`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! ūüôā

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. ūüôā ]

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 ūüôā ) 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!

Advertisements

the longest trip home


Mahal and the first man in her life.

Mahal and the first man in her life.

[Note : ¬† Sadly, ¬†Mahal ¬†never quite made it in time to say goodbye to her Papa on his deathbed. ¬†Fortunately for many other kabayan overseas, they make it home in time to bid fond farewells before loved ones cross the Great Beyond. ¬†I just thought about what would’ve happened had Mahal made it home. Thanks for all the kind wishes and the condolences, and thanks for reading! ]

AMONG ALL the overseas Filipino narratives, the rush home to visit a sick or dying relative is almost certainly the most compelling. ¬†You begin with an internal contradiction : ¬†the Pinoy’s instinctive need to provide for his/her family, versus the fond wish to stay close with parents and extended family, who traditionally are as much a part of immediate family as anything. ¬†You continue with the constant conflict between wanting to come home and spend more time with kinsmen, and postponing annual trips in order to send a little more hard-earned cash home to help out with the leaking ceiling, an additional carabao or dried-up fishpen.

Alas, through the years the visits grow less and less, until you wonder where all the time went. ¬†Suddenly, siblings begin to earnestly make more requests for you to come home, and the need for speed, speed to rejoin and reconnect with the olds, acquires a new urgency. ¬†Money and financial support, while helpful still, isn’t that essential anymore. ¬†Tatay and Nanay just want you to come home and enjoy more time with them, not while you can, but while they can.

Still it’s hard to comply with such requests, what with the uncertainties of working overseas, your employer’s rostering planned well in advance, the difficulty of bringing all the kids home with you, and an eye trained towards career advancement that includes a hundred-and-one percent dedication, extra ¬†hours and extra shifts, the proverbial performance beyond the call of duty thing and all that. ¬†How could the feeble voices and grainy images of Tatay and Nanay, albeit on Skype and Face Time, compete with that?

***                              ***                              ***

…Until the shock of the news comes, it’s still beyond belief. ¬†Words like cancer and terminal are still avoided, but the message is clear. ¬†You had better get home as soon as you can kapatid, every day is a blessing now. ¬†Then it’s a series of ominous don’ts.

Don’t ask to speak with him because he gets tired easily. Don’t ask for details, because we will just start crying and the keyboard is wet enough. Don’t delay.

But still you cry, because you feel so helpless, thousands and thousands of kilometers away, unable to help your elders while you are in the midst of so much affluence, technology, and the detachment of a different culture. You want to literally teleport yourself from one hemisphere to another, project yourself astrally if you had the power, but in reality you are here and your loved ones are there, and until you fly home there is nothing you can do about it.

***                              ***                              ***

Leave must be applied for, special requests granted, goodbyes rushed and suitcases packed. You do everything quietly and efficiently, but all the while you are in a daze, thinking of what to say and how to say it, and behind all that thinking the guilt of never being able to make up for lost time bears heavily on your stressed, stressed conscience.

You rush home, ¬†take the first taxi to the bus terminal, take whatever bus is there, take the tricycle, and walk the familiar footpath up the munting dampa, up the worn steps and on the wooden slats still burnished by coconut husks. The air is thick with liniment, the bedsheets need changing, and there are enough vials and drugs to fill an aisle of Mercury Drug, but everyone is happy to see you…

Tatay, Baby is here. (You have been an adult half your life, but everyone still calls you Baby.)

The figure in bed has seen better days, and to say that he is at Death’s door wouldn’t be an exaggeration. ¬†He has one last battle to fight, and that is the battle to die with dignity.

He can no longer speak except in whispers, but his eyes are still bright. And those eyes are trained on you.

Thank you for coming home, Baby, his eyes seem to say.

That’s all. His eyes close shortly afterward, and they never open again.

