That Expat Title

According to my handy dictionary, expat is an adjective that means living in a foreign land.

The previous article I posted doesn’t ring true for me. I am a Filipino expat because I’m living in a country other than the Philippines. People around me here call me an expat. My classification in school is an “expat”. I’m no immigrant. I get expat treatment like my American colleagues. If we enjoy the same privileges, I won’t know but I’d like to think so. Although according to my experience, I am wary now.

At which point that article rings true for me now. The title “expat” isn’t the issue here. It’s the indirect racism. The word “expat” is used sparingly with coloured people because it has superiority attached to it, and whether we like it or not, especially in places where it was colonized by Westerners, which are, bluntly speaking, the Third World countries (they colonize us and they won’t let us in their countries via visa restrictions – funny).

The word denotes privilege. When I was a child, I grew up in a place where expats outnumber the locals, so being an expat wasn’t different. I grew up with a consciousness that foreigners are locals though: my neighbors were Germans, Japanese, Canadians, etc. My parents were sort of local expats though, and they were in a tough spot: they were not from the same island as the locals. They didn’t know anyone, and since they came from the capital Manila, they spoke Tagalog which is deemed more superior than the dialect. They do not have the same values as the locals and that made them stand out, and standing out in a sea of similar-looking people sharing the same kind of ethnicity is a breeding ground for jealousy and backbiting. My parents did not want to retire there.

See when you are uprooted from your hometown or home country, the leaders (or at least the smart people) understand that you have no support being an import. No family, no house, no friends. You have to adjust to new cultures, new places, new food; maybe even time zones. It’s not easy. So managers/leaders give out “perks” like housing, settlement allowances, earlier home time and holiday allowances to compensate the lack. You are treated to first class facilities and treated to the best parties because your host is showing off his country. You are most probably in the company of leaders and movers in the industry themselves because, well, leaders have to move places to move people and companies. And locals only see the “perks” because they want it, too.

And in Asia, whether we like to admit it or not, the culture of caste system is very much alive, thanks to having centuries of colonial rule. Colonial rule meant having the white people (colonizers) being superior, and more powerful. The natives don’t have ANYTHING. Now you know why Asians have the penchant for skin whitening products. All if it, even the concept of beauty, boils down to power.

So if an Asian comes over to work on a white country, I would understand the discrepancy of the white-coloured labeling of expat: do you want your slave to have that power? What’s worse is that the Westerners don’t label the Asians like that. It’s the Asians who label their fellow Asians. The Asians, with our very strange non-confrontational, everything-is-okay-but-you’re-treated-like-shit culture, can be very difficult to deal with because of this ingrained racism.

I am lucky because I can speak Engish better than most people here, if not, my dark skin and curly hair would have proved to be a disadvantage, because, hey, I look like a real Asian – not worthy to have “perks”.

Happy Valen — Chinese New Year (Or How Asia Screws Up My Holidays)

Last night, I had cereal for dinner. Now that’s not bad, in fact, that was a norm once upon a time. But I’m really trying to have a healthy and balanced diet these days so a bowl of Rice Krispies doesn’t really cut it. I had to shop for food.

I got stoked because it’s Valentine’s Day! In my world, Valentine’s Day means Valentine’s Day Sales, and that includes food, particularly chocolate. It’s treat time for me. I don’t care for flowers or candle-lit dinners… I’m more practical. With Ash and I, we spent our last Valentine’s together on a beach in Thailand eating falafels for 60 Baht. It was the greatest Valentine’s Day ever. (Then again everyday together for us is like Valentines lol)

The point is, for me, Valentine’s is a normal day with awesome sales that you’re supposed to give to your partner. Well, screw that, I’ll buy those stuff for myself. They’re nice, especially the food. Heart boxes of Ferrero Rocher for half the price! McVitie’s dark chocolate digestives on a buy one take one! Gimme some of that!

So I woke up in the morning, cleaned the house, and it was time for food shopping! Ack! I went to the shop. I opened the door. I saw red and they weren’t love hearts.

Oranges. Stacks of them.  In boxes. My world went “whaaaaat?” My sweet dreams — crushed by reality called Chinese New Year. No more sales. So I moved slowly across the aisles, wondering about how different I am to the rest of these people. My reality isn’t compatible to this. I want love hearts instead of red, round lanterns. This is false. I expected to see roses, chocolates and jewelry along the shopping arcades, not dragons.

I felt really fragmented then. You see, I’m Asian. I’m Filipino. I should belong to this reality because, well, Chinese New Year is Asian; but no, I felt super alienated.

Chinese New Year isn’t new to me, we celebrate it in the Philippines by having token promos for it in shops, like buy one take one on luxury rice cakes, and maybe one section of the shop decorated in red and gold with angpaos and dragons. I’m part Chinese as well, but back at home, it’s Valentines that paints the town red. News programs don’t report news at this time, instead they run news features on how to spend valentine’s day if you’re on a budget.

I know should not impose my culture on another country but I fully expected that Valentine’s, like Christmas, is omnipotent. In Indonesia as well, where there is a lot of Catholics – I work in a Catholic school for Chrissake (then again it’s not run by nuns or priests which is kind of a no-no in the Philippines. Hm. Culture).

In my utter disappointment, I wandered to the local fruit section marveling at their weirdness thinking, hey these weird fruits belong to my circle of being strange. Instantly I thought, damn these strange fruits aren’t weird, they are the normal. Awkwaaaaaard.

I also asked myself – why is my notion of fruit apples, bananas and oranges – when they were all imported back in the Philippines (except for the banana of course). Why can’t atis be my mental image when I think of fruit. Guyabano. Chico. Buko!

Fragmented again.

These are those days where I don’t know how it means to be Filipino. Is it me, or are the rest of the Filipinos as fragmented as I am? I’m really confused. But, the good thing is, I know I can be an individual because I can’t define my social group. I’m happy with that because I have always been the weird kid since kindergarten. I have my rules and live by them because the sense of individuality is the best gift you can give yourself.

Then I hear the ubiquitous “Gong xi gong xi gong xi a mis” song being played, then the next thing you know a dragon dance is being performed in the shop. I couldn’t even get a proper picture because people were enthusiastic for them blurring my shots. Everything stops in the shop. Can’t pay, can’t weigh. You have to watch. I did. It was nice. But I walked away from that party as soon as I can and entered another grocery. It was sedate, even with red lanterns all over it.

And the best part, Zero 7’s In The Waiting Line is playing. I belong here.