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”.


Why are white people expats when the rest of us are immigrants?

This article originally appeared in The Guardian


In the lexicon of human migration there are still hierarchical words, created with the purpose of putting white people above everyone else. One of those remnants is the word “expat”.

What is an expat? And who is an expat? According to Wikipedia, “an expatriate (often shortened to expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country other than that of the person’s upbringing. The word comes from the Latin terms ex (‘out of’) and patria (‘country, fatherland’)”.

Defined that way, you should expect that any person going to work outside of his or her country for a period of time would be an expat, regardless of his skin colour or country. But that is not the case in reality; expat is a term reserved exclusively for western white people going to work abroad.

Africans are immigrants. Arabs are immigrants. Asians are immigrants. However, Europeans are expats because they can’t be at the same level as other ethnicities. They are superior. Immigrants is a term set aside for ‘inferior races’.

Don’t take my word for it. The Wall Street Journal, the leading financial information magazine in the world, has a blog dedicated to the life of expats and recently they featured a story ‘Who is an expat, anyway?’. Here are the main conclusions: “Some arrivals are described as expats; others as immigrants; and some simply as migrants. It depends on social class, country of origin and economic status. It’s strange to hear some people in Hong Kong described as expats, but not others. Anyone with roots in a western country is considered an expat … Filipino domestic helpers are just guests, even if they’ve been here for decades. Mandarin-speaking mainland Chinese are rarely regarded as expats … It’s a double standard woven into official policy.”

The reality is the same in Africa and Europe. Top African professionals going to work in Europe are not considered expats. They are immigrants. Period. “I work for multinational organisations both in the private and public sectors. And being black or coloured doesn’t gain me the term “expat”. I’m a highly qualified immigrant, as they call me, to be politically correct,” says an African migrant worker.

Most white people deny that they enjoy the privileges of a racist system. And why not? But our responsibility is to point out and to deny them these privileges, directly related to an outdated supremacist ideology. If you see those “expats” in Africa, call them immigrants like everyone else. If that hurts their white superiority, they can jump in the air and stay there. The political deconstruction of this outdated worldview must continue.

Mawuna Remarque Koutonin is the editor of, where this blog was first published. Follow @siliconafrica on Twitter.

Join our community of development professionals and humanitarians. Follow@GuardianGDP on Twitter.

Why Teach Abroad?

Teaching, they say, is a noble profession.

I say teaching is like any other profession: it requires focus, professionalism, sacrifice and sense of humor. Where the noble part came from, I don’t know but for me that’s making the teaching profession look better than it should.

But I know I can say this of teaching though, that it’s not stagnant. Every day is a different day, it’s very social as you get to talk to people (little people), it’s creative because you can twist a lesson to suit your teaching style (not fully creative though as you have parameters to work on, thanks to the curriculum), and you get to be loved by children – priceless! Then of course, travel.

Before I started teaching, I thought the biggest perk was the holidays. I was wrong. Teaching proved to be quite stressful that you actually need to have holidays – like the children need holidays. It’s not a perk – it’s a must. But the other reasons are totally valid, it feels like you’re in the service sector but it’s more personal as you get to develop minds and people.

I grew up in an international setting and I knew I wanted to travel the world. I just didn’t know how. I tried to be a doctor because my psychiatrist-uncle travels around the world working for the United Nations, and it’s always an all expenses paid trip. I loved looking at this display cupboard full of turtle sculptures from Indonesia, glasses from Czech Republic, paintings from Japan – I want that.

So I went to medical school armed with a very different motivation compared to my classmates’ and of course, I flunked. Then I tried teaching in an international school. From medical school and the government office full of locals and the usual Filipino bureacracy, international school teaching for me was back to feeling at home. I can be weird and not judged because, hey, it’s cultural (I’m such a prick). I met various people there that honed my worldliness (hahaha). I get to learn about their culture and learned to be open and tolerant, and not to mention admire the diversity of it all!

