what new zealanders REALLY think of us pinoys


[thanks and acknowledgment for the pic to productsfromnz.com! ]

SHAY MITCHELL of the world-famous TV hit Pretty Little Liars said it best, even if it was a little rude : when the half-Pinay was asked if her mom was a yaya (nanny or babysitter), she was reported by Cosmopolitan to have answered no eff-er, but even if she was, so what?  Do you know how hard it is to be one?  Being yayas, nurses and construction workers is just one of the multi-faceted dimensions of being a Filipino, and we do other things as well. But people all over the world have preconceived notions of us Pinoys, and it’s up to us to disabuse them of those notions.

As usual, I don’t claim to be an expert in what non-Pinoys think of us, but I DO have an advantage in that I’ve been living in New Zealand albeit as  a guest worker, and I do have encounters and interactions with New Zealanders regularly, but admittedly not as much as I’d like (I usually work in two-man shifts every other week).  Here is a short list of some of the things Kiwis observe about us, but of course the list is not exhaustive:

Pinoys are team players in the game of nation building and just want to do their bit while raising families and developing careers.  Sometime in the 1990s, New Zealand decided to meet the (then) labor deficiency challenge head-on and opened their doors to migration.  The result has been mixed, but Pinoy migrants have made New Zealand decision-makers look like geniuses.  Pinoys are productive members of the workforce, are not generally known to be troublemakers or criminal offenders, and you will hardly see any Pinoys unemployed or on the (employment or sickness) benefit.

These will be supported by statistics, but on personal experience, I can confidently tell you that no  Pinoy wants to be seen as idle by choice.  There’s always work to be had in New Zealand, as long as you’re not choosy.  And it’s part of the migrant way of thinking that, because you’ve been granted the privilege of living in a country, you do your part by pulling your weight, even if it’s doing jobs you don’t particularly fancy.  This way, you participate in the economy, at the very least pay taxes that run the engine of government, and don’t become a burden to your hosts.  Just common courtesy, actually.

Someone very close to me (please don’t ask me to identify him/her, as doing so would jeopardize my life 🙂 ) had just become a permanent resident a few years ago but had had a particularly difficult time finding a job that matched his/her skills.  When I half-joked that at the very least, being on the dole (unemployment benefit) would be an option, he/she indignantly retorted, I didn’t come to New Zealand to be an unemployment beneficiary or words to that effect.  I then realized, belatedly, that such an option, option though it was, would be unthinkable for me as well.

Among a diverse group of migrant workers, Pinoy workers respond best to specific instructions and orders rather than a general set of goals.  I’m not entirely sure why this is so, just guessing that Pinoys prefer as little room as possible for doubt in executing tasks and plans especially when in an environment they’re not used to.

But probably the better reason Pinoys do better under detailed directions, and so have the tendency, over other migrant nationalities, to ask for such level of detail, is the fact that most Pinoys as OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) speak fluent English, almost as a first language (after of course the native  Tagalog, Bisaya, Ilokano or other dialects ).  Having heard and spoken English most of their lives, they are eager to show their Kiwi employers the relative ease in assimilating into and adapting to their new work environment, compared to other, non-English speaking races.

And finally…

Kiwis think Pinoys try hard to get along with everyone not only to be part of the team but to be likable by everyone.  This is, not just easily explainable but also understandable not only if you’re a Pinoy but also if you’ve worked with anyone Pinoy, half-Pinoy or married to one.  It’s part of Pinoys to work as part of a team, and consider all members of the work team (weeeeeell, anyone who WANTS to be part of the team) to be part of the family.

It’s second nature for a Pinoy to look out for each other in the work team, to fill in or help out if someone needs a hand, so to speak.  It’s natural for Pinoys to consider the office, workplace or factory as like a second home, where the inhabitants are totally comfortable and treat all the co-inhabitants as family members.

