Saturday, February 04, 2006

Personal Annual Report for 2005 : Leaving one to live in another country

Another anxious year for me. At the turn of the new year, I was anticipating my return to the Philippines. I had enough of Saudi Arabia and all I want was to return back to my sweet abode. Also, I awaited to be paid back of my unpaid wages of several months. Our contract got extended for six more months without any renegotiation or change in renumeration. It was just like the ordeal of any Filipinos have gone through the anguish, the anger and frustration of working with an ill-managed company.

I recall that what used to be a loud and busy hang out room of my fellow migrant workers at Christmastime met the New Year in silence and desperation. Save for the singing along with a videoke. Most of my co-workers had gone back after several months of being treated shabbily since the project did not turn out well. Initial/down payment was received by the company but the workers were not given what is due them.

So I had my taste of experience as an Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW). Still I consider it a worthwhile experience. At least in my own little ways I was able to engage myself with volunteer work that kept me happy and involved. The Computer Society of Filipinos (COMSOFIL) based in Riyadh, KSA kept me engage in serving fellow OFWs to upgrade and improve their computer skills. It was the organizations 10th year when I left. The Society is one of those expressions of OFW’s greatness.

How was my year in 2005, well it was generally good, despite the many challenges of the company I worked in KSA. I consider the year as another year of being fortunate and blessed.

I arrived back in Manila during summertime. It was an occasion for reunions and vacation. My arrival in the province of Ilocos Norte was just in time for me to join family and friends for summer break. I attended Eman’s kinder graduation in Laoag City and met my high school classmate, Dr. Arlene Francisco. Instantly we had a high school reunion among three other classmates, Grace, Harlene and Nelmee.

Several weeks in Ilocos, I joined my colleagues at CO Multiversity for their R&R in Bohol. I just paid for my fare the rest were taken cared of by the office. It was magnificent to finally behold the famous post card scene of Chocolate Hills as well as the world renown tarsier. The lunch at Lobok River was equally wonderful, aboard a dining raft ferried by two joined bancas. The river was so clean, very rustic scene. Some boys where bathing in the pristine green colored river and showing us their stunts diving from trees along the river banks. Some women where washing clothes. I learned that the river was made more famous by Cesar Montano’s period film entitled Panaghoy sa Sugba (?). I hope the forest gets protected and the river maintained clean.

Back to reality became my mantra after the fun and merrymaking of summer. Cely’s enrolment last June was another of those anxious month. The project in Mindanao does not have funding yet so my only recourse was to try to find another job abroad. Then Fides got an invitation to nominate someone for an International Internship Program on Human Rights conducted by The May 18 Memorial Foundation in Gwangju City, ROK. She asked me to try to apply, so I did. I never expected to get accepted though. I applied for my visa, my bank account containing only a maintaining balance, I thought I will be denied of visa. So on that fateful day of 8 July 2005 at the height of Hyatt 10 when Dinky et al were forced resigned and called a presscon to ask GMA to resign, I left the country.

Arriving at Incheon International Airport like any other suspects for being an illegal alien or worker, I was detained for questioning by immigration officer for almost an hour. Waiting for my interrogator, I listened and observed the interview going on. In the room I joined Bangladeshi, Africans and a tug looking Japanese. I overheard they were asked who their sponsors and contact persons were, how much money they have, what their businesses were in Korea, etc. When I was called, they asked for my papers, I gave it to them and they called the May 18 Foundation, without any questioning I was told I can go. The immigration officer was polite enough to ask for apology for detaining me. I took a questionnaire with me that seems to emphasize Korean visitors are all expected to be tourists.

My stay in Korea was an experience of the many firsts. Although I’ve been familiar eating kimchi and kennip with Korean friends and guests, there were so many new experiences that I am so delighted with my stay here. First and foremost was the experience of white Christmas, finally not only sung in songs, but I got a taste of it in extreme, a snow storm, with temperature dipping -6°C. Me and my co-interns from Indonesia, unaware of its impact were giggling and enjoying with childlike innocence. Only to find out in the news the wrath it brought on others that was for us was a source of wonder and awe.

I was afforded a chance of visiting different places. On the first month of my stay, since we had a long vacation I organized an NGO visit to Seoul with my co-interns. CONET was gracious enough to allow us to stay at their office since they did not want us to sleep in jimjilbang.

We had a chance to join the tour of youth participants for the Introduction to Korean Democracy Program. We visited with them some Korean historic and tourist sites of democratic significance since the pre-colonization period.

The month of November and first week of December was a very busy month. Previous months were preparation period. Last November we conducted the 3-week Gwangju Asian Human Rights Folk School participated by 22 individuals from different Asian countries. My good friend Ros was so lucky to become participant when the chosen from the Philippines backed out. I had a great time with her, long talks, walks and (separate) soaks at saunas. Sleeping with the rest of the people in common sleeping area, being one and part of a community but whom we could not engage in conversation.

In December, the 3-day Gwangju Forum for Asian Human Rights was held. Another big event in conjunction with the promotion of Gwangju City as Asian Hub for Culture, Arts and Democracy. Like any other events minor problems and personality dynamics were encountered.

For Christmas we were invited by Kelvin to stay at his place in Seoul. Kelvin is a new friend made during the folk school. He was the official translator/interpreter. He lead us to the National Museum of Korea. Agnes and Mus found Indonesian artifacts and culture displayed as a major exhibit. The museum is really awesome, 10-year in the making I was told. I celebrated Christmas also with the BK Family in Seoul and I got nice gifts from the exchange of gifts.

New Year was spent in Gwangju City (Choondam area), we celebrated it at Toto Bar with other expats. I think Agnes and Mus got bored. Not of the merrymaking I am familiar with. We listened to performers sing.

A lot of unresolved issues still, emotion is one of them. I sometimes fear I might have forgotten how to love having been un-attached for quite sometime. I envy Jane, she’s now married to Bruce, my wishes for their everlasting happiness. I missed that event of the year.I got though a very nice invite from them.

Spiritually, well I practiced meditation especially when I was in Saudi but was not able to meditate well here in Korea. The room arrangement (ahh escuses) prevented me to be on my own to read, write and meditate. So most of the time my attention is with the computer/internet or with the TV. So, 2005 was a year of the least-book read year. I feel so guilty not being able to accomplish my book quota.

Finances, how wish I had enough, especially after I arrived back. It would have been so nice to treat all friends for a nice dinner. I was not able to save well, just enough to pay for previous obligations and spend for my daily needs.

Previous to my coming to Korea I met in the Philippines new friends like Rohgan. He was on a study exchange at the Asian NGO Center. Fides introduced me to him and I am so glad to find out that he is a Gwangju simin (citizen/local). Also Jane introduced me to Mariko, now an email pal. It was through her that I got connected once again with Atty. Jeff Plantilla, now with HURIGHTS, Japan. I came to know him during my CPAR days (in 1990's). He was part of the pool of lawyers who helped us with the paralegal and fact-finding program. It was through him that I was able to get contacts of NGOs that we visited in Seoul and also got invited to the APCEIU conference where he was one of the speaker.

A month after the new year I am able to finalize this report since I got held with an internet project I call Million MinutesVlog4Peace. Video Blog is the new internet trend aside from blogging. The videoblog is dedicated to peace. The videoblog is available at

2005 was a great year, living in two countries and experiencing different languages, cultures, traditions and climates. I love life!

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