed.)

So here’s my take on how you should prepare to get that (first) elusive job.

Tailor your CV to the job you are applying for.  Customise your CV and always point out skills and qualities you have that other people might not have.  Make sure to relate these to the job you are applying for.  Some jobs require you to be independent and some require you to be in a team.  If you like to do both, say so but don’t pretend to be somebody you’re not.

Your CV must speak for you especially for jobs you apply for online and situations where you won’t be able to see the prospective manager/boss before getting an interview.  Put together an image of yourself based on your personality (are you friendly and helpful?), experiences  (have you interacted with people from different ethniticities and backgrounds giving you that cross cultural perspective from your travels overseas or interactions in school?)  and skills (are you good with managing your time, multitasking or prioritising?).

Get the best referees possible.  Ask your high school (college) principal or your parents’ friends if they are willing to be your referees.  Get someone who knows you and is willing to help and can vouch for your professionalism.

Do your homework.  It helps a lot if you know the employer or have referees working within the workplace you are applying at.  Find out as much as you can about the company where you are applying.

During interviews make yourself very presentable.  From your clothes to your demeanor, you are being observed.  Wear clothes feel comfortable in and always appear open and approachable.  There is not one job in the world that would turn away people with those qualities, if there were they would probably be jobs most people wouldn’t apply for. (ha-ha just kidding.)

Now comes the hard part — asking for prior job experience when it’s your first job (locally).  Most jobs you apply for need prior experience but how can you get experience without getting a job?  I can only think of two ways to convince the employer to give you a chance.  Work for free for a specified amount of time depending on what you’re open to, for example one to two weeks, whatever floats your boat.  The other is to ask for an interview and character reference check and if they like what they hear then they might give you a shot.

So, when you do get the job, you better show them that they picked the right guy/gal.  Cheers and good luck to all the young people out there looking for employment, it definitely isn’t easy but it’s all worth it.

You go guys! 🙂

caught between the cracks, surviving between the cracks: Year 6 as a NZ guest worker


One hundred percent NZ pure, for citizens, residents and workers alike.

One hundred percent NZ pure, for citizens, residents and workers alike.

I can’t conceive of a mental picture that’s expressive enough, but imagine being teleported with your fellow Pinoys to a dog sledding race somewhere in the Arctic Circle. In the middle of a surge between giant mounds of snow, your sled falls into a half hidden crevasse more than 10 feet deep.  Before you can collect your wits and assess any injury to you and your dogs, inertia and the slope of the icy floor push you further into another crevasse, this one even deeper.  Can it get any more uncertain from here on?

***               ***               ***

ON PAPER, and on surface level, New Zealand, one of the most liveable and most desirable places to migrate to on our Lonely Planet, has given aspiring migrants probably the widest range of tools with which to become adopted New Zealanders and fulfill the migrant dream of plentiful food, comfortable shelter and a peaceful life. The skilled migrant policy,  working holiday scheme, cultural policy are all manifestations of the welcome given to nomads from overseas.  Athletes, religious, farm workers and different classes of people from all walks of life, assuming the latter are law abiding, healthy and sincere in building a new life, are welcome to become New Zealanders.  Even political refugees stand a healthy chance of at least being heard and hosted while their cases are considered.

But in reality, because of fierce competition from fellow migrants all over the world, the average aspirant to these shores is not unlike a participant in the weekly lottery.  Thousands of applicants for a visa, any kind of visa flood online sites of immigration NZ, and once their papers are sorted and sifted, still a huge number of the original applicants flock to visa processing centers.  After requirements are scrutinized, verified and assessed, the merits of these hopefuls are weighted not just on their own but relative to other, equally deserving applicants.  After that, the moment of truth arrives in the interviews, where everything hinges on the human element : whether or not the applicant and his/her papers match, answers to crucial questions concerning honesty and character, and the X factor of is there anything dangerous lurking within the outwardly innocuous applicant..  If everything passes muster, then and only then are the precious visas issued.

[Before I continue, I must stress that there are several filters that eliminate probably three-quarters of the original applicants before visas are granted, based on the merits.  First, there is the NZ$270 application fee, roughly US$220.  This immediately wards off all but the most serious applicants.  Then, a long wait of processing and verification assures all the candidates that they should have the stablest of incomes or war chest of funds while waiting for the visa result.]

As I had neither the energy or discipline (not to mention the qualifications) to go through the more traditional, albeit time-consuming admission streams,  I chose a popular, though risky method : I was fortunate enough to be granted a visit (tourist) visa, and solicited the help of my brother in finding a job in New Zealand early 2007.  Needle in the haystack and eye of the needle, but Bro pulled through and got me a job in his workplace.

