Walang ganyan sa States

The legalization of Uber in the Philippines reminded me of the “Walang ganyan sa States” ad I saw when I was a kid. Now that I’m working overseas, I can finally connect the dots about what it was trying to say about this Filipino mentality. My thoughts about how to channel that mindset into positive and progressive change on my latest article on Rappler. 

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Walang ganyan sa States.” (That doesn’t happen in the US)

Do you remember this pinoy catchphrase made popular in 2003 by a Petron advertisement?

In the advertisement, a balikbayan mother-in-law begins criticizing everything the moment she arrives back home – traffic, potholes and more.

Naturally, each and every critique ends with “Walang ganyan sa states.” But at the end, when her grandchildren shower her with affection, her son-in-law echoes the phrase to her once more, albeit in a different light. Truly, you won’t find that same sense of family back in the States, or anywhere else.

I was 13 when that ad first aired. But more than a decade later, I still remember it like it was yesterday.

Perhaps the tagline stuck in my subconscious over the years because it was witty, heartwarming and funny. As a child, I did not fully understand the ad’s subtext, how it tried to convey the Filipino inferiority and colonial complex – where everything ‘foreign’ is better. But now as an adult who’s left the comforts of Manila to seek opportunities elsewhere, the message finally hits a lot closer to home.

Greener grass

I realize with a smile that I am now the balikbayan mother-in-law, in those exasperated moments where I catch myself judging my nation; for not offering the same liberties provided elsewhere, when my patience is sorely tested by a bureaucracy seldom found when living abroad.

Beyond monetary compensation, quality of life is part of what makes living abroad compelling, especially when you work in a safe, “first world” country like Singapore. Not only is transport easily accessible, but I can also take a cab home late at night, free of the fear of being a criminal’s next victim.

‘Walang ganyan sa Philippines’

I also see that balikbayan mother-in-law in my friends who complain everyday about the horrendous traffic or derailing public transportation system. And they don’t even work abroad.

For well-traveled Filipinos, it’s not uncommon to come back home feeling a little heftier – weighed down by rich food, new clothes, but most of all, a heavy heart.

Every new exposure to the world is a double-edged sword that inspires as it disillusions, where newly informed expectations of home are often met with disappointment.

You love the Philippines but oh, the #ThirdWorldProblems. How often do we hear: “Why can’t our MRT be as efficient as the BTS Skytrain in Thailand?” or “Why can’t our streets be as clean as Singapore?” #WalangGanyanSaPhilippines.

The progressive mindset

These observations and complaints are anything but new. It’s a narrative Filipinos have grown up with, and bring as part of their baggage when they move abroad.

But when the Philippines made the local and international headlines about being the first country in the world to legalize Uber, my first thought was “Finally!”

It reminded me of when I first started using taxi apps when I moved to Singapore. I remember wishing that I had an Uber or GrabTaxi while growing up in Manila and could not wait until this global trend found its way back home.

The Uber news is a big deal because it’s a sign of how progressive the Philippines can be. But, it’s only one of many examples of how you can turn global learnings into a model that works locally.

Simply look to our burgeoning hostel and backpacking scene, a concept once commonly identified as a European one. Thanks to pioneers like the Circle Hostel in Zambales and La Union, it’s a trend that has since helped to etch our spot as a top global travel destination.

Then there is Mustari Raji, who tapped into his experience as a pool water treatment specialist in Saudi Arabia to create a floating swimming pool in the sea.

As a former national champion and coach, he gives less fortunate children living in coastal areas a chance to become the nation’s future champion swimmers.

The reality is that we can’t escape from the Walang ganyan sa Philippines” mentality. It’s only natural for us to compare and contrast what we don’t have, versus what we wish we did.

But instead of complaining, let’s imagine what we can do to become better instead. Let’s say to ourselves, “Walang ganyan sa Philippines. Paano natin puwedeng gawin yan dito?” (There’s nothing like that in the Philippines. So how can we do that here?)

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The boundaries of free speech as a foreigner

Photo from the internet

Photo from the internet

My thoughts on the Edz Ello controversy and the boundaries of free speech as a foreigner. I’ve changed the headline from what was originally posted on Rappler. I’m using OFWs as an example but I think it’s a common concern for anyone living abroad regardless of their nationality.

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Filipinos are no strangers to making the headlines in Singapore.

Last June 2014 a Philippine Independence Day celebration in Singapore was the subject of xenophobic heckling and harassment online, causing the organizers to cancel the event.

