Sunday, 27 February 2011

"Hay Naku, OWWA!"

Malungkot man, pero natawa at nainis ako nung nabasa ko itong balita sa Internet  na 'ball caps' lang daw ang kayang ibinigay ng Overseas Workers Welfare Association (OWWA) sa mga dumating na Pilipinong galing Libya.

Dahil sa kasalukuyang gulo sa Libya, libo-libong mga Pilipinong nagtatrabaho doon ay nais na umalis. At ang mga masuwerteng nakaalis at mapalad na nakauwi sa Pilipinas ay dahil umano sa tulong ng kanilang mga employer sa Libya.

Sigurado ako ang gobyerno natin ay ginagawa ang lahat para matulungan ang mga Pilipinong naiwan pa roon, pero napag-isip-isip ko lamang na, bakit kaya ball caps lang ang ipinagsalubong sa mga nakauwi sa NAIA kahapon? 

Wala ba silang bottled water man lang, o sandwich? O sana banana-cue

Sigurado ako na ang mga OFWs na dumating ay nagbayad ng US$25 membership fees bago sila na deploy sa Libya. Siguro ang halaga ng mga ball caps na iyon ay katumbas ng membership fees nila.

Paano kaya kung ang mga OFWs dito sa South Korea ay ipinag-evacuate at pinauwi rin? Bibigyan din ba ako ng ball cap pag-landing ko as NAIA?

Hay naku, OWWA.  Ball caps at bulok na serbisyo ba ang kapalit ng membership fees namin?

Talagang, hay naku!

Ipagdasal natin na ang ating mga kapwa Pilipino na nasa Libya ay ligtas, at sana ang gulo doon ay matapos na para maipagpatuloy nila ang kanilang paghahanap-buhay.  At sana sa mga gustong makauwi ay makauwi ng ligtas at sa lalong madaling panahon.

Samantala, ako ay natatanong:

Sino ba ang mga mokong na nagpapatakbo sa OWWA?

A Pinoy At The Movies: The Black Swan

I always like her. Natalie Portman. Very smart and talented. From her Padme Amidala in the Star Wars trilogy, to Closer, to V for Vendetta, and as the cunning (The) Other Boleyn Girl, who... lost her head.

So when I read that she trained for months to prepare for this role, it wasn't at all a surprise that she eventually got all these awards for playing an ambitious ballerina dancing the white and The Black Swan in Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake.

I think the first time I saw Swan Lake was on TV. It was Miss Piggy's version on the Muppet Show, where she danced opposite the legendary Rudolf Nureyev. She called it...Swine Lake. Ha-ha-ha!

But unlike Miss Piggy, Portman really looked the part. She moved, danced and acted like a real ballerina, complete with lean limbs, broken toenails and a pushy mother. Ha-ha-ha!

When I learned that Portman's name in the film was Nina, I immediately thought of ABBA's cute song, Nina, Pretty Ballerina! How appropriate! And I waited during the whole movie for that song, but they didn't include it. I guess ballerinas weren't used to dancing to ABBA. Ha-ha-ha!

So, it's all about Nina and her ballet company's new production of Swan Lake, and all the cut-throat competition, literal and figurative, manifesting in and out of her head.

She dances in this dark ballet, and the dark ballet in turn dances inside her head, where she does her pirouettes and arabesques alongside psychosis and hallucinations, helping her transform into the perfect black swan required of her by the ballet director. Yes, it's a balletic psycho-thriller with Tchaikovsky's music in the background.

Those prima ballerinas who eventually won the role of the swan queen took them years and years of training. Portman was able to win it with six months of training (while preparing for the movie), and by biting the ballet company's director's lips.

The best part of the movie: The last 15 minutes when Nina loosens up, dances the role of her ballerina life, and with creative make-up and costume, turns into a black swan on stage complete with black feathers, driving her pushy mom to tears. 

The saddest part: Watching Winona Ryder play a has-been ballerina. She was the toast of Hollywood with all her previous awards and Oscar nominations...until she decided to shoplift at Saks Fifth Avenue in 2001. Really sad.

Well, Natalie Portman is the swan queen, and on Sunday night, she will also be the Oscar queen.

Till the next movie!

Friday, 25 February 2011

A Pinoy At The Movies: 127 Hours

Before the Oscar night on Sunday, I had to rush and watch all the Oscar-nominated movies that I could. Unfortunately in Korea, most of the nominated art films are shown late (as in very late!). Would you believe that The King's Speech will be shown the week after the Oscar night?

Luckily, I was able to catch 127 Hours at my neighborhood CGV theater this week and Danny Boyle didn't disappoint. 

James Franco, who used to be Spiderman's best friend, plays Aron Ralston, the real-life mountaineer who got his right arm stuck between a canyon and big rock, and it took him 127 hours to cut himself loose from the rock.  He did it by cutting....what else, his arm! Yikes! 

