honoring the custodians of our pinoy culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mabuhay po tayong lahat!


three things that drive foreigners crazy bout us pinoys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mabuhay ang Pilipinas, and thanks for reading!

videos that make my day (& hopefully yours)

IT’S BEEN quite a while since I bugged you, and anytime that happens I’m a little guilty.  Bugging you through my bloggy posts has been such a part of my schedule that when a situation like now intervenes, as in, lack of time and my laziness conspire to prevent me from saying anything more than a few paragraphs, I feel rather incomplete.

Instead, may i just share with you a few videos I’ve seen here and there that make me (1) marvel at the beauty of life and living; (2) so thankful of where I am now  at this point in my life; and (3) make me proud to be a Pinoy, no matter what happens?  You may have already seen one, two or all of them, but still and just in case, here they are.  No commentary planned (but you never know) :


if the video doesn’t grab you, give it a minute or two.  We are so lucky with our fitness and health that we inevitably take it for granted.  We need to be inspired, ironically enough, by those who are “special” and need to go above and beyond the usual effort just to be taken seriously.  Galing-galing, diba?

Who sez Pinoys are the only ones good in creating tearjerker ads?  I don’t know who the advertiser here is, and what product or service they sell, but if you don’t shed a tear after watching this ad, you’ve got a heart of stone. 😉

And lastly…

I confess I hadn’t heard of  the group Blake, or their concerts back home, but I’m sure that after doing THAT (pointing above), they’ve earned thousands of adoring fans in the Philippines!

thanks for reading (and watching)!  Thanks and acknowledgment too to the YouTube posters!

ganito kasi yon : more awkward situations pinoys confront everyday

[ Note :  The video above has nothing to do with the post, just touched me in a very positive way. here’s hoping the pain and misery following the massive floods back home is minimized, and that a sea change on our pork barrel culture starts to happen.  Yeah, right.  Btw, “ganito kasi yon” is Tagalog loosely for this is the short explanation.  Thanks for reading! ]

CALL US A lot of things, but don’t call us Pinoys (also known as Filipinos) anti-social.  We smile and laugh easily, engage with other people like it’s second nature to us, are great listeners, and can easily wriggle out of a potentially embarrassing situation via diplomacy or tact.

But more than all these, Pinoys are good talkers.  We love to show our facility in English to fellow English speakers (maybe sometimes too vigorously), love to show how we can discuss government and politics, even if we sometimes don’t have the slightest idea of what we’re talking about, and even use the smallest excuse to show off our familiarity with international showbiz, cable entertainment and even socially relevant issues where our region is concerned.

Trouble is, no matter how sociable we are, how cosmopolitan or how well we pass ourselves off as citizens of the world, there will always be aspects of our culture that will remain imprinted on our collective selves.  Conversely, there will be aspects of other cultures that will grate on us, simply because, like the proverbial fingerprint, no two cultures are alike, although on surface we may seem similar.  Whenever we confront face-to-face other cultures, there will be an inevitable clash, and it will be folly for us to compare these cultures with our own.   At the same time,  when these cultures try to compare ours to them, it takes every bit of our strength not to react negatively and instead tell them, live and let live.

Below are just a few examples of how these awkward situations surface whenever different cultures clash.   They are not theoretical or abstract  scenarios but actual vignettes of what happens when what we consider questionable (or sometimes disgusting) happens to be completely acceptable in other cultures.  And vice versa.

it's just more fun ! :)

it’s just more fun ! 🙂

Unwashed hair.  Let’s talk about our hosts first.  Because it’s a temperate climate here, dreadlocks and braids are acceptable hairstyles, especially among those who pursue the so-called alternative lifestyle.  Frankly, it’s a look that fits a certain body type and personality; and if you can wear a mop on your head and pull it off, well kudos to you.

Unfortunately, it’s a style that precludes daily washing of your hair, and such lack of washing is aggravated by the volume of hair and the resulting need for grooming.  It becomes worse when the temperatures rise and the owner of the hair adds sweat to the natural oils trapped in his dreadlocks.  I think you begin to see (and smell) the picture.

