the last 36 of the last work week of summer


A pleasant surprise : "Noel : thank you for changing your hours and working O.T. (overtime) to get the retail (packer) up and running the last few weeks -Ben (obviously the supervisor)"  Awww..

A pleasant surprise : “Noel : thank you for changing your hours and working O.T. (overtime) to get the retail (packer) up and running. -Ben (obviously the supervisor) On top are two supermarket vouchers totalling $50. Awww..

THROUGHOUT HIS professional life, Dad was/is a deskbound, adding machine-holstered white-collar worker, but he was always blue-collar in attitude and approached work the way a wage-paid laborer did.  Day in and day out he answered the call, and only the most extreme reason could keep him from work.  Showing up everyday and on time shows you care for your job, he said in so many words.  It didn’t matter how high or low you were on the totem pole, if you were there ready and good to go, ready for your mission, then the boss looked good, and if the boss looked good, then oftener than not, things would look good for you.

It was just as well for me when I carried on with that work ethic in New Zealand where I now live and work, ’cause it seemed that in blue-collar Wellington, where the luck of the draw landed me, everyone who liked his job (and lots of those who didn’t) showed up for work every day that the Lord made (or bawat araw na ginawa ng Diyos, if you like), 15 minutes before the bell rang, and bright and cheery for work.

Bright and cheery also included being battle-ready for anything new on the menu, meaning if training or upskilling was available, you grabbed the offer, because usually that meant new machinery or new positions were emerging in the workplace.  On the record nothing would be taken against you if you refused, but the boss would remember the next time you needed a favor or when advancement was appearing, and likelier than not you wouldn’t be recommended.

So work ethic and “optional training” had combined to give me the position of backup operator on the brand-new packing machine.  Theoretically, as long as I was dependable and a third shift was needed, I was their man.  Unfortunately, theory turned into reality when one of the regular packers accepted a supervisor’s job in his hometown’s winery, an irresistible prospect for him, and because of staffing issues the packing machine quickly fell 200 man-hours behind based on a constantly increasing order schedule.

To truncate a potentially longish story, I was transferred from my regular department to packing, on a 10-hour 0500 to 1500 shift to make up for lost hours.  Before the end of the second day the site manager decided that even that wasn’t enough, and asked the packing supervisor to ask me if I could change from morning/afternoon shift to the graveyard shift.  Before even thinking, and undoubtedly because of Pinoy pakisama I just said “sure why not?”  After all, the week was almost over, and the overtime money couldn’t hurt.

Famous last words.

It's a different model, but this is what the packer looks like

It’s a different model, but this is what the packer looks like

Problem is, 12 hours during the night is a bit different from 12 hours during the day.  The lack of sunlight and daytime warmth makes the hours stretch endlessly, and the lack of human company stretches same even longer.  It helps that you keep going round and round a machine roughly 10 square meters in area, and constantly feed it paper bags, glue and plastic rolls for the bag bundler oven.  You also weigh product regularly and never stop monitoring the various conveyors, metal detector, bundle labeller and robot palletizer.

In short, while the work is tedious and wears on your limbs, if you do your work, you almost never get sleepy.  The machine was notorious for kinks on any or all of its various innards, but because the catchup production was a high priority, the site manager actually gave me the round-the-clock assistance of the plant engineer, unheard of before she thought of doing it.

And all this, heading headfirst into the biting wind of autumn.  Summer was long gone and on annual leave.

***               ***               ***

The first night was the hardest, because jams on the conveyor were constantly holding up production.  The scale inside the packing machine needed at least one recalibration, and the metal detector was either too sensitive or not sensitive enough.  But as soon as the different machines settled in, production was smooth for the rest of the night.

This is what the robot palletizer looks like.  Ours has a cage around it, because you don't want to be ANYWHERE near it when it's working;  one hit and you're a goner. :(

This is what the robot palletizer looks like. Ours has a cage around it, because you don’t want to be ANYWHERE near it when it’s working; one hit and you’re a goner. 😦

The robot palletizer was another matter.  Bundled product coming into the final conveyor must be exactly in the same place every time, otherwise the bundles don’t get piled up correctly and the robot must be reset.  The robot palletizer is exactly what it sounds a metal arm that scoops up anything you want and depending on the pattern you program into it, piles up neat piles of bundles all night long.  The bundles can’t be too fat or too thin, the shrink-wrap plastic at just the right temperature so it won’t be too hard or too soft for the robot to pick it up neatly.

So as you can see, I had plenty of things to occupy me, and on pure adrenalin and healthy stress, I hardly even had the time to sit and have a cup of tea.  It was only my forklift guy and the engineer who reminded me to take the breaks before I realized it was the crack of dawn.

This went on for two more days, and the next week was a “regular” shift schedule of 10 hours, which I didn’t mind too much because I had the advantage of day shift.

Two weeks later, I realized how important the 24/7 shifts were when the supervisor sent me a thank you note (with the blessing of the site manager), and a $50 supermarket voucher.  Suddenly the cold and tedious nights of those shifts just became a distant memory.

Now, on to just another week of night shifts to finish…

Thanks for reading!

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the sweet & endearing contempt of familiarity


when you've been married long enough, friends drop in and walk through the door...

when you’ve been married long enough, friends drop in and walk through the door…

JUST THE other night before bedtime I sprung a good one on Mahal (pardon me for all these anecdotes about esposa hermosa, I haven’t got too much of a social life outside work and these infernal FB games).

Half-seriously I popped my head in the bedroom door and asked, Mahal, iyo ba ang green na sipilyo, knowing her answer.

She nearly gagged on her green tea and said oo bakeeeet? 

Dalawang linggo ko nang ginagamet yun I admitted in a very small voice, knowing that she was all ears.