I love the film, not because somebody was able to successfully perform surgery out there in the canyon using a blunt knife and without anaesthetic (!), but because Danny Boyle, the director, made hiking and amputating one's arm look amusing. Ha-ha-ha!  No wonder his film is nominated for six Oscars!

Yesterday, I discussed the film with my friend Roselyn, who lives in West Hollywood, and I told her I could almost play the part myself. Ha-ha-ha! Except that I'm not the kind who would part with a limb while hiking, and definitely, I'm not the kind of hiker who, when his water supply runs out, would drink his pee! Eew!

Yes, Franco ran out of food and drinks while stuck. He should have brought more Eng Bee Tin hopias and Coke to last for more than 127 hours! 

Although James Franco is not the favorite to win the Oscar (Colin Firth is), he truly deserves the nomination (and the Oscar hosting job with Anne Hathaway). This is his breakthrough movie. 

The best part of the movie was when 'Lovely Day' by Bill Withers was playing, with all the sceneries and the excitement building up to the hike. And the worst part? Well, there wasn't any 'worst part', only the 'very painful part'. You'd know what it is when you see it. I warn you, no anaesthetic! I'm sure you'd cringe. Ha-ha-ha!

The moral of the movie:  Bring lots of liquid and food when you hike; tell everyone where you're going, and most important, return your mom's calls or else, you'll lose an arm.

Till the next movie!

Monday, 21 February 2011

"Tinimbang Sha, Bakit Kulang?"

The last time I told a soul (in Seoul) that I lost weight was when I visited my Tita Cecile at her home in the Gangnam area late last year to join her and Tito Efren for dinner.  I told her I lost two kilos that week, all from gym visits, avoiding Coke and getting rid of the after-lunch café mocha habit.

But that night, she fed me with….Chicken a la king, shrimp sautéed in garlic and Bistek Tagalog, complete with Coke!  Ha-ha-ha! And before I left, she asked me to bring home six more Chicken a la King!  I, of course, thanked her and went home very full and happy!
 I didn’t mind the two kilos found their way back to my tummy that night. I could always go back to the gym the next morning.  But I guess, losing weight is actually easy for the disciplined and for those who know what to do about it.
 But some of us who have the cash to spend and too lazy to move our asses, we are always enticed by certain quick-weight-loss advertisements who may have used some tricks to attract customers.  And for some who are smart to notice the deception, those tricks could always boomerang.
 No wonder that controversy over a weight-loss billboard along EDSA (Manila’s main thoroughfare) ballooned, forcing the endorser to be defensive which all the more attracted public scrutiny and ridicule.  Perhaps, commuters along EDSA could not believe how much ‘size’ she lost in her ‘after’ photo. They could not also believe they were all taken for a fool by the advertiser.
 Maybe, if they only wrote on the billboard how many kilos she weighed before and after, that could have helped (no matter how many Chicken a la king’s she must have enjoyed).  But really I wonder how much she actually weighs? Tinimbang ba sha?
 So, when it comes to weight loss, let’s not fool ourselves. That’s why I only trust the digital, electronic weighing scale in my gym – early morning, before breakfast, no shoes, no cellphone and no keys in my pocket.  But maybe, with the Bistek Tagalog from last night still in my system. Ha-ha-ha!
 And like these active people in the photos, who moved their asses that day to lose weight, let’s move ours, too. And perhaps, the next time you weigh yourself, can always borrow the title of Lino Brocka’s classic film, Tinimbang Ka, Bakit Kulang (Weighed But Found Wanting):

Tinimbang ako, bakit husto? (I was weighed; why exact?) Ha-ha-ha!

Sunday, 20 February 2011

It's the Oscars....Again!

A week from now, Sunday night in Los Angeles, the 83rd Academy will give away the Oscars again. How I wish I could be there, if only to watch those big stars walking through the red carpet.

But aside from the big stars attending, all movie fans (like me) are eager to find out who wins the top awards this time, the ballots for which are being tabulated by now.

According to the official tabulators, PwC, it took seven days to count the ballots for the nominations and will take three days to count the finals ballots, which determine the final awards.

I had my own share of tabulating a couple of competitions in Manila, one of which dramatically changed a girl's life (and her family's fortune). She's a big star now and her initials include the letters 'G' and 'S'. Ha-ha-ha! (You know who?).

With the help of a computer system, my colleagues and I working backstage knew that she won before everyone else. I remember she passed right in front of us after her performance with nary an idea that she already won! I joked of congratulating her as she walked by, but that would have been a big mistake...for me! Ha-ha-ha!

As for the Oscars, it would take 1,700 person-hours for PwC to tabulate 24 top awards in a super-secret location (I wonder where in LA could that be? Hmm..). And since the introduction of the 'envelope system' in 1941, the official tabulators have stuffed about 2,575 envelopes with the names of past winners, which of course included the name of my favorite actress! Ha-ha-ha!