Thanks for waiting for me, Tatay.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***                              ***                             ***

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

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

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

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

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

***                              ***                            ***

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

to look like dad & all its benefits : happy father’s day!


this is not the first time I'm using this pic but it's the best I have..  Mahal, me, my Tita Lily who recently passed away and Dad, dashing as ever!

this is not the first time I’m using this pic but it’s the best I have.. Mahal, me, my Tita Lily who recently passed away and Dad, dashing as ever! Thanks once again to brother Jude Bautista and http://judebautista.wordpress.com/ !

[ Note : ¬†In the Philippines, I’ve always celebrated my birthday near mother’s day, so there are two happy things to remember around then. ¬†Now because of the happy accident of working in NZ, dad’s birthday and New Zealand’s Father’s day are about two weeks apart. Happy father’s day to everyone not just in NZ, but everywhere else! ]

IT’S UNIVERSAL that parents like to claim authorship of anything that resembles success in their kids, and more than a passing resemblance with the same, especially whenever the latter are beautiful, intelligent, gorgeous and otherwise pleasing to the mind and eye.

Among my siblings, Eldest Brother (we are five brothers, no sisters) is unsurprisingly blessed with the most leadership skills and probably the best communicator.  Second Brother is undoubtedly the smartest and the easiest to get along with.  Fourth Brother is the most athletic and attuned to business, while Fifth Brother is the most creative.

Pure luck of the draw and genetics gave me a different gift : I like to think, and more than a few people and rellys agree with me, that I was honored to be the son who resembled (resembles) our father the most. ¬†And because my father (naturally) considered himself not a bad-looking man and a good standard with which to compare his progeny, he almost surely (neither I nor my brothers ever thought to ask him) thought that I was the luckiest one because of the way we received our inheritance in the looks department. ¬†LOLs and smileys all around after that one. ūüôā

Seriously, my father has been honorable in executing his fatherly duties in every which way possible.  He was the solid rock of stability around which the rest of the family was built, guided and counseled all of us through our maturity, and to this day serves as an inspiration for his middle-aged sons as they strive to measure up to the greatness that is their father.

But I have enjoyed as good a relationship with my father as anyone could wish for, though I don’t ¬†claim to know enough to say it has been as good as or even better than his relationship with his other sons, my brothers. ¬†Perhaps viewed through the prism of self-regard and self-interest, one always thinks his appearance, his abilities, and his relationships are the best, without the benefit of comparison with a superior standard.

Should you therefore ask me how I have the audacity to write the previous paragraph, I will answer with a contrast I’ve seen with him when it comes to me.

He is probably the most opinionated person I know, holding specific, and perhaps jingoist and xenophobic opinions on everything under the sun.  He is like that, and will not aggressively attack your worldview, but his Old World eloquence and quiet conviction will assure you that you will have hours and hours of debate before you get any  meeting of the minds.

With me, whenever I talk to him about my view of things, his response has almost invariably been, for him, atypical.  He will nod his head, smile knowingly, and listen to all the points I elucidate.  He will usually say ganun pala or I never knew that.

Deep down I know he is only holding his tongue and patronizing me, but because he is my dad it is approval enough for me to shut up and acknowledge his smile.  And I know he is agreeing only because it is me.

He is also, as you might expect, very old school.  In almost everything, from popular culture, religion and customs, the roles of men and women in society, and anything else you might think of.  With many people of his generation, produced by expansionist tyranny and the Last Great War, adherence to traditional values then and now are the bedrock of his core.  (Hard to fault him for that, for in the midst of uncertainty and destruction it was all they could hold on to.)  And that is what he will be to the day he dies.

And yet in my few conversations with him about the tumultuous change overcoming our world,  about explaining to him how and why I have been the only son of his to marry twice, and how when he meets his grandkids again when they return next decade from New Zealand, he will probably not approve of their ways and their appearances, he curiously declines to challenge my points.

