media noche compromises that make me feel somewhat better


Fireworks and firecrackers are a noisy staple during New Year's celebrations.  They also add to underground economic activity this time of the year.

Fireworks and firecrackers are a noisy staple during New Year’s celebrations. They also add to underground economic activity this time of the year. Thanks to pinayforeverythingpinoy.blogspot.com for the pic!

[ Note : Media noche is Tagalog for the New Year’s Eve dinner.  Thank you all for reading this blog, all the best for 2014! ]

CONSIDERING MY relatively advanced age (in relation to gifts I shouldn’t be expecting anymore), I got quite a haul from loved ones this year: wife Mahal gave me a junior Samsung mobile I didn’t anticipate but appreciate a lot (now I just have to figure out how to use it, heh heh) daughter Ganda and son Bunso were particularly thoughtful, and my grubby hands got some unexpected treats from cousins and friends, you know who you are.

I also received quite a few heartwarming and heartfelt greetings during the Christmas and New Year’s season, some from friends I hadn’t met in a while, and if you know how long I’ve been around, a while is quite a while.  Thank you, and you made my day.

My tummy was also more than a bit contented the whole silly season, as I ate more than my share more than a few times, what can I say but it is the season of celebration and congratulations all around, decadence and self-indulgence will be forgiven if only for a few gastronomic days.

Unfortunately, I have not even begun to think about New Year’s resolutions much less actually make them.  I like that stat I just googled now that 78% of NYRs (new year’s resolutions) end up on the boulevard of broken dreams; it not only makes me go beh buti nga (or nyah nyah nyah) at every do-gooder who thinks he/she can actually use  a date on the calendar (albeit a popular one) to reinvent himself/herself, not gonna happen bro/sis, but misery actually loves more miserable company.  🙂

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Seriously, besides quitting smoking, which I didn’t even do as an NYR (a month before Christmas six years ago actually), I have never, that’s not-ever, committed to one that didn’t fall apart maybe a day or two after, and I actually think you are setting yourself up for failure and disappointment if, in a drunken haze, after making a total embarrassment of yourself and wallowing in lard and booze, you foist vague and unrealistic expectations on yourself just because you want to start the year right.  The blowback and considerable disfigurement to the ego is almost surely going to insulate one against making reasonable improvements in one’s life, whether or not it’s New Year’s Eve.

Filipinos believe serving at least 12 fruits with round or roundish shapes on the New Year's dinner table brings good luck the rest of the year.

Filipinos believe serving at least 12 fruits with round or roundish shapes on the New Year’s dinner table brings good luck the rest of the year. Thanks to hungrynez.com for the pic!

Instead, and before I stray too far again from my intended topic,  I want to, and with you Precious Reader as my witness, make New Year’s Compromises with myself, in view of the fact that I know I can still create a better Me the remainder of my lifetime, all the while acknowledging that my circumstances in life like age, health and physical limitations  inherent laziness will only allow me a certain level of success before harsh reality sets in.

Food.  My worse-kept secret, to anyone who’s known me and seen me eat, is that I’m a compulsive eater. I can try to exercise all I want, pretend to be a good boy when Mahal and I share a meal, but I probably eat three-plus full meals a day, and between four and six snacks all of my waking hours, and probably gorge on anything that I find remotely edible on the dinner and kitchen table (and elsewhere) on a particularly bad (good, if you’re me) day.  If you’re dieting or a fastidious eater, I’m not a pretty sight.  I’m not good to have around, period.

I picked up this distressing habit from way early in life, when eating as much as you can in preparation for the busy day ahead, and keeping your plate clean in preparation for a blemish-free spouse later in life were urban legends that were ingrained on us by the previous generation (and not just in our household, OK Mom? 🙂 ) to the detriment of our social niceties and general health.  As a result, anything that’s wasted by anyone I see dining I almost always view as an obligation to be saved for later, or worse, eaten on the spot.  No matter how much I miscalculate putting food on my plate, I am compelled by a self-imposed-compunction to place such contents of plate in my mouth, and I often do this without regard for my fullness or the risk of gagging.  I won’t go so far as to assume any others in my generation are like me, but I know it’s no longer acceptable this day and age.

But enough of that.  My compromise is that I accept that it’s quite difficult to change my eating habits (and I want to change), but I can only do it gradually.  So my practical solution, simplistic as it may be, is to eat smaller portions, and in view of the reality that I’m gonna eat again later.  Without going into more detail, I will have to try cutting into smaller bitefuls whatever it is I’m engrossed with (literally), fool myself using smaller plates, and moving to more healthful alternatives when I can’t control myself.  Ultimately I know it’s not the nutritive or satisfaction element that motivates my eating; it’s the action or motion of feeding myself that is so compellingly compulsive.  If I can deal with my most important compromise with myself, then the rest should be easy to follow…

Bow to middle age, but be considerate of Mahal’s youth.  Realistically ( I keep using that word and its variants) I can no longer stay out all night, carouse with friends or use mood-inducing chemicals to lubricate my sociable-ness, if there’s such a word.  The health and social consequences (esp the day after) are too disturbing for me to maintain such a lifestyle, and of course you know I’m exaggerating.  The excesses of pleasure and vice are cheques I wrote years before and my body is now struggling to encash, and the results aren’t good.  It takes longer and longer for me to recover from a late night, it takes more grief for my bumps and bruises to heal; and while I do my best to exercise regularly, it seems that a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips seems particularly applicable to me.