Too bad, I missed the Academy Awards when I dropped by the Kodak Theater that night. I missed it by a few....months! Ha-ha-ha!  But at least I was lucky to have held an exact replica of that cold, coveted (and heavy!) Oscar trophy, even without a nomination! Ha-ha-ha!
So, who's your bet to hold this Oscar trophy next Sunday night?

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Entrepreneurs In The Seoul Subway!

I guess it's all about survival.

All these years that I have been riding Seoul's subway, I have seen people selling music CDs, winter gloves, towels and everything else to make money (even kitchenware!).

And if begging is one way to make money, I have also seen these supposedly disabled persons distributing among passengers leaflets which explained their conditions and plea for financial help. A disabled person would place these leaflets one by one on the laps of the seated passengers making one go on one side, then make his way back on the other. 

And passengers who were touched by the plea would give (usually a thousand Korean won paper bill) as the disabled took the leaflets back. 

On some occasions, a blind person would way make his or her way through the train with the left hand holding an empty plastic container for the alms, while the right held the walking stick, and around the neck is a small music box playing an instrumental Korean song announcing the blind person's presence, making everybody else give way. 

As I said, it's all about survival. And these subway trains full of people, captive in between stops, are the best locations to  sell, or perhaps beg. The passenger traffic is constantly moving, demographic varied and characters diverse.
And one time, as I was riding Seoul Subway's Line 2, another  very enterprising merchant was selling his shoeshine thingy, and to prove its usefulness, he shined some passengers' shoes! On the spot! How creative!

How I wish I was wearing my black shoes. I could have had a shoeshine for free! Ha-ha-ha! (I was wearing my Nikes that day).

And his creativity paid off. He was able to sell a few of his gadgets between Sadang and Gangnam Stations. He would definitely sell more. There were a lot of dirty shoes on the train that day. Ha-ha-ha!
So, have you bought anything from these entrepreneurs in the Seoul subway?

Bumping Into Sandara Park...

Taking the Subway Line 4 on my way Myeong-dong last week, I huddled next to the seat-less corner eager to stand during the quick trip from Sinyongsan Station while reading my favorite publication.

Leaning on the wall to cushion the sways of the train, I started to read, mindless of the other passengers' chatter mostly intoned with excitement as perhaps the work week was about to end. 

I was browsing through my magazine trying to find an interesting article when another passenger caught my eye. She looked familiar, I thought. I stared at her closely. She didn't mind. And closer. She didn't object. She must be used to it. 

Could it be her? What's her name again?

It's Sandara Park!

I used to see her on Philippine television years ago, and I wasn't surprised I saw her now in a Korean subway train. 

Sandara Park. On a campaign poster on the train's wall next to where I decided to read. Happily advertising in the Seoul subway, posing and pretty as ever as I saw her last. Leaving the Philippines and embarking on a sing-and-dance career in South Korea must have been a very good decision. She and her girlband 2NE1 are everywhere!

So after finishing a few paragraphs and passing four train stations, I wrapped up my reading. And as the train slowed down at Myeong-dong Station, I walked towards the door staring back at her one last time while I continued on my journey that day.

And as the door closed behind me, Sandara continued her campaign along Seoul's subway routes while being joined by other passengers. I'm not sure when I would bump into her again, but I wish her luck, not only on her subway joyride, but also on her career and journey in South Korea. 

Some Winter Mornings...

The alarm clock just went off. It’s 7:30 AM. Time to get up. 

But not a muscle in me moved. My small world stood still. It’s quiet, in my room in an apartment building sitting on one of the hilly sides of Hannam-dong in Seoul.

My eyes don’t want to open and I find it difficult to unwrap myself from the blanket, laying still with mind in a dream state.

Slowly opening my eyes, I see no sunlight even with the clear glass windows, and I realize the nasty coldness in my room, which forces me to retreat even more inside my cocoon-like blanket. Just like the alarm clock, my mind reminds me that if I don’t get up now, I will be late for work. And with the time I need in preparing myself to face the world, each precious minute passing by counts. I need to leave my apartment by 8:30 to be at work by 9.

Still lying in bed and imagining myself in the shower already, I sink deeper into the temptation of sleeping again. The will to get out of bed is as scarce as the sunlight in an early winter morning. Can I just sleep some more? What happens if I arrive late at work? But after concluding that my world will not end if I don’t get there on time, I promised myself a few more minutes.

Time passed and finally, even with my closed eyes, I could feel sunlight creeping into my room. It finally sneaked in through my window as it does every morning, though not making the place any warmer. I am still under my sheets, shielding myself from the coldness that overnight enveloped my room. And as daylight found its way to my bed, it brought along the determination to kick away sleepiness as well as the blanket. I now rise and sit on the edge of my bed preparing for the tragedy of finally separating myself from my bed and the joy of slumber.

