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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#IGiveADayOff: Yayas and moms in Singapore

Who knows their kids better? Is it the mothers or maids?

In a controversial video featuring mothers and maids being quizzed about the children they care for, 74% of the maids had more correct answers than the mothers.

Questions ranged from what the children want to become when they grow up, to their favorite subject at school, who their best friend or crush is. Then the heart tugging video asks the mothers, “Shouldn’t we spend more time with our children?” as a segue to their main message of “Let’s give domestic works their legal days off.”

The recent #IGiveADayOff campaign by ad agency Ogilvy Singapore for non-profit Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) triggered an online debate about the right of foreign domestic workers to a weekly day off and the reality of working mothers who don’t spend enough time with their children.

According to their study, 40% of Singapore’s foreign domestic workers do not have a weekly day off despite a law in 2013 that made it mandatory.

Many felt that though the campaign’s intention came from a good place, the approach of shaming mothers went somewhat amiss. It struck a nerve as it reflected the painful trade-off working mothers face – that between earning a living and spending time with their children.

'MUM OR MAID?' The video that tested mothers and maids on who knows their kids' better stirred controversy in Singapore. Screengrab from YouTube

‘MUM OR MAID?’ The video that tested mothers and maids on who knows their kids’ better stirred controversy in Singapore. Screengrab from YouTube

But unlike the working mothers depicted in the video, the trade-off faced by foreign maids who are also parents also stings.

Out of the 222,500 foreign domestic workers in Singapore, approximately 32% or 70,000 are Filipinos. These are women who don’t get to return home to their families at the end of every day. And despite many being denied the right to a day off by their employers, they persist to work overseas to provide a better future for their own children back home.

Cost of going home

While many maids are working mothers too, they don’t have the luxury of flying home whenever they want to.

The average monthly salary of a Filipino maid is SG$500, while a round-trip Singapore-Manila ticket costs approximately half of that (SG$250-$300).

Then there are many other expenses to consider, from homeward-bound remittances to surviving in a country twice labeled as the most expensive city in the world in recent years.

Unfair working conditions

As a collectivist culture, Filipino values are deeply rooted in the family. Regardless of liberal and Western influence over the years, the family is still the basic building block of our society.

With the physical and mental distance placed between loved ones, that very bond becomes strained for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). Though having an emotional support system is important for anyone living abroad, it’s even more crucial for OFWs who work under unfair labor conditions, denied of their rights.

According to a Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME) study, 27% of respondents said their employers have entered and searched their rooms or checked their phones, while 73% were restricted from communicating with their friends and family members.

The study also found that the maids tend to work long hours (a daily average of 13 hours), and 4 in 10 did not have a weekly day off. Almost a quarter of 700 women surveyed suffered from mental problems and only 54% received adequate medical attention when they fell sick.

The emotional debit

For many domestic workers, theirs is a familiar tale – that they are working overseas to support their family. OFW mothers are pillars of strength, breadwinners who can only show their love from 2,391 km away, one transfer at a time.They are lauded as unsung heroes by our government, often because their remittances help keep the Philippine economy afloat.

But who’s supporting them in return for the monetary assistance they provide? With every deposit into their Philippine bank account comes an emotional withdrawal for an OFW.

While Labor Day celebrates the achievement of workers around the world, Mother’s Day puts the spotlight on domestic workers who are mothers.

Though maids might know the children of their employers better than the parents do, we should take care not to write off the emotional needs and the rights of OFWs too.

View my original article on Rappler. 

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.

The new chapter begins

SAMSUNG CSC

One month ago I was unemployed, and packing my bags for my solo trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. Now I’m back in Singapore and a few weeks into my new job in a creative agency.

My team is great, and I really see a lot of hidden gems in the next 6 months. A lot of people thought that I was crazy because I wanted to leave the client side, but the grass is always greener where you water it. Anyway, I prefer to plant a field where creativity can blossom. As I said before, it’s about the culture you buy into. 

I feel like I finally have my bearings. Singapore feels like home. Friends, family, boyfriend. Work is stimulating. I joined the gym (I really need to get back into shape!!!) I can start saving again.I’ve let go of the past in order to embrace the future.

There are vacations to plan. Blogs and articles to write. Dreams to realize.

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 4.09.46 pm

Speaking of blogs, I was overwhelmed by the response of my Lessons From A Corporate Life which Rappler published on their site. 5k shares! I’m happy and thankful there are people who could relate to the corporate question mark.

I’ll be sharing more about my trip in the next couple of blog posts, including the one I wrote this weekend for We Are Sole Sisters, and when does a foreign country feel like home.

Happy Sunday night everyone. Have a good week ahead. xx

PUBLISHED ON RAPPLER: On being Filipino abroad

Writing ‘Beyond Nosebleed‘ and ‘Waking up to being Filipino” last year for Rappler and Interaksyon really helped me embrace being a ‘Foreign Filipino.’ I found my voice not only as a Filipino but as a writer. It’s a niche that speaks so strongly to who I am and what I believe in, however, is not as defined as being a ‘sports,’ ‘news’ or ‘lifestyle’ writer. Whenever someone asked me what I want to write about, I was always unsure of my answer. It was such a grey area.