But as mentioned, the trouble with this method is what happens if you can’t find a job suited to your qualifications within the short time of your valid visit?  Remember, the sentinels of New Zealand’s borders, also known as Immigration NZ, already know that your purpose in coming to their country is merely to see the sights and visit relations, which fortunately I had.  To do anything else, like attend job interviews and look for jobs, while not too surprising, raises the proverbial eyebrows and attracts attention.  Luckily for me, even when I wore my welcome out with my first employer, I was able to find still another job that allowed me to apply for a true-blue, certified work visa that extended my stay in New Zealand.

Here’s where the paradox begins: Job it was that provided the legal basis for my stay in Aotearoa, but my trade was on neither the Long-Term or Short-Term Skills Shortage List, meaning my job was no help if ever I wanted to apply for Permanent Resident status someday soon.  And I was already too entrenched in my job to even think about any of the other migrant policy streams.  Yes I was able to work in New Zealand and continue justifying my stay, but only as long as I kept working in my particular job and kept my employer happy.

I hadn’t remained idle in reducing the odds against becoming a PR, or permanent resident when the opportunity to apply ever presented itself.  I started honing my skills, tried to advance my skill set towards certification in my vocation, and made myself available whenever new or lateral development was offered.

The problem was, I had fallen between the cracks.  My situation didn’t correspond with the standard scenarios under which the NZ government makes permanent resident status accessible.  But I had already invested too much blood sweat and tears  to just roll over and give up the ghost.  Hanging over the precipice, I had to harden my steely grasp on the shallow foothold I gained, and claw my way to the distant summit that remained unseen.

In the meantime, I know I can no longer fall back on any other possible skills or blame myself for whatever missed chances fallen by the wayside.  I’ve fallen further into a tighter spot, but I’ve made my choice.  Besides, six years after my original work visa, I’m still in New Zealand.

***     ***     ***

Last week I lodged yet another work visa application, my seventh in the same job and with the same employer, a record of sorts for me.  Fate has been kind to me, with all the uncertainties and whirlwind changes in both my particular line of work and the New Zealand economic climate.  Nearly all the kabayan I started out with, in different lines of work, have become permanent residents.  Some have even become citizens and have called New Zealand their permanent home.

For me to do that, I have to continue struggling, continue fighting the good fight.  The obstacles are challenging, because the rewards are great.  Despite myself, I have acquired the patience and discipline required to stay in the game of migration.  I have blazed a trail towards my destiny as a migrant, and have no choice but to soldier on.

Mabuhay to Pinoy migrants, all over the world!

World War W*


[ Thanks to YouTube poster LooksCrisp for the series of pics in the video! ]

LET’S JUST SAY Wellington (my temporary adopted city) has received more than its share of natural (and man-made) eff-ups lately, if you’ll forgive the french.   All around the Wellington region are cows and farmers bearing the brunt of the latest dairy industry PR fiasco that’s resulted in NZ milk being banned from China, Russia, a few former Soviet republics and Sri Lanka.  Then there’s a share in the nationwide drought earlier this year, punishing gale-force winds that torture man and beast once too often, tsunami alerts, and of course, the series of tremors that brought them about.

You would believe me I think if I say that we can sit and bear all of the above misfortunes EXCEPT the last one, the latest of which once again caused a stir over the weekend all over Central New Zealand reminiscent of a month ago, when quite a few shelves and their contents were turned topsy-turvy.

Owing to prudence, common sense and just plain good luck, Mahal and I kept clear of that most recent quake, but we still had our share of Freaky Friday when everything rocked in Windy Welly.

It all started when Mahal and I thought we would cap our short leave from work together by going on an afternoon car ride to somewhere we’d never been, or a cozy little gulod we’d never seen.  Better yet, rare exhibitions of Renoir, Cezanne and other impressionists on the one hand, and Andy Warhol on the other, were being held at Te Papa, the museum in town.  Whichever came first or wherever exit first presented itself on the motorway would be our destination.

Just before we filled up our faithful steed at the last-chance petrol station, we abruptly decided that uptown was too far for us and went for a mall we’d never gone to.  There wasn’t any logical, practical or sane reason for doing so.  At 2.31 pm, as soon as we finished refilling the tank, all the cars in the vicinity, including our own, began swaying.  Mahal thought I was fooling around and pushing the car, when she realized everything else was moving.  People around us started running around, before the quake stopped around 20 seconds later.

You’d think that by then we’d reconsider travelling and call it a day, but no siree.  Not having a TV, laptop or talk radio around, there didn’t seem to be any urgency to change plans, and we still went to that mall away from Lower Hutt where we lived, but still outside Wellington City proper.

We still had around an hour of normal malling pleasure, looking at the K-Mart and local shops before we  found out that the majority of the mall stores were closing early just to be on the safe side, structural concerns and all.  Mall employees were also being let off early.  So that ended our surprisingly short excursion to Porirua.