Now, about us Pinoys.  Washing our brown bodies is a daily essential, and our hair is no exception.  We like to smell good not just for ourselves but especially for those around us.  We think nothing of anointing ourselves with lotions, colognes, perfumes and other fragrances twice or even thrice a day, especially our ladies.  Does it follow that we should expect others to do the same?

Sorry kabayan but the short answer is no.  I have a dreadlocked colleague who is otherwise a decent chap and pleasant enough, but even in the cold weather, his hair is beginning to reek.  I thought that it was just me being an odor-sensitive Pinoy, but a tactless workmate hit it right on the nail : he mentioned that even with a hairnet and cap, it looked (smelled) like Dreadlock Guy hadn’t washed his hair for a week.  And with winter ending soon, the warmer weather was going to make it worse.  Now the million-dollar question is : who’s gonna be the one to tell Mr Alien Predator  (of the famous braids) that the hair ain’t helping his social life??? 🙂

kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap :(

kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap 😦

Corruption and lack of honesty in public service.  As they say in all democratic countries, public service is a public trust, although in many developing countries like ours, this rule is usually honored in the breach.  In those same free states also goes the saying  Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. There’s more : Graft exists in all societies, to the victors in public office belong the spoils, and if you want to avoid more trouble, think twice before reporting a crime to the police.  We’ve all known these truths to be self-evident back home, so much that a political career untainted by corruption is probably beyond comprehension, it’s simply inconceivable to us.  And yet, whenever a New Zealander asks me any detail about how pervasive corruption is in our political culture, I hasten to justify it, explain it away, or compare it to other countries where dishonesty is tolerated as much as it is condemned.

The truth is, we accept the evils of crony capitalism and the old-boy network as part of the necessary evils that make modern government work, as long as it doesn’t offend our sense of proportion or some vague moral boundary (a line which I think was crossed by that Pinay found to own 28 houses in the Philippines and several more in the USA).  But the moment people in other countries try to pass judgment or tsk-tsk the way our government  runs things, the usual instinct is for Pinoys to circle the wagons and defend ours as the Confucian way of governance (which usually means look the other way or your time will come, mwahahahaha).

digital stealing.  We like to do the right thing, watch movies as they actually come out in the moviehouses, borrow DVDs from the corner rental, and wait for the clearance sales on movies we missed.  But the temptation to go to the dark side is too strong sometimes, when people give you the latest, unreleased films on their flash drives, when they talk about the newest pictures even before the reviewers do, and when a lot of people do it, you begin to wonder if it’s worth being one of the good guys.

It’s even worse back home, where frankly speaking everything can be downloaded without paying for it if you know your way around the internet, intellectual property is a joke, and paying for licensed software is something only big companies do.

Don’t think that Kiwis don’t know that Third World countries do this with impunity, because they automatically assume that Asians use software, listen to music and watch movies without always paying for it, and that’s putting it mildly.

To them I fashion, as usual, a defensive response.  The day will come when everything on the internet will be shareware, free-to-use and for everyone to download as they please.  Besides, I like to delude myself into thinking that the world is divided into two : those who pay for stuff and those who can’t afford to pay for it, but ultimately still end up using it, I mean who doesn’t depend on gigabyte power these days?

What I mean is, those who pay for movies, music and software, unless they opt for a lifestyle change, won’t consider downloading it illegally, while those on the other side of the fence have much more important issues of survival and won’t  have the money or inclination to buy the digital stuff.

Yes, we Asians download stuff like it’s the most natural thing, without even considering paying for it.  We watch the latest movies and listen to the latest hits, and only pause to buy the movies or music as an afterthought,  And software we buy, if we buy it at all, is of the bootleg variety.  But we also have mortgages to maintain, rents to pay, groceries to shop, tuition payments to meet, and yes, bills to pay.  These, out of a puny paycheck that’s running on fumes.  Is it still a surprise then that I can hardly think of respecting intellectual property?