The irony is that Mahal at this point being a bit younger than me is still full of energy and enthusiasm for life, not that I blame her, for her muscles are still largely tauter, her skin is still tighter, and her body still processes more fluidly and efficiently, which is quite normal for a person her age.  If I don’t at least keep the pretense of keeping up with her and do the things she does with the approximate intensity, then ultimately she will look for others to do her activities with, and that does not bode well for me.

The compromise therefore is that I will need to be more disciplined in my hours of rest, my recreational activities and how I pace myself, and at the same time keep a reserve of energy available should Mahal decide to go on a brisk walk, do an afternoon of shopping, or host a barbecue for her Pinay friends.  All of these involve vim and vigor of a man half my years, and for a few hours at least, I should be pumped and primed.

opening doors windows and drawers is also done during New Year's Eve, to "allow" good luck to come in.  Thanks to squaring.net for the pic!

opening doors windows and drawers is also done during New Year’s Eve, to “allow” good luck to come in. Thanks to squaring.net for the pic!

Online time.  This is one compromise that I shouldn’t compromise on, because it takes the most out of me, time and energy-wise.  Literally, I spend too much time on online games, specifically Candy Crush Saga and Word Battle.  I could use the same time alternatively improving myself in all aspects of life, spend more time with family, and rest and recreation.  Instead I line up candies for scores and level-ups no one cares about, and vie for the longest and most esoteric-sounding words with strangers doing the same thing, vegetating on their beanbags.  Surely,  I have better things to do.

There, those are my New Year’s compromises that aren’t resolutions I will almost certainly break less than a week after, but which are things that hopefully will make my life more bearable, and ultimately worth living more.  Do you have any New Year’s compromises of your own?

Thanks for reading and happy 2014 to you and family!

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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.

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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

mga tala ng barat sa himpapawid (or notes on flying on the cheap)


AWAKE FOR 31 hours might be an equally dramatic title for this distracted blog but it wouldn’t be accurate, I caught snatches of sleep here and there throughout the maze.  But, just before I forget it, the biggest differences between points of origin and destination that I immediately noted: everything is back to the correct side, meaning you are always on the right side of the road, and look left before right while crossing said road; children can sell cigarettes, that’s probably the craziest thing, and you’re not asked for ID when you buy alcohol and cancer sticks.  Those struck me, but as usual they’re non sequitur and I’m getting ahead of myself.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and you never get something for nothing.  In return for a ridiculously cheap airplane ticket, you get aggravation and annoyance that ages you twice the normal rate.  I don’t know if that’s OK with you, you may probably be stressproof or young as a babe, and these don’t matter to you, but eventually it did to me, and I’m one of the (maybe the) cheapest persons I know.

Only a few things trump getting the juiciest bargain, and I just learned this recently : quality and uninterrupted rest, and the muck of insufferable boredom.  Because I’m an inconsistent traveller and haven’t adhered to any frequent flyer program, and because the budget pie often results in a sliver-thin slice for jetsetting, any chance to get flight bargains is grabbed in nanoseconds with no hesitation.  And the bargain I beheld online was too good to be true: for roughly the price of a business-class ticket (which I’ve never purchased), I could have two, countem two coach tickets, literally unbelievable!  Today however, I humbly stand before you to say it’s a price paid in both coin and aggravation.  Again, I get ahead of myself.

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SuperBisor was taking us to the airport, and that definitely was one less thorn on our sides.  Checking in and waiting for the flight in Wellington was understandably the easiest and non-defining part of the trip: we were still fresh and excited to travel.

I didn’t realize that any laptops needed to be taken out of their bags and because we had two (esposa hermosa was bequeathing one to a younger bro), we held up the long line behind us on the metal detector conveyor while extracting said laptops from their sheaths.  That was the awkward highlight of our first leg.

Auckland however was an entirely different kettle of fish as regards stress.  To begin with, the City of Sails was the gateway outside NZ, and therefore the airlines strongly encouraged  (hint words for required) its passengers to show up at least 90 minutes before the scheduled departure time (earlier than domestic boardings), which was nearly impossible since we were arriving from Wellington barely one hour and forty minutes before the next leg.

That means between claiming our luggage, checking it and ourselves in, finding the boarding gate in the cavernous mall-cum-airport (seems that all airports look like malls nowadays), clearing immigration (as a guest worker like me, you want to look financially capable enough to leave and sane enough to be welcomed back, both excruciatingly difficult for me) and avoiding at boarding the aura of a drug mule, terrorist or conscript for white slavery, we had an eternity of 10 minutes.  How’s that for an instant prescription to prematurely gray your hair?

The Auckland connecting flight experience was like an unedited 30 minutes of The Amazing Race, and despite a fortuitous delay that stymied airline staff and frustrated passengers, we were still one of the last passengers to board.  Bags to chuck, boarding passes to read, jam into pockets, fish out again and jam into pockets again, corridors to lose ourselves in, horizontal escalators to hesitate using, and eventually overtaking, and finally repeating the cumbersome voiding-and-swallowing of laptops from and into bags, and we hadn’t even left Enzed yet.

