I have been working for my boss since 1999, and in this count I include the two years that I spent away from the company because we never really lost touch with each other. My boss is an expat from the United Kingdom but has Scottish ancestry and has lived part of his life in Hong Kong and the Middle East, so you can say he’s seen a few things. My co-workers and I have had ample exposure with expats from different places, mostly from Europe and Australia, and yes even an American or two, since around 70 percent of our clients are non-Filipinos. At work I’m known as Vikki (short for my real name Victoria), and I’ve become accustomed to clipped European tones that rise on the last syllable, and drawn out Aussie drawls that always sound like they are off to the pub.
When I went to Singapore for a few days in 2006, several Filipino friends who had migrated there to work showed me around the city in our off hours. Such a fascinating city it was, with its residential zones and business zones, and specific areas where one can find and buy specific things. I remember being thrown off guard by the right-hand drive traffic, and suddenly remembering to look to the right instead of the left for oncoming vehicles when crossing the street. It took me a while to get used to the street noise and the sound of the sidewalks, even the slant of the sunlight in the morning looked different.
When I was there, Lala and Elyse and Cord and Edwin, all former co-workers, made sure I saw as much of the city as I could for the duration of my stay. Edwin, who had been in Singapore for more than three years at the time, took me out to an early dinner on my second night there. While he was telling me about his life as a single working guy in the Lion City, he said something that got me thinking. He said:
Dito Ms. Vikki, tayo ang expat.
Matter-of-fact, he said it, a plain declaration of what was indeed true of him and hundreds of other Filipino workers in Singapore, no matter what job description. This was a foreign country and they were the expats.
And I thought of what the word expat and foreigner meant to me, and perhaps quite a few other Filipinos here in our country the Philippines. The word “foreigner” (porener) had generically replaced the more common term “Amerikano” (or Merkano as we Visayans are more apt to say) in reference to any caucasian person from overseas.
But on a different level, I have always disliked the way some of our countrymen show preference and deference to foreigners in a crowd, or in a line, or even on restaurant tables. I haven’t figured out if it was because of potentially bigger tips that an expat is more likely to give because we are still under the illusion that expat customer = more money than a pinoy customer, and even if it were true—would the same thing apply to me if I were the expat in another country. Apparently not, if we are to read some of the grim events that have befallen our countrymen in other countries.
I am writing this now, partly because of my kumare and former co-worker Chu who will have been in Singapore for a week tomorrow. By now she would have settled in at work comfortably, hopefully with a rising sense of confidence in herself as she deals with her new co-workers, perhaps every now and then thinking to pick up the phone and dial a local to check whether Abi was ready for lunch and then suddenly remembering that Abi was hundreds of miles away back in the old office. I know for a fact that she cries at night and at random hours in the day when she remembers the husband and three children she left behind in the Philippines so she can earn three times her salary there in Singapore.
I was chatting with Saro a few nights ago (yes Chu, we were talking about you). Saro, a young husband and father of two very young kids, is also leaving for Singapore three days from now. He had given up on trying to find Chicago jobs. He said sacrifices had to be made, he knew it was going to be difficult, but there was no other choice. There’s just no place for him here, for the several reasons I and various other people concerned about the brain drain have written about.
So. Expat ka na Chu. In a few days si Saro din. One thing’s for certain. There are enough of you Pinoy expats there to hold each other up. That’s one thing I do know. Where ever we are, this group of people formerly known as Imaginet employees, we take care of our own.
Ingat kayong lahat dyan.