If it sounds like I’m justifying stealing things I should be paying for, I’m not.  But as sure as the sun rises at dawn and sets 12 hours later, movies, music and software will always be stolen (or copied, as simple as that) outside the so-called Western world.  It’s just a fact of life.

Now, how do I tell all these to my Kiwi hosts and keep my straight face on?

what lies beneath

THE VIDEO is grainy, the speech is garbled, and in their respective ways, the English of both speakers is heavily accented (Kiwi or New Zealander English on the one hand, and Pakistani English on the other).  But it might have been just as well, because if you pay full attention and fully comprehend what is happening exactly, it would have been painful to watch.

There is just so much racist abuse being hurled on the taxi driver in the four and a half minutes of the YouTube clip above that you would be forgiven for turning away and losing your appetite, if not your belief in the innate kindness of strangers.  If not for its shock value, there is no redeeming social value in disseminating such a clip.  I only share it because of a profound and abiding truth which I guess every migrant, not just Filipino, has learned in New Zealand.

Our temporary adopted country is probably one of the most (if not the most) politically correct and tolerant countries in the world.  Every effort is made on the institutional level to make us feel welcome here.  No effort is spared to make the most different looking and exotic sounding migrant assimilate to the values, customs and tradition here.  It’s true that New Zealand is primarily atheist and humanist (as opposed to religious) but it is tremendously altruistic and humanitarian in all its actions.

However, that racist rant and abuse you see above is what lurks beneath the surface of what many locals show their migrant neighbors and colleagues.  Yes, our hosts welcome our contribution and participation in their communities, they appreciate our enthusiastic efforts to help turn the wheels of economy, and they especially relish the fact that we replace the bedpans of their infirm and wash the bums of their elderly.

But there will always be a firewall we cannot breach, an inner circle we cannot break.  In areas like government and certain professions, we cannot expect to be welcome.

In the end, as it was in the beginning, we will to a certain extent always be outsiders.

In a way, it’s a good thing a racist episode like this came to light.  The speaker was drunk, he was incoherent (partially) and he wasn’t fully understood, but the filter through which he usually coursed his opinions was for that evening totally absent : he therefore spoke with complete candidness, spoke his mind, and said exactly what he thought was happening in his carefully structured world.

Listen carefully to what he says : he couldn’t conceive of what people like his driver for the night was doing in his country, in a country where he didn’t belong.  He called his driver a name reserved for the human male sexual organ, modified by an adjective describing his Muslim faith.   Lastly, he said (if I’m not mistaken) he would pay the seven-dollar fare if the driver would return to his own country.  Truly horrible.

Do you know what?  Even if he apologized less than 48 hours after, even if he was remorseful, and even if he accepted an invitation to visit the community Mosque to I assume explain himself, I am willing to bet my one week’s wages that he meant every word he said, despite his drunken state then.  And I don’t doubt for a moment that it is not an isolated situation.  True, what happened above is the exception and not the rule, but racism exists everywhere, even in politically correct and tolerant New Zealand.  That’s just the way it is.

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I wanted to tell you two other unrelated things that happened to me recently, but in a roundabout way they’re not that unrelated.

Bunso my son was recently pushed by a shopper he wanted to help while working his shift in a large supermarket chain.  Everyone was outraged by the situation, but when the matter reached management, the latter decided to sweep the matter under the rug.  Why?  the shopper had mental issues daw, and had been a loyal shopper for some time.    Regardless of the unbelievable excuses given, the one thing that stuck in Bunso’s craw was the fact that he was a very junior employee, and of course, that he wasn’t Kiwi.

I won’t even answer your question on what race the shopper belonged to.  By the way, Bunso by coincidence or otherwise is no longer working in the said supermarket.  He resigned as soon as he got accepted in Starbucks.  Congrats anak and woohoo!

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And lastly, if there was any doubt  the only nation that Japan hates more than North Korea (or for that matter, South Korea) is Big Brother China, it was dispelled on yesterday’s international news page yesterday.  Japan pledged to the Philippines 10, countem TEN coast guard boats to assist the latter in its maritime intramurals with China.