Following was the exact opposite.  Eleven hours and change of doing nothing, and if you’ve ever come across Teddy Boy Locsin saying in a long flight, you eventually breathe in everyone else’s farts and exhalations, you knew it was olfactorily not a pleasant experience.  The Asian / Pinoy in me could not fathom the pay-as-you-use nature of everything : earphones (Aus$3) to understand the mindless movies airing; bottled water (A$4) just to avoid parched throat and chapped lips; muffins more precious than gold (A$10) just to stanch the flow of hunger juices; and instant noodles (A$5) worth probably 50 times their sari-sari (corner store) levels, just to persuade guts from persisting with their peristaltic movement, these little comforts that we took for granted the shifty-eyed stewardesses sold for a king’s ransom.  And did we have any choice?  Yes, if we could suspend our physical needs for half a day like yogis, monks and pilgrims do.  No, if we were like the rest of the world.

I was glad I insisted on bringing along not just one but two thick volumes to while away the endless hours waiting to land.  I finished a 400-page political satire entitled Running Mate by Anonymous (Joe Klein) just as our incomprehensible-sounding pilot (I think they do that on purpose, they don’t really want us to know what’s happening) was preparing our descent, and at least I could start Under The Dome by Stephen King at Changi International, where we would spend the next 8 hours sitting on our fat behinds.

To be fair, as airport malls go, Singapore’s was among the world’s best, not that I’d seen many (only HK and Sydney and oh, Melbourne), but it was literally a mall, as in there were stores and stores that stretched forever, a level above for conferences and meetings, esoteric (to me) store names like Longchamp, Dunhill and Longines, and endless corner monitors that extolled hermetically-sealed Singapore tourist spots.  It was a self-contained traveler’s idyll that you didn’t even need to venture out of.

But even the most interesting mallworld had its limits, and by the end of the first hour, esposa and I were all walked out, jetlagged and staggering around like zombies.  There was no choice but to improvise, and the nearest bench served as our temporary domiciles, bed, side table, reading lamp and all.  It didn’t matter that scores and scores of fellow wayfarers (with earlier flights) passed us by and sniffed at our temporary vagrancy.  We had made our (makeshift) bed, we had eight hours to lie in it, too.

So compared to both the previous leg and interminable wait, the last phase of our travel saga was a breeze : three hours between the Lion City and Manila, city of our birth.  It didn’t matter so much anymore that everything we asked for (food and small comforts) was for sale, it likewise didn’t matter it was a smaller plane (an Airbus I think) more sensitive to turbulence and changes in the weather.  Nearly everyone on board was a brown brother or sister and I counted myself lucky that seatmates in front of, behind me and at my sides were nearly catatonic with fatigue, hunger or boredom.  I had already started on Stephen King.

After all the brainfreeze inducing trips and waits, the best surprise of the journey was at NAIA.  If you can believe it, it took us all of five minutes to wait for and sort our generic luggage from the carousel, a hearbeat in time; immigration practically waved us through ( I felt like a VIP, rather than the anonymous OFW proletariat that was ready to be bullied by apparatchiks), customs didn’t even look at our baggage declaration, and the airport taxi driver didn’t even ask for a TIP!  It sounds naive, but the feel-good, no-drama treatment we received from border patrol made up for everything else.

I’m not going to double back and sugar coat / edit all the silliness we endured, all in the name of pinching pennies and scrimping on comfort.  We got what we asked for, and we have learned from or experience.  Between waking up in Wellington and hitting the mattress back home, more or less 36 hours had passed.  For good or ill, this was what we bargained for, literally.  Would you do it?  Would we do it again?

Yes we are, honestly.  Deduct a few hours waiting time, and we are going through the exact same itinerary returning to the salt mines in Windy Welly.

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 !

the asymmetric loveliness of peklat bungi & other imperfections


SOMEBODY CLOSE to me has been on pins and needles recently for a few reasons, most prominent of which is the stress of going through medical exams and tests, evolving into worries about not measuring up to the test requirements, and preoccupations about imaginary imperfections and flaws, cosmetic or otherwise, in this person’s otherwise ideal-looking appearance.

I want to tell him that he looks better than half the people in his generation, he’s fit, and has 90% uncharted rest of his life ahead of him, but this person just wouldn’t understand, from the vantage point of needing to see everything mapped out before him, having all the options available, and looking his Sunday best at all times, albeit with nowhere (yet) to go.

In short, not having seen the ugly side of life, he is at a loss with what he sees as his many imperfections.

Swallowing hard and begging your kind indulgence, I’m going to tell Person Close To Me (PCTM) a few warts and scabs about myself.  He’s seen some of them, but I will remind him about such, in order that he realize that he hasn’t got such a bad deal, and that there are worse things than being 17 :

Deviated septum – this is actually a kind way of saying I had the pleasure of having the bridge of my nose bent 10 degrees by a wayward elbow in halfcourt basketball, circa 1984.  The nosebender had this distressing habit of swinging his elbows around everytime he collared the rebound, and my face happened to be in the way.  I had to have cotton swabs in my nostrils for 48 hours and breathed through my mouth the whole time, and eventually it straightened out, but I never poked my nose (literally) into a loose ball situation again.

