4 Years in The Land of Smiles and Counting…

Sawadee Krap!

On this day exactly 4 years ago, I went out of my beloved country to take the opportunity of working in the Land of Smiles- Thailand. It was a gamble for myself and my would-be employer.
It was my first time working abroad in an almost 100% Thai environment and I had many questions in my mind back then as to what my future holds in Thailand.

For my employer, as in every employee that is newly hired, they are unable to judge 100%– my capabilities, my personality or even my commitment to working overseas as they’ve never met me personally before I landed in their country, but only knew me through some character references and background checking. However, since my designation is a Management post, it is definitely a gamble for them to accept me.

I would be working in the same company that I used to work for in Manila (Bangkok being another Branch office) so basically the systems and procedures are almost the same except it will be in a Thai setting and I just had to adjust my working style to adapt to Thai culture.

I had actually resigned from the company in Manila for almost a year prior to me accepting the job offer in Bangkok. I worked in a hotel group and was doing quite well if I may say so. One Sunday, I was on duty when my former boss of 7 years (which I also consider as my Mentor) Sir Nikki called me and asked where I am at that time and if he could meet me. There is a sense of urgency in his voice.

I told him I was in the hotel and just about to finish my duty. He drove all the way to the hotel on a weekend and meet up with me. He told me about the opportunity to work in Bangkok.

Naturally I was surprised by what he just told me because I really had no clue as to what his purpose is for meeting me so urgently on a weekend and I did not dare ask him earlier out of courtesy.

Besides, I am doing ok with my current employer at that time and has no plans of resigning too soon as there are a handful of projects I am heading and on the process of seeking approval from my current boss.

I would say the timing is right because at that time, I felt like the projects entrusted to me is progressing slower than I expected. I was used to having the liberty to make decisions quickly in my previous employer though I understand that the current one has to go through a long and tedious process and discussions even the very small details. I sort of felt I was not empowered.

Anyway, I still asked my Mentor what was the offer and how soon I need to fly in case I accepted the job. He told me about the position, the compensation offer and said I had to fly in about a month’s time. Once I make the decision, they have to process all the papers and stuff. It has to be decided quickly as my would-be boss will be on maternity leave for 3 months and I have to help her oversee the company during her absence.

Can u just imagine the shock on my face when I learned about it. Of course I felt flattered that my former boss still remembered me and vouched for my capabilities the reason why he recommended me for that job. I told him I cannot make the decision at that instant and I have to consult my family as it is definitely a big decision to make.

It was almost Holy Week at that time so I had time to contemplate. When I told my parents about it of course they wanted me to stay in the country. There was no member in our family who ever worked overseas so I was the first one to sort of “Explore the world”. After thinking of the big task I had to fill, I told my parents I want to take the challenge and perhaps try working abroad for a few years.

At the end, they supported me even though they still have some hesitations.

Fast forward, I accepted the job offer and  left for Bangkok.

When I saw the city, the people and surrounding it felt like I was still in Manila except that I can’t understand their language or the words written on the signs and billboards.

My mentor accompanied me in Bangkok and formally introduced me to my new boss, Khun Angie who I can say is a pleasant lady even meeting just for the first time. She only had over a week to train me and turnover some of the existing responsibilities. I must admit I was scared and worried if I can do the job well once she takes her maternity leave.

Fortunately, with the grace of God and the help of my supportive colleagues, I was able to do good (I think) until she returned. In the past 4 years I’ve been in Thailand I felt I was not an “alien” because my boss and colleagues are all kind and supportive and treated me as their own and not see me as a foreign Pinoy working in their country. They’ve also helped me grow as a person in terms of having more maturity now, gaining more confidence and having better business sense.

Over the years, I’ve also met  Filipino friends who are working and living in Bangkok like me. It is very hard to be in a foreign land by yourself but I believe my Pinoy friends helped me a lot to overcome home-sickness and in times I need some personal (or psychological?) help. LOL.