Japan and China have had a long, long history of bad blood, stretching all the way to the Sino-Japanese War, Japanese War of Aggression,  the Nanking Massacre to today’s Diaoyu Islands brouhaha.  There is no simple solution to the Sino-Japanese conflict, it goes very deeply into the national psyches of each country.  Sad to say, it is just as much a racial issue, with Chinese and Japanese (ironically close genetic cousins) deeply mistrusting each other with inexplicable loathing.

The Philippines is actually just a pawn in this regional MMA battle between states.  Japan just wants to stick another needle in China’s side by giving us sticks and stones to throw at the Chinese Giant.  It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that we’re just being used by the Empire of the Sun in its mighty struggle against the Central Kingdom.

I just don’t know why I feel so good with those new Japanese boats on our side of the sea.

for this kabayan Pinay mom, can the timing be any better?

Dominion Post[ Note : My bisor thought she was Polynesian, the Quality Assurance manager thought she was Maori, but one look at the smile on today’s front page (
above) told me the subject below was one of ours.  Mabuhay and maligayang pagdating Nicolas Javier and congrats and job well done  to the proud parents Rea and John !]

FILIPINOS, MALAYSIANS, Taiwanese and everyone else in the region must have gotten it from the Chinese.  We all love to start things with a bang.  Witness the Armageddon-like fireworks we all indulge in at New Year’s Eve; the countdowns in multi-media megaevents (well, everyone does it the world over) and the huge parties and celebrations that no one can do without.

We also like to start our major events auspiciously, like the Chinese do.  Remember the rush to have babies during the Dragon Year of the Chinese astrological calendar?  How about doing everything to have a baby born of the eighth hour of the eighth day of the eighth month, eight being a particularly lucky number in the Asian universe.

And lastly, how about having a baby born during a particularly eventful day, the Apollo 11 landing for example?  I know at least one Pinay named Aldrina, who was of course named after Buzz Aldrin, only the second man on the moon after Neil Armstrong.

You therefore can’t get any better than our kabayan who starred in Wellington‘s Dominion Post today.  She gave birth during the scary  6.5 magnitude earthquake last Sunday, and only two days before the arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, more popularly known as Prince William and Princess Kate and third in line to the British throne.

So within a span of TWO days, that’s TWO major events coinciding with the said birth.   It was even reported in the local paper, and remember at the time the latter wasn’t even aware that the royal baby’s birth was imminent!  This means one event was auspicious enough.

This is one of those posts where I don’t have to say much, I’ll just reproduce the Dominion Post story below (entitled Baby’s start to life shaky but worth it, says mom) if you don’t mind :

(July 23) NEW mother Rea Javier might just be the only person in Wellington who was oblivious to Sunday’s earthquake.

The combined effects of epidurals and a tough labour meant her focus was elsewhere.

“I think I felt the quake but I had other things on my mind,” she said from her bed at Hutt Hospital yesterday as she cradled her son Nicolas.

He is already being called Quake by his young cousins.

Husband John said : “Rea was foggy with all the medicine and she was just focusing on the labour.

“I was definitely scared.  We didn’t know what was going to happen, but the hospital staff were very reassuring, they said nothing’s going to happen to the baby.”

The quake, at 5.09 pm, caused the hospital lifts to close down for half an hour and delayed getting Mrs Javier into theatre for a caesarean section.  But, at 6.42 pm, Nicholas was borh, weighing a healthy 3.3 kilograms.

“Everything was worth it in spite of what happened,” Mrs Javier said.

She and her husband moved to the Wellington suburb of Newlands from the Philippine capital of Manila, about five years ago.

Mrs Javier said that, although they had experienced quakes in their homeland, they were nowhere as intense or as frequent as in New Zealand.  (Woohoo!)

Thanks so much in advance The Dominion Post and its reporter Mr Matt Stewart, and may the Pinoy community continue to add to the New Zealand population in a spectacular way, timing-wise!  Mabuhay po tayong lahat!

Thanks for reading!

is it just me or r u no longer surprised when a kabayan gets a bullet, garrote or hot chair abroad?