My headteacher was from Honduras, the deputy principal was American, the English teacher was British, my Filipino friend there was an ASEAN tae kwon do athlete, the other one was brilliant SEN teacher/cougar and my best friend there was filthy rich and teaching was her hobby! It was colorful and fun. We were housed in a middle of a jungle and all we did after school was cook, go to the beach and play Nintendo wii.

In the next international I worked in, I met Ash. I grew from hanging out with friends to hanging out with my man, who happens to be of a different nationality from me! It is all about growth, and I’m lucky that I have someone I can share intimate details with and learn a different perspective while talking about it.

International schools put a premium on the diversity of cultures that there are always festivals to make the foreigners feel at home. You have to consider that these people left their comfort zone and that is one heck of a difficult thing to do, so you give them stuff to do and things to enjoy, and of course, more money.

I learned that everything changes when your title is an “expat”.

So that’s what I did. I moved countries.

It’s not the easiest thing to do because you just left your whole world but it’s a goddamn great experience to be treated really well (read: spoiled): We are always asked what we need, the owner of the schools treated us to different places (in Hatyai), we never got no for an answer whenever we make a request, may it be school supplies or travel itineraries. It’s so easy to get what you want because the company doesn’t want you unhappy because if you are, you might go home – and they spent a fortune on you! So they have to have a return of investment from you (which means the goodness you experience is fake lol).

However, to sum it all up, teaching internationally is a dream because I can develop my profession in strange and exciting places I wouldn’t thought I’d be in. In international schools, I work with excellent resources and having highly motivated kids make it easier to work. I also work with very compentent teachers because international schools have excellent standards. My adaptation and EQ skills are constantly tested. I know I am a more patient person now. And I can save more now, plus I have enjoy a different kind of respect from the locals, so that’s good. And of course I enjoy a lifestyle that enables me to dream and travel!

At the end of the day it is still a job, and because of the perks, you have to work hard to get to that level. But if you love what you’re doing, or at least you’re doing it for a purpose, you know you will do whatever it takes to be happy, and this is what it is.

Cost of Living: Thailand

I think it’s true if I say every expat wants to know if she can “survive in this new country with this salary”. It’s a smart question to ask after all, especially since your brain is still getting itself around the fact that your currency isn’t the same anymore. Truth be told, I still can’t get the fact that I’m a millionaire here in Indonesia (everyone is, don’t worry, I’m far from rich) because of their weird currency setup. It’s difficult paying your 2M groceries you know. All that paper. Damn. But I’m not complaining, gimme my millions!

Anyway, I think it’s worthy to have a cost of living article just to compare spending habits and lifestyles place to place. I know for a fact that my lifestyle has changed from being a yuppie, middle class bourgeois in Manila to being a backpacker teacher in Thailand to being a normal (I think) expat here in Indonesia. Add the fact that I am saving up for Europe at this point so there’s that.

Anyway, thank you to by the way for inspiring this post.

Currency references: 

33 Baht to one US Dollar
50 Baht to one Pound Sterling
37 Baht to one Euro
25 Baht to one Australian Dollar
0.74 Baht to one Philippine Peso

Working in Hatyai, TH

Monthly Earnings: 30, 000

Q1. How much do you earn from teaching per month?

I take home around 30,000 baht a month from my job as a Prenursery Teacher in a British School in Hatyai. I started at 25,000 but upon learning that my co-teacher who technically hasn’t graduated yet is earning 5,000 more (she’s Australian and I’m Filipino), I complained and got a raise. But everyone still got a raise so yeah, there’s that.

Q2. How much of that can you realistically save per month?

Nothing, really. I don’t know why, but even with my partner contributing to expenses, we constantly find ourselves with no savings. That’s because we are both settling in in that place. There’s always something to buy, like a blender or a toaster or a Scrabble. Plus we don’t skimp on food. And we eat well.

Q3. How much do you pay for your accommodation and what do you live in exactly (house, apartment, condo)?

My boyfriend and I rented a studio apartment for 6,000 a month.