In so many words, he pooh-poohs my alarms, soothes my concerns,  and allays my fears.  In a nutshell he tells me :  I am not at all concerned with all that, Noel. Because I trust you to do the right thing.  Not only does he go against form and welcome change, he uncharacteristically reposes a lot of trust in me.

This, to the one who is (no false modesty here) his least successful, least accomplished, least athletic and least creative son. ¬†Truly, to inherit my father’s appearance has also given me a side benefit : to earn the most benefit of the doubt. ¬†The luck of the draw has helped me once again.

***            ***            ***

Lest you think I’m writing this for my dad to see, he will probably not even know about it. ¬†Father’s day in the Philippines is celebrated earlier, and even if they were on the same day, my dad doesn’t care for such things. ¬†That’s one of the greatest things about him ; he is great without even knowing it.

My dad is very much alive today, in I hope the best health of his life, a bit slower now but fit and fighting trim nevertheless.  The only sad part is we are separated by thousands of miles of land and sea.

But if we weren’t, and he were right in front of me now on Father’s Day, I don’t know if I should bow deeply to him the way the ancient Chinese did (he is half Chinese), if I should render a snappy salute for the enormous respect I have him, or just hug and kiss him, as I owe him my life, and everything I am today. ¬†The first, second or third?

I don’t know. ¬†Maybe a combination of them, but most definitely I will hug and kiss him, because it benefits us both.

Happy Father’s Day Dad! ¬†I love you always!

(and to the rest of you as well!)

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***   ***   ***   ***   ***

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

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

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

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

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

Kailangan mo raw ng medical procedure anak?

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

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

Now, on to more important matters.

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

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

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

We both had to laugh at that.

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

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

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

thanks for reading!

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

why we’re grateful to Joe & Linda, 54 years and running


a young Joe & Linda more than half a century ago, with toddlers Tim and Donald, and Father George Lalliberte who married them only a few years ago. Your loyal blogger was probably still a bun in the oven ;)

a young Joe & Linda more than half a century ago, with toddlers Tim and Donald, and Father George Lalliberte who married them a few years back. Your loyal blogger was probably still a bun in the oven…

I THOUGHT the day would never come, but it jumped up from just around the corner, and now it’s here to stay. ¬†I have now reached the age where my children, intelligent and discerning as always, have in so many words begun to reproach me from the things I never made accessible to them.

Here are just a few examples.  At least two out of the three (Panganay, Ganda and Bunso of course) have inquired why they never had piano lessons; one has rebuked me for not enrolling at least one of them in a Chinese Filipino school (I attended one), and a right-brained child has asked why nothing was ever done to spur or trigger their creative side/s.  To all these I furnish a motley group of excuses : economics, nurture vs nature, and all that bull-bleep, but I know deep down I have failed them in a thousand different ways, so that any success they have reaped is despite and not because of my pasang-awa parenting.

Chalk it down to a kinder, less selfish generation, cheaper tuition and simpler extra-curricular options, but I cannot say the same for my own parents, who made available a lot of things I didn’t pay forward for my own kids.

Early elementary, mom and dad enrolled me in a summer art class. ¬†When I didn’t show any promise, the following year I attended badminton sessions and was encouraged to learn racquet sports. ¬†And all through my youth (not that it helped) a piano teacher visited me weekly and I learned a third language in an excellent Chinese Filipino school that rivaled many of the best Metro Manila schools across the board.

...and a more recent pic with Dad (center, seated) Mom (to his left), Tita Lily (to his right), my brother Tim and his wife Joy (standing, extreme right) and Mahal (the stunner with the long hair)

…and a more recent pic with Dad (center, seated) Mom (to his left), Tita Lily (to his right), my brother Tim and his wife Joy (standing, extreme right) and Mahal (the stunner with the long hair). I don’t know who the white-shirted guy is, sorry ūüė¶

My folks weren’t the showiest type when it came to hugs and kisses, but were right there when it came to advice and support, which as you know pre-teens and teens need tons of but won’t always admit. ¬† It didn’t stop them from exercising stern discipline and ¬†strict accountability, but as all good parents, they combined affection and hard knocks in a smart combination of tough love.

