PhDs on LDRs

According to a 2017 survey, there are 2.3 million OFWs or overseas Filipino workers; and in another survey it was found that the Philippines is 3rd in the world when it comes to receiving the most amount of remittances at 30 billion US dollars (the 1st is India at 72 billion and the 2nd is China at 64 billion).

I was thinking of these numbers today because I was watching a CNN documentary in Netflix featuring Christiane Amanpour on the topic of Love & Sex around the world.

So far, she has gone to Lebanon, India, Japan, Ghana, Germany and China to find out the current mores and conditions pertaining to marriage, love and sexuality among these countries’ population. She has not visited the Philippines yet; which makes me curious as to how she will portray my country in her stories.

I have an idea, Christiane — and it is that of all the nations in the world, it is Filipinos who are the experts on long distance relationships (LDR).

If PhDs on LDRs will be endowed to anyone, it will be Pinoys who will graduate at the top of their class.

We have turned long distance romantic relationships into an art form.

A story: there is a woman named D who is married to a ship captain named M. The two of them were married just before M went into his first voyage overseas as a sailor (“seaman” is how we Filipinos refer to these men who run the world’s shipping vessels). Out of every year, M and D would meet and be together for one or two months; so 10 months out of 12 they would not be physically in contact. Before the days of internet, D and M would communicate with telegrams and snail mail and long distance phone calls (in fact, D was the first person in my neighborhood to have a telephone back in the days when only business establishments have phone lines; and in fact, my mom owes a lot to D and her telephone because my mom would communicate with her sisters in Canada using this device). Today, D and M have been married for 39 years. They are still together. Ten years ago, M stopped working and settled with his wife in their condo near a mall. Their only child (my childhood playmate K), has finished her studies and was about to get  married. So there is no more need for M to hop into a ship again. I  am curious though — how does it feel for D to now be constantly around M’s presence after him being gone all those long years?

D & M’s story is one that has been happening hundreds of thousands of times among Filipinos. Ever since the government made it a policy to send foreign workers abroad in the 70s to supplement our much-needed dollar reserves, the story of couples who have to sustain their relationships from thousands of miles away has been a quintessential Filipino story (or at least, Filipino middle class story — the class D and Class A have a different one, a topic for another blog post).

It takes a certain faith and resilience to make an LDR work. Especially an LDR that spans years or decades even. Not a few relationships that I personally know have crumbled because the male or female partner was abroad.

There is a song in Tagalog by Joel Ayala (I mentioned in a previous post that it was by Noel Cabangon; well I was wrong — my bad) which I think is the theme song for Pinoy OFWs and their significant others. It is called “Walang Hanggang Paalam”. It’s melody is a sad guitar, accompanied by what sounds like a banduria, and the lyrics go like, “at habang magkalayo, papalapit pa rin ang puso/ kahit na magkahiwalay, tayo’y magkasama sa magkabilang dulo ng mundo.” (we move farther apart though our hearts grow together, and meet from different ends of the world — my awkward translation)

Needless to say, I am a hopeless romantic. I believe that love prevails in the end. And despite the difficulties that distance or time or financial/resource constraints will impose, Pinoys will find a way to care for those they love.

Dubai Creek at night, from a boat. There are over 400,000 Filipinos living in Dubai at the moment, which is more than the population of Baguio City. Go figure.

 

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Nationalism or What do Filipinos Care About?

I am presently working in a foreign country as a temporary economic migrant. Someday, I will return home, but for now, I owe my financial resources to this nation whose culture is as different from mine as night is from day.

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I was thinking about my situation when I came across this article from one of the blogs I follow and usually comment on.  It is asking about nationalism, how it can be a bad thing, and finally, what Filipinos care about.

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First, the question of whether nationalism is “good” or “bad” is maybe a question of gradient and context.  When I was in elementary, the message I got from my teachers is that nationalism is “good” – and that is something we should strive for. We sang the national anthem and recited the “Panatang Makabayan” every morning without fail so this vague thing called “nationalism” could be instilled in our young minds and hearts. I had this idea as a child that it is a noble quality to be willing to die for one’s country. Back then, I was not aware of the nuances – i.e: what exactly are you dying for your country for?