Rolled ankle – bulbuous with angry veins wrapped around it today, I landed on my left ankle hard and cruelly (tapilok) one wet afternoon many years ago while playing the same game above, and was immobilized for a week.  The swelling subsided, but the veins remained where they were, and I would never be a foot model again.  These are the wages by the way, of recklessly playing on slippery, sunbaked and sometimes muddy concrete that a teenager’s love for basketball never complained about.

Bicycle accident – I lost one front tooth and chipped another  while using my face as landing gear, flying out of a bike that thought it was a plane two years ago, ironic because I thought the last vestige of my lost youth would be my winning smile, instead it was one of the first to surrender to the ravages of time.  To top it all, I fractured a pinkie finger without even knowing it as I was so worried about the tooth I thought I could still recover, and because I failed to properly do the exercises taught by the physiotherapist, it remains bent out of shape to this day.

Miscellaneous – My thunder thighs go to sleep 15 minutes after I sit down.  My gimpy knees start screaming when I don’t jog on the softer grass.  I break out in a rash when the thermometer goes below 14 degrees Celsius.  And whether it’s because of blocked sinuses, fatty tissue or some other obstruction, my sleep apnea-snoring concerts are world class, and esposa hermosa needs to either sleep ahead or wear factory earmuffs to stay sane at night.

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There you go.  You wanted imperfections?  Everybody has them my dear, and it’s what makes each of us unique.  If we were all Bradley Coopers and Megan Foxes (who blew $60,000 on cosmetic surgery and still hated the way she looked afterward, ayeeeee!), the world would certainly be a less interesting (but more sigh-inducing) place.  We lose weight, gain it back, get buff, go to flab.  In short, we’re never happy and never sad about the way we look, constantly justify and torture ourselves with our self-image.  It’s our lifelong preoccupation, and the day we stop making ourselves look better, in our eyes, is the day we start to die.

To be perfectly honest, PCTM, the way you look now is as good as it gets.  My unsolicited advice is savor it , because as much as you’re eye candy material now, it’s all downhill from here 🙂

Thanks for reading !

happy birthday Boss Tim Bautista !


OF COURSE I’m biased, but I’ve never seen anyone who (1) thinks so many moves ahead in anything he plans in life, and (2) has done so well in anything he has tried his hand at.  But then I’m only the brother of one of the most remarkable persons I know, Mr Timothy “Tim” Bautista.

Thinking of him on the eve of his birthday, I can readily think of one basis for Number One above.  He has acquired the discipline by playing one of his lifelong loves, chess, where thinking at least two or three moves ahead of your opponent is the name of the game.

In fact, the grandmasters of elite tournaments are known to map out thousands of possible game combinations (each from start to finish) in their head, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Kuya Tim has done this in his chess wars, as he is good enough to play at club level.  ( In fact, in our extended family, I know of only one other person who can compete with him at his level, at that’s our other bro George, who I also blogged about in Jan.)

He has from way back applied gigabyte thinking derived from chess to the real world of entrepreneurship, human resources and corporate brinksmanship.  He has combined this with an engaging manner, an ability to lead and motivate people with effortless charm, and an uncanny success with managing teams and organizations.  And that explains Number Two, whether it be in school, his career, and especially his family.

In De La Salle U, he not only graduated with honors but did so an academic year early, giving him multiple options regarding the jobs that struck his fancy.  He has been a senior executive in different industries and has earned the respect of his peers.  Best of all, as you can see above, he has provided his unico hijo JY (pictured with him above) a superior university education in the US, where the latter repeated history by also graduating with honors.

I’ve never been able to pry out of him his lifelong philosophy but it seems to be, looking at his achievements and convictions, to find out early what you’re good at, keep at it, until you become the best at it.  The trouble is, because he’s excelled in everything he’s done, I don’t  know what that is, exactly !

I’m happy to say that, outside his allergy to failure, I’ve a few things in common with him :  he loves the word game Text Twist and the Sudoku puzzle (as do I, woo-hoo!), one of his all-time favorite sit-coms is Frasier, as it is mine, and our sons were born in April 1988, less than two weeks apart.

He has always been a model panganay, has been an ultra-devoted son to our parents, who are undoubtedly proud of him, a gold-standard husband and dad, and world-class boss to the many employees he has led.

He is one of my real-life heroes, and to be his brother has been and will always be an honor.

Happy birthday Kuya Tim, mabuhay ka!

Love always

Noel

PS.  Here’s a video of one of his favorite songs, Baby Come Back by Player 🙂


 

Dodging the annual bullet



[ Note from Noel : Just fair warning to you precious reader, this rant & rave probably beats all others in self-centeredness and introspection; I might as well put in length and depressingly longwinded as added attractions, pasensya na po; congrats and good luck to the marathon ambitions of Atty Cristina Godinez, Efren and Vangie Gregorio and Richard Yao, happy birthdays to Susan Lao (4th Nov), Ramon Tan Jr (5th) and two of our favorite kabatch across the miles, Annette Sy (7th) and Joy Rosenbaum (10th). Woohoo! ]

When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.  You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt, I am the Lord your God. – Leviticus 19:33-34 ESV

IF I HAD my way I would run around the block everyday the Lord made (or bawa’t araw na ginawa ng Diyos sounds a little better).  Wind, rain and hale, erratic work scheds and the inevitable laziness creep in sometimes inconveniently but, on the whole, running, besides the obvious fitness and aesthetic aspects (keeps my love handles at a certain size), lends structure to my ADHD life.  I know that if I can’t decide between pigging out, reading, playing Tri-Peaks Solitaire or watching old DVDs, I can just lace up, trot around manicured lawns, wave at dogwalkers (and their dogs), gawk at babysitters (and their babies) and scoot away from aging motorists (and their death machines) and do something productive while marking the time.