Q4. What do you spend a month on the following things?

a) Transportation

My school is a 15 minute walk, so there’s nothing there but we go to the gym everyday and that takes 40 back and forth from the house for the two of us. So that’s automatically around 1,200 a month, not to mention trips to the mall on the other side of town and some emergency tuktuk rides when it gets too late. Let’s say 1,500.

b) Utility bills

We pay around 2,000 baht. We use a lot of aircon because the boyfriend works at home and it gets hot and humid in the day. At night we use the fan sometimes.

c) Food – both restaurants and supermarket shopping

We eat at home a lot because we are vegetarian but we treat ourselves to guilty pleasures like pizza, chips and burgers! Beer and whiskey also takes the budget, so let’s say around 14,000 (holy shit). That’s 2k a week on groceries so that’s 8k a month plus liquor and cigarettes.

d) Nightlife and drinking

Yeah as mentioned above liquor and cigarettes cost about 6,000.

e) Books, computers

Zero expenses because… piracy!

Q5. How would you summarize your standard of living in one sentence?

Pretty good but I know we have a lot of expenditures on luxuries like alcohol, etc. We should be saving more.

Q6. What do you consider to be a real ‘bargain’ here?

I think food is way, way cheaper here, if you are not choosy, like you can get your fill for 65 egg noodles (but not soul satisfying). Saying that, the usual Western food that I’m used to is an acquired taste here hahaha! So we pay an extra for premium Western Food. That’s why we cook at home. The boyfriend is an excellent cook but the imported ingredients for our culinary repertoire is quite pricey too. Oh well. Food is our weakness.

Q7. In your opinion, how much money does anyone need to earn here in order to survive?

I think 50,000 will be a really good minimum. In my mind, that will enable me to have my bourgeois MNL lifestyle which includes Starbucks, clothes and gifts to the boyfriend, travels PLUS SAVINGS.

Reasons Why I Love Thailand

One morning, I woke up up with a longing for Thailand. I don’t know why, but instead of getting homesick for the Philippines, I miss Thailand more.

I know Thailand has become a cliche for so many travelers, that if you are a “cool” one (read: hipster), you avoid it. True enough, Thailand is a magnet for backpackers and retirees. However, I had so many experiences in Thailand that has shaped me to who I am now. I have taken so much in terms of knowledge, and frankly, I think I have grown more in my nine months in that country compared to my sheltered twenty five years in my home country.

Why Thailand? It’s beautiful. Not physically, because it looks like the Philippines and they both look familiar, but the infrastructure: roads, internet (oh, internet), 7/11s, transportation, food – it’s really easy to live there. The culture? They don’t care about you, in fact, they turn their back to you when they know you can’t speak Thai. I thought that was rude at first but I adjusted to that. It’s soooo different to the Philippines where everyone would bend over for you to tend to your needs. I also find Buddhism refreshing at first because they weren’t as judgmental as Catholics. Oh and all the gold is pretty, even if your mind is telling you how outrageous it is to spend precious metal over monuments.

In Thailand, I learned how to live alone in a room without a fire exit thereby having me planning a fire escape route, with a landlady named Porn calling me at 6am to wake me up, and by 4 pm leave a bag of fruits on my door. I have buy food from the street (tricky for a vegetarian – so I learned a bit of Thai), open a bank account without actually speaking, move houses alone in a foreign country because the school didn’t help, travel locally in a different language (without interpreters at that – yay!).

I learned to live with my partner which was a welcome change from living alone but still a change nonetheless. I learned how to keep house (I need to improve on that) and with that I learned that small spaces are not easy to maintain because you tend to think, nah, it’s only small, easy to clean this – and never get around to doing it. I learned how to carry a microwave at the back of a motorbike because taxis didn’t exist in Hatyai and the tuktuks cost a lot for a 3 block drive. I learned to pack my life in two backpacks and needed to let go of unnecessary baggage, especially when you are traveling for a month in two countries. I learned how to move with a pack of visa runners, how fear of Thai immigration can bond a motley crew of foreigners begging their host country for a few more months to stay before the visa, and how quickly those bonds disintregrate when you get hold of your visa.

In Thailand I learned how to be patient, open and understanding. I had to be independent in more ways than I can imagine. I had to be dependent on my boyfriend when I thought I can do it alone. I appreciate living alone but enjoyed it with my partner. However, I know that I can’t live with anyone now, except him.

