Booknotes: A Quantum Solution?

Nowadays, I’ve been really happy and sad at the same time. The added responsibility of running a business, the responsibility of doing volunteer work, the responsibility of studying for class and the unproductive (non-existent) wedding planning because reserving a venue is a the bottom of my to-do list, have all resulted to a 5 pound weight loss. I’m down to 96 from 101.

I supposed I’m close to burning out and I won’t even approve a leave of absence for my own self.

So, I guess it was timely that my mom gave me a Quantum Pendant yesterday.

It’s the first time I’ve ever heard of one.

In a nutshell, this pendant, which is made up of molecularly-bonded natural minerals, produces scalar energy which regulates the positive flow and balance of energy in one’s body. In other words, it helps you perform well even under stress.

The box says “Japanese Technology” which confused me because personally, I find that the pendant is somewhat more of an amulet. I guess by placing the word technology there, skeptics would be less taken aback by any quakery that this piece may represent.

Here are a list of benefits according to the manufacturer:

– Reduces inflammation
– Promotes unclamping of cells
– Enhances circulation
– Enhances immune and endocrine systems
– Has the ability to destroy viruses and bacteria
– Enhances cellular nutrition and detoxification
– Enhances cellular permeability
– Increases energy
– Helps to protect DNA from damage
– Helps to retard the ageing process
– Helps to fight cancer cells
– Strengthens the body’s bio-field preventing
electro-magnetic waves from affecting one’s health
– Increases focus and concentration

I started wearing it today but I don’t necessarily feel the rush of scalar energy, or maybe my body has gotten so used to stress that I’ve become numb. I’m not well-versed in the science behind scalar energy nor do I believe in simply putting a piece of healing jewelry around your neck so that life becomes a breeze. I’d rather take a more holistic approach to balancing my life out, even though I must admit it’s something that I still have to train myself to do.

Nevertheless, this curious pendant doesn’t actually look bad and I don’t mind wearing it for the aesthetic benefits. Whether it proves to be helpful in the anti-stress department is yet to be seen–or felt.

Published in: on September 16, 2010 at 4:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Chapter 10: The Filipino Dream

It’s ironic that in the past, I would often complain to my fiancee, Mark, that his erratic work hours (as a sound engineer) will take its toll on his health when I myself agree to working in nearly the same set-up, as a copywriter and more recently,as an accounts person, on a retainer basis.

As freelancers, although we recognize the benefits, there’s also a downside to working on a first come first served basis: we can’t predict what our days and weeks will be like. Apart from that, we have lean months and we have more abundant seasons, and during the latter, the work can get pretty overwhelming and the deadlines, unforgiving. For me, this usually comes during the first and last quarters of the year.

Not Enough Time: Freelancers like Mark and I can't always set aside time for non-work related matters outside of our already flaky schedules.

 

Since December 2009  till April 2010, I have been taking on a number of projects that had me working even on weekends and well through the night until the early morning hours. 

The past few weeks were even more tiring. On top of work deadlines, there were a lot of family gatherings to attend, since Mark’s relatives from the US, including his mom, were in town for his brother’s wedding last April 10 as well as our pamamanhikan (a Filipino tradition wherein the man’s family formally asks for a woman’s hand in marriage) last April 13. During the pamamanhikan, I was already sick with what I believed to be a common cold but after 5 days of pill-popping and several doses of Vitamin C, I was nowhere close to getting better. As we urban-living folks usually are–reactive rather than proactive–I went to the doctor only when things got worse.

“You have pneumonitis,” explained Dr. Aquino, as he showed me my x-rays. Dr. Aquino is a chest diseases expert who like me, preferred to work at night with clinic hours beginning at 6pm. In other words, he was the perfect doctor for me.

“It’s starting pneumonia. Your chest x-rays show that you’re getting there,” he continued while pointing out to some ghostly white marks in the region of my chest: the result of months of toiling odd hours has come back to haunt me in the form of a looming disease.

“What causes it?” I asked. I never actually knew what pneumonia was, something that I would later discover as an inflammation of the lungs.

“It’s caused by overfatigue, dehydration and the heat wave. When you’re too tired, your body’s immunity goes down,” he replied as he drew up a long list of antibiotics, decongestants, antitussives, other un-pronounceable drugs on his notepad. Apart from the pneumonitis, Dr. Aquino also pointed out that I had mild asthma. I was sent home to stay there for an entire week,  forbidden to attend Spanish class, which I already missed for a total of 3 sessions, or do any work in the coming days.