OMG tutoo????  She then rattled off a string of unmentionables not allowed in this general patronage blog before I could calm her down and tell her I was only pulling her leg.  Needless to say, she made me regret my little joke for the next 24 hours.

The funny thing about this was (although not so funny to Mahal) I really could’ve used her toothbrush (non-Tagalog speakers, please request translation assistance from a helpful kayumanggi brother or sister nearby) once or twice since she replaced our dental implements, there are after all only two in the rack and to be honest, I’ve never really paid that much attention.  Familiarity, indeed, breeds common toiletries.

Among other things.  Gag and wrinkle your nose up all you want, but through force of habit, routine and acceptance of all the imperfections of your mate-for-life, we put up with a lot of things that come with living with a partner, spouse or intimate better half.  The Divine Creator provided us with bodies that function as autonomous animate beings, but what is the purpose of life if you don’t live it with someone by your side?

And because the only topic I’m an expert on is myself, I deduce all the realities of a shared life from my own.  Before my second ride on the marriage-go-round, I was blessedly single for almost a decade and was quite happy on my own.  But the primal urge to share my fantasies, failures, hopes and dreams with a fellow wanderer in life, coupled by the relentless pull of culture and tradition brought my feet to the inevitable path of searching for, and successfully finding a mate to spend life with :

couldn't resist not using the pic... :)

couldn’t resist not using the pic… 🙂

Conditions.  I know that almost every week, Mahal reacts to certain allergens in the vicinity of work or home, so she will sneeze and sniffle during said time.  Nothing less than a box of Kleenex and Clarityne will suffice, and the least I can do is grant her time off from whatever she usually does.  On the other hand, she has learned the hard way that I am an industrial strength, world-class snorer with an audio magnitude that extends to the next room.  God bless her, she has learned to live (sleep) with this though I don’t know how, she pushes me to my side when it gets too noisy, or just places a pillow strategically over my head.  Bottom line is with the passage of time, we become intimately aware of, and adjust to, each other’s quirks and conditions that make life harder, but also more interesting.

Dino No-Dinero.  Because of the phenomenon of finite resources and infinite wants, wifey and I know exactly what goes into the pay envelope, what will immediately go to bills outstanding, and what, hopefully, will go to piggy bank for a rainy day.  We regularly make plans for how to scrimp and save so that we can enjoy whatever little it is that gets left over every week (we both draw weekly wages).  But usually I just give up, defer to her superior budgeting skills and surrender my ATM card the majority of the week.  This is called being a good Pinoy husband.  Seriously, we know each other well enough to accurately guess how either of us will spend the precious coins in the event of an unexpected windfall.  So we keep each other in check, and try to be strong for each other during the big, massive sales that seem to be on almost every other week now.  Kaya mo yan, Mahal! 🙂

sharing until it hurts.  And like we said above, one of the consequences of conjugal living is that you share everything, and by share I use the word quite liberally.  I have acquired the habit of using Mahal’s shampoo, conditioner, facial cleanser, skin cleanser and other goodies such that frankly, I’m surprised I never thought to use in my previous life.  Women  pay such marvelous attention to themselves that by now it’s no longer amazing to me that the average lady can take away as much as 10 years from her appearance (as long as she exercises and eats sensibly) by just using quality beauty substances sold commercially.  The upside is I’m more confident going out the door now, even if I know people will be usually looking at Mahal instead of me.  The downside unfortunately is Mahal has to replenish her dresser ammunition more often, because naturally her pampaganda now just lasts half as long.

Morning rituals.  Just a few more lines that I almost forgot.  After being married a while, you probably won’t be surprised that I know exactly how Mahal looks in the morning, and vice versa.  Because she’ll kill me if I describe her, I’ll just tell you how she might describe me.  Wolverine-like hair (except that it’s definitely less cool-looking), eyes chock full of muta, dragon breath all around, and pillow/blanket marks on the face and rest of the body.  Not a pretty sight, but when we’re both getting ready for work, it’s no biggie.  She looks approximately the same, and hates it when I so much as look at her for more than a few secs.  Expectedly, by the time she’s fixed her face, she looks (as usual) picture-perfect, always like she stumbled out of a supermodel shoot, and expects me to say so, something like omygosh Mahal, bakit superganda ka ngayon???  Just follow the script Noel, and your day starts just fine.

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

I wonder if other couples, especially Pinoy couples learn to live together and make the same discoveries we do?  It sounds self-conscious, but whatever Pinoyness in the way couples live life together is no doubt pronounced when we do so away from the Philippines, when we cherish having each other in unfamiliar surroundings although, luckily for us right now, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Thanks for reading and don’t forget to kiss your mahal good night (whether or not you share a toothbrush)! 🙂

why beer isn’t a sure thing even in a bar & resto district


Beer aisle

Beer aisle (Photo credit: diwong)

STUMBLED INTO a bit of barya* recently after late adjustments to guild exam-pay rises (up 11 cents to 59 cents an hour for successful candidates, those cents add up if you keep an eye on those pennies 🙂 ), a retroactive pay rise and corrections based on a new wage schedule, retroactive as well.

Before you ask for balato**, it’s been spent all of it, took care of an advance made by Bunso & Ganda’s mom, and tried to make a small dent on the obligations incurred the last trip home. But because I owed a few favors to both esposa hermosa who’d been working like a(n attractive, female) horse the last few days, and to SuperBisor who helped in agitating for the pay rise, it would’ve been poor form for me to not even suggest a small Chinese dinner treat in the popular nearby bar-and-resto district in Petone.  To which they said yes, of course, despite the short notice.

I think I’ve told you more than once that though I’m no stranger to vice, drinking like a fish is not one of them, but I thought that the company and occasion were enough reason to justify even one tiny bottle of beer, never mind if the mood happened to ask for seconds just in case.

