OFW story (part 2)
By ACC Delen
Don’t talk to other Filipinos outside of work when you get here.” This was the advice that I got from a Filipino co-worker on my first week in Shanghai, China back in 2009. Being new to the country and not understanding a lick of the language, it was a piece of advice that puzzled me to no end. Who was I going to talk to then? I shouldn’t have worried because for the first year, I literally had to work 7 days a week that I neither had the time nor the inclination to talk to anyone unless I was teaching or interviewing. Luckily for me, I met a cheerful and slightly irreverent Ilonga who did the exact opposite and talked to every kababayan (countryman) we met wherever we went.
From these conversations, I found stories that almost every Overseas Filipino worker the world over could identify with. These stories speak of the adaptability and the indomitable spirit not only of the Filipino people but of everyone who has the courage to take a leap and go beyond their comfort zones in search of a different if not a better life. This brings us then to O.F.W story # 2.
Mary (not her real name) found herself in Shanghai through a recruiter who assured her and other group of applicants that they will have jobs waiting for them once they get to China. Sound familiar? It should, because it is a situation that was the stuff of stories when Filipinos first realized that working abroad did not only mean working in the U.S of A. With the encouragement of an acquaintance who also hails from her area and the additional motivation of the possibility of a stronger earning power, Mary and her group handed over their hard earned savings to the recruiter and bravely took the plunge. They arrived in Shanghai in the last quarter of 2005 only to find out that while there were indeed jobs, they had to look for it themselves. With only a three month business visa, they needed to find jobs fast! Despite being a licensed teacher in the Philippines, she eventually found herself working as a server in a popular bar frequented by foreigners, at the check-out counter of a grocery chain patronized by foreigners, then eventually landing a job teaching English as Second Language at a language center. That was where I met her when I too left my job in the Philippines for a different life. By then, Mary had already succeeded in not only bringing her husband to Shanghai but also several relatives. As of this writing, Mary, her husband, a brother-in-law, and several cousins are all there toiling away for themselves and their kin in the Philippines.
Let me digress a bit. Have you noticed anything…a pattern in Mary’s tale aside from the familiar story of sponsoring relatives once one has found a stable situation abroad? The other one is the fact that the jobs she’d found are related to her ability to speak the English language. Yes, it was and still is an advantage. This is something that I could not emphasize enough. Once upon a time, the Philippines was the only English speaking country in Asia. That distinction, like most other advantages we ever have had over our neighboring countries have systematically been flushed down the drain.
The Koreans, Chinese, and Japanese to name a few are spending good money in order to learn English as a Foreign Language and are more than happy to achieve a survival English but here we are teaching content in the Mother Tongue to future generations. How is that preparing them for the international job market? Oh sure, people wearing blinders like the horses pulling carriages in some areas of Binondo could say that we do not need to look for jobs overseas. This is pure horse*%#t! Do you know what the most ironic part of all this is? Many of the jobs we have locally require applicants to be able to speak good (neutral accent) and grammatically correct English! Just ask any TEFL teacher from the many language centers around or an agent from the call centers catering to off shore accounts.
Anyway, going back to Mary. Despite the fact that we’ve both left the employ of the language center we both first worked in, we remained friends. Her family is where I go to when I have a hankering for adobo (she cooks a mean adobo) or pinikpikan. Her husband who majored in criminology back in college is now an expert mixologist who moonlights as a fitness instructor on the side. Everyone in her family in Shanghai works for the service industry except for Mary who continues to pursue her passion in teaching. Guess what she teaches?
You might ask whether I followed the piece of advice at the beginning of this piece, well, I took it with a grain of salt. After all, if there is anything that the past decade has taught me, no man is an island. Especially when one is living abroad by oneself. Just be careful who you trust and that goes for everyone…not just Filipinos. People are people regardless of race, color, and greed. **