It won't be as crude as this summary execution in Tibet, but the end result is the same : a bullet in the head for our kabayan,  unless our VP produces a miracle. :(

It won’t be as crude as this summary execution in Tibet, but the end result is the same : a bullet in the head for our kabayan, unless our VP produces a miracle. 😦

[ Laziness alert : Even less than the usual 5% of all the sentences here are backed up by research, statistics or catatonic Googling or use of other search engines.  If you want an entertaining read, please sample The Emperor’s Last Parade, the new e-book of my friend Fer Cao by clicking on this link, it’s a modern-day twist on a well-loved fairy tale.  Reviews very welcome, and by the way, the e-book is free until midnight today! ]

OO NA (yes I know) she’d been a drug mule 16 previous times, oo na her crime would’ve made life miserable for thousands and thousands of drug addicts (who would’ve gotten their fix elsewhere anyway) and oo na, she was literally sealing her doom by bringing a maleta-load (thirteen kilos!) of heroin to a country well known for executing more people annually than the rest of the world’s governments, combined.

And yet, I dare to raise an interesting conspiracy theory question : if the drug mule was not a Pinay kabayan but a Caucasian from the US, the UK or even Australia, would the conviction, the affirmation (of the “guilty” decision) and the dismissal of the appeal be as resoundingly in favor of keeping the Pinay’s appointment with the Grim Reaper?

As warned above, I would rather that you not rely on anything here as hard data or statistical reference.  But I’ve noticed that while at least four Filipinos have been executed in China after their death sentences were affirmed, none of around 28 death sentences in the last few years (imposed on Pinoys) have been reversed, or overturned.  I hope I’m wrong, and I hope for justice’s sake they really did courier the drugs, but are we a suki (or regular customer) for death row because (1) we don’t belong to the First World and (2) and we don’t possess any economic clout with the world’s largest economy?

[ And note that we’re not even gonna mention the current Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal brouhaha between us and China. ]

It’s pretty well-known in both criminology and legal discussions that the less legal assistance and representation you can afford, the greater the chance you will be convicted, whether you’re guilty or not, and relatedly, the greater the chance you will get the maximum penalty.  It’s unfair, but a fact of life.

I’m extending this to a state-to-state level : the smaller the state, and the smaller its economy, the greater the chance its nationals committing capital crimes will be executed.

How many times have you heard of our kabayan getting beheaded, garroted, shot not just in China but in Malaysia, Singapore and the Middle East as well?  More than just a few times this century I’ll bet, and I’m sure you can count on your one hand the times a kabayan was literally snatched from the jaws of death.  In fact (no names here) I can remember someone who did it, begged the head of state for a pardon on the condemned’s behalf, and later made it the pillar of his political campaign.  And you know what?  I don’t blame him.

On the other hand, how many times have you heard of US servicemen after committing rapes, pedophilia and other interesting crimes not just in the Philippines but all over the world being convicted, having their sentences commuted from death to life (or life to a lower sentence) then being sent home to serve their sentence ?  And of course, never to be heard from again?  Start counting. 🙂

I don’t condemn death-penalty nations from using the draconian laws as a deterrent and as an example for other future or potential offenders.  In fact, I know how vicious and destructive drug abuse is not just to the individual, but to their families and to communities as well.

It’s just that I fear that in many places a double standard exists and countries like the Philippines are on the losing end, because frankly, countries like China have little to lose if they apply the fullest extent of the law against criminals from small fry like ourselves.

If a high-profile offender from the US, Europe or big country gets into trouble abroad, every kind of legal assistance will be given him by his embassy, and the local authorities will 9 times out of ten treat him with kid gloves.  No matter what the crime is.

When one of our own gets caught overseas as a drug mule or sex crime, expect him at best to languish in prison while he gets the third degree and worst penalty, affirmed all the way to the host country’s supreme court.  At worst, he or she will mysteriously die in prison.

And why?  Take your pick :  no money, no honey.  Money talks. Or, your credit is good but we need cash.

We may be the nurses, construction workers, caregivers and IT engineers of the world, but no doubt about it,  we are the small fish in a big pond of big, fat fish.