Best of all, they showed me, and a lot of people my generation, that you could sweep someone off your feet in a whirlwind romance and yet stay with that someone for years and years without losing the thrill of love.  Some people call it being soulmates and lovers, and other people call it commitment.  My folks just called it marriage.

...still photogenic after all these years!

…still photogenic after all these years!

As of yesterday (6th June), my folks have possessed all of these traits 54 years running, raising first five hard-headed but respectful sons, then helping seven grandkids, scores of nephews, nieces and cousins, and now dozens and dozens of people through catechism classes, community centers and livelihood groups to which they belong.

Through it all, they have relied on many comrades, but most of all they have relied on each other in the journey of life, towards happiness and contentment. ¬†I’m extra proud as their son to say that they’re already there, and will always serve as my models for self-sustaining love.

Thanks for being in our lives Joe and Linda, and happy happy 54th wedding anniversary from a grateful clan, Mom and Dad!  Love you always!

Ganda learns and earns ( and takes us to dinner )


I DON’T remember ever using the word here, but there has to be something momentous about an offspring receiving his/her first paycheque, and treating you to breakfast/lunch/ dinner (and maybe a little dessert), it’s so disorienting, because part of you still sees the small, innocent child in the newest member of the workforce, and yet so gratifying, because you know that no matter what happens next, nothing can ever take you away from your moment of pride and achievement, even though the milestone is not yours but your son’s/daughter’s.

Ganda had spent lots of anxious moments looking for a job, nervous situations surviving those final interviews, and finally gained a foot in the door towards holding down a first-ever job in NZ, and in all the time she never wavered in her resolve that, barely seconds after getting off the boat (figuratively) she could become a vital cog in the convalescing NZ engine of growth.

Notwithstanding, it was as a footsoldier in the hamburger-and-fries battalions of the fast food armies of which every member of society, First World, Second or Third, could be a stalwart. ¬†But because there were precious few jobs whose prospective applicants might multiplied by a factor of one hundred (i.e., three openings vied for by a potential 300 candidates), that priority in NZ ¬†was given to Kiwis and Maoris as a matter of political correctness, and lastly that Ganda’s credentials were limited to internships and on-the-job traineeships back home, actually landing a job so soon after getting here would be a challenge.

And true enough, the shortlists and breaks handed to our intrepid jobseeker were few and far between. ¬†Despite the fact that barkada, well-meaning friends and two sets of parents had already advised her that it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park, Ganda’s initial attempts at snaring a job were bound to end in disappointment. ¬†CV’s, applications and walk-in interviews were easy to hand out, fill in and conduct, but the reality was, for Ganda to expect anything out of these daily endeavors was shooting for the moon.

It was therefore going to be a ritual of handing out your bio-data in the hundreds, pounding the pavement and zooming in on anything that resembled a job referral in the adventure of finding a job.

a previous dinner with Panganay, Ganda and Bunso. This time dinner was on esposa hermosa ūüėČ

That she actually found a job within a month from obtaining her permanent resident status was a pleasant surprise for all of us, her circle of friends, and not the least Ganda herself. ¬†Granted it wasn’t in the rarefied executive offices of Wellington CBD, but she wasn’t dreaming. ¬†Better-paying and more career-oriented jobs would be there, but for now getting her feet wet and filling out her resume’ (experience-wise) was the most important thing.

We wanted to grant her wish of treating us to lunch last weekend, but at the same time we didn’t want her to splurge too much so soon after starting her new job. ¬†A compromise was reached : she would choose any place (that wasn’t too similar to her fast food employer) and we would shoulder half the bill.

Considering that it was a marvelous grilled chicken dinner, that we hadn’t seen Ganda (and sidekick Bunso¬†) since they started looking for jobs (for weeks and weeks), and the conversation and bonding were outstandingly feel-good, it was hands-down a world-class way to celebrate entering the workforce.