The downside to this is that, if Pinoys can’t convince themselves to like certain members of the workplace, they believe that they can’t work well with the same unlikable workmates as well.  Which is also probably why, on the assumption that liking Pinoys will foster mutual likability, Pinoys try quite hard to make themselves liked at the workplace.

Do you agree?  These are based on specific experiences, quotes and anecdotes learned and earned here and there, so the above are highly subjective and easily proven (or disproven).  But if it can contribute,  even just a bit, to a better understanding of the lives Pinoy migrants have led in New Zealand, then it would have been worth it.  Just sayin’.

Mabuhay and thanks for reading!


the final shift before Christmas


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

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

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

*****     *****     *****

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

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

*****      *****     *****

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

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

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

*****     *****     *****

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

Until Wednesday night.

*****     *****     *****

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

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

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

*****     *****     *****

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

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

*****     *****     *****

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

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

*****     *****     *****

The lessons I told you that I learned?

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

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

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

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

*****     *****     *****

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

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

*****     *****     *****

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

A lot of lessons for the last shift before Christmas.

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




the least we can do is call her Jennifer

thanks and acknowledgment to dailymail.co.uk for the lovely photo of Ms Jennifer Laude.

thanks and acknowledgment to dailymail.co.uk for the lovely photo of Ms Jennifer Laude.

[ Yes we love our gays, as sure as we love bashing them.  But does this also mean we should protect the most vulnerable of their lot, the sex workers who must endure the occasional psychotic homophobe?  The answer is : is gay-friendly Pope Francis Catholic? 🙂 ]

ALMOST as an afterthought and nearly needless to say, 99.9% of this letter-length hodgepodge of words and phrases is sourced from the richest of info motherlodes : word-of-mouth, hearsay, urban legend, and deep bias, not the least of which is that most overrated of sources, internet news media.

But as my constant companion and excellent listener, you already know that, right?  (That’s my way of saying reader beware, accuracy alert and all that. )

But it really insults the intelligence and taxes the patience of whoever has been witness to the murder of Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude and the resulting brouhaha that (1) more than the moral outrage of his/her death is the apparent cover-up of the details of the commission of the crime, and (2) the scant regard for the reckless behavior of American servicemen that is the consequence of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between Pilipinas and Estados Unidos.  Number (1)  is bad enough, but (2) ensures that this sort of thing will not just recur, but will be overlooked and therefore flourish with impunity.

Imagine buying a mislabeled product, bringing it home and finding out it only looked like what you wanted.  What do you do?  Let me guess.  You bring it back to the mall with the receipt, demand a refund (or at the very least an exchange) and come back none the worse for wear.  A no-brainer, right?

Let’s extend the analogy a bit.  We’re all adults here.  (For the kids, you’ll be adults soon right?)  You’re a hot-blooded young stud, you’ve had a bit to drink, after two weeks of non-stop work on a boat in the middle of the sea.  Not only that, you’re starved for a bit of action.  A sweet young thing is in front of you and you can’t wait to bring her somewhere dark and cozy, so you can do dark and cozy things.  After a bit of negotiation, you do just that, bring her to the said dark and cozy place, where you do a lot of necking and smooching, and a lot of other things that can’t be mentioned here.  Along the way you discover that the sweet young thing isn’t what he/she actually is but is more like you, meaning she has all your junk.

Do you say sorry for the foreplay, no matter how enthusiastic, but I’ve just lost interest, and vacate the premises ASAP?  Do you return said not-so sweet young thing to wherever you met and part ways?  Or do you throw a fit or tantrum, demand your money back, and hopefully try your luck again?

You might do one, two or all of those things.  But you certainly don’t beat the sweet young thing up, and break every bone in his/her body and drown him/her in the bathtub.  Because you’re not a crazy, psychotic and homophobic person who reacts as such just because you found someone who has a dick and balls attractive.  (Sorry for the language, but that’s how it is.)

I’m not even sure if Jenny Laude was such (yes, let’s at least call her by her preferred name), but our gay prostitutes are among the most vulnerable in the gay community.  I can’t even imagine the hurt, ridicule, not to mention the danger they expose themselves to, just to earn a living.  I can’t go any further.