Kawawa naman po tayo.

why independence day 2013 worked for me, thanks to our embassy in Wellington

FLAG RAISING at "Ang Bahay", the Phil. Ambassador's official residence.  Singing Lupang Hinirang in early winter cold is not an everyday experience.  Thanks to the Embassy Facebook page for the picture!

FLAG RAISING at “Ang Bahay”, the Phil. Ambassador’s official residence. Singing Lupang Hinirang in early winter cold is not an everyday experience. Thanks to the Embassy Facebook page for the picture!

IT PROBABLY wouldn’t surprise you to know that I’ve never been a fan of government-organized holiday commemorations (live or on TV).  Too many memories of giant Martial Law parades and bombastic speeches by da Apo; predictable and formulaic fill-in-the-blanks declamations sounding too much like the Independence Day address of our current president, which by the way is the typical performance that doesn’t always work  (sorry for the bluntness).  And while I’m at it, Araw ng Kagitingan and National Heroes Day, for me, asserts a more forceful narrative towards national consciousness than 12 June, 113 years ago.  The 1898 Proclamation was nice, but it didn’t stop colonial powers from shopping us around, running our country to the ground, and using us as pawns in the chess game of Cold War brinksmanship.

Which is why it was more than a pleasant surprise for me to not only enjoy, as a willing participant, the recent Araw ng Kalayaan celebrations organized by the Philippine Embassy in New Zealand.  It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say I was inspired, and actually stood proud of both ourselves as Filipinos and the people who represent us away from the Inang Bayan.

I actually had a ringside ticket to the celebrations, as I was invited to march as color guard prior to the symbolic flag raising ceremony traditional to our Independence Day event.  My gouty limbs, the frosty morning and a queasy stomach brought about by an unwise decision to munch stale sweets should’ve been enough to decline the honor, but I had already said yes a week before, and as you very well know, a Pinoy is only as good as his word 🙂 besides, the Pinoy-themed buffet and taho smoothie promised by the event never failed to make my day.

Apologies for the opportunistic picture above, but it captured something that I don’t do often, and in retrospect is something not many people are invited to do.  In a land far away from home, you celebrate your country’s birthday in the most solemn way possible, and help raise your national flag along with your President’s highest official representative among the family of nations.

But it didn’t end there.  The speeches I heard grasped at various themes, but the recurring theme seemed to be our new found economic freedom, brought about by a confluence of factors not the least of which was the faithful persistent homecoming of OFW and balikbayan remittances as well as the remitters themselves.  This obviously hit close to home to this overseas worker and the kabayan around him, that day of Pinoy freedom at the embassy.

The Ambassador touched on simple gestures to perpetuate the Filipino dream of livelihoods and prosperity.  Keep bringing money home.  Send a kid/s to school.  Give three kabayan seed money for a business.  Support a well-loved Philippine institution, the PGH (Philippine General Hospital), for example.

Most of these things we were already doing, she said, but moving out of the comfort zone of family and giving others a real chance in life was the growing challenge for us outside the Motherland.

As we said earlier, it’s not often that we get to beat our breast as Pinoys, but I’m happy to say that the 12th of June last Wednesday was one of those occasions.  And again you might not always believe it, we have our government, represented by the irrepressible Ambassador Gee Benavidez and her do-everything staff to thank for that.  If I had the time, I would go around town with a T-shirt saying Proud to Be Pinoy for the rest of the day.

Especially after afritada, pancit canton, pan de sal, pan de coco and taho with sago for brunch.  Promise remembered, wish granted.

Thanks again kabayan, Ambassador and friends!  Maligayang Araw ng Kalayaan, mabuhay!

our kabayan shines in NZ via sushi

sushi family

Kabayan Edith (extreme left) with some of her St Pierres Sushi Queensgate family : (from left) Nena Pelayo, Bree Qin, Romy Loverez and Hazel Lomboy.