For one sweet meal it was a reversal of roles, the providee becoming the provider, and the younger generation embracing the role of host. ¬†It was also a very unsubtle way of reminding us that after a certain point in life, time begins to fly, and pass you by if you don’t hold on like your life depended on it.

Congrats Ganda, and thanks everyone for reading!

First day at work, last day at work in Middle Earth


another day at the office…

[ Note : It’s a bit fuzzy, and it’s not very well defined, but there’s a straight line between the two people in these stories, the first on one end, the second on the other, and coincidentally, I’m somewhere in the middle, though my own destination isn’t that far away.¬† Thanks for all your prayers, kind thoughts and donations to Jerome and Lady Jalbuena, the latter well on her way to groundbreaking therapy. ]

I’M NOT allowed to say anything yet, lest I jinx her, but wait… is that what she said ???¬† OK, media embargo over, Ganda tried and tried, applied and applied, never lost heart and recently found her very first job here in NZ, finally joined the workforce after the jobsearch of a lifetime, for her of course.¬† She set her sights high but was realistic enough to accept whatever came her way first, played the numbers game by trying out for as many jobs as possible, one of those potential employers was bound to find some merit in her earnestly written CV, which boasted of NO NZ experience and one, countem one part-time, internship-like gig back home.¬† Keeping that in mind, it’s not so hard to realize that it was an uphill climb for Ganda in finding her first source of livelihood as an independent working girl.

Maybe it was just as well that Ganda was a babe in the woods when it came to finding a J-O-B, there wouldn’t have been anything to encourage her had she stepped back and taken a bird’s-eye view of the employment situation.¬† Not only did New Zealand suffer from the second highest quarterly unemployment rate in recent history, it also was hit badly by the mining slump in big brother Aussie, suffering job losses just as nastily as Australian miners and those depending on the mining industry.¬† So many people unemployed, underemployed and on the benefit, best not to tell young people like Ganda who during the low points and slow days of bagging the short-list job interview, keep their hopes high and chins up.

I hope if you ever meet Ganda just before she starts her first day on work that you don’t discourage her as well, fully knowing that employers like to squeeze every available minute of work out of the thirteen-plus dollars per hour minimum wage¬†they give to their peons, that their breaks are strictly timed, and that the only idle time you often experience in first time jobs are just before you punch the bundy and after you punch out.¬† It’s best that you work the hard jobs when you’re young, inspired and hungry.¬† Because Ganda and her colleagues will never work harder for the rest of their lives.

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

I’ll never forget Davey.¬† When I walked into the mill the first time in my life to start my first day, he was the very first co-worker to smile at me.¬†¬† He obviously didn’t know me and I probably looked as foreign to him as lanzones or rambutan, if he was aware of those fruits, but still he welcomed me to the workplace flashing his broadest, toothiest smile.¬† I appreciated that.

He was in his early 60s even then, but he was strong as an ox, easily able to lift 20-kg bags of flour hundreds of times a day, as it was his job to pack flour into paper bags, stack them up on pallets, as he had been doing for twenty odd years.¬† He liked to impress us with his tall tales when he was much younger, but mostly he loved his horse racing tips and schedules, and couldn’t stay away from the bars on payday.¬† We all liked Davey, and we understood that old bachelors like him needed their pasttimes.

But of course it was part of the agreement that you could bet as much of your wages and drink as much as you want, as long as you showed up on the job the next day.¬† He nearly always honored this gentleman’s agreement (actually one we honored with the Bossman if we wanted to keep our jobs), but sometimes he drank a bit too much, and a bit too early, even before his shift started.