The protection afforded by the US Government to US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton is natural and expected.  They will do nothing short of bribe, lie, and conceal the truth to get said US Marine out of the proverbial jam.  Wouldn’t you do the same if one of your citizens were in mortal danger of a long prison sentence in a foreign country?  The problem is, while doing so, justice would be denied to one of our own, who just happens to be a transgender Pinoy/Pinay, Jennifer Laude.

If you wanna continue being outraged, you are certainly free to read on in ph.news.yahoo.com. I just want to commend Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago who is at least entertaining while picking apart the way details of the crime are being obfuscated :

Chief Superintendent Theresa Ann Cid, chief of the Philippine National Police Crime Laboratory, said evidence recovered at the crime scene included strands of hair, two used condoms, blood and urine samples. The PNP is still completing the tests on the evidence.

Told about the condoms, Santiago remarked: “At least we can safely say that the suspect, or what they call in America as a person of interest, ejaculated twice. Would that be correct?”

Cid replied, “Not necessarily, your honor. The first condom has fresh seminal fluid, with fecal material. The second condom seems not to have the presence of semen… Apparently, they were used.”

Chief Inspector Reynaldo Dave, PNP medico-legal officer, said it was safe to say that the condoms were used in anal sex. The police experts, however, said they could not conclude that the semen samples belonged to Pemberton.

“If he was a male, how does he have sex with the Marine?” Santiago asked.

“I just have to corroborate with the findings on condoms and the other pieces of evidence,” Dave replied. “We can safely conclude (anal or rectal sex).”

Santiago said anal sex is “the usual method for transgenders.” (duh)

***     ***      ***

For every Vice Ganda in the super limelight, and every Diego in Mixed Nuts, we probably have a hundred or so Jennifer Laudes who face the dangers of getting beaten up, or worse, getting killed while trying to earn a little money.  Yes we love our gays in the Philippines, but we should also protect them.  Apologies for the scatterbrained and haphazard way I put this together today.  Jennifer deserved a little better.  She still does.

why i’m not yet ready for a smartphone


[ Thanks to fastcompany.com for the image above! ]

WITH YOUR kind indulgence, I’m talking to you without the aid of Google, Wikipedia and any other priceless aid to conversation that makes online life so easy these days.  This is why I have no erudite, professional definition of a Smartphone, which is of course different from the Smart Phone popular in the Philippines a few years ago.  I’m only going by my direct, personal experience with such artifact, for that is what the smartphone is isn’t it? an artifact or talisman of our society and culture today.

Based on the little that I know, the smartphone is a cell phone with so many added features, not the least of which is connectivity with the internet, high-resolution and pixel-less camera included, GPS and other neat stuff.  It seems that in the last few months, everyone I know and nearly everyone I see is using a smartphone.

Yes there is a personal reason for me talking about this.  Mahal the beauteous maybahay told me it was high time that I started using a new phone, and gifted me a Samsung mini Galaxy for Christmas (thank you so much my love).  While I’m ecstatic and over the moon with the new-fangled device, I do have a few reservations.

integrated to the bone.  Nearly three-quarters (or some days, more) of our free time is consumed by being on the internet, as you and I know very well.  What having a smartphone means is that the remaining sliver of 25% which is spent with family, doing chores, and maybe performing your marital obligations (wink, wink) will be taken up by The Matrix as well.  I don’t know, the internet is scarily compelling, addictive, and worse, you’re hooked and you can’t even admit it.  There are just too many things to do, even though you start logging on with the best of intentions, like receiving and sending e-mails across the miles, or maybe finishing work at home.  Pretty soon you start doing things you never intended, and before long it becomes an entrenched, regular and essential part of your daily life.  Add the internet feature to your cell phone, your constant companion on the commute, at work, mealtimes and at your bedside, and the internet is no longer your tool, but your master.  And thanks to your phone, you are the SLAVE.  I can just hear my new Samsung quietly snickering, bwahahahaha…