I have learned how my body works, especially with the lax Thai pharmaceutical laws. I didn’t have a medical insurance there but drugs and medicine were cheap and ubiquitous. I had WebMd on my fingertips, and the frustrated pharmacist just wants to give me what I want to send me away. I diagnosed myself and healed myself pretty well but the hormones I took for contraception didn’t work as expected. For a country that has a very sexy stereotype, I thought contraception was an easy part of life but hell, no.

I learned how I seem to appear to people, they think I am Thai. When Ash and I are together, they stare at us because I speak better English and they think: Thai? Not Thai? WTF?! Ash and I are pretty sure that they think we are a sex worker-sex tourist couple as well as with most Thai women – Western man stereotype. I had trouble with that at first but finally managed to say “fuck it, fuck them”. I have learned to communicate via charades and body language because of the language barrier. When words can’t say what I mean, I have to act what I mean then. It was tough but I had to do it.

I have learned my boyfriend’s love language, his little quirks, how his mind works in the wee hours of the morning, when he is jetlagged, when he is happy. I learned how to expect and not expect, how to talk to him and reach out. I have learned how to distance and give space and not be bothered about it (well, not as much as before). I learned that I enjoy him and his presence a lot that words are not enough for me to clearly paint the picture to you. I learned that it’s a different ball game when you’re apart and when you’re with each other. I learned to travel with him and found it very intimate because traveling strips you down to your core and it is during those moments of magic happen as you share your discoveries.

Thailand is very special to me. I can say that it’s my mentor. It challenges me A LOT and it’s not easy, but like a best friend, it will give you a good time through bad times. So cheers, and  kop kun kaa.

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.

Top Ten Signs That You’re A Jaded Expat

Originally posted on Asia Pundits by smurfystew

10. You make top 10 lists about the correct and proper ways for expats to live their lives while abroad.

9. You rage post about how backwards and stupid the country you are living in is on Facebook and in forums late at night while you are drunk, and then quietly delete the posts without comment in the morning before a local sees how deeply disaffected you are with their country.

8. You have taught the same dreary English lessons so many times at this point that you could do it in your sleep, and you sometimes do.

7. You keep saying to your friends that in just a few more years you’ll be going home. The sad truth is that you’ve told that same tired tale for the last decade and you have made no effort to leave. The reality of the situation is that you are a sucker for pain and are far too addicted to the scene at this point to go anywhere, even if you really wanted to. If you give up now, it would be like admitting defeat and you would have to return home in shame, and you certainly wouldn’t want that now, would you?

6. You work ten hours a week and feel that you are overworked and underpaid.

5. You know that the cheapest place in town to get hammered is the convenience store and you make very good use of these during the summer months. You visit the local convenience store so much that the staff there know you as “the drunken foreigner”.

4. You dream of a vacation on a beach that is six months off, knowing full well that if you just endure six more months of self-imposed hell, a solid month of pleasure and debauchery outside of your host country will be coming your way. “Only six more months, baby! Thailand here we come!”

3.  You constantly bitch about how boring your host country is, yet, you never make any attempt to get out of your house, let alone the city you are living in, to see what the country actually has to offer.

2. You have written a memoir or are writing a memoir about your life abroad and you actually believe people give a shit enough to read about your boring life.

1. You trawl the Internet in a desperate attempt to find out whether you are indeed a jaded expat or not.

Bonus points if you have ever been arrested, gone through a divorce, lost it all, including your sanity, or had to flee under the cover of darkness to avoid some very bad shit that was about to come your way.

Anything we missed? Feel free to add your own signs and symptoms in the comments section below.

How I Grew In My Travels

How Does Travel Change You?

In this context, however, the question is how did travel change me?

Let’s see. A year ago, when I was leaving for Thailand my mother told me that she can see herself in me when she was my age. Adventurous and stubborn. I laughed. She then added, “When you set your mind into something, not even me can change your mind. You have a mind of your own, so I’m letting you go”.