Now that I’ve moved to Singapore it makes more sense. This is the continuation to being a ‘Foreign Filipino,’ a story that also belongs to the thousands of expat Filipinos abroad. A large work force whose voice has yet to be really heard. This is what both my blog and Rappler’s new #BalikBayan section is about.

Thank you as always to the Rappler team (a shout out to Maria Ressa and Michael Josh) who asked me to write this piece. Personally, it was an opportune reminder of why I moved abroad in the first place.

Also check out our Google Hangout with Filipinos in every continent discussing what it means to be Filipino abroad. Great insights :)

AT HOME. The author discovers how much a Filipino she is in another country. All photos by Rica Facundo

AT HOME. The author discovers how much a Filipino she is in another country. All photos by Rica Facundo

SINGAPORE – Last year, I was bemused by how I felt more Filipino in Singapore than back in the Philippines.

Read: Beyond ‘nosebleed’

Given that I am a “foreign Filipina” born in Indonesia and attended an international high school, I was excited about Singapore. I knew it to be a cosmopolitan city of Chinese, Malays, Indians and foreigners that could teach me about other cultures.

After all, globalism is finding the common thread among different races. Moving abroad was the perfect opportunity to assimilate and localize a new way of living.

But for a while I was confused.

I didn’t expect moving abroad would first shed light about how Filipino I was before connecting the dots with other nationalities.

I didn’t have to speak Tagalog fluently or discuss Philippine politics or history to brand myself a Filipino. Understanding the issue of Filipino identity became more of a practical matter.

Rather than attempting to discover Filipino identity, which is what being Filipino meant when I still lived back home, living abroad actually brought out the Filipino in me without my even trying too hard.

MOVING. Rica documents the day she moved to Singapore

MOVING. Rica documents the day she moved to Singapore

‘Filipinoisms’

In Singapore where rules are strictly enforced, it’s the Filipino who thinks twice about crossing the street on a red light. Yet it’s the same Filipino who will most likely not practice it when back home.

In Singapore, where complaints about train delays are common, Filipinos will have the patience to smile about them. We are used to relentless traffic on EDSA as our resilience stems from surviving bigger struggles like poverty and natural disasters.

In Singapore, a global hub for professionals, Filipinos are in the habit of saying, “I’m sorry” a lot when they don’t have to.

In Singapore, a country with a strong and strict work ethic, I’ve learned that skills can be developed, but compassion can never be taught, which is what I’m thankful for about Filipino culture. Imagine the double-threat we can be if we can harness both traits.

In Singapore, or any other country we migrate to, our lifestyle changes.

The collectivist culture that characterizes most Asian countries breeds a brand of independence that’s rooted in our parents and helpers, and grows with interdependence.

Usually full independence isn’t granted until Filipinos are much older, so our lack of domestic skills — cooking, cleaning and doing laundry, on top of financial illiteracy, become more apparent when living abroad.

Newborn expats from the upper-middle class might Google “how to remove stains from color bleeding” and “how to declog your toilet or shower without yaya.” The Philippines may be a third world country but you can appreciate how home can spoil you when you don’t have to pay for rent.

Indeed I’ve realized that we need contrast to see the fine lines outlining who we are. The exposure abroad makes us hyper-aware of the strengths and weaknesses born out of Filipino culture—traits we can leverage and work on to become better Filipinos, to compete in the globalized economy, learnings we can take for those of us who pay it forward when we move back home.

The bigger picture

The exposure abroad also provides a larger common denominator among Filipinos of various backgrounds. By taking a step back and seeing the bigger picture, trivialities such as language, geography, skin, and socio-economic class become less important.

This Filipino connection became apparent when I attended the event of an NGO where I volunteer. I was listening to a domestic worker speak about the struggles of working in Singapore.

Despite the difference in our educational and economic background I could relate to the tentativeness of our work permit to the stereotypes we need to challenge. Plus, we both left Manila in pursuit of a promising future. Our suitcases are heavy with the stories that brought us to Singapore—chapters worth of family, friends, and dreams.

SMALL WORLD. In her new world, Rica still finds herself connecting to her Filipino roots

SMALL WORLD. In her new world, Rica still finds herself connecting to her Filipino roots

The modern day Filipino

Now that it’s easier to travel, work or study abroad, I’m excited about the exposure Filipinos will get at a younger age.

Unlike before when third culture kids (TCKs) were born from the circumstances of where their parents were based, the new generation will be globalized and localized as an offshoot of choosing to move abroad.

I believe it’s the overseas Filipino workers, expats and “foreign Filipinos” alike who will till the future of the Philippines, not only on remittances, but with a better understanding of who we are and can be as a country.

It’s been a year since I left Manila. Indeed I still feel more Filipino abroad than I do back home but I use that point of view to my advantage.

Here I’ve realized it is less about finding your Filipino identity but embracing how the underlying cultural DNA brought you up as one. It’s about appreciating the nuances and values that differentiate you from the rest of the world. – Rappler.com

See original article here