your eye has become a camera.  The smartphone has made budding photographers out of every one of us, and everybody has become a photojournalist.  A golden sunset on the way home?  I just have to snap that.  Click.  Patterns in nature or in the clothes of madding crowds?  Too cute, have to share that.  Snap.  Profoundness in everyday scenery?  Hmm.  Will my FB friends see the beauty of what I’m seeing?  Won’t know till I post that on Instagram, Send!  We don’t even need to convince wary friends to view our family and vacation albums anymore, because their digital and online versions are splashed all across the social networks, exacerbated by Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr (did I spell that right?).  While this is all good and ego-stroking for us, adding to the existing billions of photos panoramas and self-gratifying shots that no one will appreciate after the cursory glance is not very good for the near-bursting databanks of our collective lives. For this is what our smartphone cameras encourage us to do : keep taking snapshots and photos like there’s no tomorrow.  Maybe one in ten thousand will end up a timeless photo that will inspire generations to come, but the nine thousand nine hundred ninety-nine plus will be just that, the forgotten recycled bin pile.

watching videos on a tiny screen.  This by far seems to be the definitive activity of the smartphone-owner-cum-bus/train-commuter : if you play your RPG, Candy Crush Saga or any other casual game that is anything but casual (it involves your energy, commitment and many times online money), you need a screen.  If you’re like a billion other virtual world inhabitants and like surfing YouTube and watching videos, sports highlights and virally funny comedians, you need a screen.  If you like keeping in touch with your loved ones via Skype, Face Time or any other face-to-face application, you obviously need a screen.  And you want it 24/7, in virtual time, meaning as soon as you need the service, and you want it in high-quality, high-speed mode.  This is why your smartphone is suddenly something that you can’t do without.  This is why, despite the migration towards larger and larger screens (think 50-inch plasma TV viewing that’s as commonplace as your microwave), the smartphone is something of a departure, a temporary detour that we’re willing to take in the name of instant connectability and instant gratification, video-wise.

Fortunately for me, I like watching videos, but I can live without watching them constantly.  I can keep in touch face-to-face, but only when I’m in the comfort of my high chair in front of the laptop.  In fact, out of the scenarios in which the smartphone is becoming an essential, I can only relate to gaming, as it is understandably an all-day, all-access activity that requires instant connectivity.  Luckily for me, I can wait till I get home to play my beloved CCS.

As of this writing, I’m trying to understand my new toy, the mini Galaxy that Mahal insists I introduce myself to and vice-versa.  It is a heavily involving activity, and I have to understandably break out of my comfort zone.  But on the altar of progress, some sacrifices must be made, and I just want to survive.

Thanks so much for your Christmas greetings, and if you have any instructional aids on smart phones for me, I will be grateful!

the ultimate unmatchable Christmas person

happy times with Tita Lily :)

happy times with Tita Lily 🙂

[ Note : I’ve been dreaming about a certain person quite frequently the last few weeks, and I just realized why.  That person, my aunt Tita Lily, would’ve been celebrating her 90th birthday this month, and moreover was the ultimate Christmas person, practically the modern equivalent of Santa Claus in our cynical day and age.  I was not among her favorite nieces and nephews (for she had many — favorites and otherwise), but in my wishful thinking she knew my quirks and failings enough to be comfortable with me.  Please indulge me in this little reverie about a truly influential person in my life, Ms Lily B Yang ! ]

I WAS tens of thousands of kilometers away when probably the most influential person in my life (after my folks), as well as that of my family, Tita Lily, passed away this May.  For many of us in her family living or working overseas, a dark cloud of extreme sadness and guilt filled our hearts, as our Tita had sent three generations of her relatives to school, supported so many families who couldn’t make ends meet; and found jobs for dozens and dozens of us between jobs, out of jobs, or who just couldn’t get a break in the hustle-and-bustle world outside.  She helped us fill our dinner table, fulfill our dreams and keep our dignity intact; she never failed us in our moment of need.  When death knocked at her door, God was merciful in keeping her suffering short before taking her home.