There are some who had come and go. Some are now based somewhere or back to the Philippines. Nothing is permanent in this world anyway. However the experiences we shared (whether good or bad) made our bond stronger.

Surely, tomorrow or in the longer future I would meet more new friends and I would welcome that opportunity as well.

I’ve also been to a lot of nice places in Thailand. I still have more places to go and definitely I will seize the opportunity to travel more whenever I can.

4 Years is too long for many, too short for some. As for my case, I now consider Thailand as my second home having stayed here quite long enough. I still don’t know how long I will still be working and living in Bangkok as I don’t know what will happen in the future.

But as the saying goes, Enjoy it while it lasts.

Over the years, I’ve gained some and also lost some but overall I can say I am blessed being here.

Kob Khun Krap Thailand! Looking forward to more great experiences here.

P.S. In the 4 years I’ve been here I think I only can speak the common phrases like “Sawadee Krap” and “Kob Khun Krap” which is a pity. Ha ha ha.

Honor and Excellence

While I was trying to watch some videos of Philippine TV programs in Pinoy Channel.TV I came across a video of Prof. Winnie Monsod addressing University of the Philippines (UP) Students.

It seems she is talking to freshmen of the University by the way she talked.

I always admired Prof. Winnie’s eloquence, courage and integrity. She is definitely an iron lady..and she knows what she is doing and what she is talking about.

Back to that video, the beginning part of her talk is encouraging the students to take pride of being part of UP, the Philippines’ best University. Truly being an alumnus of UP is something to be proud of and can be considered an achievement in itself.

She also told the students to give something back to the country because it is the people of the Philippines who had paid (or partially paid) for their tuition fees being a university scholar or so-called Iskolar ng Bayan.

I myself used to be an Iskolar ng Bayan and its true that our fees are highly subsidized considering we are getting quality education though I think the tuition fee of State Universities are getting higher and higher these days.  At any rate, even if we are paying low fees, there is no reason not to study hard and earn a diploma.

She encouraged everyone in the audience to stay in the Philippines after graduation and work in the country. This is one way of giving back to the society. She asked everyone to make that commitment or else she will haunt them even on death (not sure it is half meant, hahaha).

One part that I don’t agree much with Prof. Winnie is her statement which I quote:
“And if any of you have, mga little ambitions of going abroad so that you can earn more, please disabuse yourself, because by doing that you are essentially betraying the people in the Philippines who trusted you and invested their money in you”.

Ouch!

Am I really a traitor by being an OFW?

I don’t know if it is her way of trying to convince the students to stay put in the country, what with the thousands and thousands of brains being drained out of the country for decades now.  But I find it quite unfair for OFW’s like me who is just trying to earn a decent living overseas.

Yes, we must work in our country to help in its recovery but if there is no better job so where do we go? By working abroad, it entails a lot of sacrifices with every penny that we earn.

I would rather put it this way…it is better to work overseas and “betray” my country if I am earning decently and righteously than staying put in the country but in the process stealing the Filipino’s money through corruption.

Many of us working overseas are trying to give honor while striving for excellence. This is our way of giving back to the country while in the process helping our families.

Just my thoughts..anyway, overall her talk is very informative, encouraging and sensible. And I would always admire her.

Full video here:

http://www.philippinechannel.tv/watch/v-239562?title=Honor%20and%20Excellence

Pumasyal sa Pilipinas kahit puno na ang Jeep…

Many Tourism promotions always highlight that the Philippines has 7,107 islands…Too many islands to explore right? But the million peso question is “Where are all the Tourist gone?”  According to a tourism report, tourist arrival grew to 5.2 million. This is actually a positive sign if compared to the past years but I believe this figure includes Balikbayans or Overseas Filipinos visiting Philippines for Holidays. So even with the positive figure, why does it sound like I am whining?

Thailand enjoys over 14 Million visitors a year, Singapore in March alone enjoyed a brisk arrival of 928,000 and projects tourist arrival to 12.5 million at the end of this year especially with the opening of new Integrated resorts like Resorts World Sentosa and Marina Bay Sands. Malaysia tops the list of SEA countries in terms of visitor’s arrival at about 21.5 Million in 2009.