It may be uncomfortable to be releasing phlegm all day but the doctor’s orders sounded like music to my ears. Now, all I have to do is stay in bed, read my books and take the drugs after every breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was as if disease was the ultimate savior from all the work that caused it in the first place.

I have overfatigue to thank for giving me the opportunity to rest from...overfatigue.

 

Ironically, I couldn’t get my to-do list out of my head and realized just how hard it is to disengage myself from the daily grind. I  must cancel my meeting for Monday morning. I must tell the web designer to get in touch directly with the clients regarding the images he need. I have to tell the studio that I will be indisposed for a week. I need to photocopy Spanish notes. I must. I must. I must!

While all this was happening, Mark and I also got into an argument about what we wanted out of our future professional lives. Having recognized the health risks of 24-hour, sometimes 48-hour, shooting days and after almost a decade of doing film-related work, Mark was getting emotionally, mentally and physically tired of his job and wanted to move into the 9-to-5 realm, away from the schizophrenic, flaky world of Philippine cinema–an option he had also discussed with his own shrink.

“I need  time to do the things I want to,” he told me. “Like going back to my music.”

It’s ironic. We always expect a freelance set-up to be more accommodating to non-work activities yet in some cases, its unpredictability leaves little flexibility for recreation. You never know when an instant deadline will knock off your plans to go to Batangas for the weekend.

Mark, who has always loved writing and performing folk music, has not done that for several years. Hence, he began entertaining a possible career shift, alongside being a weekend businessman, since the two of us plan to start an enterprise focused on production and marketing communications. Moreover, since he had all this equipment, not to mention contacts in the production industry, his gadgets would comprise additional capital for the company. 

This was the good news. I totally agreed with his brave plans to reinvent his professional life, but I got edgy when he mentioned this: “I’m thinking of going back to school again. Take up Library Science. You know, just in case I get an opportunity to work for the UN.”

Mark’s mom has been enjoying a satisfying career as a librarian at the UN headquarters in New York and this means, when she retires, Mark or his brother can possibly apply for the same position. It’s a fairly specialized job hence a library science degree would be especially helpful.

Now, it may sound like a great opportunity. I’m sure it is but what worried me wasn’t the nature of the work per se or the chance to work in New York City, the “concrete jungle where dreams are made of” as Alicia Keys would sing. It was the prospect that this sort of move for my future husband would mean, we would have to relocate to the First World together or endure a long-distance relationship, which in my book, will never work out. 

The thought made me feel even sicker to my antibiotic-saturated stomach and the reason is this. I grew up in a culture that has a high regard for entrepreneurship and nation-building. I was influenced to treat employment as a time to build skills and a network, which I would later use for a personal venture. Immigration is one of those things I vowed never to do because quite honestly, I fear discrimination (yes, even in liberal New York).I  also feel disheartened by the thought of leaving a familiar place, where most of my family and best friends are. As a city with a high cost of living, moving to New York would mean my monthly overhead would cost much more than here in Manila. Sure, the wages are higher too, but to my mind, an ideal set-up is to earn well enough from a business and to have low overhead so that we can save more. Above all, I fear that I might have to go back to being an employee. 

A long-distance relationship challenges you to develop the skill of turning each other on with just your voice or YM chat.

 

These statements aren’t meant to put down people with dreams of going to their personal Canaan. My own best friend loves New York so much–her sister practices there as a doctor–and the thought of studying and working in the Big Apple did enter her mind. Mark and I have several friends and relatives who have started their lives all over again by migrating to the US. My own brother and his family is in the process of moving to Canada. I am merely saying that it is my personal choice to remain here because my dream is to have  an enterprise (or ideally, even a series of businesses) that will help me fulfill an economically-rewarding life while having the opportunity to provide work for other people. I still believe this country to be great in spite its shortcomings and failings; and the best part is, because the cost of living is low, I have better chances of saving my finances so I can travel more and hopefully, see the world, for another dream of mine is to become a seasoned tourist.

Yet in the meantime, this is not my reality–yet.

The truth is I have been overworked by several projects and because the economy is not performing as well as in past years, my usual rates have been cut down by clients more often than not. In this country, if you’re not a tycoon, a real-estate mogul or a trust fund baby, you better be able to multitask in order to earn fair enough to pay the monthly bills. However, sometimes what you give up in exchange is a healthy state of body and state of mind. 

Even if I do start a business, I will still be affected by other forms of uncertainty like economy and the socio-political atmosphere.

Knowing this, maybe it is better for me to just drop everything and yes, move to the first world, where I can build  a stable career at a stable institution, away from the corruption, pollution and the occupational hazards of the Third World. Yet, the other side of me says, No! Don’t give up yet on that dream! If all else fails, only then, will we move out of the contry.