Still sitting on my bed, I started to realize that the rest of the world is actually fully awake. From my ceiling, I hear the solid footsteps of the neighbors living above me, and from my door, the loud voice of the Korean mother next door giving last minute instructions to her kids leaving for school, all in frantic scenes of the world tightly shut out by my door. Everybody but me, is up!

It is winter in Korea, and mornings will always be this cold. But what a welcome coldness! With the temperature dropping, icy cold breeze blowing, skies cloudy, and at times, a slippery path frozen with ice, winter has its unique way of changing your body clock, or your neighborhood landscape. The warmth of my bed coupled with the coldness of the night just make it easier for me to enjoy my time in bed. Even the sun seems to enjoy extending its sleep as during winter months, it drags its way back to the eastern horizon late in the morning, as if to imply that its tardiness is a permission for me to also start my day late during winter.

So I am finally out of bed now! Willing to start my day, I head to the shower and prepare myself for work! I don’t want to hurry spring, or summer or autumn, to come in soon. They will have their time, or should I say, season. And during the next three months, even with its bitter coldness, early evenings, dark mornings and heavy snowfall, winter is a season I will surely enjoy.

Time to go to work.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

The Philippine-South Korea Free Trade: Bae Yong-Joon for Ensaimadas

Television dramas from South Korea are a hit everywhere!  From Japan to China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Southeast Asia, North and Latin Americas and even in the Middle East and Africa!  Dubbed in the local languages of the importing country, Korean dramas have become so popular it now has legions of fans addicted to these series reflecting the Korean culture and society, loaded with fast-paced writing, beautiful sceneries, latest fashion and whose lead characters are always played by goodlooking actors with perfect set of teeth and skin.

Hallyu and Bae Yong-Joon
The Korean Wave, or ‘Hallyu’ as they call it here in Korea (할유 in Korean), is the term used to describe the popularity and influence of Korean entertainment and entertainers overseas: Korean pop music and singers, movies, television dramas, Korean actors and even products.

One of the most popular of the Korean dramas that ever hit the Philippines is Winter Sonata, whose lead actor, Bae Yong-Joon, has achieved a god-like status in Japan, where women of ‘a certain age’ (you know what I mean) worship him like, well, a god! They call him Yon-sama, a name that denotes the highest respect, and if you don’t know who he is, just visit a Faceshop store. His face is all over the place; he was the guy in a white shirt and spectacles, holding a bouquet and flashing that perfect smile which welcomed women, enticing them to buy Faceshop products.

The success of these Korean dramas usually results in a windfall for its lead actors who are offered lucrative endorsement contracts for products marketed in Korea or in another country where he or she has won fans through the drama.

In Seoul, even if you’re not a fan, you would still know if the current TV drama is a hit because the lead actor’s face is all over the city.  Lee Min-Ho, who played Gu Jun-Pyo in Boys Over Flowers, was on posters plastered at donut shops.  Other successful actors would be seen on TV selling products ranging from coffee, clothes, make-up, cell phones, apartment units and of all things, insurance.

K-Pop Music
And aside from the dramas, Korean pop music also has its own following, although it’s mostly for the younger generation represented by grade schoolers, teenagers and fans in their 20’s, who I’m sure can always pronounce the tricky Korean names of the individual members of the girl and boy bands. Some solo artists though have unique names: Rain (or Bi in Korean), Se7en (yes, the number) and BoA (not the reptile); and members of boy bands such as Big Bang (not the theory) such as G-Dragon (not the string) and T.O.P., which are easier to remember. I guess since the real Korean names of these entertainers are very common in Korea, they opted for foreign-sounding ones in order to stand out. 

And when it comes to naming a group, the talent management companies have to come up with unusual names like Mblaq, SS501, Shinee, Super Junior, Big Bang, FT Island, CNBlue, TVXQ for boy bands; and Girls Generation, Wonder Girls, Jewelry, Secret, 2NE1 (Sandara Park’s group), and T-ara for girl groups, to name just a few, because with so many bands (I think one debuts every other week!), the fans should be able to remember the ones with unique names; although I’m not too sure as to the logic behind the naming of the two boy groups, 2AM and 2PM. I guess they were created within 12 hours of each other.

And when they have cute names, these members should also look pretty and handsome because that’s what the screaming fans like. With these boy groups trying to outdo each other in terms of costumes, hair style and makeup, they almost look androgynous; while the girl bands compete as to who has the biggest hair, thickest makeup, shortest skirts, sexiest choreography and catchiest tune.  And some groups having eight or more members, they look like cheering squads on stage, instead of singers.

And did you ever notice that all members of these girl bands seem to look the same?  In addition to their vocal coaches, costume designers, choreographers and makeup artists, they also have their cosmetic and dental surgeons to thank for.