[ Thanks very much to the Kabayan (formerly Pinoy Stop) magazine family for allowing me to post a story we wrote, between my original submission and the improved edited version, I have Meia Lopez to thank for the latter!  Should you have time for other awesome stories about Wellington Pinoys, please visit the 2nd issue of Kabayan by clicking this link; belated happy birthdays to Marivic Ching-Chua (6th June) and Stephanie Chan-Lam (9th June)! ]

ST PIERRE’S Sushi or SPS is one of the most visible fast food brands in New Zealand today.  The company’s yellow, red, and black logo is a familiar sight in most malls, in  many population centres, topping nearly 50 wholesale and retail stores in the country.  Managed with a keen sense of customer satisfaction, clever costing and personal touch, SPS is inside out, a true Kiwi success story.

In its desire to give back some of the success it has reaped to its loyal work force, the company has partnered with carefully selected career employees who have given their talent, time and energy towards company growth.  The latest St Pierre’s Sushi “lifer” has been Westfield Queensgate manager, Ms Editas Salita who has been here (in Wellington) for nearly two decades.

She almost declined to be interviewed, saying in a rather modest way that the achievement was nothing to crow about.  Edith (as she is know to her kabayan) is only the fifth employee and first Pinoy to be chosen to be a partner, particularly noteworthy since the company, completely family owned, does not issue franchises in conducting its business.  The brand is an overachiever in every market area it has performed in, and in its own robust way has helped contribute to the recovering NZ economy.

What has our kababayan Edith done to be chosen as partner to one of NZ’s business powerhouses?  We had to pry it out of her, but the four major criteria before one is considered is, in no particular order : the passion and commitment a candidate has shown to the job over the years; sales results by the branch, as the candidate is usually a branch manager; the teamwork such manager has fostered; and the career growth enjoyed by the staff handled by the candidate.

Momentarily forgetting her innate modesty, Edith admits that she and her team have done well in the four major areas, at the same time realizing that growth never stops.  
Dahil sa mga tinuro ng may-ari, araw-araw pa rin naming sinisikap na mapa-improve ang product quality and customer service was the succint way Edith summed up her mission statement.  
The mission and the vision, as they say, must have had an enduring impact on Edith and the rest of her family.  Anticipating the buzz of business that the partnership agreement will bring about, loyal husband Ric, who has enjoyed a career in telecoms both here and the Philippines, will be ready to lend a hand and boost moral to his wife’s budding enterprise.  And at one time or another, children Tristan, Therish and Tim have been around to train and push the bestselling products of their mom’s sushi.  For after all, who else can a Pinoy depend on in business if not her family first?  
Mabuhay kabayan Edith, congratulations on your milestone, and may your business prosper!


readjustment bureau

OFWs in a hurry to leave the airport to meet Nanay, Tatay, Junior, Ate, Bunso, and most of all Mahal :)

OFWs in a hurry to leave the airport to meet Nanay, Tatay, Junior, Ate, Bunso, and most of all Mahal 🙂

[ belated happy birthday to classmate and friend Allan Refuerzo, Imee Sy and Rory Reyes! ]

ADJUSTMENT IS a well-worn, familiar route on the migrant GPS.  All kinds of adjustment occupy the migrant mind : adjustment to climate, adjustment to ways of doing things, and adjustment to language are just some of the constants we live with as settlers on foreign lands.  You might survive without swift adjustment, but embracing it will make your life a whole lot easier.

You’re able to get along with more locals faster, you’re understood more readily, you don’t stand out or attract too much unwanted attention, you discover faster ways of doing things, and ultimately you get more things done.  You reach short-term goals faster, which helps you get to long-term goals faster.

What doesn’t always get mentioned in the migrant, balikbayan or OFW discussion, a lot of which certainly gets heard both at home and abroad, is the adjustment the Pinoy makes or has to make whenever he/she (for brevity, he na lang) returns home, either for vacation or for good.  Part of the law of the universe states that what goes up must comes down, for every action is an opposite reaction, and balancing the positive force is, necessarily, the negative counterpart.