The waiter, who unsurprisingly was Chinese, took our orders rather haughtily, but even with his curt manner what he said was jolting : instead of taking a request for a bottle of local beer, he replied we don’t serve alcohol but you can bring your own, gesturing vaguely in the direction of the door.

I don’t know if he was referring with his “glancing” gesture to a table of Kiwis who brought their own rather generous baon of wine or a sign near the door that said B.Y.O.W. (“bring your own wine”).

So that‘s what that sign meant; I always wanted to know what it was trying to say.

Almost immediately I got discouraged; not only was there a BYOW fee of $3, you also had to buy outside, preferably very soon as the food was coming.

I needed not only to loosen my tongue and unwind, I also had to find takeaway beer in a hurry.

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

SuperBisor thought he saw a dairy (small grocery) a couple of blocks down the street, I also sighted quite a few bars before entering the Chinese resto.  Surely with all these choices I could sate my thirst?

The small grocery was the first “x” on my list.  No license to sell alcohol, the South Asian proprietor said.  Lotto or cigarets maybe?  No thanks as I scooted out.  The beers on the bars weren’t very inviting, price-wise.  And how would I look carrying a glass of takeaway beer outside the bar?  Pretty lame, and I’d look mighty similar to an alcoholic for sure.  Obviously I hadn’t thought this out.

I returned to an amused SuperBisor and his girlfriend who were a bit sympathetic to my beerless search.  Mahal was not so sympathetic : ibig sabihin nyan wag ka nang uminom, mamaya ka na lang bumili.  It’s a sign for you to drop the beer idea, amigo. Maybe later.

Thankfully, the dinner was sumptuous, and everyone was happy.

Later on while settling the bill, I tried my primary-school Mandarin on the waiter, who was also the cashier (probably one of the owners as well) : his manner improved dramatically and in so many words this was what he answered to my question regarding their failure to serve alcoholic beverages :

Eating establishments may have one of two licenses regarding liquor.  You may either have a BYOW license (heard about that one already) or sell liquor.  It’s easier to maintain a BYOW license, and besides we need training and a “responsible” person for the second kind of license.

He actually told me (and didn’t I deserve it?), in his charmingly abrasive way : Next time, bring your own beer?  No, please, ifs, and buts about it.

Sure I will !  If ever, that is, I get the munchies for, and can afford, crispy duck again.

Thanks for reading !

*loose change                             **treat, “blow-out”, lunch/dinner on me

why Filipino Mart is my favorite Kinoy*


Mahal, Ms Balmadrid the manager and Mareng Sheila 🙂

[ Note : This is one of the few times our favorite Kinoy is not a person but a business / social entity, thanks for reading ! ]

IF THE profit motive is the sole reason for opening a business that targets your kabayan clientele, then you will probably, in the long run, be disappointed.  Razor-thin margins on inventory, searching for a thousand-and-one items to keep customers happy, and an extra eye peeled for those extra-strict best-before and use-before expiry dates that Asian preserves are known for : it’s definitely a labor of love.

That’s why it takes a special kind of kabayan who’s able to combine both service and entrepreneurship, just like the people behind Filipino Mart and its newest branch in Lower Hutt Wellington.

Lest you think that this is a (paid) endorsement of the said establishment, we’ve never met formally the owners Keith and Rosita Turner, and have only met the store manager Ms Wynda Balmadrid in passing.  In fact they don’t even know us, and it’s probably just as well, as we prefer to be one of the many anonymous admirers of their shop.

They carry an impressive range of products, specializing in Filipino wares that you won’t find on the supermarket shelf down the street or in the mall, and go as far as to peddle bagoong, bangus, tocino, longganiza, even ingredients you might need for dinuguan and kare-kare.  They have the complete line of sauce mixes for all the popular Pinoy dishes like adobo, sinigang, kaldereta and afritada.  The lineup of brands and packages for chichirya or Pinoy snacks is both colorful and up-to-date.  As it should be.

 

Although at least three-quarters of the stock is food and food-related, toiletries, and personal care products from Pinas are also on the shelves. Enough to make you homesick!

The prices are of course a bit higher than those you’d find on similar products in the mainstream supermarkets but that’s because they go the extra mile to import these goods to Pinoy consumers who miss them terribly.  Each slurp of tangy sinigang reminds you of monsoon evenings back home, each spoonful of rice and adobo reminds you of all those lunches in the Makati grind.  And each slice of mango (if you can find it) served with a dollop of bagoong saves you from the wrath of your pregnant wife, who can’t sleep until she gets her mangga and bagoong.

I could go on and on but really, it would be much better if you just visited them here in 231 High St Lower Hutt, or in Johnsonville if you’re nearer.  I would say enjoy yourself kabayan but I already know you will!

*Kinoy, a contraction for Kiwi Pinoy, is a non-racial term for Filipinos who’ve either been born or have migrated to New Zealand

scent of a kabayan


DANGEROUS COMMUTE Unmindful of the danger, commuters take an improvised trolley using the railroad tracks to cross the Padre Zamora Bridge linking Pandacan and Sta. Mesa in Manila on Tuesday. Grateful thanks to photographer RAFFY LERMA and inquirer.net.

[Note : gracias, many thanks and maraming salamat po for all your kind thoughts, prayers and contributions to Jerome and Lady Jalbuena.  woohoo! Happy birthdays to Jack Soliman (28th August), Danny Lua (3rd Sept), Michael Tan (4th Sept) and Raul de los Santos (5th Sept) ! ]

AMONG OURSELVES, we take smells identified with Pinoys for granted, until the inevitable happens and others notice it.  I discovered this once not in New Zealand but from a kabayan friend when she worked in Dubai.  There, her co-worker was the subject of small talk because of how he smelled of either fried fish (pritong isda) or dried fish (daing) that was causing consternation at the very least and his prospects for dates among the female staff (the co-worker was a Pinoy male), at worst.