The surprises weren’t over by any means.  When we got to the motorway, traffic was a bit heavier than usual, which wasn’t that unusual since it was Friday afternoon, and the heavy flow away from the city was expected.

What wasn’t expected was that the traffic on the other side, which we could plainly see, was also heavy.  What we hadn’t known until then was that because there was minor chaos in Wellington, all city-bound vehicles since the quake took place had been having a hard time reaching their destination.

Around a couple of hours later on the news, we saw that thousands of commuters were stranded trying to leave the city, and the situation was aggravated by the train system suspended for safety reasons.  People were trying to get home by any means, and police were flagging down motorists for instant carpooling.  Happily, in true Wellingtonian spirit, many motorists obliged.

It dawned on us that had we gone through with our original plan of visiting the museum and surprising Ganda and Bunso in their new jobs, we would’ve been the ones surprised, ending up most likely trapped in the gridlock that ensued and unable to go home for a good hour plus.

Still and all, it was a relief for most of us.  Given that it was a magnitude 6.6 earthquake (at the epicenter), stronger than the one around a month earlier, and that magnitude 5 aftershocks filled the next 24 hours till today, it was a Godsend that there were no serious injuries.

I can only surmise that there was something (or maybe Someone) beyond the usual five senses that told us to avoid town that fateful Friday, saving us from a lot of grief and a lot of inconvenience, and we certainly aren’t complaining.  Thank you po.

I’m likewise hoping that Messieurs Cezanne and Renoir as well as Mr Warhol will be kind enough to extend their hospitality for a few more days.   I don’t think, all things equal, Mahal and I will be able to view their iconic  paintings in our lifetimes if we pass up this opportunity.

And no more earthquakes, please?

Thanks for reading!

*W stands for Wellington, city or region, also known as the biggest little capital anywhere on the Southern Hemisphere.

are three mini quakes the main event or a dire warning?


This is what used to be a clean, organized condiments section.

This is what used to be a clean, organized condiments section.

[ Since I started this, there have been another three mini-tremors… I don’t know if this has any significance, but less than a week ago was the anniversary of the 1990 Baguio earthquake.  ]

IT’S AMAZING how innocuous and clinical sounding numbers can represent something more harrowing and sinister.

Friday morning at work in Wellington, a 4.5 tremor that gave us the shivers.  Early 7.00 this Sunday morning (winter sun wasn’t even out yet), a 5.8  shaker that was enough to wake Mahal who roused me from sleep.  And the clincher, a 6.5 quake that made many shopkeepers close shop at the neighborhood Westfield mall.

I can vouch for the craziness cuz I was there, and worse, Mahal and I were separated on either end of the mall due to errands that needed to be done.

unluckily, the shelf itself was dislodged in the condiments aisle.

unluckily, the shelf itself was dislodged in the condiments aisle.

I bought a parking permit for Mahal while she searched for discounted groceries .  The mall service desk issuing parking permits was on the northern side of the mall while the supermarket was on the opposite.

After buying the permit, I passed by the sushi place nearby to chat with Mahal’s colleagues and ask if they had a busy day.  In the middle of conversation, we noticed people rushing down the escalator and a few kids crying.

It’s another earthquake was the only thing I heard before I started running.  Not outside the mall, where everyone was going, but into the mall, to look for Mahal.

Methinks there will be an unscheduled sale on sauces and dressings ASAP...

Methinks there will be an unscheduled sale on sauces and dressings ASAP…

I found her near the middle, also running to look for me.

It only took a few seconds to realize we weren’t in danger, but we were both saying the same thing : that compared to Friday’s and this morning’s tremors, this was stronger, and longer.

It’s not a good sign, when three moderately strong earthquakes get progressively stronger, and a nearby Christchurch absorbed an earthquake on the catastrophe level only two years ago.

By the way, we continued buying the things we needed at the Countdown, and noticed that quite a few aisles were littered with bottles, jars and other containers that fell from their carefully arranged ledges.  Of course, the containers made of glass were broken, shattered and in a million pieces.

I know I didn’t have to be in the pic above, but that’s just one of the aisles that needed overtime cleaning by Sunday staff. 😦

When we got home, after checking for any damage in our flat, one of the first things I did was call Kapatid in Auckland, only a few hundred kilometers away.  He was relieved to find out we were none the worse for wear, and even updated me on recent family news in the Philippines.  I had the pleasure of exchanging pleasantries with my nieces Ganda Jr and Korea Girl.

I then received a quick cellphone call from Bunso, who was at work when the quake came.  He assured me that both Panganay and Ganda were OK,  after which I called and received updates from relatives in nearby Johnsonville.

I know it’s just awful to be a Cassandra, but three small quakes is not a good sign.  If today’s quake was the worst, then we have been spared.  If not, then we can never be too prepared.

For the worst.

friends as a migrant, friends for life


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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