Fast forward to Now.

Nationalism has taken on a bad rap.  The idea that “nationalism” is a dangerous concept probably started in Europe with its issues about the Nazis; fascism;  the breakdown of Yugoslavia due to the nationalist tendencies of the states that made it up; and now the deluge of non-European migrants into European soil. Presently, the US President is the poster child of the poisonous “nationalist” – a word which has become almost synonymous with “bigot”.

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A personal story regarding nationalism & immigration:

My aunts and uncles have all migrated to Canada in the 1990s. They have worked there and paid their taxes and eventually became Canadian citizens. So recently, Justin Trudeau has been welcoming Syrian and other immigrants to Canada. I would think that given their previous positions as economic migrants, my relatives would agree with Trudeau’s policies, in the spirit of paying it forward. But, alas … no. When I spoke with my aunt and uncle, all they could complain about was how the Canadian government policies would mean more taxes for them to pay and how welcoming more immigrants would be such a drain on the economy and how these middle eastern migrants are terrorists-in-disguise etc etc. So I just rolled my eyes and stopped the debate because I love my relatives and I don’t want us to spend their vacation arguing over immigration policies.

So what has this story got to do with JoeAm’s blog post is this: “What inspires Filipinos, broadly? Family, faith in the rituals of it all, gossip, and the practicalities of life: eating and getting around. Where is the MORAL foundation?” — particularly, me, mulling the answer to that question.

F Sionil Jose once wrote that Filipinos are  a shallow people (by the way, FSJ also supported and probably voted for Rodrigo Duterte — go figure).

FSJ said that we are shallow because we are “mayabang” (arrogant), we do not read (hence we are under-educated) and that our  mass media is shallow.

Given this “shallowness”, what inspires us then? I mean what would one expect a child to be inspired of? JoeAm gives this answer “Family, faith in the rituals of it all, gossip, and the practicalities of life”– ouch, but true. If we want to get rid of our shallowness, of this narrow definition of nationalism that we have, then we have to start with the family. And because of this we must consider that the unmet need for family planning in the Philippines is presently at 17.5% — oops, but this is another topic for another blog post  🙂

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So, to connect the ideas of this meandering post: do I believe nationalism is bad? Not necessarily, depending on how it is used. I mean, if one will define nationalism as a sense of loyalty to one’s country of birth/allegiance, that is not a perilous thing. That is actually a virtue. However, if one uses nationalism to justify the exclusion or persecution of “the other”, meaning people who are not part of your country of allegiance then that would just be mean. And if nationalism is used to defend one’s laziness and shortsightedness and unwillingness to make the personal sacrifices needed to combat climate change, well, that is just stupid.

Do Filipinos have a sense of nationalism? Yes and no. We have a superficial (“shallow” is the word FSJ’s used) sense of nation. We love our families to our detriment; and we identify with our tribes/regions (i.e Ilokano, Tagalog, Maranao etc), to the exclusion of our identity as “Filipinos”.

Given this fact, the question of “what inspires us?”, with all due respect, is the wrong question. The question should be: “how should that which inspire us translate to love of nation?”

Like, I love my family, my family inspires me. But would my family have existed at all if Filipino nationalists have not asserted our independence from Spain, America or Japan? My grandmother was telling me a story how the Japanese used to bayonet babies in their village. Without Filipino nationalism, she could have been one of the kids who suffered and then I would not exist.

This is a what-if of history (something my aunts get exasperated about when I bring it up, saying it is futile to think of what ifs).  But part of learning history is wondering about what ifs.  And that is what Filipinos lack, I think, why our love of our family does not translate to love of nation. We lack history. Somebody stole it from us (the colonial masters, the fucked up educational system, the present elites, you name it) – and now we fail to be inspired.