And speaking of K-pop music, who can forget that song Nobody, Nobody from the Wonder Girls which was played everywhere?  One time, I was on a bus here in Seoul when that song played over the bus’ radio when I noticed a girl in her high school uniform on the front of the bus moving to the tune while seated with her hands dancing to the choreography. The song was almost over when she realized she missed her stop! She frantically pushed the ‘Stop’ button and loudly asked the driver to let her off.  She did get off, but didn’t finish her performance.  
Let’s go back to the dramas.

Korean drama fans
And just like most of the Korean drama fans in the Philippines, the ones in Korea never forget the time slots of their favorite dramas. They either watch it at home, in their cars, at restaurants, at the gym while on the treadmill, or at their mobile phones (through digital mobile broadcasting) while on the bus or in the subway on their way home.

And for the international fans who can afford, they travel to South Korea to visit the locations where the dramas were filmed. Nami-seom (Winter Sonata), Hongdae (Coffee Prince), Namsan Park (Lovers in Paris), and of course, Changdeokgung (Jewel in the Palace) are just a few locations where fans head to.  And most of them also visit the Namdaemun Market where they buy their Korean drama souvenirs to bring home.

 The Philippine-South Korea Free Trade
But one fan in Manila, Cielo, who happened to be a good friend, could not get enough of her idol, Bae Yong-Joon, that she asked me to buy his poster and have it sent to Manila in return for a dozen Mary Grace ensaimadas, which she learned was my favorite. I told her the ensaimadas were enticing, but buying the poster would involve a certain amount of embarrassment for me since I was a guy and was worried how would the shopkeeper at Namdaemun Market think of me as I buy another guy’s poster. She immediately doubled the quantity!  And in return, I bravely bought it and had it flown to Manila! 
 With this, I realized that all these years the trade between the Philippines and South Korea actually does not just involve tourism, agricultural products, manpower, cars, electronics, minerals and English lessons.  With the involvement of Hallyu, new trading partnerships are created! Though not between huge corporations, it’s still a trade!  While Cielo was ecstatic with her Bae Yong-Joon poster, I enjoyed the Mary Grace ensaimadas, which she sent through a friend flying to Seoul.

There may have been other countless trading partnerships between the Philippines and South Korea involving Lee Min-Ho, Girls Generation, Super Junior, Kim Bum, Shinee or Won Bin posters, and some Philippine delicacies. The two countries have been friends since 1949, and that friendship, strengthened by economic, cultural and social exchanges throughout the decades, has been even made stronger by Hallyu, Bae Yong-Joon and some yummy ensaimadas.

      *   *   *
(This article was written for AIM Leader, the Alumni Magazine of the Asian Institute of Management.)

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Good Luck, PyeongChang 2018!

Talking about the weather is usually the topic when one wants to start an awkward conversation. So when I bumped into one of my big bosses in the elevator today on my way down, he talked to me about, well, the weather! 

And since the weird weather in Gangwon Province last weekend was the big news lately, we talked about the heavy snow at the east coast....between the 21st floor and the 15th floor. Ha-ha-ha!
Although the huge snowfall caused traffic and commerce to halt in that province last weekend, it might have done some good, especially on Pyeongchang, which is located in that region and which is on its third attempt to host the Winter Olympics. Maybe the Winter Olympics inspecting team, which arrived yesterday, would think that snow won't be a supply problem for this host candidate in 2018! (Is this snowfall an omen of good news for PyeongChang? Hmm..).

I haven't been to Pyeongchang (or I may have passed by that area), but perhaps if it wins the right to host in 2018, I may have to try out its ski slopes and ovals before Olympians keep it all to themselves, just when I was able to test the Richmond Olympic Oval before the Olympic speed skaters seized the ice!
The Richmond Olympic Oval was the venue for the Vancouver Olympics' long-track speed skating events, which South Korea dominated. Thanks to friends Mar and Lyn, I was able to test the oval with Marinelle and Marc. 
I cannot forget how smooth and clear the ice was. I didn't feel like I was just skating; I was gliding!  And the arena was so impressive that the gods of Mount Olympus would not hesitate descending into Richmond, British Columbia, and not regret paying eight Canadian dollars for the admission into the oval. And to fully enjoy the place, they would need the equipment. Three dollars for the skates and $2 for the helmet. Ha-ha-ha!
So, I wish PyeongChang the best of luck in its bid for 2018. If it wins, I may find myself skating alongside the gods of Mount Olympus, enjoying the very smooth ice of the PyeongChang oval. But they may have to bring Korean won this time. For the admission, skates and the helmet. Ha-ha-ha!
Good luck, PyeongChang!

Monday, 14 February 2011

A Purple Valentine Party!

Last week, the convenience stores in my neighborhood were already displaying boxes of chocolates, hoping that people passing by would get a box for a girlfriend, a boyfriend, a husband or perhaps, a mistress! Ha-ha-ha!