Lost in the hullabaloo were two minor issues : it was up to another Pinoy (preferably my friend, who eventually had to do it) to tell him to modify or at least vary his diet, and second to enlighten the non-Pinoys around them that it wasn’t so much the food content that was bothering them (fish and other seafood) but the method of preparation, and the condiments (fish sauce, soy sauce, bagoong and the use of salt to preserve fish) that was bothering them, not that it mattered to their sensory sensitivities in a small office perpetually enclosed by central air-conditioning.  Just get rid of the smell please.

I recalled this when there appeared in our small workplace a strapping young temp from one of the island nations in Polynesia to do shift work on the flour packer.  I say appeared because you could smell him a mile away, I’m not being mean.  You could actually perceive it was him, because he was gaining quite a reputation for his funky aura, and among males who aren’t that sensitive about smell, that’s saying quite a lot.  He was friendly enough and did his work quietly and efficiently, but someone needed to take him aside and give him a little advice on using a decent deodorant.  The trouble was, who was going to place the bell on the cat?

With either or both anecdotes you could probably relate even tangentially, because to be brutally honest, smelling cleanly or decently is a big deal for most Filipinos, male or female, rich or poor, king or slave.  We don’t just want to smell good, we want to smell great, and take time to take showers and baths far beyond what usual hygiene demands.  We take pains to select the perfume or cologne that matches our personality, and the slightest odor gone awry causes or noses to wrinkle up in disapproval and olfactory outrage.

In contrast, our brown brothers in the subcontinent channel the most pungent varieties of vegetables one can think of, some of our less sensitive Kiwi colleagues smell of yesterday’s mince pie and onion soup, and it’s a bit precious of us to say it, but the workmates who both smoke frequently and don’t bother to use either breath mints or mouthwash are the hardest to bear, as the day progresses.

This is why Filipinos are, most of the time (see first paragraph pls) the most neutral-smelling or make the most effort to be smell-wise, acceptable to our peers.  We are both sensitive to how our unguarded odors might impact on other nationalities and we see (smell) first-hand how the common smells of other races can cause negative consequences on the rest of us in the workplace, the gathering or the public area.

We use anti-perspirants liberally, even though we hardly break a sweat in single-digit Celsius.  We replenish our Blue Water or Bulgari on a whim, so enamored are we with what we perceive as the understated scent of elegance.  Can we thus blame ourselves when someone who didn’t even bother to shower before coming to work has now breached tolerable levels of body odor for the second time today, and doesn’t even seem to be aware of such faux pas?

That’s why we appreciate it so much when our hosts take the time to smell good, when they not only take time to observe proper hygiene but also banish any chance of offending smells with Axe, adidas sports cologne and Eclipse after those big meals.  Those cool, multi-colored bottles don’t come cheap, but they go a long way.

We’re not the classic supermodel type, we won’t break Olympic records anytime soon, and we’re not the strongest kid in the bunch, but anytime we break a sweat, you won’t see anyone else gagging and running away.  Pinoy confidence is not just the way we smile, but also the way we smell.  Up close !

the last great pinoy addiction


our favorite food-trippers and their best friends… thanks to archiefans.com for the pic!

[ Please note that “great” in the following context refers to magnitude and extent of influence in my life, and not to other potentially positive attributes, as the word is often expected to project.  Condolences to the family of Sec Jesse Robredo and the Pinoy community of believers in public sector reform, congrats to Pres. Noynoy on his outstanding choice of Prof Ma Lourdes Sereno for Chief Justice of the Phil. Supreme Court, and awesome kudos to the NZ All-Blacks for their clinical dissection of the Wallabies last night to retain the Bledisloe Cup for a 10th straight year, sorry to my former news ed Mr Raul Zamuco, woohoohoo! ]

BECAUSE THE excuse of a busted bike gave me free rides from SuperBisor all week last week, I had more than the usual moments with my lonesome after exercise, and before chores and time with esposa hermosa.  I had in fact an epiphany while looking at my pathetic self in the mirror, realizing the following : (1) it was less than three years before I would hit the half-century mark, a milestone that just a few years ago I thought was positively ancient; (2) instead of shedding off unsightly balikbayan poundage since returning to the grind July, I had actually ADDED to it, and was now around 10 kilos above my normal fighting weight (which you don’t need to know by the way, just believe my shameful admission); and (3) my promise to myself to consume either oatmeal or cereal every morning, avoid the decadent Breakfast-Value-Meal-like breakfasts that gave me so much more cholesterol, transfat and lipid-rich slush in my plumbing had remained just that, a(n unfulfilled) promise.

Guess how I celebrated discovering this nugget of self-discovery?  I uncovered a tub of ice cream I hid in the furthest corner of the freezer, half a liter bottle of Regular Sprite (not diet or Sprite Zero) that nobody wanted, heated up one-plus servings of gooey lasagna that was part of my baon the next few days, microwaved leftovers of the last two days (rice, igado, kaldereta etc), brought out banana slices, apple slices and macadamia-corn-flakes cereal that I missed for breakfast (the only healthy part of this orgy) and demolished, ate it all.  Everything on the enumeration just gone by.

It’s no excuse, but my blood sugar was low, just missed both lunch and breakfast as I had to accommodate an overdue run around the block, I wanted to reward myself for the run, but I only realized the cringe-inducing and disgusting nature of my deed, as usual, after the last grain, crumb and drop had rolled down my throat.  Sa huli ang pagsisisi.