[ By the way, it’s just a figurative block.  Actually it’s around 15-20 minutes’ worth of running, more like 5 to 6 blocks + an entire high school grounds worth of perimeter; and if I want to extract at least three-quarter hour’s exercise I have to run the route twice and then some. ]

The last few weeks, I’ve needed the running a little more : it relieves a little of the stress while applying for a new Work Visa.  Not reapplying, which implies some continuity of the old visa, or renewing, which recognizes the existence of the current one, but applying for a new visa, which is in our native Taglish back to zero or zero balance.  Such is the nature of temporary residence in NZ, which should by rights be expected from a First World country, albeit one sorely affected by the 2008 subprime economic crisis and whose primary industries are sensitive to the movements of international debt markets and rates of exchange.

There’s been no exact date since I started applying, but definitely it’s around this time of the year.  Fittingly, everything comes to life in Wellington: birds dogs and humans are warmer and therefore happier, days are longer, and nights are toastier.  Barbecues are inevitable and ball games of every sort pop up everywhere.  But I can never allow the general aroma of bliss (sort of like everything’s right in the world) to completely overwhelm me.

Roughly half of the 30,000-plus ethnic Filipinos in NZ came here on a “Work To Residence” Visa (WTR), meaning they met the requirements set by Immigration NZ, were invited to search for employment here that matched the set of skills they possessed, and promised permanent residence if they were successful in their search. Theoretically it sounds quite promising, but in practice… (I’m making kibit-balikat, waving my palms around and whispering Bahala na if you can see me now… better yet, click here for a personal account.)

The other half came here courtesy of various visas (Visit Visas, Student Visas, Working Holiday Visas, there are a few more) ,  and were somehow able to obtain Work Visas based on skills deemed crucial to the New Zealand economy.  Those skills are listed under the so-called Short-term Skills Shortage List and Long-term Skills Shortage List.

For better or for worse, I’m in the second class of workers.  Yup, the visit visa was turned into a work visa, another work visa and yet another work visa.  Yehey!

Not to be overly dramatic about it, but my blessing is also my curse.  I nearly gave up March 2008 on finding a job that would allow the (remote) possibility  of permanent residence before a referral by a kabayan ( Thanks Ross C! ) led me to being hired as a trainee miller, then as an assistant miller in Wellington.  But because the job was taken off both the short-term and long-term lists, I could never use the job as a springboard to staying in NZ permanently.  In short, I could choose to shoot for the moon and look for another job in the lists, or stick with the job that landed on my lap, and hope against hope to have luck on my side every time I needed to apply for a new Work Visa.

Which was what I was doing now, and unlike previous years, I was more or less prepared to meet any uncertainty (but how do you know if they’re by nature uncertain, hmm?).

Proof that Kiwis weren’t interested in my job?  I had newspaper, internet and Work and Income ads, even internal circulars that advertised a vacancy for a milling career, promising humble wages but lots of responsibilities (not good attractions for the locals).

Evidence of stability and consistency in my employment?  I had been in the same position since 2008, , enrolled courses to be certified in my trade, and had taken Health and Safety and accessory courses to help me improve my performance.

Just to be on the safe side, I secured declarations from the employer that there simply wasn’t enough interest in the job among Kiwis and locals and not more was expected, now or in the near future.

Just two weeks before my Visa was to expire, the carefully laid plan for me to seamlessly weave between my old and (hopefully) new Visa hit a snag.  My NBI / police clearance was two years old, and I had to get a new one.

I moved heaven and earth to get a substitute document, but because I was cutting it close, every effort had to be nanoseconds fast, and I had to use multiple approaches.  I requested the Ministry of Justice here to issue a document stating I had no criminal record, a process that inexplicably took 10 working days; I asked a big favor from a bro back home for a police clearance from their local PNP precinct, and I of course spun like a trumpo trying to renew my NBI clearance, which believe you me wasn’t easy with a window of less than two weeks.

All told, I was able to lodge my application with the deficiencies requested a week before Doomsday.  Unlike previous years, TWO lives were dependent on such application, mine and that of esposa hermosa.  Of course, another two academic careers back home (that of Ganda and Bunso) would also be drastically affected by a negative decision, so it’s only the most important decision of my life. 😉 For all the hospitable working environments so far that I have encountered here, political realities dictate that every effort is made to accommodate locals before foreign guest workers continue working here.  I know how the game is played, especially during election season.  But to be blunt about it, I don’t want to go home ; the work visa is my all-or-nothing ticket to stay, for now.

It’s the bullet I dodge, every year.

Thanks for reading !