I cried. Then I cried harder when I was alone on that bus trip to Manila en route to Bangkok (it was good that the boyfriend was so encouraging during that trip. He was basically accompanying me throughout that journey and I couldn’t be more thankful). It’s not as if I haven’t left the nest. Ever since college I have been taking solo overnight bus trips from Manila to Naga. I didn’t use the dorms in college (I lived so close, plus I valued my space and freedom) but I had an apartment when I was in med school. I also lived alone in Manila when I taught there. I loved it all, the freedom and independence, but of course when shit hit the fan, I took a plane ride or a bus ride and go back to my parent’s loving arms.

My adulthood didn’t seem real for me. I needed a challenge, I wanted to grow.

Add to the fact that my boyfriend and I made some major decisions that would affect our relationship. At this point, I knew that I had to fly from the nest I grew up in and make my own nest, and more than anything, I want to be with Ash. He is my family now, and the distance we have between us sucks, so moving towards each other was the key.

What growth has that been for me. And then some. These are *some* more things that I have observed.

1. I have become more patient, open, generous, understanding among others. Basically I have become a better person (but not the best). Full stop. If I may say it out loud, you don’t have a choice: you are in a foreign place using other countries’ facilities, you’re a guest. How should a guest behave? Should I moan about how long it takes for an immigration officer to check my passport? Should I complain about the waiting time in a bus in a small town in Nowheresville, Cambodia en route to Siem Reap to see the Angkor Wat? No. Of course not. What if the immigration officer has a million of checkpoints to tick in my passport and it’s fucking complicated because their system is outdated? The officer is burdened and I don’t want to add up to that. What if the waiting time inside a cramped minivan is the way for all these drivers to make their income quota for the day or something? Should I complain about my discomfort at the expense of their dinners? When cultures are different, when standards are different, you have to empathize, you have to understand that the other person may not understand you.

2. Comfort zones are now an illusion. They say, “get out of your comfort zone” to make you grow. Ever since I got out of the Philippines, the word comfort zone seems like a running joke. I am comfortable in my skin, yes, I love myself more, I protect myself even better, I am mindful of my actions more than ever – but I have to say I still have to train myself in those areas – but comfort zones? If you find yourself as a stranger in a strange land, make no mistake, you will always have to be on your toes by at all times. For the first month in Thailand I think I relied on Valium and antihistamine to sleep well. You have to wear a mask of being pleasant all the time because you’re afraid your default surly face will be misinterpreted as disrespectful in their culture (I have been judged in my own country, why not here, you know what I mean?). When you are dealing with foreigners, the usual cultural context cues don’t work so you have to work hard analysing movements and actions and it affects your comfort. I am proud to say that I can live anywhere now, I think I have gotten the hang of not being too attached to a place and be comfortable in a relatively short time (less than 6 months?) which brings me to this…

3. I can pack my whole life in a backpack. Okay, honestly speaking, it’s 2 backpacks but I know if push comes to shove, I can throw shit away and take the best and the most important stuff in my fake 40L Deuter backpack I bought in Chatuchak. I am a hoarder, I buy stuff a lot. I made a big mistake in Thailand where I settled in very quickly and bought a stove, pans, plates and bowls, blender, coffee maker, Scrabble etc. I was excited because Ash was coming to live with me so the nesting part of me kicked in and in the end I had to leave them behind. I felt bad for it because I felt irresponsible and that I had just wasted our hard earned money. Now I am settling for a “borrowed” yellow umbrella from the reception area of my school now (I am not returning it until I leave this place in June). It has character with 2 spokes being broken but I couldn’t care less being labeled as the weird chick with a childish Winnie the Pooh umbrella because, fuck, an umbrella in the shop here is like, P500 when converted. WTF, is it made of carbon fiber??? Why too expensive? I’ll leave it here at the end of the day. Anyway the lesson is…
4. I have learned that there are no mistakes, but rather, prices of information. I have paid for the price of the information not to settle in so quickly on a place with the stove, pans, plates and bowls, blender, coffee maker, etc for maybe 20K baht. I have paid for the information that I can’t have a bank account in Indonesia because the school can’t provide me a KITAS now, so I have to use Western Union with steep transfer fees to pay my debts (to my mother). I had to pay the price of information by saying yes to a job (in Samui) without seeing the contract first. It is a way of living life without regrets, I think.