You’ve probably guessed that I’ve been guilty of these acts throughout most of my life.  I’m not only a binge eater, I pig out on midnight snacks.  I eat way too much sweets, I love salty chichirya, all the junk food that a person like me is supposed to avoid, and my only excuse is I deserve a little break every now and then.

The only problem is now and then is too often, a little break has become too regular for me, and I simply can’t continue to eat with too much sugar and too much salt in my daily diet.  As it is, there’s already a proliferation of sodium and sugar in an average of six meals of the male Pinoy, daily rice intake itself is already the molecular equivalent of half a dozen teaspoons of sugar, with the only difference being that you can’t pig out on sugar cubes.  The way I’ve been brought up, the media and information culture I grew up in, and my predisposition to certain foods will almost surely consign me to hypertension, Type B diabetes, cardiovascular illness and a host of other related conditions before I reach the last two decades of my life expectancy.  And there’s no other way to put it : it has a lot to with my sugar and salt addiction.

thanks to donenrique.blogspot for the pic !

I won’t mention the deleterious effects of the said chemicals C12H22O11 and NaCl, because you all know it, it’s just that the intelligent part of our brain shuts down when confronted with gorgeous pastries, glistening french fries, caramel frapuccino, and colorful kakanin.  For thousands of years, the scarcity of food and our unending struggle with the elements has taught our bodies to evolve fat-retaining properties and sugar-containing systems, a self-defense mechanism gifted to us by God and nature.  Because of the plenitude of food afforded by science and the industrial revolution, we don’t need to keep extra food in our bodies anymore.  We don’t even need to hibernate anymore.  But because eating is always pleasurable, because we are by nature lazy and hate to exercise, and because the instinct of food business is to make us continuously addicted to its ever-changing products, fourteen percent (14%) of the world is now obese, one in three Americans are grossly fat, and one in five New Zealanders are unacceptably overweight.

self-explanatory. thanks to ehow.com!

Now, being addicted to both sugar and sweet isn’t too bad for me; it is one of the few addictions that are socially acceptable in the modern world.  Even being obese is not so bad if you can bear the stares and snickers behind your back, witness the stats on fatness the previous sentence.  The only snag in the stitchwork in my personal case is that I’m on the brink of senior hood, when middle-age spread (or bilbil that won’t go away) takes a herculean effort to counteract, when the occupational hazards of eating everything in front of you ( I am to please ) begin to show up in the form of various diseases and when the cheques your body wrote during the wildness of your decadent youth are coming back to haunt you for encashment, with interest.

The bottom line is that like many of you similarly placed, the urgency of common sense and self-preservation has coerced me into giving up most of my addictions.  Tobacco was the easiest habit to pick up but the hardest to break.  Alcohol made for good conversation, but through the years you just realized that throwing up too often wasn’t that hard to give up.  And funny cigarets altered a lot of your ways of thinking but didn’t do you too many favors being perceived as a normal person, so that wasn’t too hard.

It’s eating and eating food that’s bad for you (but which tastes so good) that is the addiction nurtured by a lifetime of bad habits, and therefore takes the remaining portion of your life to undo and change.  That’s why, beyond all common sense, after eating food that could have fed three people, I’m looking forward to Chinese takeaway dinner  with the obligatory MSG, secondhand cooking oil and food coloring all around.

Thanks for reading !

Juan Pinoy and Maria Pinay shouldn’t feel TOO bad when…


JUST BECAUSE we’re the friendliest, charmingest, easiest to get along with, most sweet-smelling and hygienically-conscious people from our corner of the world (I just added the last two adjectives to see if you were paying attention) it doesn’t mean our friends and colleagues in the global village will go out of their way to be likewise.  If you’re a visitor or migrant to an adopted country, especially one that’s vastly different from your own, expect a world of difference (pun intended) from what you’ve grown up with all your life.  Being that I’m a guest worker in New Zealand, I guess you and I shouldn’t feel too bad when :

Your Kiwi (or non-Pinoy) boss confronts you about work issues instead of talking to others about you, which is what many Pinoy managers do.  Actually what happens quite a few times back home is (1) your bisor talks to others about your performance issues then (2) hopes the results of the conversation makes its way to you.  I know this is a crappy way of communicating, but that’s a fact of life not just in the Philippines but in many Asian countries, where loss of face is inflicted only as a last resort.  Senior managers, middle managers and supervisors take the path of least resistance as it involves too much confrontation, in-your-face cringe-worthy discussion of faults, shortcomings and work slippage that sometimes takes too much energy out of finite resources.

So their Kiwi counterparts often roll up their sleeves, take you aside and do the practical thing : talk about work, talk about you, and talk about how to make things better.  It’s really better this way, rather than having to guess if your boss is the one spreading the negative feedback about you , and how much of it is actually true.  I know this actually happens, because my boss/es have taken the time to chew me out, bite my head off, and kick my ass, and I’ve been a better worker for it.

Your Kiwi (or non-Pinoy)  friends and colleagues tell you if something you’re doing isn’t right, instead of keeping quiet, laughing at you or stabbing you behind your back.  I get along OK at the mill, but I do a thousand and one things awry and not quite right, and I appreciate it when my Kiwi workmates tell me in a lighthearted manner that things are better done this way or that.  You know if New Zealanders don’t care and aren’t concerned about you when they don’t make comments and let you find things out the hard way.  This is why I don’t mind being laughed at the first time, as long as it’s in good fun and somehow I do it better the next time.

It’s an awkard example, but during lunch a Kiwi packing guy saw me slicing meat with my spoon, which Pinoys sometimes do when they are too lazy to get a knife.  He stared at me a second, and said there’s something you can use for that Noel, and it’s called a knife.  I just smiled at him, cuz I didn’t feel like getting one, and I hoped he would move on and leave me in peace.  Maybe a few more times of him seeing me in that situation would make him get the message; either that or I better get used to the knife.