Noel

Scribbles in a mallrat’s dog-eared notebook


the NZ malls aren't as pretty, but this is what the nicer ones look like.

the NZ malls aren't as pretty, but this is what the nicer ones look like

[ NOtes from NOel : To be brutally frank about it, there’s not much to look forward on the horizon, and it’s going to be a lot worse before it gets any better. We can only offer moral support, our faith in the human spirit, and our humble prayers to our brothers and sisters in the Land of the Rising Sun. Belated happy birthdays to Atty Bernadette ‘Dit’ Bargas – Abejo and kabatch Ms Jocelyn ‘Asan’ Chan – Tan, thanks so much for appreciating and reposting our post, Maroonmate Ms Julie Lee ! ]

Dear kabatch, schoolmates, brods, kabayan, officemates, friends, Huttmates and anakis :

ROUND THESE PARTS, there’s a Pinoy salawikain ( paraphrased ) that in any urban center, if you want to find your kababayan for whatever reason, whether you’re homesick, you want to get updated on local news, need pesos for a trip home or are just lonesome for brothers and sisters of your color, height and accent, just proceed to the nearest supermall and walk around for a few minutes. It won’t be long before you find kabayan, kaprobinsya and kalahi who’ll smile back if you smile, talk back if you talk, and pretty soon you’ll forget that you’re a thousand miles away from home.

Just a few qualifiers : unless you’re in Auckland, there aren’t many supermalls here approaching the size of Mall of Asia (half a million square meters) or even MegaMall, Trinoma or G-3, stores close their doors after 5 pm (unless there’s a late night schedule usually on Thursdays and Fridays), and compared to payday crowds back home, it’s quite slim pickings for the foot traffic-conscious entrepreneur.

I remember two anecdotes told me by a bean counter ( numbers or stats man ) in the mall business : the first was that, on midnight madness, long weekends or the traditional holidays (Christmas and Easter), if you can see the floor, meaning it’s not covered by wild-eyed shoppers or those desperate to buy anything on sale, you haven’t done your job well enough to draw both hardcore and casual buyers in.

Second, on one of the less dependable holidays for sales, that’s All Souls’ Day November 2nd in the early 2000s, one of the bigger malls in Metro Manila (a favorite of the call center crowd) reported a mall attendance of one million passing through their doors, yup that’s six zeroes after one, on a relatively weak day.

Little doubt then that the Pinoy is a mall creature.

Sorry to veer away from the topic, just wanted to share with you what little we observed in the malls here. They are mostly culled from those frozen moments when I see something that reminds me of home, and at the same time the moment becomes noteworthy for how similar or different it is from what I remember back home.

Food is king, no matter how odd or mismatched the business to the businessman. One of the favorite Pinoy eating-places here is Nando’s, and probably it’s well-loved in other malls and NZ cities as well. It’s a combination of Max’s, Pollo Loco and Kenny Rogers, and every time we visit the place, it’s packed, mostly by South Asians and Chinese, I’m sure you can guess which Southeast Asian group make up the remainder of the unfilled tables.

It was therefore a shock to esposa hermosa and me when we asked the owner-manager ( we’re not sure if he’s Indian or Pakistani ) you must be tired of eating chicken all the time, to which he answered, I have only tasted it once, and I don’t eat it at all. When asked why, he said that he was a 100% vegetarian for religious reasons, not even milk, eggs or fish. When we asked how he reconciles religious restrictions with the dictates of his business, he said that as long as his personal behavior wasn’t affected, there was no problem with his goods or services, as long as people were happy and he followed the law. Adding to the shock was when we found out that some of his waiters and servers were also life-long and dedicated vegetarians. Touche’ to that.

The incongruousness didn’t end there. Elsewhere in the mall where esposa hermosa works is a sushi bar that enjoys a healthy menu, reasonable pricing and probably the best location in the mall. But what struck us a few times when we fetched her on the way home was that three of her co-workers were Chinese, at least two were Korean, and three others were Pinoy like us. Notice what was odd about the staff? That’s right, not a single person in the authentic Japanese fast-food outlet was Japanese, although if you had the formula, the recipe, and knew how to prepare and serve food Japanese-like, I guess native born talent wasn’t essential.

As an aside, better than half of the Malaysian / Singaporean, Vietnamese and even Thai establishments we chanced to visit were owned, staffed and patronized by Chinese cooks and food professionals. It’s like we hadn’t left home at all.

Beat the heat, escape the cold. Bottom line, most mallgoers back home enter the mall not to buy stuff, but almost always, in no particular order, to beat the heat, grab a bite, or take in a movie. It’s not much different here, because the stores close first, restos second, and the moviehouses last.

The only wrinkle is that there are summer months and winter blues here, so it works the other way as well : mallrats both Kiwi and Asian beating back the polar blasts from the Antarctic by meeting the embrace of central heating in most malls here. Coupled with hot marshmallowed coffee and toasted banana muffins, it’s a welcome respite during the frosty months of May to July.

For now, the carefully controlled artificial climates keep you cool in summer, and cozy warm in winter. Not a bad bargain considering that you don’t need to spend anything besides your weekly pamalengke at the grocery or pay your energy or phone bill at the local Kiwibank / NZPost.

MallWorld ends by five. This is the only disorienting feeling we get from malls here : prepare to experience a ghost town as soon as the clock strikes five. Fellow mallrats can hardly believe it when we tell them that come 6 to 7 most days in the Islands, the day is just starting for many stores, cuz that’s when the office crowd starts to fill the mall.

It’s almost as if most employers here would rather close shop by 5 pm everyday rather than pay overtime to their staff, and this literally is the case: the extended recession, leaving many businesses and retailers in the red, has taken its toll on many employers, with most already living month-to-month and can’t afford to pay store staff any more than absolutely necessary.