It’s sad just thinking about all this: that your country is just Plan A or Plan B; to know that what our nation has failed to give us–a stable, peaceful and healthy life–has easily weakened its boundaries and made it easier, even more attractive, for us to move past those ragile borders and into the lands we clearly see in the horizon: the First World, flowing freely with milk and honey.

It’s even sadder to know that even though Filipinos may go to other countries, not all of them will have golden opportunities to work at the best companies in the world’s most flourishing nations. There is a sector of economically-disadvantaged individuals–mostly women–who are working as domestic helpers in places like Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia.

According to the Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project, Filipino migration has a “female face.” In 2006, 1,083,538 documented Overseas Filipino Workers were deployed to more than 190 destinations. Of these, 60% were women. Several of these domestic helpers become victims of maltreatment, nonpayment, underpayment, contract substitution, long and unforgiving working hours and sexual abuse. The may also become the unfortunate targets of shady and illegal “placement firms” which they depended on in the first place to find work. How heartbreaking it must be to find out that you were not in trustworthy hands!

Famous cases include Sarah Balabagan, whose controversial life as a Domestic Helper in the United Arab Emirates involved the murder of an employer who allegedly raped her, Flor Contemplacion, who was sentenced to death by hanging in Singapore and more recently, the mysterious “Melissa” whose rape by her employer was captured on phone by a fellow OFW. 

The tragic story of Flor Contemplacion, a Filipino domestic helper, was translated to the big screen in a biopic starring Nora Aunor.

 

In 2006, these overseas workers generated $10.7 billion in remittances to their families, boosting economy and earning them the title of “unsung heroes.” However, oftentimes the decision to work in a foreign land–with the well-meaning goal of providing for their own families–comes with the cost of their health, sanity, happiness and sometimes, their very lives.

In my own family, we have a relative who has experienced the isolating life of working as a domestic helper in a country that I will not disclose.

“I was lucky to have very nice employers,” she told me in Filipino, during one of our conversations, during her first few weeks back in the Philippines. “But it’s not typical for these people to feed their helpers. You have to buy your own food and food there is so expensive!” Filipinos being the way they are, love to eat and the Pinoy homeowner usually share their meals with the house helpers. 

She recounts days of intense hunger after working from sun up to way past sun down. She remembers several moments of homesickness yet finding solace in her fellow Filipinas. She is likewise grateful to have had “very nice” employers, by contrast to other unfortunate women she knew, who were thrown into jail for crimes that they have not been proven to have committed against their employers. 

When I hear stories like this, it makes me wonder, what is the Filipino Dream? If it is a dream at all, why does it tend to sound more like a nightmare.

Certainly, a lot of our hardest decisions are based on a desire and a need to support our families for we are a family-centered people; and our large weddings and full houses are just a few examples to support that. We are very dependent on each other, from parents to first degree cousins and beyond. What we are not is the independent American who leaves home at 18 to find a job; yet, we are willing to leave behind our homeland, to live amongst the fiercely independent Americans, Australians and Europeans out of sheer love for our spouses, sons, daughters, parents! That is why it isn’t easy. Being family-centered, once we stretch the physical spaces that bound us together, we are left with a large void that we try to fill with several long-distance calls and lengthy emails. Mark is one of those who saw this option as an attractive one, because in the long run, he wants to support me and our future children–if all else doesn’t work out.

For all its challenges, we are still willing to cut the umbilical cord that binds us to our motherland. Maybe we are becoming just like our Caucasian counterparts, independent and ready to say goodbye to one’s parents to seek a sovereign land of opportunity…but not entirely, because, sometimes, we choose to bring the entire family with us as we migrate. 

It's the ultimate migration-or-death story when Moses led the Israelites out of their difficult lives in Egypt. Once they reach the Promised Land though, they begin a sinful life of excess and idol-worship.

 

Having said all this, I wonder why am I so concerned. I’m not the most nationalistic person I know. I don’t read as much Filipino literature as I should, which is a shame because I enrolled myself in the state university five years ago to study writing. I don’t have the best Filipino vocabulary and often find myself the laughing stock of friends and family who marvel at questions like “What’s puntod?” said in my colegiala accent, a manner of speaking that is native to Catholic School girls who mix English with Tagalog so well that each language loses its identity. 

I believe that I could be an even prouder Filipino. I am not even a brave one, like my contemporaries who will go to such lengths as moving to other countries with entire families in tow, and beginning their own rewarding careers in the big cities of the world. Sometimes, I think I even envy them when I hear stories about how progressive and clean their country of migration is compared to poor, filthy, stinky Metro Manila and her many shanties, bumpy roads and street beggars.