Figures don’t  lie ayt?

Why am I highlighting these facts? Simply because the Philippines has all the factors to be the Tourism Haven in Southeast Asia (perhaps even whole Asia).

1.) We are the 2nd largest English-speaking nation in Asia (2nd to India). Everywhere you go even on the boondocks, locals can more or less communicate or understand English. Very Tourist friendly. In Thailand, some of those working in the hotels or restaurants cannot converse fluently in English. But Tourist still flock.

2.) We have the Sun, Sea, Sand and smiles. Activities and attractions are endless. Boracay still remains a big draw to tourist with its talcum powder-like sand and party atmosphere all day and night. Palawan is simply the best and so is Bohol, and Batanes, and Camiguin and Cebu and Davao..the list goes on and on.

3.) We are a melting pot of cultures. It’s true some countries have very strong and easily recognizable culture and heritage like that of China, India, Japan, Thailand. However our uniqueness lies on so many cultures and traditions to explore and experience at such a smaller place than the former mentioned places.

4.) We have several of the biggest shopping malls in the World. The newly renovated SM City North EDSA is the 3rd biggest mall in the world. SM Mall of Asia, SM Megamall and many others are also included in the biggest mall list.  Why simply can’t we be the Shopping Haven of Asia? Why are so many Pinoy businessmen into retail business buy clothes and accessories in Bangkok, Hong Kong or mainland China?

5.) Our country has the geographic advantage.  We are in the heart of Asia and the Pacific. Easily accessible to the rest of the world.

On the other hand, there are also critical reasons why we do not get the numbers that we want:

1.) Lack of infrastructure- our Airports and sea ports cannot compete with our neighbors. Singapore, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Incheon Airports are highly recognized for efficient service, cleanliness and all the awards you can think of. Not to mention the size of these airport are simply humongous. Our road network also needs face lift. Few years ago, I was on the way to the Underground River in Puerto Princesa. The scenery is simply breath taking if not out of this world. Imagine a river traversing under a mountain and tourist is underneath this mountain for about 45 minutes going in and another 45 minutes going out. Really awesome. But to reach that spot, you have to travel by land for about 2 hours from the city and an hour of which is on a very bumpy road. The tour guide would always joke it is a natural body massage cos you are literally shaken and twisted by the rough road. Even thousands of tourist flock the Underground River, the road badly needs cementing or even asphalt for many years now.

Our public transport like MRT, LRT and even Bus or Jeepney transport are not tourist friendly. Either it is too crowded, or needs to be pulled to the garage especially a lot of public Buses and taxis.

2.) Lack of Promotion. Some months ago, I was dining in a Seafood Restaurant in Bangkok with a friend and beside our table are a couple of Hong Kong citizens. We tried to be friendly and asked if it is their first time in Bangkok and what is the purpose of their trip. We were surprised on their answer. They said it was not their first time and the purpose of their trip is just to eat Seafoods! WTF! Eating seafoods but you have to spend on airfare, hotel and travel 3 hours? But it is understandable because seafood in Hong Kong is very expensive. They can enjoy seafood dinner ever day or night while they are in Bangkok but the price is nothing compared to having just one full seafood meal in their country. And Thailand is actually earning a lot on Culinary Tourism. Cooking schools in Chiang Mai are very popular. Thai cuisine has been one of the factors why tourist visit this country.

Malaysia is very good in their PR campaigns to promote their tourist spots. Every time I meet a foreigner and I told them I am from Philippines or Manila, they usually ask me, what can you do in Manila or Philippines? Is Manila in an Island or near the beach? Many other questions. It is due to the fact that our Tourism related campaign is either insufficient or lacking of magnets to lure the tourists.