He did this once too often, and one day Bossman said he went beyond the red line.¬† Even after two ownership changes, dozens of mill managers and thousands of paychecks, Davey shouldn’t have taken too lightly his final warning, because this time Bossman really meant it.¬† We all knew he had no choice, and strict rules from upstairs (meaning management across the ditch) had given Davey many previous chances before.¬† The sad part was that he was the longest-staying, one of the most well-liked and dependable workers around, and yet his weakness for firewater and a penchant for one too many extended¬†hangovers doomed him to an early goodbye from our team at work.

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

Thinking about both Ganda and Davey on their first and last days of work gave me time to think about my own.  Work gives you food on the table, a roof over your head, respect for others, and gratitude from your family.  It defines your day, defines your attitude, and in many ways can define your destiny.  To those just starting out like Ganda, good luck and may you always be inspired to respect your job and the benefits you derive from it, and to lifers like me and Davey, may we always find the discipline and endurance to stay in our posts and give justice to the trust reposed in us by our employers.

Congrats again Ganda, we’re so proud of you, and good luck Davey!¬† Thanks for reading everyone!

Ganda & Bunso adapt adjust and assimilate


I’m not sleepy, the sun is just too hard on the eyes. Snow is almost gone on Mt Ruapehu so as traditional Pinoys we dutifully pose for the Facebook post later. They are almost all grown up !

[ Note : Happy birthdays to Andrew Ong (9th Sept), Tess Aldeguer-Tangco (13th Sept), Archie Mallare (15th Sept), Stephen Liao (16th Sept), Wilson Ong (16th Sept), Martin Go (19th Sept), Ronald Y Lui (23rd Sept), and my former boss at Coke, JB Baylon (25th Sept), thanks to all the support and prayers for Jerome and Lady Jalbuena, her therapy is ongoing, and congrats to the UP Pep Squad on the successful defense of their UAAP cheerleading title ! Woohoo ! ]

THAT EAGLES tune is catchy, timeless and endearing, but it’s hard to be the new kid in town.¬† You feel all the eyes on you, you don’t have a single friend to hang out with, and there’s no one save your folks, usually clueless and too busy¬†themselves, to give you tips on the places to go and sights to see.

The above is true only three-quarters of the time, because during the odd weekend esposa hermosa and I try our darnedest best to show Ganda and Bunso around, the two having been in Wellington less then five months this week.  Their own mom and stepdad, with whom they stay, are also model guides and mentors to Asians acclimatizing themselves to probably the southernmost capital city in the world, with the bonus of being one of the most diverse, multi-lingual and multi-cultural demographics around.

But during workdays they’re on their own, and there is only so much time you can spend in libraries, museums, parks and the like before you have culture and greenery flowing out of your ears.

Being Pinoys, one of the most social creatures in the world, their next impulse is to seek out people, preferably people of their own age.¬† This isn’t too practical as well, most of their age group being in either university or middle school most of the time.¬† I advise them not to be choosy in selecting friends and acquaintances, in fact seeking out people of different races, the more multi-colored the better.¬† Given their natural shyness and /or propensity to gravitate towards youth in their demographic, i.e, Southeast Asian 18-20s, the inclination is to find Pinoys, in the food court, on the street, wherever.

I’m unqualifedly happy that the two, particularly Ganda, have taken the time to tell us about their goings-on in their new environment, I’m sure it’s a heavily edited version, what with all the TMI details that she thinks her folks don’t want to know about, and which only heightens the usual paranoia that fathers reserve for their daughters, particularly those in the blossoming stage.

But I’m under no illusion that our kids tell us everything about their lives.¬† In the first place, except in relation to the big picture, a lot of the time it’s not my affair anymore, they are after all already young adults and in another era would’ve been encouraged to marry and start their own families.¬† In the second place, humans reach that inevitable phase when you have to let them soar on their own wings and succeed and fail on their own terms, damn the torpedoes and bite my tongue when they something incredibly clueless¬†and breathtakingly naive.