5. Self Confidence just grew. This is not true all the time because I have self-esteem issues. I am always too hard on myself and I fail to see how badass I actually am in other people’s eyes. I do realise that not many people do what I do: pack bags, leave the family, start anew and deal with foreign shit in a foreign land. The challenges you encounter while on the road (and off) help you buid a repository of experiences and stories that strengthen you. Damn I replaced a freaking ATM/debit card in a Thai bank without the teller and I speaking English. I don’t know how that happened but I am not complaining. I know I can walk the talk much better now, and I know I can effectively bullshit people by just flaunting that swag that I gained from (usually bad) experiences. If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger.

6. Self-love and being healthy. I have learned so much about my body because I don’t depend on doctors here as much as I had in the Philippines. Back in the Philippines, I would rush to the nearest clinic the first thing I notice something different in how I feel. One time I even went to the doctor for a rabies shot because my pet hamster bit me (she denied my request). I was kinda forced into this behaviour though, mainly because my employers in Thailand didn’t provide health insurance benefits by working for them. So I had to take care of it and observe my body for every change it has, and it made me love myself more. I know if my period is coming because of the changes in my body, I know not to disobey my body if it demands rest, I know to give in to my cravings mindfully, and I have learned to appreciate the gym. I know I have to eat vegetables ALL THE TIME now because of unforeseen allergies. They say you cannot love someone if you don’t know how to love yourself first. So that’s what my hobby is now: Checking if my body is tight and right, I owe it to myself. Heck, I owe it to everyone I love!

7. Traveling teaches discipline. It also sets your priorities straight. When you’re on a budget, you have to be disciplined. For some reason, living in Thailand has proved to be expensive in a sense that you can’t save money. Everything around you feels so cheap that you end up buying everything! That’s the tragedy, you’re spending you hard-earned cash on a “bargain” which in the end, isn’t. So you have to constantly remind yourself before you buy something “Is this a want or a need?” Ash and I went to almost zero balance in Thailand last summer. He lost his ATM card and I didn’t earn a lot and we finished the monthly wage I had. We traveled from Hatyai to Koh Chang to Siem Reap to Bangkok to Chiang Mai and then back to Bangkok (awww I’m smiling as I remember those days). We were down to the last 700 baht but we survived. I don’t know how but we did. Looking back, it’s pretty cool and I feel like I’m such a badass for even surviving that month without borrowing money from anyone.  Right now, I’m saving up money for Spain. I don’t have a huge salary so I’m really conscious of how I spend because I want to be with my man this June (and for a Filipino to go to Europe, it’s a bit challenging but no worries, this chick will document the process and share it to you, and I’m pretty sure I’m gonna get the Visa to Spain.

8. Food and language makes you grow. I know I mentioned being open, but trying out new food is exciting. Food is so different from these countries, too funky for the little brown American in me. I never liked spicy food but I have grown to tolerate, and even enjoy it! Food made me grow and let me experience culture in their own way. It’s the same with language. I can’t speak conversational Thai but I can recite numbers, say thank you and beautiful. Common words. Same here in Indonesia. For a moment, I can pretend to be local, and pretend I can communicate. It’s nice when I go to the wet market and get what I want speaking locally. I feel like I got away from being a foreigner!

9. I appreciate being  independent. Like for real. When I was living in the Philippines, I was living alone but I knew, again, that if shit hit the fan, mama and papa’s house is just around the corner. Not now. No maids, no laundrywoman. Nothing. All me. I have to take care of myself. I don’t mind being alone. I kinda grew up alone. Alone is my comfort zone. I have an Indonesian teacher ask me, “You cook?” Yes “You live alone?” Yes “Isn’t that sad?” No I actually prefer being alone than being with strangers. She looked shocked. Fuck you. I love the freedom of being able to be yourself in your own tiny bubble where you can be in your underwear while cooking or be in your jammies the whole weekend. Stress-free. There’s only one person I want to be with me and that’s Ash, and like me, he is also used to being alone (this ldr thing lol). We have to adjust to the fact that we are not alone and we can depend on each other sometimes. 😀