Kiwis (or non-Pinoys) talk about Pinoys as if the faults of one are the faults of the rest.  So that if we don’t win the whole thing at American Idol, don’t accept the challenge of a loudmouth boxer, or don’t stand up to a regional bully in a territorial dispute, non-Pinoys around us talk about it as if it’s a congenital defect, what they perceive as lack of the desire to win, allowing people to assert themselves at our expense, and our lack of aggression.  It’s actually a good way to start a discussion, especially since (1) they know we talk about them in the same generalized way, and (2) once we clear up these misimpressions about us, they gain a clearer understanding of how Pinoys are.

When you think about it, there are around 4 million New Zealanders, around 15 million Australians, around 20 million Canadians, and 300 million Americans, but around half of that are migrants and 1st generation visitors.  There are around 90 million Filipinos, not counting Pinoy migrants around the world.  There are infinitely greater opportunities for us to shine and overachieve, but an equally great amount of opportunities for us to stumble and slip up.  That’s why you always see Pinoys, for good or bad, in the international news cycle.  For better or worse, we will always be Pinoy in our heart, and we will defend ourselves to the death being such.  Which is why having a thick skin always helps.

Thanks for reading!

the odds of croaking after guzzling Kokak kola


if you shake it too much, it will explode in your hand (and mouth), thanks and acknowledgment to amrandedesabgrunds.tumblr.com

[ Note : We don’t know which is more outrageous, that a mom of 8 has died after allegedly drinking 10 liters of soda a day, or that her next of kin are suing the cola makers for not posting warning labels on the bottles.  I’m sure the conclusion to this sad story will be a little more complicated than the sorry premise, but for now it led me to sift through my cola memories, thanks for reading ! ]

LET’S ALL admit it, OK?  Unless you were born in a cave and raised by she-wolves and surrogate ape moms, you, I and we all love fizzy carbonated drinks, particularly one with the red swirl and universally recognized script-logo, Kokak Cola (am stylizing spelling to avoid the auto-link blogger tool, which distracts Your already distracted ADHD Loyal Blogger).

Before the school authorities realized it contained a heaping tablespoon of sugar each serving, we were served two cola drinks everyday with our cheap pastries and sugar-drowned  buns.  This was five days a week for around 13 years, not to mention other sugary snacks that we stuffed our mouths with, it was a wonder we didn’t become obese babushka dolls (in picture) with shriveled extremeties by the time puberty rolled around.  Frankly, we gulped cola like it was water, guzzled it into our throats at the slightest excuse, and the school literally stored tons of the stuff, enough to slake the thirst of thousands of diabetic batallions, in a long drawn-out war.

Guess what?  We drank the sugared water day in and day out, became addicts for a while, realized we were carrying around excess weight because of it, weaned ourselves off it, drank it from time to time, and frankly, we’re none the worse for wear after all these years.

But I do admit that the trend continued after high school, and I’ve been addicted to carbonated, or soda drinks at least three times in my so-called life, once each during my 20s and 40s, and definitely more than once in my sedentary 30s.

I once worked in a cola company, and the latter co-sponsored or funded study after study since the 1950s to show that as long as you consumed a balanced diet and had enough exercise, drinking soda was perfectly healthy for you.  The problem was, the key words being as long as, balanced diet and enough exercise, these numerous studies were all conducted in the laboratory, and in controlled conditions.

It likewise doesn’t take note of the fact that the typical consumer is essentially a lazy, remote-toting, wallowing-in-unhealthy-food type who, each time he/she goes to the supermarket, picks out the healthy food for his/her family, but purchases cola as a reward for all those healthy food groups.  And those rewards almost always include those bottle and cans with the red-and-white labels.

What’s more, we can’t always drag ourselves to the gym, the park, the tennis or basketball court, or wherever we shake off the lethargy of deskbound warriors Monday to Friday and energize our bodies as well as our brain cells.  The result is we pack on the pounds slowly but surely until we become shapeless blobs that we no longer recognize when we dare to look at the mirror.

Sorry to sound dire and stark, but that’s the way it is, especially when you devote yourselves to providing for family and the next generation.  Do you think when we’re on our deathbeds our peers will say, oh Noel ate himself to an early death, but he had to do it to send kids to med school / law school (please fill in your school of choice).  No time for health and fitness. We understand !  Duh, I don’t think so.

And convenience foods like fast food, cola, instant noodles and TV dinners only hasten the process of dissolving our innards into an insoluble slush of gunk and trans-fat.  But the evil of cola is particularly pernicious.

the ultimate symbols of USA, superheroes, in the situation room (note Wonder Woman looks a lot like Hillary 🙂 )

In fact, while I’m doing this I’m chuggin a Litro of that most popular cola, whose logo represents the Great Satan (figuratively only) as much as the Stars and Stripes or Michael Jordan‘s swoosh.  I did it almost instinctively as soon as I sat in front of the laptop, and my mitigating factors are : (1) it’s Friday, when you can let it all hang out, (2) I came from a run, after which I can reward myself with almost anything available, and (3) the bottle is more than a week old, and the fizz is barely there… better consume before best-by date, right?

But the fact that it’s still part of my life, after all that I know now (drainage cleaner, the mark of the beast, fattening, and all other internet scare-mongering), should tell you something.  Religious nuts and health advocates go to extreme lengths to scare us, the general public, into avoiding soda and carbonated drinks at all costs, yet it hasn’t happened.