Valentine's Day. A day reserved for lovers, but for a few, it's another party!
So, last Saturday night, considering that the actual Valentine's Day falls on a workday, a few friends in Seoul gathered together, all dressed up for 'purple' Valentine's Day, a twist from the overused Valentine 'red'.  And thanks to Ruth and JK, who kindly offered, creatively decorated and turned their place into a purple hall, where everyone had fun playing some 'naughty' party games, such as the talong (eggplant) race, the hardboiled egg task, and the stiff neck-causing last apple dance. And since everyone was game, there were lots of boxes of chocolates as prizes! (Perhaps from those convenience stores?).
And with everybody dressed up for the theme, the best dressed lady and gentleman were rewarded for the 'purple' effort! 
But aside from those boxes of chocolates, everyone was kind to bring a dish to share:  baked salmon, baked lasagna, spaghetti with meatballs, adobo, curry, salad, garlic chicken, bottles of wine and a few cakes, which a few were able to burn off through some sayawan (dancing) at the party, while I burned it off on the treadmill the next day! Ha-ha-ha!
So, I already had my Valentine fun last weekend, I hope you will enjoy yours today!
Happy Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

What's Happening To The Overseas Labor Office of the Philippine Embassy in Seoul?

As they say in Pilipino, batu-bato sa langit, tama’ay huwag magalit. It means whatever pebble is thrown heavenwards, if it hits anybody on its way down, he (or she) shouldn’t get pissed off.  So, if this pebble of a blog hits anybody out there….

Before I start, let me just summarize a few acronyms that I foresee I would use  throughout this blog (to save me a lot of keystrokes!):

SGC:  Seoul Global Center
POLO:  The Philippine Overseas Labor Office of the Philippine Embassy in Seoul
FMW:  Filipino Migrant Worker
MFF:  My Filipino Friend

And now, the story.

I was chatting with MFF the other day and wasn’t at all surprised with the story MFF told me.  Basically, the short story was:  (1) A FMW went to the SGC to seek assistance regarding unpaid wages from the FMW’s employer, and (2) the SGC was able to help the worker successfully claim the unpaid wages back. 

Everybody happy? Nah.

Well, it’s always sad to hear stories about the migrant workers in Korea receiving this kind of unfair treatment from their employers, but the sadder part of the story was, before the migrant worker went to the SGC for help, the worker had already gone to seek assistance for this problem from the POLO, where, according to the FMW, the people there weren’t able to help him, and that they said that it’s just the way it is in Korea:  that employers sometimes just don’t pay up, or something to that sort.  

And being also a Filipino, my friend was able to talk to this FMW, who said that since the POLO couldn’t seem to provide the help that FMW needed, that worker had to run to the SGC instead for help.

And while they were talking, the FMW expressed helplessness while at the POLO, even describing the people at the POLO using a Pilipino word which I couldn’t get myself to write on this page. It’s a five-letter Tagalog word, whose meaning, when I googled it, meant, well, I will let you know if you ask me in person. Ha-ha-ha! That word actually had two meanings, both of which are not at all pleasant to use as a description.

I consider myself lucky that, being also a FMW myself, I do not encounter this kind of problems my fellow FMWs do.  But upon hearing this story from MFF, it makes me wonder how disgusted that FMW must have been to use that five-letter word. I thought all this time, the main purpose of the POLO is to give assistance to FMWs who go there for help.  I don’t know the exact details of the FMW’s ‘unpaid wages’ problem, but I wonder why was the SGC successful in helping the FMW, the POLO was not? Hmm…

As I continued chatting with my friend, I also shared my own unpleasant experience with POLO. Thankfully, it didn’t involve unpaid wages. Otherwise, I would have starved for a long time!

My first bad experience happened years ago, and I consider it a closed episode.  A POLO staff slammed the door of the POLO office on my face (a no-no if the person is a FMW and a big mistake if that person is me!).  That staff is no longer with the POLO, and by the way, I reported that staff to the Philippine ambassador at the time.

Anyways, I told MFF that I have a ‘fresher’ experience to share.  ‘Fresh’ as in just three months old!

Here it is:

I became a part of the POLO’s mailing list during the time of the former Labor Attache Delmer Cruz. And I continued to be until….November 2010. That’s three months ago. It was a good, efficient idea to email advisories, notices and new labor regulations to the Filipino Community in just one go. 

And I always read those advisories and even replied at times.  But then, on November 10, 2010, when I received the ‘traffic advisory’ (for the G20 Summit) from the current labor attaché, all the recipients (all of the Filipino Community in the mailing list) could see that the email was forwarded from one embassy staff to another, and to another, until it was finally forwarded to the whole Filipino Community.  All the recipients had to scroll down to the bottom of the email just to find out if getting some grocery at the COEX mall that day would require the police to inspect how much cooking oil or toilet paper you have in your shopping bag, or if the urge to admire the artifacts at the National Museum that day would also require them to frisk your ‘artifacts’… from head to toe!