Don’t tell them that I told you, but I don’t envy them right now : extracted from the comfortable environment of friends, org-mates and BFFs in their respective universities back home, they have been abruptly transplanted into an unfamiliar, less-than-colorful and not-so-welcoming milieu.¬† Plans for summer vacations, internships and endless frolicking in beaches, rest houses and giant malls have been scuttled indefinitely.¬† For Ganda, almost a college graduate, and Bunso, barely out of the multi-tasking of high school honors section, it was a lot to ask.

But they have handled it well, with elegance and a maturity beyond their years.¬† They have adapted to so many things, having four parents instead of two not the least.¬† Add to that chilly nippy and goose bump-inducing temperatures that pummel them each time they venture out the door; a diet that is not exactly conducive to the Pinoy palate, and having to overhaul their personalities just to be able to make new friends.¬† It’s just as well that they are just beginning their lives as citizens of the world, for youth are better positioned than any age group to adapt, adjust and molt their skin into any environment, I just don’t know how long it would’ve taken me.¬† You won’t hear me tell them, but I admire their resiliency, as Asians, as Pinoys and as owners of half my DNA.

I¬†feign indifference¬†when Bunso tips me off about lurking potential suitors in Ganda’s 50-meter radius, but I take it yet as another sign of normalcy : which parent, when you think about it, wouldn’t be proud that the fair members of his brood¬†receive¬†flattering attention?¬† Not to put too fine a point on it, but if she gives brown skins, black hairs and sub-five-sixers (like her dad) equal priority with the Chris Evanses, budding Mark Zuckerburgs and future Nobel laureates of their new universe, all would be right in my world.

Thanks for reading!

my paradigm-shifting dad on father’s day


with grateful thanks to Jude Bautista for the pic, from left: esposa, me Tita Lily (Yang) and Dad.

[ Note : Despite NZ Father’s Day and Philippine Father’s Day celebrated on different dates, I will use any excuse to remember my dad, who is very much alive and quite healthy by the way,¬†and besides his birthday is less than three weeks away.¬† Happy dad’s day to everyone! ]

MY DAD, whether or not he realizes it, is a product of at least two aspects of his generation.¬† First, that of the reality that Asian fathers are more or less emotionally inaccessible to their offspring, and possibly even to their spouses.¬† Second, he grew up in a traumatic war period where to utter or make any gesture considered disrespectful to our Japanese invaders often resulted in dire, sometimes fatal results.¬† The result is many fathers coming from his generation consider it not only normal but also practical to be distant from most members of their family, to both survive and to carry on “normally” as many Asian families do.¬† Leave the feel-good and mushy stuff to Moms and female members of the family, I could almost hear this generation say.

That’s why it took a sea change for my own father when his turn came to be a dad.¬† He wasn’t touchy-feely and the type who announced a “group hug” all the time, but he never spared any efforts to show how much he cared for all of his sons.¬† He never hesitated to give (or for that matter, ask) for a hug and kiss from me whenever he got home from work.¬† Asians are famous for being “inscrutable” and circumspect, and in that respect Dad was/is traditional, because he had a countenance that was perfectly neutral in front of new acquaintances and strangers.¬† But before friends and loved ones, he always chose to engage rather than resist exposing his feelings and emotions.

He never ignored the template though.  He expected and received unconditional respect from all of his sons, and in return he gave them his unconditional love.  He made all the final decisions that concerned the family, but most of us knew that Mom was just letting him say out loud what made her happy.  Appearances and saving face, after all, still counted in the traditional Pinoy family.

At the end of the day, when I think of all the good¬†things my dad did to me, did for me and did despite me, nothing trumps just being there and being both a towering and nurturing presence in our lives.¬† In his child’s eyes, a father cannot help but¬†come to his life¬†great and awesome, it is his life’s challenge to humanize himself, bring himself down to his/her level, and hold his child’s hand forever.

This you did with flying colors Dad, and I will never stop being grateful for that.¬† I love you so much, advance happy¬†birthday, and for the second time this year, happy Father’s day!