(READ: Pinoy group in Singapore drops Independence Day event plan)

A few days ago the couple behind The Real Singapore, a popular alternative news site, was charged with sedition. The cause? They allegedly claimed that a Filipino family caused an incident during Thaipusam, a Hindu festival celebrated by the Tamil community.

Online forums are regularly flooded with comments referring to Filipinos as “foreign trash” or “cockroaches,” making Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) feel angry, ashamed or even apathetic. These derogatory comments are nothing new. The question is whether OFWs should feel obligated to defend theirkababayantooth and nail in a nationalistic effort to change the narrative about Filipinos abroad.

But the controversy sparked by Edz Ello, a Filipino nurse working in a government hospital in Singapore recently charged with sedition and lying to the police for posting hateful comments about Singaporeans online, paints a different picture.

Instead of defending a fellow Filipino, the OFW community too condemned his actions, to the extent of saying that he deserved the strict consequences that followed.

RACIST COMMENT? Filipino Nurse Edz Ello, an OFW in Singapore is fired from his job for allegedly making these racist comments on Facebook. Screenshot from Facebook

RACIST COMMENT? Filipino Nurse Edz Ello, an OFW in Singapore is fired from his job for allegedly making these racist comments on Facebook. Screenshot from Facebook

The unspoken rule: don’t bite the hand that feeds

Most OFWs believe that it’s a privilege to be working overseas, especially in Singapore, where the earning capacity tends to be much higher than back in the Philippines.

Regardless of your nationality or income, the bottom line is that every expatriate and migrant worker is a guest in a foreign country. It’s an implicit agreement – that locals expect respect and sensitivity from those who would share their home.

In the case of Edz Ello, both Singaporean and Filipino netizens alike felt that the hateful comments he posted reflected the exact opposite. They said, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds,” an unspoken rule about not offending your benefactor that OFWs are all too familiar with.

Boundaries of free speech

While OFWs are used to a culture of freedom of speech back home, once we venture beyond our borders the boundaries become gray. Living abroad makes us more self-aware of our actions, especially online, not merely out of fear of being deported or arrested, but also out of respect to our host country.

Singapore, on the other hand, is known for its strict laws about voicing opinions publicly.

The priority of the government is to preserve harmony in a multicultural society, where race is a major social identifier for locals. As mentioned by Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, “You have full freedom of speech [in Singapore] but it doesn’t extend to offending somebody else.”

So similar to how religion is a popular yet sensitive topic in the Philippines, such inflammatory comments along national and racial lines can elicit controversy in Singapore. This is increasingly relevant amidst growing concerns about the influx of foreigners in recent years, with an almost 40% foreign population.

Goodwill ambassadors

172,700 Filipinos work in Singapore, according to the latest publicly available Philippine government data. As part of the foreigner population in Singapore, the responsibility of OFWs is to become goodwill ambassadors for the Philippines.

We are guardians of the Filipino name for the world at large, whose only points of reference about the Philippines are sweeping generalizations and often negative stereotypes. That’s why the OFW community did not speak up on behalf of Edz Ello. They agree that his actions unfairly represented Filipinos. Even some locals echo the same sentiment – don’t let the actions of one Filipino paint the wrong picture of an entire race.

The Ello controversy reminds us that nationalism goes beyond our bloodline, heritage, language and the color of our skin. It’s about knowing that we can be better Filipinos, while holding our fellow kababayansaccountable to that very standard.

As an OFW, that means doing our utmost best in protecting our name abroad. Then perhaps, we’ll be making headlines for all the right reasons.

Going home – A balikbayan Christmas

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“Will I go home for Christmas?” For balikbayans that’s the question.

I never thought of Christmas as something to plan for because it’s always just there, a seasonal routine, but with a change in setting, colder weather and more food than usual.

But the reality for those of us who live abroad is that Christmas is months in the making. When you need to make a decision, how do you measure, measure Christmas?

In plane tickets.

In savings.

In 2 weeks of leave.

How do you measure a year, a year that you were away?

*Cue chorus of Seasons of Love* 

But really, being away is why reunions is a big deal for this time of the year. It’s a small, universal window of time when loved ones from all over the world can be at the same place, at the same time. This becomes more difficult with more of our friends and family moving away, building their own separate lives but it’s also what pulls the festive heart strings even harder.

Do we create memories in our new life or rekindle the nostalgia of the past?

In my first year abroad, I contemplated not coming home so that I could experience the holidays somewhere new.  My sister retorted then, “How can you imagine spending Christmas anywhere else?” with the 3-course homemade breakfast meals, noche buena and parols in Manila.