In the Philippines, drinking cola is as Pinoy as patronizing Jollibee, attending Misa de Gallo, or watching Manny Pacquiao.  In NZ, 63 percent of New Zealanders are now either overweight or obese, much of those 63 percent almost surely guilty of chugging cola by the 2.5 liter bottle.  In other words, drinking cola is as normal as drinking water, if not more normal, in either country that I’ve lived in.

The point I’m trying to drive at?  I’m not sure, just that for a mother of eight to be drinking 10 liters of Coke a day, suffering rotting teeth and smoking 2+ packs most definitely was asking for it, it being an early appointment with her Maker.  In a definitely stressful way.

Drinking Kokak cola may or may not be good for you, but funnelling it like an embudo into your mouth a truckload a day leaves no doubt.  There are precious few ways of dying sooner, inaykupo.

Thanks for reading !

Can’t live with them, can’t live without them


[ Note from Noel : At least every once in a while, I try to write to you dear friend with (1) no PC (political correctness) filter, (2) the least bit of hesitation about sounding silly or weird (as if I haven’t done that already), and (3) as little editing or doubling back on what I just typed / said.  Save for misspellings and grammatical corrections, which I’m afraid are many, WYSIWYG 🙂  Indulge me please, and reap the whirlwind !  Warning : the dietary opinons expresssed here are those of YLB alone, and not necessarily those of a sane eater 😉 ]

Dear kabayan, schoolmate, officemate, brod, Huttmate and friend :

NAUGHTY POINTS for you if you thought the title above referred to women, I’m sure that the fairer sex in general thinks exactly the same of us hairy cavemen.  I’m referring to red meat, particularly processed meat, and yet another comprehensive study linking it to early deaths in a study of large groups of men and women over an extended period of time.  Now the study is so damning it is an all-purpose scaremonger, engraving skull-and-crossbones over pork, beef, lamb and hoofed animals in general, for the hunters among you.  And as little as 80 grams daily, the dimensions of an ordinary deck of playing cards is enough to consign you to an early death.

( just in case you haven’t realized it yet, stats or research isn’t my strong suit, sorry for that.  Whenever possible, I do try to provide links to the scholarly work/s (tongue-in-cheek) that prick my interest, but beyond that caveat reader 😉  )

There are two philosophical problems with this, and I hope my being a non-scientist, non-philosopher, and non-mature person doesn’t deter you from at least considering my proposition. FIRST, since the dawn of time, we’ve been munching on mammoth kebab and brontosaurusburgers, so as far as I can see, homo sapiens sapiens is still alive and breathing, very much around, so what’s so bad with including oink-oink, moo-moo and baa-baa in your breakfast, lunch and dinner (don’t forget the sinangag)?  SECOND, if we avoid Cow and Chicken, Porky Pig and Sheep in The Big City, what are our substitutes for protein, Vitamin B & Co, and omega fatty acids?

Methinks what gives red meat a bad name is our obsession with processed (cured, dried, tanned, salted, bahala na po kayo) meat, the elevation of obesity into an art form, which prevents us even more from getting rid of the by-products of red meat in our bodies, and trite as it may sound, conveniently forgetting the simple common sense of balancing meat intake with fruits, veggies and carbos.  Remember, there’s no political, religious or even ideological dogma associated with pro- or anti-flesh eating, in YLB’s view.  It’s just plain smart eating, which has served our forebears hunting, farming, fishing or raising livestock.

I can’t think of any beloved Pinoy dish without even a little pork for sauteeing (panggisa), admittedly it’s what gives the dish the flavor, forgive my limited culinary IQ.  Chicken-pork adobo without the pork is like the martial arts flick without Jacky Chan or Jet Li.  Sinigang na baka without baka (beef) is futile. Salu-salo without Krispy Pata? Bearable, but a letdown.  Kalderetang kambing less the kambing?  Might as well leave the turo-turo buffet and proceed to McDo.  Wait, that’s Processed Meatsville right?  Like the frying pan into the fire (with the animal fat-based oil included).  Well, if you’re supposedly killing yourself, you might as well enjoy, is what the Pampanga’s Best sausage machine whispered to me, complete with suka and achara which, re meat and early deaths, is the last mental image lingering in my mind.  Modus omnibus in rebus.

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Almost as emotional but not as momentous an issue is coffee which, in early NZ days when we were brain-numbingly cold, lonely and looking for work, kept us awake, kept us warm, and kept us company.  Looking back, we don’t know how we could’ve survived without coffee which is cheap (unless you’re got a Starbucks or Gloria Jeans fetish), easy to prepare and works almost instantly.

Coffee has been fingered as the panacea for so many ailments or culprit for hypertension, diabetes, lots of other lifestyle diseases so the latest study surprises me as much as watching the end of the most recent CSI episode.  Yes, your primary suspect really did it !  This month, coffee is the good guy, lowering cholesterol levels and blood pressure.  But next month, it will be responsible for lower sperm count and zits on your nose.  So it kinda cancels each other out, don’t it?

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Same with Coke.  Surprise, surprise to know that soda and diabetes may NOT be linked after all.  The dizzying revolving door through which pro- and anti-soda literature passes has occupied much of popular consciousness, and you and I are certainly no exceptions as both audience and participants.

If you’re like me ( no two ways about it ), you grew up with Coke or Pepsi.  If you enjoyed any sort of physical activity in your teens and young adulthood, after a great game or workout, you grabbed the nearest ice-cold cola to quench your thirst, and pretty soon it became second nature, which is when you think about it, worse than addiction.  Later on in life, meals became unthinkable without the Litro or 1L bottle of Coke, which later became the 1.5, and still later the 2.25L.  Complicating the issue of lifestyle cola drinking is the insertion of diet soda into the market.  It has created an entire subcategory of health issues.  Does it or doesn’t mitigate weight gain, which normal cola inevitably promotes?  Are there any side effects of diet cola ingredients and are they worth it, assuming you lose the unwanted poundage ?  And so on and so forth.  Like coffee, colas are good (or at least, not bad) for you this month, and catastrophic the next.  Neutral for your health today, and DNA-altering for your potential spawn next week.