But come December, it was like a flood of memories all so real came rushing back, so much so that it was like Tita Lily was among us again.  You see, Christmastime was one of her favorite times of the year, if not her most favorite.  It was the best time for her to make people happy, which, hands down, was her favorite activity of all.

She literally had a gift list of thousands upon thousands of giftees, a number that had grown through the years and years of friendships, relationships and even one-off encounters in my aunt’s life.  It didn’t matter if these were close bosom friends from way back, clients of the law firm where she worked and shopkeepers of her favorite stores, or the multitudinous members of her large family, including brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces, grand-nephews and grand nieces, and untold numbers of godchildren gained in baptisms, confirmations, first communions, weddings, holy orders, silver anniversaries and even golden anniversaries.

She would start filling out her lists early December and would continue sending gifts well after Christmas Day.  She could never countenance missing a name, or worse, a family, for she often gave to each member of a family as she enjoyed a personal relationship with two or even three generations in a family.

One year I would help her write out gift cards (an absolute essential in her gift protocol), her helper would help her wrap the gifts, and the driver would stand by to deliver the goodies post-haste.  Very soon we realized that she needed more than a staff of two or three and from then on, Tita Lily always prepared for the gift-giving season by having at least two nephews or nieces, two separate wrappers, and of course substitutes who would spell all of them while the gift preparations would extend well into the night.

She was particularly solicitous of people who would be alone and in want during the holidays, cognizant perhaps of her contemporaries who would sometimes be forgotten by the people they had taken care of in earlier decades.  Once she rang up an old officemate who she discovered had suffered a severely bruised hip and was immobilized and hungry for nearly 36 hours.  Not only did my aunt ask her driver to bring said officemate to the hospital, she also insisted that the latter spend Christmas with her, bandages and all.  That impromptu act of kindness was just one of many that Tita Lily did year-round, but which acquired a special sweetness at Christmas.

I could go on and on and on here, but truth to tell I’m already starting to cry.  My aunt was a one-in-a-million kind of person, and amazing as she was, Christmas brought even more out of her.  Everything I do, every kind thought I think and every good deed I do (if ever), I do in her name.  Tita Lily, you will live on in our hearts this Christmastime and forevermore!

Thanks for reading!

sweets for my sweets

IMG_0038[Note : Thank you so much George, Hazel, Kimmy and Hannah from Auckland for your outstanding and thoughtful generosity; your brother/brother-in-law, sister-in-law/tita, nephews/cousins, niece/cousin are all so grateful for your gifts (shown above) from Auckland all the way to Wellington!  Maraming maraming salamat po and please hug and kiss all our rellies back home in Manila!  Advance Maligayang Pasko to all our kabayan in New Zealand, the Philippines and the rest of the OFW and migrant world! ]

THE TOPIC/S of the day are our kabayan’s outstanding performances in this year’s beauty pageants, and the despicable act of a political scion having security guards arrested just for doing their job chillingly reminiscent of Martial Law days, but the urgency now tends to a more personal topic, and one hopefully that you can help me with.

You see, for the first time in years and years, I have a little barya set aside for gifts for my loved ones.   The usual austere mood and logistics dictate that I can only think of gifts for my immediate kin, but it is still a formidable task.  I have little excuse not to think of them, they have after all been so nice and thoughtful to me this year.

More than once I saw sentiments like this posted in social networks like Facebook (actually FB is the only network I’m on) : This year I decided to have a low profile Christmas, thinking of those who can’t even have a decent celebration in their own homes, those who are still in the painful process of recovering from recent tragedies….  I have no gifts nor cards to send to family and friends….for there are others who need them (or their equivalent ) more. But rest assured, you’re always in my thoughts and prayers… Happy holidays, everyone!