This is a pity, as many wage earners and salary nine-to-fivers can only visit and patronize the mall after work, and are chained to their machinery or desks the whole workday. Even the recent policy of closing late on Thursday and Friday nights can do wonders for the small businessmen, and hopefully mall owners and administrators might be persuaded to close the mall at a later hour.

** ** **

Meanwhile, the eerie silence of the mid-afternoon mall environment (sunset doesn’t come till 8) convinces us that despite the familiar facades (Espirit, McDonalds’, Gloria Jeans and Starbucks), the wide walkways, the generous lighting and the ever-present escalators, you’re not in MegaMall, Galleria or Shangrila Plaza anymore.

Thanks for reading !
NOel
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Trouble in Paradise


Dear batchmates, schoolmates, brods, kabayan, officemates and friends :

THE naivete ended long before, but somewhat defining the moment of such end (in a wanna-be dramatic life such as mine, there are always defining moments) was a short, short exchange in our smoku room (cafeteria) a month or so ago.

If you remember the intense, violent (but short-lived) typhoon that swept Northern Luzon the time, there was a picture of a house made of light materials that found itself on the sturdy branches of an obviously much stronger acacia-looking tree.

This picture spoke a thousand words more eloquently than any narrative on the storm, so the international news agencies carried it and such picture found its way to the local paper of our host city.

Whereupon one of our colleagues commented on how many Filipinos must have perished in such a short time the storm flexed its muscles, and to which another replied, “(snort), storm should’ve killed off the lot of them.”

Loose translation : dapat nga naubos na lahi nila.

I don’t know which was more outrageous at the time, that such an racist-inspired utterance was actually made, or that the same words were spoken so casually. Whether or not it was meant as a joke, the person who heard what was said (who incidentally was my supervisor) was outraged and decided to report the matter to the plant manager straightaway. (Employer has a near zero-tolerance policy against harrassment, racist and sexist situations.)

At the last moment however, for some reason, he decided to consult me and find out if I found the same offensive.

Which I initially had a hard time deciding, since (1) I wasn’t there at the time of the incident and (2) I was trying to figure out how serious the statement was since, light jokes, which from time to time include race references, are made all the time in the premises.

Eventually I realized that any grievance that would be redressed wasn’t worth the potential trouble and brouhaha it would cause, and I advised him to drop the matter.

He resolved the situation by saying (kamping-kampi talaga sa mga Pinoy) that one way or another, he and a few others would make sure any perceived slight I felt would be paid back to the alleged offender twofold. Sniff, sniff.

But seriously, by now you probably would’ve discerned the naivete of which I speak : that which assumes that every face, every voice and every smile in our adopted land is one that sincerely welcomes us as one of their own.

For every broad-minded Kiwi with a 21st-century worldview that encourages brotherhood (and sisterhood) and interdependence among countries, there will always be a counterpart xenophobe who can’t avoid feeling insecure with the rainbow of races making its appearance in NZ the last few years.

Difficult as it is to contemplate, the reality is that in this paradise of equal opportunity that respects self-reliance and hard work, there will always be people like the colleague above, and there are many more like him, in varying degrees of intensity.

It’s quite subjective, and definitely there are no hard facts to back me up, but :

(1) can anyone forget morning NZ personality Paul Henry asking the Prime Minister on his impending selection of a new Governor – General : Can we expect a Governor General who looks and sounds like a New Zealander this time ?

It initally sounded as wacky as unlikely from such a respected interviewer, until most of us realized that a sizeable number of Kiwis silently supported Henry’s unspoken opinion; that is, that migrant numbers had been growing too rapidly and uncomfortably so.

(2) Among other TV ads that pass through our political correctness (PC) blood-brain barrier, two kinds of ads strike us as both amusing and slightly disturbing : the company that assures us that their customer service and helpdesk functions are performed by Kiwi-staffed call centers; and the brands that proudly proclaim themselves to be 100% Kiwi owned.

When one contemplates the first ad, the immediate problem is that talking to someone stretching his/her “e” vowel sounds, calls merienda “tea time” and pronounces “fish and chips” as “fush and chups” is no assurance that service will be provided, and the secondary problem is that, what if the caller and potential customer doesn’t require a Kiwi call center staffer, because such caller / potential customer may not be Kiwi himself/herself?

In the second, such ads that emphasize a misplaced nationalism fail to take into account the realities of an ever-growing migrant market, that foreign dollars are just as acceptable as Kiwi money, and are just as effective in wealth-generation and nation-building.

The long and short of it is, despite the altruism and good intentions of the best and the brightest in enlightened Kiwi society, there will always be the shortsighted and underachieving who inevitably blame others for their failures.

The easiest and most vulnerable targets, as you might expect, are the newcomers and outsiders.

It’s up to us to show them that we deserve the chance to live the Kiwi / Pinoy Dream as much as any of them, as long as we walk the walk, do the hard work and in true Pinoy fashion, do whatever it takes to shine.

Thanks for reading !

NOel

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Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?


From right to left, Morticia, Fester, Aristotl...

Image via Wikipedia

    

Dear kabatch, schoolmates, officemates, kabayan and friends :

 We uncharacteristically had three events to attend over the weekend, but two of those three were with kabayan, relatives, work-related, or all of the above.
 