Being a professional, I was disappointed with the way the email was written, considering that it was an official communication from an embassy.  So, I replied to the sender, the current labor attaché, to (1) thank her for the traffic information, (which made me avoid COEX and the National Museum that day), and (2) to ask somebody to ‘edit the whole email before forwarding it to the whole Filipino Community’ because ‘this kind of sloppy communication does not reflect well on the embassy’.

I guess she didn’t take it constructively, because since that day in November, I have never received any advisory or communication from the POLO.  I was taken off from the mailing list!

And how did I confirm this?  I simply talked to a few of the fellow recipients in the list, who confirmed that my email address is no longer in the emails.  Oh well, I got excommunicated. Ha-ha-ha!

I don’t mind being taken off from their mailing list.  Life goes on for me (although I haven’t been to the COEX mall and the National Museum since). Ha-ha-ha!  But at least, I now know what kind of people are running the POLO, or the kind of person sending out the official emails.  Perhaps, they are the kind whose vocabulary does not include the words ‘constructive criticism,‘ ‘open-mindedness’, ‘public service’ or worse, ‘we are here to assist the freakin’ FMWs’!

I don’t think it wouldn’t have happened if Delmer Cruz, the former labor attaché, was still the one running POLO. That guy had ideas (and was open to ideas), he knew how to relate to the FMWs, and I saw for myself how hard he worked.  No wonder, the FMWs signed a petition for him to stay longer even after his term ended in early 2010.  The FMWs in Korea liked him and the work he was doing! But I’m not sure about the current one.  You tell me.

I’m quoting what my MFF said that when one goes to an embassy for a transaction or help, ‘one goes there to feel positive after, and not to be negative.’ But it seems that with my own personal experiences (and perhaps with those of other FMWs), POLO is bereft of anything positive.

So, today, while I continue to chat with MFF, I join that FMW who went to the SGC in asking, ‘what’s happening to the POLO in Seoul?’’

Can somebody please tell me what? 

Maybe the ‘batu-bato sa langit’ can.

Lost in Trans...portation

I don't know which one got lost today. Me or my bus.

There were signs that this was going to happen. The change of buses and route, that is.  I meant real signs, not 'omen' signs. Signs were posted on the bus stop and on the bus door. And today was it!

So this morning on my way to work, I went down to the bus stop excited to catch the new bus. Problem was I didn't know the new number! And is it the same green color?  The bus numbers and routes on the bus stop were not yet updated!

And then it came rolling down the hilly Hannam-dong, a green bus with a different four-digit number. It's the new bus, but I wouldn't know if this one would take me to Yongsan Station. It's coming nearer...and nearer, and I hardly had the time to think if to take it or skip it. It stopped before me and the driver welcomed me, not with open arms, but with an open door. I decided to get on!

Stepping into the new bus armed with my bus card and instincts, I wished myself a lot of freakin' luck. Ha-ha-ha! 

The new bus is almost empty. I could relax, not many passengers! But when I looked around and saw the other passengers' faces, I started to panic. "Oh-oh", I hushed myself. They all looked like they weren't sure if they were on the right bus either! Ha-ha-ha!

I suddenly rose from my comfortable seat and tried to study the bus route pasted by the window. Instead of looking like a simple list of bus stops, it looked to me like the periodic table of chemical elements! All symbols and numbers! Ha-ha-ha! Luckily, with my basic hangeul, I was able to read it, but unluckily, I realized I was indeed on the wrong bus! Ha-ha-ha!

If I could only scream in Tagalog, "Ma-mâ, para!" (Driver, stop!), I would have. But....

Think! Quick! 

I decided to get off on the next stop. And it turned out, all the other passengers also got off on the next stop!  I counted: six passengers, one mistake. Ha-ha-ha!

So, there I was. Standing at an unfamiliar bus stop, somewhere between home and office. Cold and lost....and late for work! Ha-ha-ha!

I checked the bus stop pole for list of buses, and voila! A familiar! A familiar number...149! This one stops near my office!

And just after a minute, the bus with that color and number swung around the corner. I wanted to wish the other lost passengers some luck before I left them, but I realized I myself had no luck to share that morning. Ha-ha-ha!  No luck even for an empty cab.

This bus had a different route which would meander through the whole Ichon-dong, but ends up at Yongsan area just the same. 

And so I just let history repeat itself:  got on an almost empty bus, found a comfortable seat, but this time a different ending:  got off at the right bus stop!

Monday, 7 February 2011

The Sleepy Bus Ride

Vacation's over!  

After nine days of no work courtesy of the Seollal holidays in Korea, it's back to the office!

I tried to wake up early, but my sleepy eyes couldn't get themselves to open because for the last nine days they open up to the world at 10 AM, sometimes 11, sometimes....Well, sometimes. Ha-ha-ha!