I felt something similar to the above, but I JUST HAVE to send a token of appreciation to the people mentioned, especially since I hadn’t done so for so long.  Mahal, who is my caregiver (I’m cranky and creaky when I’m tired and hungry, which is often), driver, cook, muse, lover and everything else in my life; Panganay, who reminds me of more adventurous and difficult times in the distant past; Ganda, who is the light of my life and remains as malambing as the time she was in diapers; and Bunso, whose energy and inspiration never fail to brighten my day.

***         ***         ***

I have not had an ideal relationship with Panganay.  For a significant block of his pre-adolescence I was occupied with problems of my own, and ultimately he, among his siblings, bore the brunt of my neglect and immaturity. We have both made attempts (in varying intensities) to repair our relationship, but it hasn’t been an easy task.

It’s part of human nature to use Christmas and other happy occasions to improve our relationship, and as naively as an old-school father can get, I have taken the time to meet Panganay and his new girlfriend.  This time with one hand tightly clutching my pamasko and the other holding Mahal’s arm, I’m hoping that the holidays can help us form a bond that can only strengthen in time.

***               ***               ***

Ganda has always been sweet and solicitous of her father, even in our leaner, bleaker days.  I remember coming home from NZ once, and she was so afraid I would leave the next day before she woke up, that she insisted on sleeping next to me and tightly clutching my hand until she fell asleep.  Needless to say, by the time she woke up, my hand was no longer there.

Ganda is fully adult now, mature for her age as she ever was, but she still worries for me like she did before.  Too tired, too wet, too hungry and now too old, she never ceases to show her concern and ask if I’m these things, and therefore she never ceases to amaze me.  Even when I ask her if I she needs extra funds for whatever, she almost always declines, and we can only show her some hospitality by treating her and hey boyfriend to a little lunch, dinner or merienda.

YES, her boyfriend, and they have been together for a year now.  Beyond the usual expectations and keeping my hopes up, he has been the perfect gentleman and has shown us every courtesy and concern that a Pinoy boyfriend can give.  THAT is enough for me for now, and obviously he is more than a Christmas gift for Ganda to treasure.

I have to think long and hard before giving Ganda a nice little gift, for not  only have I not given her much for some time now, she also truly deserves one, for all the reasons there can be.

***               ***               ***

Bunso is, to put it bluntly, having the best time of his life in New Zealand.  His special circumstances would not allow him to fully enjoy himself back home, but now he has the freedom, friends and supportive family in his new home away from home, Wellington.  Along the way he has shown remarkable development in his attitude, personality and smarts.   He has truly come into his own.

I honestly don’t know what to give him for Christmas, because he is just starting to discover himself.  He has combined two incredible traits, and I don’t say this just because I’m his dad : he is unselfish, and he is thoughtful.  As a son, brother, friend and colleague, he is a gift to everyone.

***               ***               ***

It’s hard to put into words what Mahal is to me, so I won’t even try : she is everything to me.  So much so that giving her a gift this gift-giving season is truly a challenge.  Fortunately, she has helped me : inasmuch as December is Christmas and our anniversary month AND her birthday, she has offered to allow me to consolidate all these gifts into one, as long as it’s special.

Can you help me think of a truly special gift for her?

Thanks for reading!

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You go guys! 🙂

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. 🙂

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!)

getting lost in your own backyard

all colorful, all beautiful, and all Southeast Asian.  Thanks to asean-community.tumblr.com for the pic!

all colorful, all beautiful, and all Southeast Asian. Thanks to asean-community.tumblr.com for the pic!

[ Note : We could only share in the triumph vicariously, but hearfelt congrats just the same to the Men’s Basketball Team of the Philippines also known as Smart Gilas, for a job well done.  Onward to the World Championships! Advance happy anniversary and more power to the KASAGIP Charitable Trust of Wellington, New Zealand! ]

WE ARE separated from our neighbor states by land and sea, but we are linked by more than just a bit of culture, cuisine and language.  Diplomats and politicians like to say platitudes like these often, but it’s truer than you think.  We look, cook and talk a lot like our Malayan cousins down south, our Indochinese relations eastward and of course, the great unifier of culture and takeaway, the Middle Kingdom in the north.  There are a lot of similarities that cancel out the differences throughout the Southeast Asian region, but the root causes and origin of these similarities, ultimately, are those who call themselves the pride of the Han race, whose mission and vision is to invade every country on the planet via cheap manufacturing and sweet and sour sauce.