The last was a Kiwi invite to a family affair, which we were flattered to participate in as it implied that we were considered, um, family.
 
On the way to the venue, we realized that we were witnessing our first purely (besides ourself) Kiwi gathering, and so we gathered our tools of perception, extended our social-cultural feelers to better appreciate how the natives conducted their festivities, and thanked God that we remembered to brush teeth and apply deodorant. 🙂
 
[ We were guests in a few Auckland parties three years ago, but it was different then, the hosts were usually Kiwi-Pinoy blended families, or the host/s was considered part of the family by many Pinoys. So those don’t count right? ]
 
For preliminaries, care had been taken to preserve the surprise shindig for the celebrant, who (of course) didn’t know that one was shortly being held in her honor. Cars were parked on the far end of the block, provisions and party paraphernalia were quietly brought in, and we almost thought we would be asked to tiptoe into the party area. No effort was spared to avoid a spoiler.
 
Either we don’t have enough fun-filled memories back home, Pinoys aren’t as OC about surprise parties, or Kiwis just know how to have fun.
 
Here’s where the similarities start: 90% of the guests were family, and had known each other for years and years. We realized almost instantly that if they hadn’t had the party planned, they would’ve met anyway in some other fashion or reason, with the same people and probably the same food.
 
We’re not exaggerating : the very same people before us, almost to a man, could have exchanged places with the people in the gilt-edged picture frames lining the living room walls, fireplace ledge and other areas available for display. With the singular exception of a relative in Australia, everyone else was present, accounted for and ready to participate in the festivities.
 
For a fleeting nanosecond we recalled those funny Addams Family / Scooby Doo episodes where subjects in family pics looked exactly like their real-world counteparts, and slits were cut in the pictures where eyes were supposed to be, for spying, or the figures might even come to life and step out of the picture. And this was before we had a single sip of alcohol.
 
Being a non-relative, a non-Caucasian and a non-member of their circle of trust (think Ben Stiller vs Robert de Niro in Meet the Parents / Fockers), we stood out only a bit less prominently than a arthritic sore thumb complete with unmanicured nail.
 
[ Everyone else is white, everyone else shares a surname or middle name, everyone else knows each other from the 20th century. We were the only Asian, shorter by at least three inches than anyone else (including the women), and nobody, besides the celebrant and the host, knew us. Yup, we’re thinking the same thing : How’d we get into this? ]
 
But back to topic : You see the similarity with Asians / Pinoys, right? Family is first, second and last in all things celebratory, friends are good to have in happy times, but you don’t forget your rellys.
 
At least one mom brought her baby, who couldn’t have been more than six months old. While she was in full 70s garb (the party theme), she brought along a baby carriage, walker, and a mini-cot / carrier for her young. Don’t forget the baby seat back in the car.
 
Nobody batted an eyelash at this motorcade of baby transport. (Except maybe us.) Nothing gets in the way of a party, not even nursing your newborn or the hourly breastfeeding.
 
(We wonder if the mom’s milk made Baby tipsy or more googly-eyed, but never mind.)
 
And this is the overlap into the second comparison. Parties are lovely excuses for Kiwis to enjoy their drink, although socially, legally and politically, eyebrows are properly raised before everyone takes the obligatory swig at the mug, shot glass or emerald bottle. It’s no big secret that Kiwis are per capita among the most formidable drinkers in the world.
 
Please don’t misunderstand. None among our hosts and fellow guests drank too much, or behaved badly, whether you use the standard of NZ (not that high) or our own (even less). But there was quite a healthy streak of randy jokes, inside jokes (which of course we failed to get) and politically incorrect jokes, which as you know are standard agenda among family members.
 
We appreciated the famous way Kiwis talk self-deprecatingly, the way they make guests to their country feel at home, and sometimes wonder if they bend over backwards just to make certain races (like ours) feel welcome. Well, you take your breaks where you get them.
 
At this point, it wouldn’t be fair to make an objective comment on the gastronomic fare that had been readied for the guests : crisps (Kiwinese for chichirya) and dip, crackers and dip, and salted nuts and dip; safe to say that the finger foods were meant to be an afterthought to the libation and dancing. There were pies and savories (parang mini-pies) as well, nobody cared too much that the choices were limited, and this easy-to-please Pinoy wasn’t about to ask for kalderetang kambing, relyenong bangus or chicken pork adobo that were standard fare for handaan back home.
 
Within an hour from the time the celebrant was surprised and serenaded (she seemed actually shocked; we half-expected her to arrive in a duster and rollers); everyone had either a pleasant buzz or a silly smile on their faces.
 
Everyone, that is, except the designated drivers, who impressed us by not grabbing a gulp, stealing a swig or snatching a swallow of the bubbly when no one was watching. The current political climate condemning drink-driving (drunk-driving in the US), random police checks and the opprobrium directed at irresponsible motoring were enough deterrents for that.
 
In all, this account probably doesn’t do justice to the remarkable way with which our temporary hosts are known to celebrate; they certainly work hard and play hard. If there is any defining similarity that unites Pinoys and Kiwis, it is that when they are with family and friends, they love to take their wildest swing at Life, and very often Life accommodatingly swings right back at them.
 
Thanks for reading !
 
NOel
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