Filipinos like me are probably the reason why we don’t have a clear sense of who we are as a people. We love the Western world so much with its movie stars, its luxuries and personally, its large network of Sephora make-up stores (What no Sephora in Manila? How backward!).

But maybe by contrast, that is what we are. We are defined by our hybrid quality as a bilingual people; our hybrid culture which combines Malay, Spanish and American influences, due of course to centuries of occupation, colonization and I’m sure a fascination will tall, white, sharp-nosed people; and finally our constant movement through the continents. 

Maybe that is why the Filipino dream can exist anywhere in this world. It is that physical, emotional and mental space where we build our careers, grow our families and fulfill our dreams–whether we choose to work in a big, busy mega city or run a quiet livelihood here in the country.

But this very mode of existence, as people of the world, presents an even greater challenge and that is the challenge to protect the Filipino well-being, wherever  the Filipino may be on the planet. Somehow, we have to be each other’s doctors, nurses, shrinks and counsellors, guarding the overall health and well-being of our fellow men and women–from the financial to the spiritual.

If we choose to become local entrepreneurs, let’s prioritize the needs of our employees such as health benefits, opportunities to grow, fair wages, a safe working environment and the occasional night out with lots of cold beer, hot gossip and sizzling sisig. Let us also find ways to put the Filipino name on the global map by producing local products and services that are world-class. There are already a number of businesspeople doing this. For starters, visit Greenbelt 5 in Makati and check out the designer row as well as the furniture places at the top floor. In particular, there is this one Pampanga-based enterprise that creates vintage-inspired, travel-themed furniture that is just too lovely to pass!

Arnel Papa, who has a store in Greenbelt 5, is one of my favorite local designers. For 20 years, he has been exporting his creations to the US and Europe, joining the ranks of other globally-recognized designers like Bea Valdes and Tina Maristela-Ocampo (of Celestina). I guess, getting featured in the pages of Vogue automatically counts as world recognition.

 

If we decide to be employees or freelancers, let’s do ourselves a favor and try, just try not to work exclusively for the money. Yes, it may be seen as a means to an end, and yes, good financial health is still something we ought to aim for (after all it is about making a living!) but I think it is also our duty to ourselves to find some degree of satisfaction in what we do, then from there, we will be motivated enough to be proactive and productive individuals who will be indispensable to our respective industries. Other than that, and this is something I’ve had to learn the hard way, let’s keep our health and well-being in check–the same goes for business owners! 

If we choose to migrate, I believe the same principles must apply. I may not be a migrant myself but if I were one, I think that if you’re going to live and work in another country, you better do something you will be passionate about. While in that country–whether temporarily or permanently–I think that we should also be accountable for the well-being of our fellow citizens (who can understand them better than we do) but at the same time, we should also learn to embrace the people in the country we have chosen. After all, they welcomed us, gave us jobs and a place in their society. Don’t you think that makes them worthy of our gratefulness, at the very least? Besides, integration is one thing that we Pinoys are so good at and that is one skill that would certainly help in making migration feel a little less strange and its foreign faces a little more familiar.

Life and work is hard enough. The question is: how do we create a sense of community through the highs and lows?

How do create a sense of community that will keep us strong during high times and low times?

Finally, wherever we are, let’s be aware of those spaces where the health and happiness of the Filipino worker is threatened. Everything begins by listening to their needs, no matter how close or far-flung they may be. No, I don’t think you even have to be a social worker or a radical to do this. The simple Pinoy can begin with his or her own sphere of influence. It’s as simple as taking an over-stressed co-worker to a relaxing day at a spa or volunteering a little of your time or resources to a cause or a charity you believe in–and there are so many of them out there! It is never to late to find one that is close to your heart, whether it’s something as universal as basic human rights or something more concentrated like education for special children, youth entrepreneurship or environmental awareness, cancer or cleft palate. No one cause is more important than the other. The truth is there are just too many issues to deal with, we may as well spread out our energies and do our part. The world is already a harsh place to live in. Let’s not make it even harder by creating a war of advocacies.

That is because everything we do is connected to each other and all our aspirations are interwoven into one big dream that is shared by every Filipino. Though we may not know the people beyond our 3rd degree of consanguinity, our family extends to those unfamiliar faces no matter how far. Every act of awareness as well as every choice to remain ignorant affects the health and happiness of a people.

Published in: on April 22, 2010 at 10:58 am  Leave a Comment  
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