But today, Monday, the first day of trying to earn a living again, I had to drag my heavy ass (heavier to non-stop eating during the holidays) out of the bed, into the cold shower, and then to finally put on the thick and heavy winter clothes.

Out of the apartment, I crossed the main street and waited at the bus stop, in the cold holding a bag containing some snacks to bring to the office:  Eng Bee Tin's ube hopia (from the freezer), pecorino cheese (from Rome) and green tea (from my friend Cora who left Seoul a week ago).

And when the bus finally arrived, I hopped on and got a seat at the back and by the window so I could entertain myself with any traffic scenery and shake off this vacation hangover, little by little, kilometer by kilometer.

I then realized how few the passengers were that morning. Perhaps they were still asleep, comfortably on their warm beds while, I, among the brave few, struggled with the cold and the sleepiness...on the bus!

As the idiom goes, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. In my case,  flesh is sleepy and the spirit sleepier.

Perhaps tons of work will spring me out of this, or perhaps a cup of cafe mocha with two shots of espresso. But I think I know exactly what I need:  another vacation...


Sunday, 6 February 2011

Seollal: Worth The Trip!

Early this week, millions were on the road, on the train tracks, on the ferries and on planes (and may be on foot, too?) to be with families and relatives during the Seollal holidays.
Some of my Korean friends whose parents live within Seoul are very lucky, but for those who had to travel to the provinces, the highways were jammed with about 400,000 cars, according to estimates. 
And today, the end of the holidays, all those vehicles are coming back home, filling up the highways again with tired vacationers, who must have gained weight from all the Seollal food and drinks, and with luggage filled with happy memories.  Driving back home would be long and slow, but getting stuck in the traffic is definitely worth the trip!


When I was still in Manila, I had to go to a mall just so I could enjoy this delicacy of Japanese origin.

But lucky me, there's one kiosk nearby, down the street in Seoul where I work that sells....takoyaki!

What is takoyaki?  Well, in Japanese, tako means octopus, and yaki means cooked or grilled.  And if further translated it means cheap and yummy if bathed in sauce and covered with katsuobushi (tuna shavings)!
These round balls are cooked in takoyaki pans, where the batter of the recipe is molded and turned into a savory dish good enough for a snack or lunch!

And whenever I'm in downtown Seoul, I swing by the takoyaki shop at Lotte's food court (where I'm already a suki), and I always ask them to put more sauce and tuna shavings!

So, from Japan, to Seoul...and finally, to my tummy! Takoyaki!

Thursday, 3 February 2011

My New (Lunar) Year Resolution: Writing The Honest Complaint Blogs!

I finally found a new year's resolution.

I have decided to write about things (or people) that irritate me, annoy me and that waste my money. This could be a cafe, a restaurant, a public servant, a trip, an airline....or a neighbor! Ha-ha-ha! 

I started this blog in 2009 for a tourism competition in Korea (which got me an MP3 player as a prize), and to share with everyone my trips and experience around Seoul and everywhere else.

But today, I have decided to make time for complaints for bad service and experience. 

And to borrow Sir Isaac Newton's third law of motion, "for every action, there's an equal and opposite reaction".  I will be reacting to a bad menu, bad service, bad experience and bad people.

I will try to make it as constructive as possible, knowing that any bad service has nowhere to go but better, or perhaps, up. And these people can always learn a thing or two to make their product, food, service and the way they deal with people (like me) better. 

I have already written blogs praising good service and good food. But I don't remember writing one to complain.

I have enjoyed writing about good experiences, but I have a feeling I would even enjoy writing about the bad ones.

Now, let me see who deserves the honor of the first complaint...

The Han: Seoul's Frozen River

This has been the coldest winter I have experienced in Korea. I have been used to not wearing a scarf during the past winters, but this time, I had to and I hated it. I felt like I would get strangled by my scarf if it gets stuck between subway doors. Ha-ha-ha! Not a glamorous way to die. I could already see the headline: 
"Clumsy subway passenger strangled by own scarf... between Samgakji and Hanggangjin Stations". Ha-ha-ha! (Knock on wood!)

Going back to the cold winter.

As my bus navigates every morning through the expressway near the Han River, I, along with the other passengers, would look out the window and gaze to our left to observe the frozen river, all white and covered with blocks of ice slowly floating near its banks. This gave me an idea. What about taking a photo of the frozen river...from a higher altitude?

And which building near the Han River has the highest floor accessible to everyone? The 63 Korea Life Insurance Building!
The 63 KLI Building has a view deck on its 60th floor, and an aquarium on its basement. And for a fee, you can enjoy the view from up there. But thanks to my friend Andrew, I didn't have to pay for it. He gave me a free ticket!
So, on a holiday, I visited the building and took the elevator up to its 60th floor, the Sky Art floor, and from there, the view of a frozen city! 
I could see the snowed Nam-san, my very cold neighborhood in Yongsan-gu and of course, the frozen Han River.

Enjoy the cold photos...