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It’s really, really hard to adopt a decisive position for or against.  Well, not that hard really. Without exaggerating too much, I really really need my coffee fix/fixes daily, I like my fizzy Kokak Cola after an intense, humid jog (anything longer than ten minutes is intense for me).  And like gazillions of modern workaday warriors, I think live animals should be magnificent and belong in a zoo, while dead animals should be tasty and belong in my mouth.  Preferably.

Studies and analyses belong in the realm of eggheads, public health officials and corporate communication gunslingers defending whatever product they’re peddling.  You can expect the poison of today to be the harmless kitchen ingredient of tomorrow.  Meanwhile, allow me to enjoy my tocino, greasy eggs and fried rice, black black coffee on the side and full glass of Classic cola as chaser, all the above squishing around my tongue and slithering down my throat.

What a great way to start a day !

Thanks for reading !

Noel

Pleasure delayed = pleasure magnified : things better done back home


THERE ARE easier ways to discover you have no easy way of recovering lost teeth, but for sheer drama and mindlessness, almost nothing beats biking down a footpath at roughly 70 degrees with balding brakepads, finding a pedestrian in your way probably three seconds before impact, involuntarily bailing out of your bike, and using your mouth to break your fall.

The result was losing one tooth and chipping another, and more than the trauma and shock of losing close friends in such a violent way, I simply had no idea how expensive getting back my teeth (or their replacements) was going to be.  The dentures were costly enough, costing around $750, but the same dentist who created them told me that with a generous subsidy from Accident Compensation Corporation, I could enjoy titanium implants that would certainly outlast my fossilized bones.  I almost went for it, if I hadn’t read the initial quotation that totaled $6000 requiring only half, or three big ones, as my participation.  So much for the generous subsidy.

My tradesman’s wages and very modest side income (zero) couldn’t accommodate that; come to think of it, any dental work done here for a non-permanent resident will cost you an arm and a leg (figuratively), and so the next trip home would have to be devoted to extensive denture work, landscaping for the rest of my remaining teeth, and urban planning to reconstitute a dazzling smile.

That’s my little self-help lesson to new NZ migrants but especially to guest workers, work visa holders and other accidental migrants like me.   There are certain things that although available here are a bit pricey because of the premium placed on fees and professional services and wages.  You can’t complain because it’s precisely the regime of decent wages that brought you to the First World diba?

Buying specs of Sir Elton, Cee Lo Green or Gok Wan.  Another near-essential that we would do well to sort out before getting here is your spectacles, and whether you use the generic kind or favor the Armani, Gucci or YSL frames, it’s much better to have them done at home.  Because the market is so much bigger in the Philippines, a lot more optical shops compete for your myopic peso and the prices are definitely friendlier.  Here, just to have your eyes examined may cost $60, the actual preparation of the corrective lens between $100 to $200, and we haven’t even discussed the kind of frames you fancy, which may cost as much as your week’s pay to a month’s pay, depending on your work.

Back home, if you want the bargain basement discount badly enough, meaning you’re willing to scrounge around in musty antediluvian shops in Recto, Raon and elsewhere in Manila‘s Old Quarter (forget about Makati or Ortigas Center), you can get a decent pair of glasses, tests done, frames and lens all for P1,000 tops, decent meaning you get a razor-sharp prescription eyewear that makes you look semi-hot to the opposite sex without alienating the geeky nerdy.  And how cheap is that?  We all know that P1000 won’t buy you a fancy lunch anywhere in White Man’s Land.

Non-urgent / cosmetic procedures.  By non-urgent I mean non-life threatening, slightly inconvenient procedures you’re willing to join the queue for (where the state underwrites all health care) but for which you’re not willing to shell out too much money, especially if it’s otherwise free.  I refer to a hodgepodge of procedures, anything from cataract removal, hip replacement, wart removal, etc.  But nowadays non-urgent is frequently code for cosmetic procedures, and who can blame you for wanting such?   You’ve reached that stage in life when you can financially afford them, and aesthetically can’t afford not to use them, PERIOD.

I’m talking about major derma work done, permanent eyelashes and eyebrows, nose jobs, boob jobs (yes, not shocking anymore), tummy tucks and other facial recontouring, body resculpting that Modern Man (and particularly Modern Woman) now  undergo without a second thought.    Given the buyer’s market and comfort / conveniences available back home ( family support system, less stressful recovery and more affordable / accessible professional services ), that makeover you’ve been contemplating is a perfect complement to a balikbayan junket to meet long-lost friends and cherished contemporaries of yesteryear, all the better to reinvent yourself figuratively and literally.

Miscellaneous.  Watches cleaned, your indigenous condiments, jewelry polished, Pinoy DVDs, hobby supplies, sexy wardrobe replenished (Asian sizes not always available in NZ), but for the accident of geography and DNA, these details and items would not be terribly interesting to anyone, but because they matter to us, we want our Tag Heuer watch in superefficient, sparkling condition, our kare-kare paste and ginisa mix at our fingertips, Swarovski bracelet as clean as it was before the box was opened, watching as many scenes possible of KC and Piolo before the Big Reveal, and kinky sleepwear just the way we want them.  And you know that as regards acquiring all these goodies, there’s no place like home, where we know exactly where to shop for them and who to buy them from.

From what we’ve heard, delaying all these pleasures until we get home makes the gratification all the more worthwhile.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a first time migrant, a temporary expat, or going home for the first time in years and years.  Stretch that OFW dollar and spend it patriotically in the Motherland.

Thanks for reading !