10. I know who I am more. When you’re on your own in a strange land, you have no choice but to spend time with yourself and get to know yourself. I grow everyday and I am not the person you knew yesterday. But I’m cool with that. Your values are reinforced, or taken from you if you’re at this place in your life. I’m proud to say that I have stuck to my code of conduct and the moral values my parents taught me, and this made me realise that, hey, I’m a strong person. My major motivation is to make me family name shine by being a good person, but that’s shallow – I just want to be a good one. I have lots of flaws for me to work on, but so far, I’m happy with how I am turning out.

Must-Knows for Vacationing/Returning OFWs or Balik Manggagawa

post originally appeared here:

OFWs go home to spend quality time with families and friends, but they must bear in mind to prepare and secure these documents to avoid inconvenience when they fly back to their employer’s country.

Filipino workers who returned to the Philippines after working abroad for a time need to obtain an overseas employment certificate (OEC) to ensure that they would be registered as a documented overseas Filipino worker (OFW). Read on for guides and information about the processing of returning OFWs or Balik Manggagawa:

There are several types of Balik-Manggagawa OFWs (BM-OFWs):

Workers-on-Leave – OFWs who are in the Philippines for a short vacation but would return to the same employer overseas and is still under a valid and existing job contract.

Re-hires – OFWs who returned to the Philippines after finishing an employment contract overseas but would return to the same foreign employer because they are re-hired.

POLO registered workers – These are returning workers whose employment contracts were not processed by POEA, but were verified by the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in the jobsite. They would return to the same employer either as a worker-on-leave or rehire, regardless of any change in the jobsite.

Documentary Requirements for Balik Manggagawa (BM) are the following: 
Proof of existing employment (such as valid employment contract, employment certificate, valid company ID, pay slips)
Passport valid for at least 6 months from the time of departure
Valid visa / re-entry permit / work permit or equivalent document

How much would the processing cost?
POEA processing fee – Php 100.00
OWWA membership fee – US$25 or its peso equivalent (per contract basis)
PhilHealth – Php 900.00 (good for 1 year coverage)
Pag-Ibig membership – Php 100 (minimum)

Validity Period: Once issued, an OEC is valid for sixty (60) days, one (1) day for OECs issued by the Labor Assistance Centers (LACs) at the airports.

In case of lost Balik Manggagawa E-receipt/OEC: One cannot apply for a new E-Receipt/OEC as replacement for lost e-receipt/OEC. They should submit an Affidavit of Loss and request for a certificate indicating the particulars of previously issued e-receipt/OEC based on available POEA/POLO records, upon submission of an Affidavit of Loss.

What Is A Multiple Travel Exit Clearance (MTEC)? To save time, a returning OFW can also apply for MTEC which can be used for at least three (3) exits within the validity period of the existing contract of the worker whose contract with the same employer has a duration of not less than twelve (12) months from the date of application for travel exit clearance. MTEC shall strictly be used for travel to the worker’s jobsite.

Where can a BM-OFW apply for OEC? 
Balik-Manggagawa Processing Division (BMPD) POEA main office
POEA Regional Centers all over Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao
POEA Regional Extension Units / Satellite Offices
Labor Assistance Centers (LAC) at international airports in Manila, Cebu and Mindanao. (OEC issuance at LACs is limited to those classified as regular balik manggagawa, vacationing workers, rehires, POLO-registered workers – with confirmed airline bookings on the date of request of BM OEC issuance, and whose home leave does not exceed five (5) days. (BM-Name Hires cannot be issued BM OEC at the LACs.)
Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POLO)

One can also set an appointment for Balik Manggagawa processing online:

Pinoy Talk: Homesickness

I have received a question from a Pinoy homie about homesickness. If you can care to read about it the the About section, Doc Eamer asks me how to deal with homesickness.

Homesickness is the distress or impairment caused by an actual or anticipated separation from home, as per Wikipedia.