But enough of hackneyed cliches and media stereotypes.  I’ve told you more than once before that one of the many gigs we’ve done is cleaning houses, and a couple of these happened to be owned by immigrants like ourselves.  At the same time, you’ve heard me mention many times that I’m quite taken by fellow Southeast Asian migrants (to New Zealand) but even more by the latter who also have Chinese ancestry.

The surface signs are obvious : looks, language and food preference.  Because Pinoys have more than a few ml’s of Chinese blood running through their veins, it’s common for us to be mistaken for Chinese.  But the same is true with Malaysians, Indonesians, Singaporeans, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Thais, Laotians and Burmese.  And the reason is obvious: after centuries of assimilation with the local inhabitants, the Chinese have imprinted themselves on numerous cultures, absorbed the best and worst of the host countries they’ve migrated to, and have produced a fusion of multiple subcultures that for lack of  a better term, I’m describing as Chinatownization anywhere and everywhere.

patis (fish sauce) looks, smells and tastes the same everywhere in the SE Asian region.  Uncanny!  Thanks & acknowledgment for the pic to iexplorevietnam.com :)

patis (fish sauce) looks, smells and tastes the same everywhere in the SE Asian region. Uncanny! Thanks & acknowledgment for the pic to iexplorevietnam.com 🙂

Just look at the food.  Nearly every home I’ve visited either to clean or as a guest has a 20-kg bag or sack of rice in a corner of the kitchen.  They invariably have instant noodles in the pantry, use nearly the same condiments, and favor the same veggies.  They have a kind of universal fish paste (bagoong) as well as fish sauce (patis), the kinds that produce aromas that Kiwis don’t appreciate too much, in their respective kitchens.  You would be forgiven for mistaking for your own kitchens those in various Asian immigrant homes, given the parallel smells, sounds and sights.  The ginger and oyster sauce, hissing of the sauteeing kawali (woks) and the blending of rice and corn with sauces heavily flavored with soy sauce, sap vinegar and tamarind are almost uncanny.

It doesn’t stop there.  Many faiths encourage and enjoin their believers into a stable monotheism, but the lines seem to blur in the Far East.  And nowhere is this more evident in their houses.  Either Christianity or Buddhism is usually dominant but don’t be surprised if both are respected and the text or image representing another or more religions is present.  This is often because the spouses practice different religions and neither expects the other to change.   A sort-of functional ecumenism follows for the children, who hopefully aren’t coerced into either faith.  Again, this may not be that common back home in the Philippines, but how often have you seen Catholicism and non-denominational Christianity coexist in Pinoy households, or altars to different deities set up in different corners of Chinese Filipino homes?

Finally there’s a remarkable contrast I observed in these houses, first because of the similarity with ours and second because it is shared by quite a few immigrant countries across the board : There is not much priority placed in fixtures, furniture and appliances, but more than the usual comfort zone is invested in education and the mind.  I have seen one home where the carpet is threadbare and the sofa set from a secondhand shop, but the books , PCs and iPads reminded me of a small library.  There was also more than the usual number of examination guides, prospectuses to universities and study helps designed to help the students in that abode get ahead in every which way possible.  Needless to say, the members of the family in that house were honor students and matriculating in the top universities not just in Wellington but in New Zealand.  Under the watchful eyes of both Asian parents.

With a few variations, I saw the same in two other homes, with funds for luxury deprioritized in favor of the future of the kids.  It’s almost as if the migrants are making up for lost time in their adopted countries by heavier investment in skills and training.  Hard to argue with that, right?

Thanks for reading!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the worst.