It’s not as difficult as returning toothpaste to the proverbial tube, reversing the downflow of a river or stream (it’s impossible, actually) or unmaking a hurtful comment, but it’s somewhere  in the neighborhood.  Even though you seek to undo a lifetime of habits,  beliefs and culture, it’s doable because you have no other choice (you’re already overseas), economics coerce you to (you have a family to feed) and pride is a great, awesome motivator (you can’t go home and face everyone who’s never stopped encouraging you, as well as those who can’t wait to see you fall flat on your face).

But is it as practical to unlearn your new accent, start driving on the right side of the road again, pick up typical Pinoy ways of doing things like chismis, kaplastikan and sipsipan and socialize with all sorts of people like you never left home?

[ Please don’t misunderstand.  The shadier side of being Pinoy is done just as often in my temporary adopted land, by both the locals and Pinoys like me.  It’s just that well, it is so acceptable and traditional the way we do it back home, and people where I am still pretend  they don’t do it as well, or at least don’t mention it in polite conversation.  I’m not being a hypocrite, or at least I hope I don’t sound like one.  😉 ]

But back to readjustment.  My last trip home, I probably had the hardest time to adjust, because I was coming from very cold weather, had very little time to prepare for a homecoming (there was a death in the family), and I was coming home to the hottest weather in the Philippines, April-May scorchers.

I think I mentioned in a previous blog that (1) just standing in place made me sweat buckets, and (2) the heat waves were coming from both the atmosphere and the white-hot concrete, how could I cope?  Additionally the humidity and muggy air were not helping any; I could almost slice the air with a knife, and I could likewise imagine the insides of my nostrils sweating from the hot, hot air. The immediate and obvious question is, without the aid of an air-conditioner or an unexpected shower, how do you adjust to hot weather after half a decade away?

The short answer is you don’t, not unless you have the time, patience and forbearance to bear it and realize that everyone else is enduring this three-quarters of the year, why can’t you?  Mind over matter, sensible dressing and knowing when to cool down are just a few ways to acclimatize (pun intended) yourself to the weather that’s been part of your DNA and that of your forbears.

a food court big enough to hold a movie premiere in. :)

a food court big enough to hold a movie premiere in. 🙂

Another readjustment Mahal and I have found challenging is to get used to people eating out or planning to eat out at the drop of a pin.  Because eating places are accessible and plentiful, public transport is universal and nearly 24/7 and Pinoys are naturally apt to get together and celebrate via lunch or dinner, it’s quite normal to just call or SMS the members of your barkada, posse or extended family and meet at the mall.  Anything goes from there, but for sure you will select a place to share a meal and just watch the masses of Pinoy mallgoers like yourself pass you by.

We literally ate out every night our short stay back home, not just to meet friends and contemporaries but because it was the easiest and most convenient way to catch up with people that we had to meet by necessity.  Not only did we not have a proper meeting place, we needed to meet someplace halfway close to where all parties came from.  And no other place was more equidistant than a mall, and where in the mall was it more conducive to meet than a restaurant or fast food place?

And because we met for dinner just as often as we met for lunch, this brings us to another quirk we had to get used to all over again : our kabayan back at home stay up late as often as they want, and we seriously had an issue with this. In Wellington, almost every weekday we are tucked in by around 9.30 just to be able to get up by around 5.30, enjoy hearty breakfast, bike to work and report for duty by 7.00 am.

would you believe happy hour hasn't even started? :)

would you believe happy hour hasn’t even started? 🙂

In contrast, nobody in Manila seems to be ready to call it a day until around midnight, everyone starts howling at the moon by around 7.30 pm, sits down for dinner after traffic and their favorite telenovela around 9.00 pm, finishes social obligations including Facebook and e-mails 11-ish, sips barako coffee and enjoys late night news half past, and finally catch zzzz’s at the stroke of 12.

If this sounds familiar to you, so many people we’ve met do this regularly, which was why they didn’t think twice about meeting us at ungodly hours of the night. Just to be able to readjust to these three areas made our recent visit more interesting, and although life would’ve been easier without the readjustment, we would not exchange it for anything else.  As the Chinese proverb goes, may you live in interesting times.  And living it adjusting, readjusting, and readjusting yet again.

Thanks for reading!