Impairment is probably the key word in that sentence, and you don’t want to be impaired while abroad. There will be times that I’d be like, “Damn I miss my labandera. My yaya!” when I’m ironing clothes or “I wish Mama were here so that I’d have breakfast waiting when I wake up” to the downright “Babe, I wish you were heeeeeereeee!” desperate texts in the middle of the night because you miss the cuddles that lull you to sleep. It sucks. And it drains me out. I cry a lot too and it doesn’t look good the day after.

So now what?  Can we just avoid homesickness? Fortunately for me, I am very gullible to self-talk: I have convinced myself that homesickness is a killer for spirit. So whenever I descend to the bowels of self-pity, I get to say “Nope, not gonna happen today” and move on… to looking through pictures, notes, old receipts and revisit memories. I have grown to appreciate nostalgia in very tangible forms during traveling and it has made me into a hoarder of scrap book-y finds. I am hopeless, but it works.

However, unlike most Pinoys I know and met during my travels, I don’t miss the Philippines. It’s not that I am not nationalistic, hell I am born and bred with a University of the Philippines frame of mind – UP! Pilipinas kong mahal and all the trimmings that go with it. It’s just that… What’s to be homesick about?

All the countries I have been to, and worked in: Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Indonesia – they all look like the Philippines. If it doesn’t look like Makati, it looks like Iba, Zambales. True they don’t speak the language I’m used to but that’s the same in the Philippines – the next province has a different dialect. What’s new? Plus, Southeast Asians, we all look the same. I go to Thailand, people think I’m Thai. I go to Cambodia, they start talking Khmer to me. Indonesia, same. Honestly, it’s only in the Philippines where I don’t get to be claimed as a native. I’m usually mistaken for a foreigner in the Philippines. The irony. I know I’m home when that happens.

Another thing is the omnipresence of the Filipinos. I have yet to go to a place where I am the first Filipino to conquer it. I think I have more chances of winning the lottery than having that ticked in my bucket list. Filipinos are everywhere: take any mall in Bangkok and trust me you will hear Tagalog or Bisaya when you queue up in the toilet. And they will talk to you with glee when they find out you come from the same country. You know that conversation that starts with “Aiiiii! OMG OMG! Kumusta na?!” like you are best friends that haven’t seen each other for ten years? Common occurrence, complete with a beso.

Even the food production has lots of Filipino-ness to it. Cream-O (the fake Oreo as called by my British co-worker Amy) is a hit in Thailand. Actually, most Universal Robina products are in Thailand! Gokongwei is global, mind you. Even RinBee is sold in Thailand. I can also see the Liwayway-Oishi Marketing logo in lots of junk food here in Indonesia. And who can even argue with San Miguel Beer? From the jungles of Thailand to the glass offices of Malaysia, San Miguel Beer will always be there like a dependable friend you can hang out with when you’re homesick.

Oh another thing I have observed. Filipinos miss their local shit – like any nationality I suppose. But there’s just always that twist that makes it undeniably Filipino. For example, in the Filipino community that I have known in Hatyai, Thailand, whenever someone goes home, that person takes a wishlist of food to be brought back to Thailand from the Philippines, as of course, some things aren’t available in TH. The list ranges from kalamansi, Knorr Sinigang Mix, Eden Processed Cheese (P85 fake cheese goodness), Lucky Me Pancit Canton to Jollibee Chicken Joy. I kid you not. Chicken fucking Joy. Two countries. Two time zones. One chicken thigh passing through immigration officials… is happiness for a fellow Pinoy.

Homesickness is funny, really. Ever since I got uprooted from my childhood home, I couldn’t care less where I lived. The sense of home was taken from me. I know I can never go back to that place. Geographically, sure it will stay there forever but it’s never going to be the same. I have taken that ideology to my travels too. You can never go back to the same place, ever because you change and the place changes too.

This is why home for me is wherever I feel really happy and complete. That’s everywhere with my man. He is the space I crawl to when I need warmth, the place where I can be me. The time when I can sing off key on the street with him and be okay about it. I think that’s what home is.


But of course it never hurts to take lots of pictures along the way.