Tuesday, December 11, 2007


One of my favorite things about multinational assignments is, well, its very definition - the opportunity to work with people from different places. That leads to a rare treat that I hardly ever get to enjoy back home, insulting one another nationality.

- While at work

Scotsman - I can't understand this. It seems to be written by a Filipino.
Filipino - I heard that Scots learn to read at a later age than most.
Englishman - Yeah, like 40.

- Discussing that rare treat for the economy class traveller
American - I've never been upgraded to business class.
Englishman - That's because they know you're an American, and can't appreciate it.

- After getting into an accident and coming to work with a bandage on my face
Scotsman - I don't know much about Filipinos. Aren't you all on boats?
Englishman - I'd be careful, he fights. Look at him.
Filipino - Yeah, when the immigration officer denied my application for asylum, I took exception.
Scotsman - Well, if you gave (the Englishman) over there as a reference, I'm not surprised they denied you. You should feel fortunate that they didn't lock you up.

To be fair though, that last comment is close to the truth for 2 of my British colleagues.

One Scot just returned from a Caribbean cruise, and he mentioned that the majority of the crew were Filipinos, and seemed to be well appreciated and tipped by the other vacationers.

The Englishman related that his first work experience with Filipinos was while working with a supply boat company in Nigeria. Part of his duties was to go out and inspect the various boats, mostly with Filipino crews. On one trip, he found a chiller filled with beer and he straightaway informed the crew that it was against regulations to drink on board. The crew chief replied with a straight face that no, they don't drink on board. He smiled and asked the Englishman if he would care to have one. Carry on the, the Englishman said. He said to me that the Filipinos stood out for making him feel so welcome.

I treasure these moments and stories, that make one feel more unique and less alone all at the same time.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Away Again

This is the first of the couple dozen weekends I can look forward to in Aberdeen, the location of my latest job assignment. This posting is so far the most distant from the land where I was born, a tropical place of palm trees, heat, and humidity.

Aberdeen is in the northeast of Scotland, on the coast facing the North Sea. A summer here means overcast skies and almost certain rain, with perhaps a few hours of direct sunlight.

Woods, low hills, and farms with sheep and cattle surround the city.

Aberdeen is renowned as the granite city of Scotland, and it obligingly looks the part, from the road of King Street, close where I stay, to the bar and restaurant haven of Belmont Street.

The square at Castlegate

Marischal College, the second largest granite building in the world.

Shops and pubs fill the listed buildings of Belmont Street

The similar hues of the streets, structures, and sky certainly aren’t the most immediately enchanting.
As with any place, once must take a closer look to appreciate the different textures and to find the vibrancy in the people themselves and in the things they chose to have around them.
Union Street and the surrounding area form the main retail district.

As one may expect in England, and apparently farther north as well, there are many gardens, public and private.

The people of Aberdeen supported the Scotish resistance against the English, led by Scotland's greatest hero, William Wallace. This statue of the man, overlooking the Union Terrace Gardens, below, presents a more fashionable figure than the woolly and wild-haired character played by Mel Gibson.

The Gordon Highlander museum presents the history of a distinguished military unit that was formed for the Napoleanic Wars and has served the Kingdom for the next 200 years.

The people of Aberdeen may be more fortunate than most to be able to live with so much of their history around them.

And I can’t help but appreciate a place that puts so much thought into their drinking establishments

If one must admit to anything illicit, it may as well be this one.

There are other adventures and attractions throughout Scotland, even other than a plate of haggis, neeps, and taties, and I hope to visit them in time.
Other pictures are located here

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

There is a Season

The mid-term election season in the Philippines is this May and the topic once again turns to the supposed dearth of inspiring or even qualified candidates for the Philippine Senate and other offices. This tri-annual exercise of wailing and gnashing of teeth normally revolves around the following themes:

  • Nationally known but unqualified candidates
  • Traditional politicians and their relatives
  • Political turncoats.

The common conclusions after griping about any or all of these points are:

  • The country is destined to be run by fools who were voted in by imbeciles
  • The elections are a waste of time for any thinking individual because they are dominated by unthinking ones
  • One should leave the country for somewhere else, preferably where they appreciate critical thinking.

I can understand those conclusions from someone who was not able to receive a quality life in the Philippines, like access to housing, food, education, employment, media such as TV and newspapers, and so on. To get those reactions from someone who went to the same or a similar university to where I graduated from is simply embarrassing.

The university I attended was comparatively heavy on liberal arts courses, such as theology, philosophy, and history. The focus was on providing the students with the tools for critical thinking, to equip them not only with knowledge but also with a reasoned faith. The university was also the third most expensive in the country, increasing the likelihood that the best learning resources – cable TV, personal computers, internet connections, trips to other provinces or other countries – were available to the students.

For one to come to the conclusions listed above is to forget all about history and political theory, critical reflection and reasoning.

To avoid limiting officials to members of a particular class, our constitution requires pretty much only citizenship, residency, and literacy to qualify for an elected position. It's simply insensible to bitch about traditional politicians and actors at the same time, since that would imply espousing two opposing ideas.

Besides, what makes Manny Pacquiao, one who worked his way through national and international ranks to become one of the best and most profitable in his profession, any less eligible than a lawyer or a doctor? And we’re hardly unique, with the USA’s former actors (Arnold Schwarzenegger), wrestlers (Jesse Ventura), and, yes, basketball players (Bill Bradley). A notable example is Italy’s Ilona Staller, a former porn star.

Any reasonable evaluation of our previous elected officials would have to be done on their actions once they assumed office. For example, Ferdinand Marcos graduated from the prestigious University of the Philippines College of Law and topped the bar exam.

The essence of politics and governance, especially in a democracy, is to compromise between diverse and in many cases, opposing, interests. These interests may be any or a combination of class, sex, ideology, religion, or region. Shifting alliances and goals are an indivisible part of this activity, especially over decades. This was true with Manuel Quezon, Sergio Osmena, and Jose Laurel, who plotted with and against one another constantly and yet they are all accounted as among our greatest leaders. This twisting and turning are certainly true and no less valid in our own time, if one cares to note the careers of Jose De Venecia, Juan Ponce Enrile, and Blas Ople.

Furthermore, the unending dominance of political families tends to decrease or is absent in economically progressive areas. Compare Surigao del Norte, with brothers for governor and congressman, and Dinagat, with the related governor, congressman, and mayor of the capital. In Batangas, the governor, four congressmen, and mayors of the three chartered cities don't share any last names.

Perceived performance is also a factor. Closer to home, in the 2004 elections for the mayoralty of Quezon City, the first term incumbent, Sonny Belmonte, crushed the previous mayor, Mel Mathay. This was attributed to the difference in the city's delivered services and collected revenues during Belmonte's first term and Mathay's prior three terms. The same is said for the Fernando's dominance of Marikina City.

Why should we think that the pace of improvement is unacceptably slow? Elections are aptly described as a political exercise. PE is a worthy subject if only to teach us there is incremental progress after numerous and regular repetition. What can you expect if you go to the gym once every three years? We’ve been at it only since 1945, and we’ve had our limits on our membership between 1972 and 1986. Put it another way, Americans has been at it every four years since 1789, and they’d be the first to say that they don’t always get it right.

What is sad is that all this information is available for us to see and we have been instructed of how to use this information to come up with reasoned conclusions. What gives us the right to deplore the decisions and abilities of our less affluent and educated countrymen when we ourselves, with all our access to knowledge and opportunity, so easily retreat to mourning and weeping in our valley of tears?