3.) Traveling in the Philippines is expensive. It is good now that Cebu Pacific has started the trend of budget airfare across the country which paved the way for the healthy growth of Domestic Tourism. Hotel accommodations in tourist spots in the Philippines are very expensive and so are foods and souvenirs in these areas. Going back to my story earlier about the couple traveling to Bangkok just to eat, I believe many of our fresh sea foods are being exported to Hong Kong, Japan, China and nearby countries wherein the prices if served on the table are triple or quadruple than the local price before being sent overseas. If we can only find a way for these seafoods or even fruits to be enjoyed here in the Philippines and no need to be sent for export, not only will the prices be cheaper but everyone will be able to enjoy (tourist and locals alike). If tourist go to the Philippines, airlines will be full, hotels will be occupied, restaurants can cook. Many establishments will benefit.

There are many more advantage and disadvantages. Maybe my blog is not enough. However, I still believe our country is great and we can show it to the world. The Aquino administration is coming in and there was a recent controversy about a rumor that President-elect Noynoy Aquino is considering Talent Manager, Boy Abunda to become the next Department of Tourism Secretary which got some nods and some flak from supporters and critics alike. But come to think of it, why not put former DOT Secretary Richard Gordon in this post again? Not so familiar if the law would allow it, but if this is possible then he is the best man for this post since he is outgoing Senator anyway and I believe he performed well during his stint in the DOT or even at Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority. Btw, He was my Presidential bet. Unfortunately, he lost.

Tourism is very important. Tourism creates business. Tourism brings money to our coffers and contributes to our GDP. I just wish the time would come that tourist arrivals will full our sights to the rafters similar to the picture above..and so us OFW will not have to work abroad cos many jobs are waiting for us.

So bring in the millions (of tourists).  🙂

Of life’s ironies, indifferences and importance

The other day I was in POEA to secure my Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC). I asked the Security Officer on duty where I was supposed to go to have this certificate. I was told to go straight ahead to a big and enclosed office inside the main building. It was still early in the morning (around 8 am) but the room was very crowded with OFW’s trying to get the same paper for clearance before they leave the country. Fortunately, the room is air conditioned and has many seats available. There was even a booth that offers fast service with an option for home delivery of the certificate at an added fee which I believe is reasonable enough if compared to the time you need to spend to queue and wait for your number to be called. The certificate reached our home as promised, within 24 hours…

This is totally the opposite scenario when last year I tried securing my certificate as first time OFW. We were asked to sit outside the building. Yes, it was covered but the summer sun makes it scorchingly hot and unfortunately, no electric fans were available. We had to sit there for more than 2 hours because 1.) we had to be there early so we can be the first in line and since they have cut-off in number of applications to be processed per day you have to be there before 8 am 2.) there was a flag ceremony that day so we had to wait before we were allowed entry inside the building.

Upstairs, there was a waiting area (again covered but no airconditioning unit available). There was a big industrial fan but is not oscillating so only those few fortunate applicants in front of the fan do not feel the heat which is actually suffocating because of the enclosed space. The seats in that room were  dilapidated and ready to retire any time. After another 1.5 hours of waiting, my number was finally called to be evaluated then I had to attend the PDOS and all other requirements prior to payment.

What am I trying to point out in these 2 scenarios which is basically 12 months apart?  I personally feel there was a sort of discrimination in the application process. If this Government agency can provide a nice, air conditioned room with sufficient seats available then why not give this “privilege” to all applicants? Why give “special treatment” to returning OFW’s only?

I have no objections whatsoever about this “privilege”, as I feel we OFW’s should be given due treatment considering the major contribution of our remittances to the country’s economy. However, I feel this standard should be given to all citizens without any questions or hesitations. I hope my assumption about discrimination in this office is wrong but true or not, I definitely feel the need to improve our Civil service.

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 We’ve heard about Alec Baldwin’s unfavorable remark about Filipinas being tagged as mail-order brides in David Letterman’s show.

Recently, Chip Tsao branded the Philippines as a Nation of Servants.

In an episode of Desperate Housewives, Teri Hatcher questioned the credibility of Filipino Doctors..