Admittedly, the more I come home, the more I get used to the idea of coming back to Manila for the holidays. Maybe it’s because I’m older now, and more attuned to my Asian upbringing that puts family first, then friends. No one is getting younger. Life is getting faster. If we can’t share the small moments with our loved ones anymore, then the least we can do is be there for the big ones when we can.

I know there will eventually be a year when I don’t fly to Manila, for one reason or another, but in the mean time I’ll measure the holidays in coming home.

Merry Christmas everyone <3

Christmas

#ComingHome Balikbayan Food

Homeward bound

Homeward bound

By definition a ‘foreigner’ means to be an outsider or a stranger. But despite the negative connotation I enjoy embracing the quality of being a foreigner. It’s the wonderfully unique position to always be on the verge of something new. A sight I have never seen.  A taste I might never get to try ever again. A different way of thinking, seeing or eating— even in your own country. There is always an aftertaste of (un)appreciation.

Such was the case over my Christmas break in the Philippines where I guiltlessly food tripped through my favorite restaurants with friends and family. There was a two-week expiration date before I had to fly back. So, like a foreigner I consumed with a sense of urgency, stuffing my face with the awareness that walang ganyan sa Singapore (translation: there’s nothing like that in SG. Aside: Does anyone remember this Filipino ad way back?)

Technically I went back home where everything is local to me, but the thing about migrating (or traveling) is that every sight and taste of home will always feel different. In a way you’re branded a ‘foreigner’ for life as you will never (un)appreciate home the same way again.

So as a balikbayan, expat, or Overseas Filipino Worker, I went back to the Philippines ready to eat like never before (and take advantage of a home cooked meal. Hi mom.) Below are some of my must-eat-in restaurants and Filipino favorites for every trip back home. What’s on your balikbayan list?

homefood

1) Sunday brunch at home

While brunching is a favorite past time for people in Singapore, nothing beats a hearty pinoy breakfast of fried rice, tapa (cured beef), longanisa (sweet filipino sausage), fried/sunny-side-up egg doused in suka (vinegar.) This is one of my favorite things about Sunday mornings in our household!

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2) Jollibee Chicken Joy and Spaghetti Meal

Back in college this was 1) my favorite hangover meal and 2) what I crave when I’m stressed out and studying. I do miss stopping by in the wee hours of the morning! I’m excited for it to come to Singapore!

bistro3

3) Bistro Filipino by Chef Laudico

I can’t believe this was our first time eating in Bistro Filipino. My cousin brought my sisters and mom here for dinner. We opened and closed the restaurant with a 4-hour sit-down all-you-can-eat ala carte dinner!

It was a pleasant surprise to devour classic pinoy favorites like sisig (pigs face) or pancit palabok (rice noodles flavored with shrimp) like it was the first time because of the way Chef Laudico prepares it. World class pinoy food that still tastes down-to-earth which I what I love about pinoy food.

Bistro

Left column: Top – Gambas (shrimp in olive oil and garlic), Bottom – Kinilaw (raw fish marinated in vinegar and chili)

Middle column: Top – Pancit Palabok with malunggay leaves. Bottom – Salpicao (Beef in olive oil and garlic)

Right column: Top – Sosyal Sisig (haha!), Bottom: Awesome mini lava cake

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This was the winner: Sinigang martini. Ingenious concept! What we usually know as sour and savour sou but topped with gata (coconut milk)

Seconds

4) Seconds at Fort Bonifacio

This was also my first time eating at Seconds! Must try the Truffled Three Cheese Mac. Funny how my “iced tea” staple in Sigapore is now “teh” aka evaporated milk tea. 

Nihon

5) Nihon Bashitei

Grilled Japanese delight. We had lunch here for our usual sistership date. You can never go wrong with yakiniku bento box.
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6) Seryna at Little Tokyo

Our family frequents Seryna for their lunch time special bentox box! Little Tokyo in Makati is a great place to discover great Japanese restaurants.  
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7) Jamaican Pattie

Jamaican me pattie anyone? Hah! Munching on this beef patty has always been my simple pleasure especially when I’m not hungry enough for a full meal!

cyma

8) Cyma

Opa! for lamb gyros. A well known and loved Greek restaurant in the Philippines.

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9) Omakase

Omakase is by far one of my favorite Japanese restaurants partly because of the  mayonnaise sushi dip.

Other shout outs are Pancake House, Pancit Canton and San Miguel Pale!

Related articles

On Being a Foreign Filipina 

Hey I’m a tourist (in Bohol!)

Third entry on my #ComingHome series. :)