Then everyday, somewhere in the world, OFW’s and Filipino Immigrants are working their ass out to avoid discrimination in the workplace or thecommunity and to prove to the world that Filipinos are world-class and should not be belittled.

The list gets longer and longer….

Everytime we hear such stories, we Filipinos tend to unite and speak out to rebuke those negative remarks or impressions. We are doing all our damn best(est to the highest level) so that one day, the world will recognize the Philippines as a great nation with exceptional citizens. 

Isn’t it ironic that while other Filipinos are doing all these efforts to prove our detractors wrong, here comes a new scandal that would again, tarnish the reputation of Filipinas and sadly, the perpetrators are Filipinos themselves… It is about the Sex Video of Hayden Kho and the ladies- Katrina Halili and Maricar Reyes. The culprit who spread out the video on the internet is unknown yet but there were speculations that it is someone close to the Pervert Doctor.  Yes, porn is everywhere but instances such as these adds up to the negative impression of us Filipinos. 

Instead of exerting efforts to spread out videos such as these which would definitely destroy the reputation of the people involved, why not use our energy and resources to spread to the world the accomplishments of Filipinos such as Manny Pacquiao and Charice Pempengco. Surely their videos will not cost PHP 2 Million (as what the price of the Sex scandal video was reported to have been sold) but it’s about time we bring back our dignity and respect so we Filipinos can be important in the eyes of the world…

Is Philippines really a nation of servants?

There was a big outrage from Philippine Politicians and Migrant workers about an article written by a Hong Kong writer named Chip Tsao published in HK Magazine naming the Philippines “A Nation of Servants”.

Is this tag so alarming? Do you find servitude a degrading task? This issue is debatable and has long been a cause of public outburst for many times in the past. For me, the tag when I first heard it– is really disturbing, annoying and totally uncalled for. However, as I think deeper I saw a different perspective so I have to say that the Philippines tagged as “A Nation of Servants” is really nothing to be ashamed of. I view it the same as the Half-filled glass vs. Half Empty glass principle. Now you may ask me why I don’t consider his article too degrading.

Below are my opinion on the matter:

1.) Yes, there are many Migrant Filipinos who work as Domestic Helpers, Construction Workers, Entertainers and Sales Clerks in most part of the world. They earn meager salary and usually belong to the lower class of the society.However, we have to acknowledge that these people make the daily lives of the families, companies and entities they are working for easier. Everytime I recall the article published in Arab News titled “Imagine a World without Filipinos” it inspires me and makes me proud to be a Filipino. This article so clearly defined the importance of Filipino workers in the society.

2.) There is really nothing to be ashamed of if you are working as a Domestic Helper, Construction Worker and the like. If you are sent overseas with full documentation and done through legal procedures, then by all means be proud of yourself and your work. More importantly, you are helping your family to have better lives and the Philippine economy in general with your monthly remittances. Even if a doll was depicted in your likeness wearing a Governess outfit, you have every right to put your head up as you are doing a good and decent job.

3.) Thailand is a very popular tourist destination. Thai brand of Hospitality is even synonymous to world-class service with a smile. Now, if we are talking about the Hotel business, all the top hotels claim to have modern amenities, luxurious decor, homey ambience…everyone try to upgrade or renovate their rooms as often as they can to beat the competition. But what is the thin line between a normal deluxe hotel and a superb hotel? It is their service. A Hotel may have the fanciest room decor but if the service is terrible, expect business to go down soon especially in this era of Trip Advisor, one bad comment about the service of the hotel can spell disaster.

The Keyword to all the above is SERVICE. As a Nation of Servants, it is our underlying advantage which can make the Philippines a key Tourism as well as Industrial Destination if we make it consistent in all sectors of the society.

Now the question is– Are we only settling for the tag “A Nation of Servants”? I think more appropriately, we should aim for the Philippines to be tagged “A Nation of World-Class Servants and Leaders”.

We have a surplus of intelligent minds but only if these minds work out something good and productive instead of making dishonesty and corruption their main principles in life, then we can produce outstanding Leaders that can be  recognized and idolized the world over.